Climatologists are increasingly certain of predictions that a strong El Niño will likely hit California in the coming months, bringing wet weather and the possibility of increased erosion along the cliffs of Isla Vista.
El Niño is a climatic change that occurs every two to seven years near the equatorial Pacific region. The 2015 El Niño has already affected climate patterns and ocean temperatures in the Pacific region. While winter weather across the country will feel the effects of El Niño, California and other Southern states in particular will experience atypical weather conditions and heavy rain.
Associate professor of earth sciences Alex Simms said the predicted heavy precipitation may lead to increased erosion.
“There are higher rates of erosion during El Niño,” Simms said. “If you have one of those houses that is already hanging off the cliff, things are probably going to get bad for you.”
Associate professor of geology Charles Jones said El Niño is caused by a change in atmosphere that leads to warming waters and heavier moisture.
“An El Niño is an interaction between the atmosphere and the ocean, especially the tropical oceans,” Jones said. “It has a reoccurrence time of about two to seven years and it has a lot of natural variability.”
According to Jones, the upcoming El Niño is predicted to be the strongest in nearly two decades.
“Some forecasters think that it might be similar to the ’97, ’98 El Niño, which was the strongest El Niño on record,” Jones said.
UCSB alumnus and I.V. resident Molly Morrison, who last year led a campaign to install safety fences along the cliffs of Del Playa Drive, said she is concerned heavy rains may cause damage to the cliffs.
“I’m not so concerned about the fences as I am about the actual cliff situation,” Morrison said. “Whether the fences can stand or not I don’t think is really the question, but whether the cliffs can.”
Morrison said even without increased precipitation levels the cliffs are subject to significant erosion each year.
“On average, the cliffs on this side of Isla Vista are supposed to erode about a foot a year,” Morrison said. “It will be interesting to see, if El Niño does pick up, in winds, velocity … how it will increase cliff erosion rates.”
Fourth-year biology major Connor Dodds said though he lives in a cliffside house on Del Playa, he is not concerned about El Niño.
“I don’t think it’s going to be any big deal,” Dodds said. “When it’s high tide, the waves have already been hitting the cliff and it hasn’t really been doing much.”
Fourth-year economics and Spanish double major Connor Kulg, Dodds’ housemate, said he looks forward to the improved surf that will come with El Niño.
“I’m not too worried,” Kulg said. “I’m not looking forward to the rains, but I am looking forward to the big waves.”
Simms said the cliffs have been eroding for many years, and will continue to do so.
“This process has been going on for thousands of years, and there is nothing we can do to stop it,” Simms said.