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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
What links the immemorial flooding of the Nile to the mudslides that periodically devour homes in Northern California? In this engaging account, J. Madeleine Nash, an award-winning science writer, reveals the startling connections between El Niño, a quasi-periodic flow of warm Pacific Ocean water, and cataclysmic phenomena that have shaped human history.
It was Peruvian fishermen who named this mysterious warm current "La Corriente del Niño" (the Christ Child's Current), since it tends to arrive around Christmastime. What Nash terms its "oceanic footprint" is nearly 9,000 miles long, extending from Peru and Ecuador to Papua New Guinea and Indonesia; its atmospheric influence encompasses the entire earth. The vast scale of this phenomenon made it simply too large for scientists to discern until the modern age of international meteorological records and global communications.
This thought-provoking book vividly details the floods and droughts directly caused by El Niño, and their repercussions in landslides, fires, outbreaks of virulent disease, and the price of wheat, beef, and hogs on the U.S. commodities exchanges. The climatological evidence piles up, from the present-day hurricanes that scour their way across Florida to the flash floods that devastated pre-Inca civilizations along the desert coast of Peru.
Nash excels at bringing these phenomena home to us. She introduces us to the boomerang-throwing scientist who in 1878 first identified a "giant atmospheric seesaw" in the South Pacific as the root cause of India's devastating famine. We are on the spot as climatologists in the Andes drill core samples from an equatorial ice cap, and in this way capture a 1, 500-year diary of El Niño's comings and goings. We meet residents of Rio Nido, California, as they rummage through the mud to rescue family treasures from the ruins of their homes after the 1998 floods. Through vignettes like these, the author brilliantly reveals the "fine scale" of interaction between people and storms. (Rita Moran)