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The Weird Way Australia’s Bushfires Influenced a Weirder La Niña

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This may not have been the first time that bushfire smoke significantly affected La Niña. Fasullo and his colleagues are now investigating Australia’s notoriously awful 1974–75 fire season. In 1975 and 1976, scientists had forecast a warm El Niño, but that turned into what researchers instead dubbed an “aborted El Niño event,” when a cool La Niña formed instead. “As it turns out, we do have some case studies that we’re looking at from the ’70s,” says Fasullo. “We think it may have been due to Australian bushfires.”

That could mean that wildfires play a more active role in La Niña and El Niño than previously believed. “This is especially important given the background warming of the climate is going to increase the frequency and severity of wildfires,” says Xie. The more the world warms and dries, the bigger and hotter wildfires get, potentially creating more smoke that can drift across the Pacific. The route of smoke traveling from Australia is perfectly positioned to mess with the natural variability of ocean temperatures off the coast of South…

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