Interview: "Droughts and heavy rains will increase"

Im Gespräch mit Klimaforscher Prof. Mojib Latif

by LKO,  2016/02/25

Prof. Dr. Mojib Latif works as a climate scientist and heads up the Research Division for Ocean Circulation and Climate Dynamics at the Geomar Helmholtz-Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel. We talked to the climate expert about the currently active climate phenomenon El Niño.

Prof. Latif, when asked last July in an interview, whether the latest El Niño will turn out to be the strongest ever, you replied that chance would play a major role in that. How would you answer this question today? Can you already assess the power of the present El Niño more reliably by now?

Yes, the current one is already among the top three of all El Niño phenomena ever measured. I would even go so far to range him among the top two. It is a close neck and neck race with the one in 1997/98. But it is not finished yet and the force of an El Niño is always measured using a three-month value. We have to see how the February will evolve.

In the past El Niño affected mainly the Pacific area. How does the latest drought in East Africa relate to this phenomenon?

Whether and how the current developments in East Africa are linked with El Niño varies regionally. If there is more rain in Equatorial Africa, the regions further north such as North Ethiopia endure a drought. Chance is a major factor in the question, which countries are affected. Yet I presume that the present climate in parts of Ethiopia is in fact influenced by El Niño.

And how about Zimbabwe? People there also suffer from a drought at the moment.

The current aridity in Zimbabwe most certainly is a consequence of El Niño. This year the dryness is exceptionally severe and hits about a quarter of the population.

At this time, can you already detect an easing in the phenomenon or do we have to expect heavy rains and droughts also in the coming months?

You can already state a very light weakening of El Niño, but actually it is still in full swing. That is why we still have to stay alert for its impact also in the next months. By the end of spring it will have passed presumably.

Is there a verifiable connection between El Niño and climate change?

It is difficult to answer this question, as the individual examination models all provide rather differing results. We at Geomar assume that there is a connection and that El Niño increases due to global warming also if other models do not support this thesis.

It is a fact that, since the start of the measurements in 1870, the three heaviest El Niños have occurred in the last decades, i.e. 1982/83, 1997/98 and now in 2015/16. It is definitely conspicuous that all of these three records have been measured such a short time ago. Nevertheless it is not sufficient to state a clear association between El Niño and climate change.

Are there any indications how the phenomenon will develop in the future? How will El Niño affect the global weather in the coming years?

My personal assumption is that the consequences of El Niño will intensify in the future, i.e. droughts and heavy rainfall will increase.

Do we in Germany have to adjust to climate changes due to El Niño?

Not so much. Germany will barely be affected, because it is simply too far away. In particular the adjacent states such as North and East America, Southeast Asia and of course Australia, will be soon feel the effects. As the Indian Ocean warms up due to El Niño, also Africa is affected. European countries are less affected by all of it.

How will these changes bear on the international humanitarian aid, especially the emergency and disaster relief measures?

Well, there will be even more to do for the emergency and disaster relief aid. But you still have to consider the political situation. It is obviously easier to provide humanitarian support in countries with social and political stability than in countries with conflict situations. You must not forget to take into consideration both this fact and the question of whether your support really reaches those, who need it.

As a matter of fact, you should already try to modify the organisational structures in a way that allows for a well prepared, fast and effective intervention when the next disaster strikes.

Thank you very much for your time and your kind support.

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