National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2023

La Niña came to Eden

McPhaden, M.J., and C. Karamperidou

Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc., 103(12), E2862–E2877, doi: 10.1175/BAMS-D-21-0343.1, View online at AMS (external link) (2022)

In July 1929, Dr Friedrich Ritter and Dore Strauch left their spouses and the turmoil of post–World War I Germany for the remote, uninhabited, and rugged volcanic island of Floreana in the Galapagos archipelago. Their dream was to live self-sufficiently in an idyllic tropical setting unspoiled by civilization. Wealthy yachters stopping at Floreana in the early 1930s reported on the couple’s pioneering enterprise to the outside world. The news created a sensation that subsequently attracted other settlers, including a mysterious Viennese faux baroness who quickly sowed discord on the island. Not all the participants in this drama survived though. A prolonged drought gripped the island from 1933 to 1935 leading to food shortages that ultimately claimed the life of Dr. Ritter, a vegetarian who unwittingly ate tainted chicken out of desperation. The bizarre intrigues and struggles to endure on Floreana were chronicled in Dore Strauch’s 1936 memoir Satan Came to Eden and a 2013 Hollywood documentary based on it. A story that has not been told is how an extended period of cold La Niña conditions in 1933–35 led to the drought that caused the food shortages. We use an atmospheric reanalysis and other data sources to describe these cold conditions and how they affected the human drama that unfolded on Floreana Island. The protracted La Niña impacted other parts of the globe and in particular was a major influence on development of the 1930s Dust Bowl in the southern plains of the United States.

Feature Publications | Outstanding Scientific Publications

Contact Sandra Bigley |