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El Niño Watch 2015: Rain-Starved San Diego Hoping For A Strong One

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El Niño Watch 2015: Rain-Starved San Diego Hoping For A Strong One
GUESTS: Nick Wegner, fisheries research biologist, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Tim Barnett, marine physicist emeritus, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

OUR TOP STORY ON -- MID-DAY , AND OTHER YEAR, AND ANOTHER ROUND OF SPECULATION ABOUT EL NIÑO. THIS YEAR IT LOOKS AS IF THE WEATHER SCIENTISTS ARE STARTING TO BE OPTIMISTIC. JUST LAST WEEK THE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION RELEASED AN UPDATE THAT THE EL NIÑO EVENT FORMING IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC HAS A 90% CHANCE OF CONTINUING THROUGHOUT THE FALL. SCIENTISTS NOW SAY IS SHAPING UP TO BE A STRONG EL NIÑO. JOINING ME TO DISCUSS ITS POSSIBLE IMPACT ARE TIM BARNETT, HE IS A GEOPHYSICIST AT SCRIPPS INSTITUTION OF OCEANOGRAPHY. GOOD MORNING. NICK WIGNER IS HERE. HE IS A BIOLOGIST WITH NOAH. TAM, THEN WE GO THROUGH THIS KIND OF SPECULATION LAST YEAR ABOUT EL NIÑO? YES, WE DID. WHAT IS DIFFERENT THIS TIME? THERE WAS AN EL NIÑO LAST YEAR. THE PROBLEM AROSE IN THAT NOAH HAS A CERTAIN THRESHOLD OF THE SURFACE TEMPERATURE. IF YOU EXCEED THAT THRESHOLD, WE ALL DECLARE EL NIÑO PEER. IT DIDN'T QUITE MAKE IT UP TO THE CUT OFF, BARELY, BUT NOT QUITE. OF COURSE, EVERY BIOLOGICAL CREATURE KNEW THERE WAS AN EL NIÑO AND LEFT THEIR NORMAL HABITATS. I AM SURE THAT NICK -- THIS WILL BE THE SECOND YEAR IF IT HANGS ON. AS YOU SAY, A POSSIBILITY FOREBRAIN WITH A BIG EVENT. RIGHT. REMIND US WHAT AN EL NIÑO EVENT IS? IT HAS A SORDID HISTORY. THE NAME CAME FROM PERUVIAN FISHERMEN. THEY WOULD NOTICE EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE THAT THE WATER WOULD GET VERY WARM AND DRY THEIR FISH A WAY. THEY CALLED IT EL NIÑO BECAUSE THIS WARMING GENERALLY HAPPEN IN THE WINTERTIME, A ROUND CHRISTMAS. EL NIÑO, THE CHRIST CHILD, THE EUROPEANS TOOK IT FROM THERE. IT IS ONLY RECENTLY THAT WE HAVE REALIZED THAT IT IS NOT SOMETHING THAT HAPPENS IN PERU, BUT BASICALLY IMPACTS MANY REGIONS OF THE WORLD PEER IT IS TRULY A GLOBAL CLIMATE OSCILLATION, BUT A NATURAL ONE. HOW OFTEN DO THEY OCCUR? EVERY 3 TO 7 YEARS. HOW DO SCIENTISTS ASSESS THE STRENGTH OF AN EL NIÑO? YOU GET INDICATIONS, BUT LIKE LAST YEAR, THE BOTTOM FELL OUT A BIT PART WAY THROUGH THE CYCLE. THIS YEAR WE ARE APPROACHING THE THRESHOLD WHERE WE THINK WE WILL GET SOME PRETTY GOOD RAINS. WE ARE NOT THERE YET. WHERE WAS THE LAST BIG EL NIÑO IN SAN DIEGO? 