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El Niño: A Scientific Inquiry

Stay with me, here......

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, October 01, 1997.

First, an apology: I apparently confused Glen Canyon with Hoover Dam last week, a mistake that falls under the category of “duh” and an error of greater stature than one last year when I mixed up the names of two annoying revolutionary groups in Peru. Censure when due, and error noted.

This week, however, with the help of science, I propose a flawless presentation about El Niño, what is being amusingly called the climatic event of the century, if not the climax. El Niño, to review, is either a large wad of warm ocean water that arrives off Peru every two to seven years, generally around Christmas - hence the name - or it is the discombobulated weather that goes with it, depending upon your source. Apparently, if I can believe this visual aid in Newsweek magazine, trade winds that normally blow west off of South America stop blowing. The surge of warm surface water that they normally propel across the Pacific to Malaysia settles back against the western slope of the Americas. When that happens, the cold, nutrient rich water cannot rise to feed the surface plankton, which die, and then the fish die. Meanwhile, Malaysia does not have the warm water and humidity to create rain, hence their drought and forest fires, and without the western Pacific humidity, the jet stream gets confused and sends rain to the Arizona desert, marlin to Vancouver, Argentinean ants to San Diego, and the Broncos to the Superbowl. After many, many years of study, science is now willing to state its findings.

It is with a certain amount of alarm that one questions the basic premise here. All these weather patterns and coming disasters are traced back to El Niño, but the more pressing issue, to me, is this flip sentence about the trade winds that stop blowing. It would seem to me that El Niño is not the cause, but merely the effect of that weather story, and that brings us back to the Atlantic Ocean, specifically to the Caribbean from whence the Trade Winds emerge. Well, that isn’t true either, the Trades emerge off of Africa, the same place the has produced the world’s greatest hurricanes for several centuries at least. Why are the trades becoming so erratic, and why are there seemingly so many hurricanes all of a sudden?

For that, science takes us to the Indian Ocean, the ocean that is most affected by events on the Antarctic Continent. No doubt you know that the ice pack has been getting smaller year after year, melting all this fresh and cold water into the sea, most especially in the basin of the Indian Ocean, which is now somewhat less saline than previously. Because it is less saline, evaporation is easier, making the air heavier, and slowing down the construction of the weather patterns that create the trade winds. But the cause is not here, you knowledgeable listeners will note. For that, science leads us to the Coelacanth, a fish from prehistory that science once thought was extinct, until 1948 when an Indian fisherman hauled one aboard in his nets. This coelacanth, we’ll call him Steve, now resides in a series of mason jars and bait shops in Bombay. Steve, like all his species, had three livers. You know what this means.

If it wasn’t for global warming, the Antarctic ice wouldn’t be melting.

This is fun, isn’t it? The search for the ultimate cause, the grand syllogism, the Magnificent Metaphor. Of course, I have not the slightest idea what I am talking about. Not a clue. I’m just stringing together a bunch of stuff I think I’ve heard and read about, and if you say it or write it with any confidence, there are people who believe even when the segues make no sense in terms of linear logic, much less science. None. If you can justify your statements with the term ‘science’, you can hear the minds lock into place. This is the basis of talk radio. Or, if I have understood what I am reading in the newsmagazines, journalism. Welcome.