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Desert Diary


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The world of the ancient Maya was ruled by cycles, with the end of a 52-year cycle being especially dangerous, for the world might end and the sky fall if the gods were not pleased. Modern science is slowly learning about cycles, too; cycles that might mean—if not the end of the world, a vastly changed world. Unfortunately, we know only enough to be worried and to try to learn more.

We've realized only recently that the cycles we know as El Niño and La Niña have long affected patterns of climate in distant realms. El Niño means more moisture in our desert, for example. Or does it, necessarily? Past extended drought periods indicate El Niño can't be depended upon, and other, less well-understood cycles may be having an impact. Drought conditions in the West during 2002 have resulted in locally heavy die-offs of Ponderosa Pine and Piñon, and in the Sonoran Desert, even Palo Verdes have succumbed. We may have more in common with the Maya than we'd like to think!
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.



Web Resources

NOAA El Niño

NOAA La Niña

National Geographic

The Maya Calendar