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El Niño and the Galapagos

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August 10, 1998 -- The Galapagos Islands -- 600 miles west of South America on the equator -- are well known as the site of inspiration for Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. The islands are also a prime site for studying the Pacific weather system know as El Niño, because they lie right in the sight of El Niño's gun, so to speak. They bear the strongest, clearest signal of what El Niño does.

Radio Expeditions interviews the head marine biologist of the Darwin research Center in the Galapagos, a Galapagos naturalist, and a Princeton University researcher who is studying finches.

We discover El Niño has a devastating impact in the sea. Its warm water temperatures have altered the food chain and led to huge die-offs of marine iguana, and the near disappearance of other creatures such as sea lions.

On land, however, it's another story. El Niño's rains have produced record plant growth. Birds are flourishing as perhaps never before. On the island of Daphne Major, we record a spectacular wildlife chorus.

Join NPR’s Alex Chadwick for part one of this latest National Public Radio/National Geographic Radio Expedition Monday, August 10th on Morning Edition.

Human Activity and El Niño

August 11, 1998 -- Two of the world's leading El Niño researchers, Dr. Jerry Wellington of the University of Houston, and Dr. Rob Dunbar of Stanford University, journey to the Galapagos – in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador -- to study the history of El Niño's. They want to find out if human activity is behind the increasing frequency and intensity of these weather phenomena.

They gather coral samples to study their growth patterns -- similar to tree rings -- and read in them fantastically detailed records of climate change going back for centuries. Because of the location of the Galapagos -- directly in El Niño's path -- the corals here have the best records. And while the data show El Niño's growing in frequency and intensity, it is not yet clear that human-induced global warming plays any part in that.

Radio Expeditions joins the scientific team on an underwater dive to gather coral samples with an enormous drill, and then goes ashore to search for old beached coral heads, including one monstrous specimen known as the Rosetta Coral.

Join NPR’s Alex Chadwick for part two of this latest National Public Radio/National Geographic Radio Expedition Tuesday, August 11th on Morning Edition.

Our thanks to Kodak for providing the digital camera used to take pictures for this report.

Marine iguanas on the Galapagos Islands Marine iguanas on the Galapagos Islands

El Nino researcher Jerry Wellington drills core samples from an uplifted coral El Niño researcher Jerry Wellington drills core samples from an uplifted coral



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