New El Niño research grant awarded to UPGro investigators

A research team, led by Prof. Alan MacDonald of BGS, has been awarded research funding by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) for a study entitled “Monitoring the impact of the 2015/16 El Nino on rural water insecurity in Ethiopia: learning lessons for climate resilience

El Niño is a prolonged warming of sea surface temperatures in the central and east-central Pacific that occurs irregularly at 3-6 year intervals. El Niño weakens the trade winds and alters the monsoon pattern which affects global weather patterns and typically results in drought conditions in Southern Africa and Southeast Asia and enhanced rainfall in Eastern Africa and South America.

The World Meteorological Organization is predicting that the current El Niño event will be one of the three strongest recorded since 1950[1] and it is having a significant effect on a number of low and middle income countries. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is estimating that 11 million children are at risk of hunger, disease and lack of water in Eastern and Southern Africa as a result of the El Niño[2]. The India Meteorological Department is reporting that India as a whole has suffered a rainfall deficit of 12-15% during the 2015 summer monsoon, with some regions experiencing a deficit of almost 50%[3]. Wildfires in Indonesia, exacerbated by the drought conditions, have resulted in hazardous air pollution levels across Southeast Asia.

El Niño forecasts, mitigation strategies and the humanitarian response during the event are all strongly informed by analyses of previous events. Hence more accurate and reliable information on this event (eg the scale of the floods and droughts and their effect on livelihoods, food security, ecosystem services, disease vectors, and key infrastructure) is needed to enable improvements in El Niño models and forecasts, and ultimately increase preparedness and resilience to future events. Studying the current El Niño is particularly important as it is an unusually strong event. The last major El Niño was in 1997-98 and since then there have been major advances in sensor networks, satellite measurements, modelling capacities and data analysis and assimilation techniques that can be applied to a major El Niño for the first time.

The aim of this research programme is address the need to have a better understanding of the impacts of the current El Niño event in low and middle income countries.

  1. World Meteorological Organization El Niño update– external link –
  2. UNICEF El Niño press release– external link –
  3. India Meteorological Department: Current status of southwest monsoon 2015 and forecast