Saturday, February 6, 2010

El Nino and Southern California

The unusual amount of stormy weather we've been having is being caused by a condition called El Nino. El Nino is caused by a change in ocean currents. Warm ocean water is moving further north than usual. This has impacts on weather, and impacts on plants and animals.

NOAA, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration defines El Nino this way, "El NiƱo is a disruption of the ocean-atmosphere system in the Tropical Pacific having important consequences for weather and climate around the globe."

NOAA predicts this El Nino will extend into the Spring in the US. That means we may see more storms which is great for native plants and we will probably have a good wildflower season in our deserts.
Primrose, Baja California

However, if El Nino persists, and warmer ocean temperatures stay with us through the spring and summer, there could be serious consequences for endangered wildlife.
The brown pelican was just removed from the endangered species list. The population has recovered, but pelicans in Washington State and Oregon are starving right now because the storms keep them from feeding, and their food is moving deeper into the oceans to escape the warmer water temperatures.

The California least tern is an endangered species that nests at Bolsa Chica, and beaches in Southern California. It feeds small fish such as anchovies to its chicks. In El Nino years fewer eggs are laid because the tern's food moves deeper, or north to cooler waters.

El Nino also affects the wildlife off the coast of Ecuador along the Galapagos Islands. During the 97-98 El Nino large numbers of Galapagos penguins died as did the marine iguanas. The marine iguanas eat algae and when the water warms, the algae dies.

Marine iguanas feed on algae, and during times of food shortages can actually re-absorb their own bones to stay alive.

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