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El Niño

A warming of the surface waters of the eastern equatorial Pacific that occurs at irregular intervals of 2-7 years, usually lasting 1-2 years. Along the west coast of South America, southerly winds promote the upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water that sustains large fish populations, that sustain abundant sea birds, whose droppings support the fertilizer industry. Near the end of each calendar year, a warm current of nutrient-pool tropical water replaces the cold, nutrient-rich surface water. Because this condition often occurs around Christmas, it was named El Niño (Spanish for boy child, referring to the Christ child). In most years the warming last only a few weeks or a month, after which the weather patterns return to normal and fishing improves. However, when El Niño conditions last for many months, more extensive ocean warming occurs and economic results can be disastrous. El Niño has been linked to wetter, colder winters in the United States; drier, hotter summers in South America and Europe; and drought in Africa. See ENSO. Source: NASA (http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Glossary)