97 AND 98. WHAT TYPE OF RAINFALL DO WE EXPERIENCE DURING THAT TIME? THE ONLY TROUBLE WITH EL NIÑO TYPE RAIN IS THAT IT TENDS TO BE VERY HEAVY LOCALLY. IF IT HAPPENS, YOU CAN EXPECT LEADING TO GO RIGHT UP ON TOP OF THE DROUGHT. I HAVE READ THAT THE EL NIÑO PHENOMENON DOESN'T AFFECT ALL OF CALIFORNIA IN EXACTLY THE SAME WAY. EVEN IF IT IS QUITE STRONG, BUT IT IS PRETTY CERTAIN THAT IF IT IS A STRONG EL NIÑO, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA IS GOING TO GET A LOT OF RAIN. THAT IS THE MOST LIKELY SCENARIO. YOU WILL HAVE A BAND THAT IS PARTICULARLY HEAVY. NICK, WHAT HAPPENS TO MARINE LIFE DURING A O'NEIL? THERE IS A LOT OF DIFFERENT AFFECTS. I CAN PROBABLY TALK ABOUT IT IN TWO STAGES. ONE ON IT ORGANISMAL LEVEL AND MORE OF A ECOSYSTEM LEVEL. FISH, MARINE, AND VERTEBRAE ARE BASICALLY THE SAME TEMPERATURE AS THE WATER. WHEN THE WATER WARMS UP THEIR BODY TEMPERATURE INCREASES. THAT CHANGES DIFFERENT ASPECTS OF THEIR PHYSIOLOGY. IT INCREASES THE METABOLIC RATE, INCREASES THEIR ACTIVITY LEVELS, AND SO YOU HAVE THAT ON TOP OF A MORE ECOSYSTEM AFFECT. IN TERMS OF THE ECOSYSTEM, WARM WATER PULLING OFF OF OUR COAST USUALLY TENDS TO DAMPEN UPWELLING. UPWELLING IS THE RISE OF COAL, D BOTTOM WATER WHICH BRINGS NUTRIENTS UP TO THE SURFACE. WHEN THEY DO NOT COME TO THE SURFACE, BECAUSE THERE IS A WARM WATER LEVEL ON TOP OF THAT, IT AFFECTS PRIMARY PRODUCTIVITY. THE PRODUCTION OF PHYTOPLANKTON, WHICH HELPS WITH THE FOOD CHAIN. SO, YOU POTENTIALLY HAVE A VERY LARGE CHANGE TO THE ECOSYSTEM ASSOCIATED WITH WARMER WATER. YOU PUT THAT ON TOP OF THE INDIVIDUAL ORGANISM, WHICH IS MORE ACTIVE AND HUNGRIER AND YOU HAVE THE RECIPE FOR THE MAJOR CHANGES. WARMER WATER HAS BEEN SEEN AS THE CULPRIT FOR THE SEA LION PUP BEACHING THE WE HAVE HAD. HOW THIS ACTUALLY WORK? RIGHT. ONE OF THE BIG PROBLEMS IS IF YOU HAVE THIS ECOSYSTEM CHANGE OR THIS ECOSYSTEM AFFECT WHERE YOU HAVE LESS PHYTOPLANKTON AND LESS SMALL FISH TO FEED THOSE THE LION PUPS AND THEIR MOTHERS. SO, THE MOTHER START OFF ACTUALLY MORE EMASCULATED WHEN THEY ARE GIVING BIRTH AND THEY OFTEN HAVE TO LEAVE THE PUPS SOONER TO GO BEEN FOR THEMSELVES. THAT RESULTS IN STRANDINGS. BASICALLY, THESE ANIMALS ARE NOT BINDING THE SPECIES SUCH AS ANCHOVIES, SARDINES AND MARKET SQUARE, WHICH ARE ALL VERY IMPORTANT COMPONENTS OF THEIR DIET. JUST RECENTLY WE HAVE SEEN THESE TO THE CRAPS -- CRABS ON BEACHES HERE IN SAN DIEGO. IS THAT RELATED TO WARMER OCEAN WATER? QUITE POSSIBLY. I WOULD THINK THAT THESE TO THE CRAPS -- CRABS ARE USUALLY TYPICALLY BOUND OFF THE COAST OF BAJA. IN PREVIOUS EL NIÑO YEARS WE HAVE SEEN THESE CRABS COME UP NORTH AND OBVIOUSLY THEY HAVE COME IN BIG NUMBERS. WE HAD THEM HERE LAST YEAR. THIS YEAR THEY ARE MORE ABUNDANT AND ARE WASHING UP ON THE BEACHES. THAT MAY BE BENEFICIAL FOR SOME OF THESE ANIMALS