NASA satellite imaging of the Pacific Ocean has revealed data that resembles the conditions which fostered the record-breaking El Niño year of 1997.
El Niño, which is Spanish for “the boy,” with the capitalized version meaning “Christ Child,” is a system of abnormally high seawater temperatures that develops off the Pacific coast of South America, leading to extreme weather across the Pacific Ocean.
The NASA/French Space Agency Jason-2 satellite scans the world’s oceans every ten days, measuring changes in sea surface height, along with heat levels in the upper layers of the water. Lately, Jason-2 has presented data from the Pacific that looks a lot like it did in 1997.
Here is a documentary which describes how researchers attempt to predict El Niño patterns:
Jason-2 has been detecting a series of Kelvin waves, which are large ripples at sea level that travel across the Pacific from Australia to South America. Kelvin waves are good indicators of El Niño, and both phenomena are linked by wind. Trade winds in the Pacific blow from east to west, which push sun-warmed surface waters toward Indonesia. As a result, the sea level around Indonesia is typically 45 centimeters higher than it is near Ecuador. This area is called the warm pool, and is the largest reservoir of warm water on earth.
Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, commented that “a pattern of sea surface heights and temperatures has formed that reminds me of the way the Pacific looked in the spring of 1997. That turned out to precursor to a big El Niño.”
Mike McPhaden of NOAA’s Pacific Environmental Research Laboratories in Seattle added, “We can’t yet say for sure that an El Niño will develop in 2014, or how big it might be, but the Jason-2 data support the El Niño Watch issued last month by NOAA.”
The NOAA and NASA are meticulously monitoring the Pacific trade winds. It will become much more clear in the coming few months whether these recent developments are the forerunner of a major El Niño, or any El Niño at all.
Image via Wikimedia Commons