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New research suggests that unusual conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean caused the recent four-year droughts spanning the United States, southern Europe and Southwest Asia.

In this article, Richard A. Kerr explains how the analysis — carried out by Martin Hoerling and Arun Kumar of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — shows that two parts of the tropical Pacific created persistent drought in widely separated, seemingly unrelated regions from 1998-2002.

The findings, published in this week's Science, are being hailed as the grandest connection between ocean and recent climate since El Niño was recognised.

Reference: Science, 31 January 2003