Researches using coral to predict weather patterns

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MOUNT VERNON, Iowa (KCRG) -- Some researchers including two from eastern Iowa are using something very old to help predict future weather patterns.

Scientists from Cornell College in Mount Vernon recently studied El Nino using corals from the Caribbean Sea. El Nino occurs when water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean are warmer than normal off the coast of South America. El Nino affects weather all over, including the Midwest. It often brings us milder and wetter weather around winter.

But the Caribbean isn't in the Pacific Ocean, one scientist explained how they are using this coral.

"Five million years ago, Central America wasn't there, so the warm water flowed into the Caribbean where our corals are from. That's the reason the coral are able to record these changes in temperature, " said Rhawn Denniston, Professor of Geology at Cornell College.

The corals show temperature changes by the season. There's another reason five million years ago is important.

"Atmospheric carbon dioxide was at about 400 parts per million, which is what we have now. And global average temperatures were three degrees Celsius above pre-industrial, which is what we're approaching right now," said Thomas Weiss, Cornell College Alumnus.

They found that ocean temperatures five million years ago changed similarly to today. That knowledge will help improve computer simulations of the future climate, including ours in Iowa.