El Niño

By Nicole Stoupe

Directions: Read the article below three times. After the each reading, answer the corresponding questions.

Scientists have evidence that El Niño has been in existence for several thousand years, although it is only recently that its name has become popularly used.  El Niño, meaning the Christ child, was named by a Peruvian fisherman who recognized the cycle of bad catches, which usually came in December, the birthday of Jesus.  El Niño is the term given to climatic variations in trade winds and ocean currents in the Pacific.  These changes cause a chain reaction with dire consequences, creating storms, in turn affecting marine life, and causing catastrophe for nations affected. 

While the exact cause of El Niño’s climatic conditions cannot be easily explained, there is a strong correlation between sea temperature and wind pressure, and storms are triggered by subtle interplay between one another.  Although not easily predicted, a change in normal weather conditions is produced every three or four years, and this is what is known as El Niño.  In regular circumstances, the tropical winds blow from east to west, creating warm weather in the western pacific regions of the sea.  In turn, the trade winds stir the water along the equator, which flow from the Ecuadorian coast to the central pacific.  However, during an El Niño, the trade winds are not strong enough to dredge up the deep, cool waters of the Ecuador and Peru.  This means that warm water in the west drifts towards South America.  Then, the waters of the Central Eastern Pacific warm, causing the trade winds to further weaken.  Thus, these changes in ocean temperature set off a chain of unpredictable weather patterns across the globe, including the 1983 snow storms experienced in Lebanon, the 1983 drought in Melbourne, Australia, which was the driest the area had seen in more than 200 years, and the 1982-83 floods of Peru, which saw the highest levels of rainfall in over 200 years, all of which were a result of El Niño. 

El Niño has a major impact on marine life.  When the upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water fails to occur, plankton – the basis of the marine food chain – do not flourish.  Due to the lack of plankton, fish do not survive in such great numbers and must dive deeper in search for food.   In turn, sea birds, who cannot find sufficient food on the water’s surface, have problems feeding their young, thus resulting in a reduction in bird life.  For example, in the 1982-3 El Niño in Peru, in which the lowest ever catches in the fishing industries were recorded, scientists estimated that up to 85% of the sea bird population was eliminated.  The same 1983 changes in weather patterns are thought to have caused a migration of mackerel to a location further north than usual, resulting in salmon catches being reduced in North America that year.  These changes suggest much wider patterns of migratory behaviour being affected by El Niño, and the delicate balance between species being disturbed. 

El Niño has not been without consequence to human beings on the planet, and catastrophes have resulted from its climatic abnormalities.  People die directly as a result of El Niño floods or droughts, homes are lost, epidemics are produced, and famine can result.  For example, in the 1982-83 El Niño in Peru and Bolivia, rescue efforts were complicated by bridges and roads being destroyed or flooded, and 600 people died.  The rain drenched the hills and caused mudslides, resulting in thousands of people losing their homes.  The floods produced unsanitary conditions, where malaria and dengue fever epidemics developed and spread throughout the area.  Rivers also flooded, resulting in banana and rice crops being destroyed and the problem of feeding the population. 


First Reading

1.      What is the main idea of the text?

a.       The Four Effects of El Niño

b.      The Flooding of  Banana and Rice Crops

c.       El Niño’s major impact on Marine and Human Life

d.      El Niño chain reaction of creating storms, affecting marine life, and causing catastrophe for nations affected.

Second and Third Reading

1.      What is El Niño?

a.       climatic variations in trade winds and ocean currents in the Pacific 

b.      a type of mackerel

c.       a feature of solar patterns in the atmosphere

d.      changes in temperature in the waters of the Southern Pacific

2.      Who gave El Niño its name?

a.       a Peruvian doctor

b.      a South American fisherman

c.       an Omani physician

d.      an Arab meteorologist

3.      It was noted that the cycle of bad fishing ___.

a.       usually came in December

b.      never came in December

c.       first arrived in 1982

d.      had been recorded by fishermen for thousands of years

4.      Sea temperature and wind pressure___.

a.       can be understood in relation to the El Niño north-easterly winds

b.      can be understood in relation to the polar caps

c.       are connected in understanding the causes of El Niño

d.      were first discovered thousands of years ago

5.      The next El Niño ___.

a.       can easily be predicted in relation to time

b.      should come in 5 years

c.       is overdue by 2 years

d.      cannot easily be predicted in relation to time

6.      In normal circumstances, ___ is NOT true.

a.       the tropical winds blow from east to west

b.      warm water in the west drifts towards South America

c.       the trade winds stir the water along the equator

d.      warm weather is created in the ocean’s western Pacific regions

True or False?

1.      When nutrient-rich water is not stirred and brought up, numbers of plankton are reduced.

2.      When there is less plankton, marine birds flourish.

3.      In 1983, El Niño had a major impact in Lebanon, Australia, Bolivia and Peru.

4.      In Equador, it is estimated that over 85% of bird life was killed.

5.      Consequences of El Nino on a human scale include drought, increase in population, and banana exportation being halted.

Final Reading

1.      What paragraph is missing?

a)      an introduction

b)      a conclusion

c)      a paragraph on animal life

d)      a paragraph on economic effects of El Niño