October 5, 2008

Scientists Seek Answers On Peru’s Cooling Climate

Scientists around the world are using everything from weather balloons to airplanes and even a yellow submarine to solve the intriguing climate conundrum of Peru, which is getting colder as the rest of the planet heats up.

Hoping to better understand the complex dynamics of the southeastern Pacific, researchers from the U.S., Europe and South America began gathering vast amounts of data from clouds, the shoreline and deep underwater this week.

The area hosts 20 percent of the world's fish stocks and plays a critical role in global weather patterns, and scientists are seeking to learn why temperatures have dropped on the desert coast.

"Peru has a very important role in global climate," said French scientist Alexis Chaigneau, who is leading the research in Peru, told Reuters.

"Over the past 50 years, the Peruvian coast has gotten colder, mainly because of stronger winds that have pulled up the deep cold waters of the ocean current."

The Humboldt Current flows north to Peru from the cold southern waters off Chile, and is believed to be the world's most productive marine ecosystem.  Its cold, deep waters are rich in nutrients and interact with the sun's energy to create life.

Over the next 90 days, a small satellite-controlled submarine and airplanes will send computers reams of information about temperatures, wind speeds and current and oxygen levels in the water.

Scientists also hope the data may help solve the riddles of the famous El Nino and La Nina weather patterns that occur in the southeastern Pacific. Which are linked to floods and droughts in other parts of the world.

"We need to know more to understand how this will impact fisheries," Hector Soldi, chairman of Peru's marine biology institute, told Reuters.

El Nino has been thought responsible for interrupting the current upswelling, causing fish stocks to crash.

Image Courtesy MODIS/NASA