The phenomenon affects the weather worldwide and may last for years at a time. And in Indonesia, dry conditions led to increased fires, which also released more carbon.
"These three tropical regions released 2.5 gigatonnes (a billion tonnes) more carbon into the atmosphere than they did in 2011".
Human-caused carbon dioxide emissions were roughly flat in 2014, 2015 and 2016, but National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration figures show that 2015 saw a rise in carbon in the air 3.03 parts per million, the largest since scientists started tracking emissions in Hawaii in 1959. Precipitation data from satellite measurements and terrestrial rain data revealed that plants were decomposing faster in the tropical forests in Africa, thereby releasing more Carbon dioxide and absorbing less of it.
But 28 months of data from a NASA satellite - called the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) and launched in 2014 - have clarified its role. He added that OCO-2 data allowed them to quantify how the net exchange of carbon between land and atmosphere in individual regions is affected during El Nino years.
The satellite's mission is to examine how carbon dioxide moves across the Earth and how it changes over time.
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The effect was so large that it was the main factor in the biggest one-year jump in heat-trapping gas levels in the modern record, NASA scientists said.
Since climate change is expected to bring less rain to South America and higher temperatures to Africa by the end of the century, researchers warn the trend will get worse in the tropics, which have traditionally served as a buffer for fossil fuel emissions because they absorb so much carbon.
This record rise in Carbon dioxide level occurred even though the amount of Carbon dioxide emission from human activities remained more or less similar before and after the El Nino.
Liu and Eldering are among 16 authors of the Science study, "Contrasting Carbon Cycle Responses of the Tropical Continents to the 2015-2016 El Niño".
"In the spring there's a dramatic uptake of carbon by terrestrial plants", said the paper. Without enough plants to perform photosynthesis and filter Carbon dioxide out of the air, the tropical forests will not be able to soak up as much of the greenhouse gas emissions that are increasing global temperatures across the planet, NASA scientists said.