News of the WeekPALEOCLIMATE

El Niño Grew Strong As Cultures Were Born

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Science  22 Jan 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5401, pp. 467-468
DOI: 10.1126/science.283.5401.467a

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In this issue of Science (p. 516), a group of researchers reports that a climate record cored from the bottom of a lake high in the Ecuadorian Andes suggests a much-weakened El Niño between 5000 and 12,000 years ago--or even none at all. Because older climate records show that in even earlier epochs, El Niño operated much the same as today, the new lake record points to an El Niño that waxes and wanes over the millennia. Some researchers argue that the onset of the modern El Niño 5000 years ago may have helped shape the emergence of civilizations around the Pacific, and its vacillations may give clues to our climate future in the greenhouse world. But it will take more records like the one from the Ecuadorian lake to fully persuade the cautious paleoclimate community that El Niño sometimes takes a break.