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GreehouseTruth Blog  ::  Global warming and a permanent El Niño?

Global warming and a permanent El Niño?
Study suggests today's changing climate could lead to Pliocene-like conditions
Posted June 27, 2006 by Nathan Cool

Earth was not always as it is today, and no matter what, it will be a different world in the future--be it due to human deeds or not. Chapter 4 of Is it Hot in Here?, talks about how our planet has gone through radical changes from hot to cold, and even bizarre rises in greenhouse gases, even long before humans came onto the scene. While today's changing climate and its surrounding circumstances don't exactly mimic the past, in a way, we may be pushing ourselves toward conditions similar to those that occurred during an ancient period some 3 to 5 million years ago known as the early Pliocene. This may, or may not be a welcomed future, depending on how you look at it.

A recent study published in the journal Science (here) suggests that we could be replicating the conditions conducive for a Pliocene-like climate in our near future, which interestingly enough, included a permanent El Niño.

This published paper--from Yale scientist A.V. Federov, UC Santa Cruz's P.S. Dekens and others--discusses how back in the Pliocene, El Niño was not cyclic as it is now. Instead, there was no real ENSO cycle, but rather, a constant state of El Niño. This study suggests that increased water vapor (caused by various things like Sun cycles, etc. that warmed our Earth) served as a strong enough greenhouse gas to create conditions that are not far from where we stand today. The difference today, is that instead of water vapor acting as a heat trapping gas, the abundance of carbon dioxide could produce the same results.

During the Pliocene, continental glaciers were absent from the polar regions and sea level was about 75 feet higher than it is today. When worrying about a warming world--as I mentioned in chapter 4 of Is it Hot in Here?--we have to remember that Earth can withstand far more than what climate models are currently predicting for the future. Earth is a stalwart planet, and has seen conditions completely inhospitable for humankind. Our planet will survive--it's done it before, and it will to it again. Instead, it's the lifestyles of we humans that are of concern.

Today there are 6 billion of us on the planet, and the economies that we've grown accustomed to are designed and built around the environment of recent times--not that of the past, or of the future.

Would a repeat of the Pliocene with a permanent El Niño hinder our planet? Earth would change, but the hindrance would affect humans more than this old planet we're sitting on. Still, a warming world, caused by human deeds that could otherwise be controlled, shouldn't serve as justification to continue with business as usual. On the other side of the coin though, alarmist fears of global warming bringing on the end of all time is not entirely justified either. Once again, there is a lot of grey area between the trenches on the battlefield of global warming, and the truth lies somewhere in between.

For additional information on these issues and the changes that may lie ahead, check out chapters 6 and 7 in my upcoming book, Is it Hot in Here?