Possible return to El Niño?

There’s a recent paper which is predicting a 75% chance of El Niño conditions returning late 2014. Should we be worried? I think so.

The last major El Niño event was in 1998 and it was the largest ever recorded and caused global temperatures to spike. Since then global surface temperatures have been creeping up only slowly and giving fuel to contrarians who claim this is proof that climate change is not real or nothing to worry about.

But global surface temperatures are but one measure of global warming. The others are melting ice, warming oceans, increased ocean acidity, rising sea levels and changing weather patterns and all of these things are happening. The reason surface temperatures have not risen as dramatically as they did the previous decade is complex and varied. The last decade has seen La Niña conditions dominate and La Niña years tend to be cooler; solar activity has been low; pollution (known as aerosols) reflects sunlight back into space; there are missing temperate measurements from the Arctic where warming is happening faster than anywhere else and strengthening trade winds have led to increased heat uptake in the Pacific ocean. So given all of these factors, some scientists are now asking why haven’t global surface temperatures not been falling over the past decade?

Contrarians also complain that climate models did not predict this slow-down in surface temperatures and yet they never mention that the climate models also failed to predict the speed with which the Arctic is melting. Speaking of which, the latest interactive of Arctic sea ice does not look good. (h/t to uknowispeaksense who I’ve pinched this image from). The yellow line is the current year.

Original image from http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/

In previous years, when the Arctic has experienced record loss of sea ice, European winters immediately afterwards have been exceptionally cold. Scientists have also found a link between freezing cold springs and Arctic sea ice decline.

Given all of this, I find it very frustrating that there are many people still arguing that it’s not happening or that it’s nothing to worry about or even worse, that it’s too hard to solve as some of the comments in this thread seem to suggest. Someone told me once that they never hired anyone for a job who took this approach to problem-solving. If you approach the problem from the perspective that it can’t be solved then you’re not likely to succeed.

So what will a return to El Niño mean? For Australia it will mean hotter, dryer weather with increased risk of drought and bush fires. This is useful information to have in advance, particularly for farmers. I’d like to think that Australian politicians will take this prediction seriously even though they seem to completely ignore the longer term problem of climate change.