Increasing temperatures Increases the Intensification of Floods in Peru, March 2023
The Earth’s rising temperatures have made dry regions dryer and wet regions wetter, causing more than normal precipitation on the Western coast of South America. Specifically, Peru, a still developing country, is receiving up to $323 million in damages due to the intense flooding. Now the floods in Peru usually occur due to a natural phenomenon called El Niño, which usually occurs at a peak in November-Feb and occurs every 3-5 years. El Niño occurs when warm water builds up along the equator in the eastern Pacific. The warm ocean surface warms the atmosphere, which allows moisture-rich air to rise, and develop into rainstorms. This causes high precipitation and created Cyclone Yaku, an unusual low-pressure system in the far Southeastern Pacific that impacted Ecuador and northern Peru in early March 2023 causing overflowing rivers and flooding. Now one could say, if the floods are caused by a “Natural Phenomenon” then these floods are naturally caused. This may be true, however due to climate change (rising sea water temperatures) the floods have become more intense and is scary knowing that El Nino will always occur every few years causing worse and worse floods.
In the Piura Region of Peru, there has been some catastrophic floods damaging rural villages and affecting the daily lives of hard-working Peruvians trying to survive the main problem in their lives, which is extreme poverty. According to an OSHA Report discussing the recent foods in March of 2023, “Overflowing rivers have left four dead people, and severe damage on 2,077 homes, 13 educational centers, 35 health establishments, 2,700 means of transportation and 4,730 irrigation canals.” Even if the deaths aren’t a shock to the world, those people lost are someone else’s world, and are unable to come back to their families. The damages to the homes, educational centers, and roads impact the community and lives of the people that live in Piura. Peru is known to be at risk of natural disasters, including floods, droughts and landslides, “whose frequency, severity and impacts are compounded by the El Niño Southern Oscillation” and will only get worse by Climate Change says climatelinks.org.
Now to briefly explain the process on why El Niño occurs, and how climate change is affecting it, due to higher-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. According to USGS Science for a Changing World gov website, “The trade winds, that usually blow warm water from east to west along the equator, are weakened or start blowing towards the East- in the opposite direction. The warmer waters cause the Pacific jet stream to move south of its neutral position. With this shift, areas in the northern U.S. and Canada are dryer and warmer than usual. But in the U.S. Gulf Coast and Southeast, these periods are wetter than usual and have increased flooding.” The temperatures along the equator have been rising due to greenhouse gas emissions according to Bing Wang who is apart of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences and International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, “As such, the equatorial zonal SST gradient around the dateline, defined by SSTA, has been enhanced since 1980. Consistent with the increased westward SST gradient, the easterly trade winds near the dateline have also strengthened.” The trade winds being strengthened moving to the East allows more of the warm water vapor and higher precipitation on the coast of South America, which allows for Cyclone Yaku to form which forms floods in the regions of Peru. As the temperature “gradient increases under the anthropogenic forcing”, El Nino’s “frequency of occurrence and the intensity increase significantly.” Says Bing Wang. El Nino’s natural phenomenon will increase in “intensity” as the temperature along the Equator increases.
The heavy rainfall of Cyclone Yaku causes overflowing rivers to flood and mudslides around Peru. In this case, the regions like Piura were and still are at risk of the natural phenomenon El Nino which is fueled more by climate change. Even if El Nino only occurs in 3-5 years the high precipitation can always form more floods or cyclones wreaking havoc on the rural areas in this struggling country. I may have not been personally affected by these floods, but that should not make me ignore climate change. For it may happen to us as well as these South American countries like Peru.
- “What Is ‘El Niño’ and What Are Its Effects?” What Is “El Niño” and What Are Its Effects? | U.S. Geological Survey, https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/what-el-nino-and-what-are-its-effects.
- “Peru: Floods and Landslides – Mar 2023.” ReliefWeb, https://reliefweb.int/disaster/fl-2023-000036.
- “Climate Risk Profile: Peru.” Global Climate Change, 8 Feb. 2017, https://www.climatelinks.org/resources/climate-risk-profile-peru.
- Historical Change of El Niño Properties Sheds Light on Future … – PNAS. https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.1911130116.