UCI News

Coming El Nino could gently replenish overstressed aquifers in parched state – or it might ravage vulnerable infrastructure

Amir AghaKouchak, civil and environmental engineering assistant professor at UC Irvine, discusses El Niño and its effects — particularly droughts and floods. Steve Chang and Steve Zylius / UCI

When respected climatologists describe this winter’s warming of tropical Pacific waters as a Godzilla El Nino event, they might be onto something. The science fiction monster’s signature move is to emerge from the ocean and destroy structures built by hapless humans. Many of the necessary plot elements are in place for El Nino to similarly wreak havoc in the Golden State in the coming months, says an expert in climate extremes at the University of California, Irvine.

“California is in year four of a severe drought,” says Amir AghaKouchak, assistant professor of civil & environmental engineering at UCI. “Earthen infrastructure around the state is dried out to the point of cracking. If a sudden overabundance of water from El Nino rains gets in those cracks, vital dams, levees and roadways can fail.” Read more …

Forecast: cloudy

With climatologists uncertain how powerful the impending El Nino will be, California residents need to be prepared for anything from light showers – which this UCI student takes in stride – to serious deluges.
Steve Zylius / UCI

But will it be as powerful as similar conditions in the early 1980s and late 1990s? Will it deliver much-needed rain to California’s aquifers and snow to its mountains? Does the intensity of this year’s event have something to do with global climate change? The scientific community – as well as the public – is asking these questions and more, but answers are elusive. Read more …