PEER IT DOES PROVIDE FORAGE FOR SOME SEABIRDS AND OTHER ANIMALS THAT HAVE LOST SOME OF THEIR FORGE BASE DUE TO THE WATER WATER. IF YOU CANNOT GET IT IN THE WATER YOU CAN GET IT ON THE BEACH. THAT IS RIGHT. THIS YEAR, THERE IS THE PHENOMENA CALLED THE BLOB, WHICH IS A STRETCH OF WARM WATER OFF THE COAST OF THE WESTERN UNITED STATES AND MEXICO. I WAS IS AFFECTING MARINE LIFE? BASICALLY IN THE SAME WAY. WARM WATER IS WARM WATER DESPITE WHERE IT COMES FROM. IT IS GOING TO HAVE THE SAME EFFECTS ON MARINE LIFE. WE WILL BE VERY INTERESTED TO SEE IF THE EL NIÑO AND THE BLOB COMBINED FORCES AND GIVE US EXTRA WARM WATER. I WANT TO ASK YOU ABOUT THAT. LET'S JUST A WITH MARINE LIFE FOR A SECOND. WITH THIS WARM WATER, WE MENTIONED THE SEA LION PUPS AND THE TUNA CRAPS, WHAT OTHER KINDS OF FISH THAT WE DO NOT NORMALLY THE CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE NOW WITH THIS WARM WATER ON OUR COAST AND THE EXPECTED EFFECTS OF EL NIÑO? THAT IS ALWAYS EXCITING FROM A BIOLOGIST POINT OF VIEW. WE SEE THESE ANIMALS THAT ARE MORE WARM WATER SPECIES ASSOCIATED WITH WARM WATER THAT COME UP NORTH. WE HAVE RELATIVELY GOOD FISHING FOR THINGS LIKE TUNA, MARLON. THEY MAKE THEIR WAY UP. LAST YEAR THERE WAS A BLUE MARLIN CAUGHT OFF OF THE COAST OF SAN DIEGO, WHICH IS MORE OF A TOPIC HE SHE'S. WE GET THINGS LIKE MAHI-MAHI -- REALLY, HERE? YES. BUT THE NUMBERS ARE GOING TO USUALLY BE BIGGER WHEN THE WATER IS WARMER. YOU ALSO GET OTHER EXOTICS LIKE HAMMERHEAD SHARKS AND OTHER FUN THINGS TO SHOW UP OFF OF OUR COAST AND MAKE FOR GOOD PICTURES. FROM WHAT I UNDERSTAND, YOU USED TO BE A COMMERCIAL FISHERMAN. WHAT IS WARM WATER ME FOR SPORTS FISSURES IN SAN DIEGO? AS HE HAS INDICATED, YOU GET THE TROPICAL SPECIES THAT MOST OF A LOT OF FOOD. BASICALLY, THERE POPULATION SHIFTS NORTH BY MAY BE A COUPLE HUNDRED MILES OR MORE. ONE SPECIES THAT WE SAW LAST YEAR AND ABUNDANCE OFF OF SAN DIEGO, AND I THINK HAVE NEVER BEEN SEEN BEFORE ARE A WHILE. WE EXPECT TO SEE THOSE OFF OF COBBLESTONE LUCAS. HERE THERE WERE SCHOOLS OF 10 OR 40. IT WAS ABE MAJOR THING FOR THOSE DOING A CAMPUS. NO ONE HAD EVER HEARD OF THAT HERE IN SAN DIEGO. EL NIÑO DOES OTHER THINGS. THERE IS A LONG SHORT CURRENT ASSOCIATED WITH A. THE GUYS GET IN THAT CURRENT AND GET CARRIED AWAY. BEST EXAMPLE -- THE GUYS, YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT THE FISH? I AM TALKING ABOUT THE FISHERMAN. OKAY. THERE WERE FISH CAUGHT OFF KODIAK ISLAND. THEY TOOK THEM TO THE BIOLOGIST AND HE SAID THAT HE DOES NOT KNOW WHAT THEY ARE. THEY SHIP THEM DOWN TO SEATTLE PEER IT TURNS OUT THEY ARE YELLOWTAIL. LOWERED -- YELLOWTAIL SHOULD NOT GO OFF OF POINT CONCEPTION. THEY WERE OVER 1000 MILES DISLOCATED. IT IS EXCITING FOR THE