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A warm ‘ocean blob’ is linked the megadrought plaguing Chile

So-called ‘Southern blob’ has been increasing in size to the east of Australia and New Zealand over the past four decades

Kelsie Sandoval
In New York
Tuesday 31 August 2021 19:57 BST
Fire destroys church in Chile

A warm “blob” in the southwestern Pacific Ocean has been linked to a megadrought thousands of miles away in Chile, a new study has found.

For the first time, research has established a connection between the so-called “Southern blob”, located east of Australia and New Zealand, and the South American nation’s decades-long drought.

Researchers used computer simulations to measure the blob from 1979 to 2018, and found that the waters of the blob are 1.5 degrees Celsius hotter than they were 40 years ago.

That is also around three times the global average increase in sea surface temperature, according to the study published on 26th August in the Journal of Climate.

Rising global temperature, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, is believed to be partly behind the warm blob’s increase in size which now roughly equates to the land mass of Australia.

While other ocean heat blobs have broken apart within a few years, the Southern blob has been particularly long-lasting. Scientists in part attribute its endurance to the impacts of the climate crisis.

The ocean absorbs over 90 per cent of the excess heat caused by greenhouse emissions, according to National Centers for Environmental Information.

The blob radiates hot air which is carried by wind currents to Chile. This high-pressure ridge in turn had led to a decline in rainfall and exacerbated hot and dry conditions in the country.

Chile has been suffering from prolonged drought conditions for the past decade. Tens of thousands of farm animals have died, prompting Chile’s ministry of agriculture to declare an emergency in 50 areas. Water resources have also run dry in rural areas, forcing residents to have water delivered to their homes.

Earlier this month Chilean officials declared the record-breaking drought as a clear sign of the climate crisis, noting that the Andes mountain range have no snowcaps and the low reservoir levels in the capital, Santiago. So far this year there has been 78mm of rainfall in Chile - a vast decline from 180mm last year.

The Southern blob is affecting regions beyond Chile. As warm waters creep towards Antarctica, it results in reduced sea ice and loss of habitat for creatures such as seabirds and polar bears.

The Southern blob isn’t the first marine heatwave to cause concern. In 2013, a blob formed off Alaska and led to a decline in the salmon population.

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