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January 1998 Vol. 13, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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El Niño Watch

from the January, 1998 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

While El Niño is wreaking havoc El Niño Watch througout the world, perhaps nowhere are the effects more stark than at the center: Christmas Island, or Kiritimati, in the Pacific nation of Kiribati. Here scientists speculate they are seeing the connections between the increasingly frequent El Niño and the dangers of global warming.

Rising only 12 feet out of the ocean, Kiritimati was home recently to more than 14 million birds feeding off the fish among the rich coral reefs and in deep water offshore.

No more. The birds are gone, the fish are gone. And, with the water temperature at an amazing 98°F, the delicate Christmas Island reef — considered by divers as one of the best in the South Pacific — is dying.

Sea-surface temperatures have risen nearly 9°F. The normal easterly trade winds have collapsed and reversed to the west, causing sea level to rise nearly a foot.

The normal upwelling of nutrient-rich cold water from the deep Pacific has been stopped by the reversal of the trade winds. The warm water has killed food fish or driven them to colder waters to the north or south. The higher sea level on the almost-flat island, combined with daily monsoons of three inches or more, have inundated the ponds on the island that normally are loaded with brine shrimp.

“It is dramatic and sad,” says Professor Richard Fairbanks of Columbia University. “The whole system has collapsed. . . . At the rate it is bleaching or dying, by the end of February, most of the reef will probably be killed.”

(From the San Francisco Examiner and other sources)

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