One of the strongest El Niños in history has ended, with sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean returning to “neutral” levels, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said on Tuesday.
However, the bureau said there was a 50 per cent chance of a La Niña weather pattern developing before the end of 2016. The event typically brings cooler and wetter conditions in the Pacific and more storms in Europe and the US.
The end of El Niño, named after the Christ Child by the Peruvian fishermen who noticed the phenomenon in the 17th century, should relieve drought-stricken areas in the Asia-Pacific region and Africa, where temperatures have been higher than normal. It is likely to ease stress on the Great Barrier Reef, which is suffering its worst bleaching in history due to higher than normal sea temperatures off Australia.
“This was one of the most impactful El Niños in the past two decades,” said Agus Santoso, a research associate at University of New South Wales.
“It helped make 2015 the hottest year on record, which helped to fuel devastating forest fires in Indonesia, drought conditions in Australia and coral bleaching in oceans around the world,” he said.
Surveys show 93 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef experienced bleaching — a process whereby coral loses colour and turns pale — this year as sea temperatures stayed more than 1C above normal for several weeks. In the worst-affected parts of the reef, half of the coral surveyed had died, according to scientists.