Tuesday, September 15, 2009

El Niño, global warming link questioned; possible link between 1918 El Niño and flu pandemic?

Science Daily: Research conducted at Texas A&M University casts doubts on the notion that El Niño has been getting stronger because of global warming and raises interesting questions about the relationship between El Niño and a severe flu pandemic 91 years ago. The findings are based on analysis of the 1918 El Niño, which the new research shows to be one of the strongest of the 20th century.

…Using advanced computer models, Benjamin Giese, a professor of oceanography who specializes in ocean modeling, and his co-authors conducted a simulation of the global oceans for the first half of the 20th century and they find that, in contrast with prior descriptions, the 1918-19 El Niño was one of the strongest of the century.

...The El Niño of 1918 coincided with one of the worst droughts in India, he adds. "It is well known that there is a connection between El Niño and the failure of the Indian monsoon, just as there is a well-established connection between El Niño and Atlantic hurricane intensity," Giese says. In addition to drought in India and Australia, 1918 was also a year in which there were few Atlantic hurricanes.

The research also raises questions about El Niño and mortality from the influenza pandemic of 1918. By mid-1918, a flu outbreak – which we now know was the H1N1 strain that is of great concern today – was sweeping the world, and the resulting fatalities were catastrophic: At least 25 million people died worldwide, with some estimates as high as 100 million deaths. India was particularly hard hit by the influenza.

"We know that there is a connection between El Niño and drought in India," Giese notes. "It seems probable that mortality from influenza was high in India because of famine associated with drought, so it is likely that El Niño contributed to the high mortality from influenza in India."

…Could the events of 1918 be a harbinger of what might occur in 2009? Giese says there are some interesting parallels. The winter and spring in 1918 were unusually cold throughout North America, just at the time influenza started to spread in the central U.S. That was followed by a strengthening El Niño and subsequent drought in India. As the El Niño matured in the fall of 1918, the influenza became a pandemic....

Policemen in Seattle wearing masks made by the Red Cross, during the influenza epidemic. December 1918. Taken from http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/influenza-epidemic/records-list.html

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