Enclave Vision

Foreign networks in Peru and the internationalization of El Niño research during the 1920s


  • Gregory T. Cushman University of Texas at Austin


Environmental scientists in Peru first attached the moniker ‘El Niño’ in 1891 to a warm current running counter to the highly variable, but generally north-flowing Peru Current. Torrential rains along the normally arid northern Peruvian coast and catastrophic floods in many parts of the country captured the attention of a group of professionals incorporated by the newly founded Sociedad Geográfica de Lima (est. 1888). One member of this group, the naval hydrographer Camilo N. Carrillo (1830- 1900), noticed that the weak countercurrent known by artisanal fishermen to appear during the austral summer along the northern coast was particularly strong that year. This was just one of several phenomena that they associated with this exceptional climate event. To keep track of such changes, the Sociedad organized a network of meteorological observers, including a station in Lima that has since been in more-or-less continuous existence. As part of such duties, the politician Víctor Eguiguren compiled and published the regional oral tradition of similar climate anomalies in northern Peru since 1791. In 1895, Federico Pezet presented a digest of this work at the Sixth International Geographical Congress in London that underscored the links between this contracorriente El Niño and torrential rains in the northern department of Piura.1 In short, the ‘El Niño phenomenon’ as a scientific category was born in the early 1890s. But it was seen as little more than a regional geographical curiosity by foreign scientists for many years.