SPORTS FISHERMEN AND FOR THE PEOPLE WHO WANT TO TAKE PICTURES. IS IT A STRESSOR ON THE CREATURES THEMSELVES? FOR THESE WARM, TROPICAL SPECIES, IT IS A RANGE EXPANSION. FOR OUR LOCAL SPECIES, WHICH ARE MORE COAL WATER ADAPTIVE, YES IT CAN BE. BASICALLY, FISH AND MARINE INVERTEBRATES HAVE A COUPLE OF OPTIONS. THEY CAN EITHER MOVE NORTH TO ENCOUNTER COLDER WATERS THAT THEY ARE MORE COMFORTABLE WITH OR THEY CAN GO DEEPER. THOSE ARE THE EFFECTS ON OUR LOCAL FISH. THINGS LIKE MARKET SQUID AND COMMERCIALLY IMPORTED SPECIES OFTEN MOVE NORTH SO WE DON'T HAVE ACCESS TO THEM ANYMORE HERE IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. ARE SCIENTIST TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW EL NIÑO AND THESE WARM WATERS STRETCH FROM MEXICO ALL THE WAY UP THE WESTERN US COAST? YES THEY ARE. I WILL PROBABLY TURN THIS OVER TO TIM BECAUSE THAT IS HIS AREA OF EXPERTISE. THE BLOB CAME AS SORT OF A SURPRISE TO A LOT OF PEOPLE. IT IS LARGELY BECAUSE OF THE NAME. PEOPLE SAID THAT THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE. WELL, I AM A OLD MAN. I WILL TELL YOU IT HAS HAPPENED BEFORE. IT WAS VERY INTERESTING IN 1957 AND 1958, A BLOB FORMED OFF THE COAST OF JAPAN AND SLOWLY MIGRATED ACROSS THE ENTIRE PACIFIC OVER THE NEXT THREE OR FOUR YEARS AND SHOWED UP IN THE GULF OF ALASKA WHERE THE THING IS NOW. IT TURNED OUT THERE WERE EL NIÑO'S DURING THAT TIME. EXACTLY WHAT THE RELATION IS, I DO NOT KNOW. I DON'T THINK ANYONE DOES. I WOULD EXPECT NOT TO BE VERY STRONG. BE PHYSICS OF WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH THE BLOG IS REALLY DIFFERENT THAN THE PHYSICS THAT IS GOING ON WITH EL NIÑO AND THE PACIFIC. DID THEY EVER FIGURE OUT WHAT CAUSED THE SECTION OF WARM OCEAN WATER THAT WE CALL THE BLOB NOW? NO. EVERYONE SAID WOW, LOOKED THAT. I WONDER WHY THAT HAPPENED? IN THOSE DAYS WE DID NOT HAVE GOOD CLIMATE MODELS. WE HAD VERY GOOD DATA. WE WERE LUCKY TO DOCUMENT THIS THING AS WE DID. I THINK EVERYBODY WANTS TO GIVE SOMETHING A NEW NAME. I THINK THAT AS THEY LOOK CAREFULLY THEY WILL FIND THAT THIS HAS BEEN AROUND AND WE DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT IS GOING ON, BUT WE DID TO. SAYS EL NIÑO INDICATES WARMER OCEAN WATER TEMPERATURES AND THE BLOB IS SHOWING WARMER OCEAN WATER TEMPERATURES, WHEN THEY COMBINE, COULD THEY AS NICK SUGGESTED, ACTUALLY CREATE WARMER OCEAN TEMPERATURES AND A STRONGER AFFECT FOR THAT POSSIBLE DROUGHT BREAKING AFFECT HERE IN SAN DIEGO? YES. I THINK THAT IS POSSIBLE. LIKELY, I AM A LITTLE MORE SKEPTICAL. THE PHYSICS OF THE BLOG AND THE EFFECTS OF EL NIÑO ARE DIFFERENT. THE DATA SAYS THEY ARE DIFFERENT. THEY FEEL DIFFERENT. THE OCEAN HAS ANOTHER PROPERTY AND YOU CAN ONLY HEAT IT UP SO MUCH. IF YOU GET IT HOT ENOUGH, PRETTY SOON, YOU CANNOT GET IT IN THE HOTTER. OR DEGREES CENTIGRADE IS ABOUT HOW WARM IT IS IN THE EQUATORIAL REGIONS. DO ICE -- DO I SUSPECT THAT ANYWHERE HERE? NO WAY. DOES IT BECOME A POINT WHEN IT BECOMES DEFINITE? AFTERWORDS.