Dramatic climate swings behind both last year's Pakistan flooding and this year's Queensland floods in Australia are likely to continue as the world gets warmer, scientists predict.
Researchers at the Universities of Oxford and Leeds have discovered that the El Niņo Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the sloshing of the warmest waters on the planet from the West Pacific towards the East Pacific every 2-7 years, continued during the Earth's last great warm period, the Pliocene.
Their results suggest that swings between the two climatic extremes, known as El Niņo and La Niņa, may even have occurred more frequently in the warmer past and may increase in frequency in the future. Extreme ENSO events cause droughts, forest fires and floods across much of the world as well as affecting fishery production.
Reporting in the journal Paleoceanography, the team of geochemists and climate modellers use the Pliocene as a past analogue and predictor of the workings of Earth's future climate.
The Pliocene (which lasted from 5 to 3 million years ago) had carbon dioxide levels similar to the present day, with global mean temperatures about 2-3ēC higher, so it is a useful test-ground for climate research.
Lead Scientist Nick Scroxton from Oxford University's Department of Earth Sciences said: 'We know from previous studies that the mean state of the Pacific during the warm Pliocene was similar to the climate patterns observed during a typical El Niņo event that we see today.