BOULDER--Twelve countries around the world will now have help in preparing for droughts, floods, fires, and tropical storms related to future El Ninos. The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has received a $650,000 grant from the United Nations Fund for International Partnership for a 19-month study of 1997-98 El Nino impacts. The study will help each country build operational, research, and educational programs to protect its people and the environment from climate hazards related to El Nino and La Nina events. NCAR's primary sponsor is the National Science Foundation.
The source of the NCAR/UNEP grant is the first part of a billion-dollar gift to the UN in September 1997 by businessman Ted Turner. The World Meteorological Organization, the UN University, and the UN International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction are partners in the project.
The program will assess forecasts and impacts of the 1997-98 El Nino in China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Fiji, Kenya, Mozambique, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, and Vietnam. This month and next, NCAR and UNEP will establish a network of participants in each country, who will then develop projects tailored to each society's needs. The first meeting of the country study leaders will take place in the International Conference Centre of Geneva in early July 1999.
"El Nino is a hazard spawner," says project director Michael Glantz, a senior scientist at NCAR. "Affected countries are wise to incorporate it into their national disaster plans." Such preparedness could help with similar climate impacts resulting from global climate change over the next century, which some scientists believe will produce more severe drought in some areas and heavier rains in others.
El Nino occurs when trade winds over the Pacific Ocean weaken and sometimes reverse direction, and surface waters warm off the west coast of South America. Through changes in atmospheric circulation, it can affect climate around the world. The 1997-98 El Nino, for example, brought drought to Australia and heavy rains to Kenya. La Nina, a cooling of the same Pacific waters, generally creates less intense impacts worldwide but can brew a hearty hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean.
According to Glantz, "El Nino is the climate event that allows us the earliest warnings of potential impacts. Still, we're just starting to learn how to get ready for it." Glantz, who proposed the new project, believes extensive analysis of what worked and what didn't for each country before, during, and after the 1997-98 El Nino is the key to preparing for future climate catastrophes.
After reviewing each country's systems for early warning and natural disaster preparedness, the participants will identify research and policy needs. The final step will be to develop preliminary guidelines for regional and national preparedness for both El Nino and La Nina events. Glantz hopes to introduce climate-affairs courses into university curricula in the 12 case-study countries to prepare future scientists and policymakers for approaching climate disasters.
NCAR is managed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a consortium of more than 60 universities offering Ph.D.s in atmospheric and related sciences.
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