Lighter rains mean more fires — and more pollution.
An unexpected link between the climate event El Niño and a rise in the number of deaths in southeast Asia is revealed in research published today in Nature Climate Change.
El Niño events, which displace warm water into the eastern Pacific Ocean and produce cool waters near Indonesia, exert their effect by suppressing the monsoon rains that usually put a dampener on the use of fire to clear land for agriculture. The resulting additional pollution can account for as many as 15,000 deaths in El Niño years, the study says.
“We usually think of deforestation and fires in terms of global carbon emissions, but we are seeing this regional impact on public health as well,” says Miriam Marlier, a graduate student at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, who led the study.