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Desert Diary
Climate/El Niño


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We've heard much about Spaceship Earth in recent years—the growing realization that all of humanity is marooned on a relatively small hunk of rock surrounded by airless space. But only now is the general public beginning to realize that natural events in any part of this lonely planet may affect areas thousands of miles distant. Among such happenings with importance for the Chihuahuan Desert is El Niño, a phenomenon of the tropical Pacific Ocean that brings wet weather to the desert.

In non-El Niño times, trade winds pile up warm water in the western Pacific, allowing cold water to well up along the western coast of South America. In fact, at such times, the sea level in Indonesia is about one and a half feet higher than at the coast of Ecuador in South America. Periodically, the trade winds lessen, and the warm, western waters slosh eastward. Warmer water off of South America means increased evaporation and significant changes in air circulation. The result? More rain across southern North America, including our normally parched desert region.
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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 on El Niño.

NOVA Online. rule