[ LAUGHTER ] FOR SURE. WHEN I GOT INTO THE FIELD THE BIG IDEA WAS CAN WE PREDICT EL NIÑO? IT TURNS OUT IT WAS THE EASIEST PREDICTION MODEL EVER DONE PEER IT WORK LIKE GANGBUSTERS. IT RELIED ON THE PERUVIAN FISHERMEN RAISING THEIR HAND IS SAYING THEY HAVE A WARM EVENT. THREE MONTHS LATER, YOU WERE GOING TO GET ANOTHER WARM EVENT. THIS WAS COOL UNTIL THE 80s. AND THEN THESE THINGS USED TO PROPAGATE FROM SOUTH AMERICA OVER TOWARDS AUSTRALIA. NOW THEY START TO GO THE OTHER WAY. WE GOT TO THE POINT WHERE WE HAVE DIFFERENT FLAVORS OF EL NIÑO. THAT MAKES NOT ONLY STRAIGHT FORECASTING VERY DIFFICULT IF NOT IMPOSSIBLE, BUT ALSO MAKES THE QUESTION THAT YOU ASKED ABOUT ADDING UP TEMPERATURES REALLY MUCH MORE DIFFICULT. WE ARE NOT THERE YET. WE STRUGGLE THE SAME WAY. WE HAVE A BIG ONE, IS A BIG ENOUGH TO GIVE US TO RICHER RAIN IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, MAYBE. WILL LIBERATE THE DROUGHT? NO. IT WOULD TAKE A LOT OF BIG EL NIÑO'S TO DO THAT. SO KEEP THIS COMING DROUGHT AND THE WINTER RAINS SEPARATE IN YOUR MINDS. I REALLY APPRECIATE IT. I HAVE BEEN SPEAKING WITH TIM BARNETT, HE IS A MERTES RESEARCH GEOPHYSICIST WITH SCRIPPS INSTITUTION OF OCEANOGRAPHY. THANK YOU BOTH VERY MUCH. THANK YOU. THANK YOU.

Weather scientists are optimistic about an El Niño and its possible effects on rain-starved California.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released an update last week that the El Niño event forming in the South Pacific has a 90 percent chance of continuing through the fall. And scientists now say it's shaping up to be a strong El Niño, which could bring rain come winter.

The warm water will also bring unusual fish to the region. It has already brought an invasion of tuna crabs to San Diego shores. And it could be a great year for tuna fishing, experts said.

Nick Wegner, research biologist for NOAA Fisheries, said an El Niño could have a lot of different effects on any marine animals.

“Fish are basically the same temperature as the water, and that changes different aspects of their physiology,” Wegner told KPBS Midday Edition on Monday. “It increases their metabolic rate, it increases their activity level.”

Despite the possibility of an an El Niño, Tim Barnett, marine physicist emeritus for Scripps Institute of Oceanography, said it won’t break the drought.

“It will take a lot of El Niños for that,” Barnett said.

El Niño Watch 2015: Rain-Starved San Diego Hoping For A Strong One