Now, the scientists at NASA have found out that this phenomenon was also responsible for the largest annual increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in, at least, the last 2,000 years.
In 2015 and 2016, OCO-2 recorded atmospheric carbon dioxide increases that were 50 percent larger than the average increase seen in recent years preceding these observations. Now, scientists think they know why. The NASA satellite showed that El Nino made it more hard for plants to suck up man-made carbon emissions and sparked fires that released more carbon into the atmosphere. Study co-author Annmarie Eldering, NASA's deputy project scientist for the satellite, said the new results show how El Nino can counteract efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
Colorado State University's Scott Denning says a vicious cycle might await if future climates reflect similar conditions of heat and drought. But those dry conditions created massive forest and peat fires, which drove the carbon increases there, according to the NASA observations.
Data from NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, which was launched in 2014, provides more specifics on how that happens and by continent. The satellite can observe atmospheric Carbon dioxide and photosynthesis over large geographical areas.
Experts warn that in the coming decades, climate change could lead to even more such warming in the future, as severe droughts and heat waves become more common across the planet.
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Tropical forests in eastern Africa had normal rainfall, but the temperatures were much greater than normal.
The team compared the 2015 findings to those from a reference year - 2011 - using carbon dioxide data from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT).
El Nino is the natural warming of parts of the central Pacific that affects weather around the world.
"These drier and hotter conditions stressed vegetation and reduced photosynthesis, meaning trees and plants absorbed less carbon from the atmosphere", NASA said.
The satellite's mission is to examine how carbon dioxide moves across the Earth and how it changes over time. It changes from season to season as plants grow and die, with higher concentrations in the winter and lower amounts in the summer. We must be able to predict how the Earth will behave in the face of climate change, and this study is an important part of that research.