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March 2003 Vol. 18, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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El Niño Weakens

from the March, 2003 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In our April 2002 issue, we reviewed the adverse effects on Pacific diving of the impending El Niño that some researchers opined would last well into 2003.

Indeed water surface temps did rise, but much less than during the 1997-1998 El Niño when temperatures went as high as 13oF above normal in some locations. With the present water temperatures between the International Date Line and the coast of South America only 1.5oF to 3.5oF above expectation, experts are terming it a weak to moderate event.

As with past El Niños, this heating has cooled diving adrenaline. James Lyle of southern California made his second trip to Cocos Island in early January of this year and reported: " ... the waters around Cocos are much warmer than usual. The surface temps were 86-87oF with a thermocline at 90 feet below which the water was 78oF. We did not observe any coral bleaching and encountered abundant fish life but fewer hammerhead sharks than we did four years ago."

Interestingly, areas immediately off the coast of South America, including the Galapagos, have recorded normal water temperatures. And big animal sightings have been consistently high. Zeina Siraudin of Philadelphia, Pa., did a week on the Galapagos Aggressor in December, when temperatures above the thermocline were running in the high 60s to low 70s oF in the southern islands, in the mid to upper 70s oF for the northern islands, and proportionately cooler below the thermocline. Siraudin reported 25 whale shark sightings and plenty of hammerheads as long as there was a brisk current.

Many experts are predicting El Niño conditions will weaken through the spring of 2003, but until the climatological all-clear is sounded, keep your expectations in check.

- Doc Vikingo

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