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Ocean Surface Topography from Space
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El Niño 2015-2016

El Niño: 1997-1998 vs. 2015-2016

Latest Still with contours
Latest Still Images with contours

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Will El Niño 2015-2016 flip to La Niña 2016-2017?

The super El Niño of 2015-2016 is waning. Here we provide side by side comparisons of Pacific Ocean sea surface height (SSH) anomalies of what is presently happening to the Pacific Ocean El Niño signal with the famous 1997-1998 El Niño (which peaked in November 1997). The present El Niño, which peaked in January 2016, was longer lasting than the 1997-1998 episode and was larger in area. The El Niño of 2015-2016 was similar to the Niño of 1997-1998, but not an exact repeat. Each El Niño episode has a unique timing and variations in impacts. Also, remember that 2014 – 2015 was a weak, central Pacific Niño, so this one had a jump start. The El Niño of 2015-2016 was a continuing El Niño that first appeared in 2014-2015. Comparing present conditions with 1997-1998, a large area of the northeastern tropical Pacific (north of the equator) still contains a large area of positive (warmer than normal) heat content. The El Niño footprint is still strong. Looking ahead, many El Niño experts expect a transition to a La Niña, the cool sibling of El Niño. They put the probability of La Niña developing this summer or early fall at 70%. Stay tuned!

These 1997-1998 and 2015-2016 El Niño animations were made from data collected by the TOPEX/Poseidon (1997-1998) and the OSTM/Jason-2 (2015-2016) satellites. This past January, the Jason-3 mission was successfully launched and is already operational. Jason-2 and Jason-3 continue to provide an uninterrupted time-series that originated in 1992 with TOPEX/Poseidon. For the past 24 years, TOPEX/Poseidon, Jason-1, Jason-2 and Jason-3 have used space-based radar altimetry to collect sea surface height data of all the world's oceans. Here, these images are processed to highlight the interannual signal of SSH. The mean signal, seasonal signal, and the trend have been removed.

To learn more, read What is sea-surface height?

Animation options: Updated through 6/9/2016

1997-1998 vs. 2015-2016 Comparison

2015-2016 Only


Latest Side-by-side Still Image:

Latest Still
This is the latest still of the 1997-1998 vs. 2015-2016 El Nino events. Larger image



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