Climatic Change

, Volume 92, Issue 3–4, pp 389–416 | Cite as

The 1877–1878 El Niño episode: associated impacts in South America

  • Patricio AceitunoEmail author
  • Maríadel del Rosario Prieto
  • María Eugenia Solari
  • Alejandra Martínez
  • Germán Poveda
  • Mark Falvey


At times when attention on climate issues is strongly focused on the assessment of potential impacts of future climate change due to the intensification of the planetary greenhouse effect, it is perhaps pertinent to look back and explore the consequences of past climate variability. In this article we examine a large disruption in global climate that occurred during 1877–1878, when human influence was negligible. The mechanisms explaining this global disturbance are not well established, but there is considerable evidence that the major El Niño episode that started by the end of 1876 and peaked during the 1877–1878 boreal winter contributed significantly to it. The associated regional climate anomalies were extremely destructive, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, where starvation due to intense droughts in Asia, South-East Asia and Africa took the lives of more than 20 million people. In South America regional precipitation anomalies were typical of El Niño events, with rainfall deficit and droughts in the northern portion of the continent as well as in northeast Brazil and the highlands of the central Andes (Altiplano). In contrast, anomalously intense rainfall and flooding episodes were reported for the coastal areas of southern Ecuador and Northern Perú, as well as along the extratropical West coast of the continent (central Chile, 30° S–40° S), and in the Paraná basin in the southeast region. By far the most devastating impacts in terms of suffering and loss of life occurred in the semiarid region of northeast Brazil where several hundreds of thousands of people died from starvation and diseases during the drought that started in 1877.


Southern Oscillation Ecuador Rainfall Anomaly Southern Oscillation Index Mercurio 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patricio Aceituno
    • 1
    Email author
  • Maríadel del Rosario Prieto
    • 2
  • María Eugenia Solari
    • 3
  • Alejandra Martínez
    • 4
  • Germán Poveda
    • 5
  • Mark Falvey
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GeophysicsUniversidad de ChileSantiagoChile
  2. 2.Instituto Argentino de NivologíaGlaciología y Ciencias AmbientalesMendozaArgentina
  3. 3.Instituto de Ciencias SocialesUniversidad Austral de ChileValdiviaChile
  4. 4.Instituto Geofísico del PerúLimaPeru
  5. 5.Escuela de Geociencias y Medio AmbienteUniversidad Nacional de ColombiaMedellínColombia

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