An international team of researchers, writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, says that the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions will bring twice as many extreme outbreaks of El Niño ocean-warming to the tropical Pacific over the next century as have occurred over the past 100 years.
“We currently experience an unusually strong El Niño event every 20 years. Our research shows this will double to one event every 10 years,” said study co-author Agus Santoso.
El Niño events can trigger large-scale weather disruptions that bring storms or drought to various parts of the world.
During the study, the researchers found that rising global temperatures would warm the tropical Pacific most, the region where El Niños emerge.
“This is a highly unexpected consequence of global warming,” researcher Mat Collins, of the University of Exeter, told The Guardian.
Climate scientists had so far been unable to agree on how climate change will influence El Niño-La Niña outbreaks.
The last extreme El Niño wreaked havoc on global weather patterns in 1997-1998, causing billions of dollars in damage and killing approximately 23,000 people.
Another strong Pacific ocean warming occurred in 1982-1983 with less severe impacts.