El Niño: 1997-1998 vs. 2015-2016

The super El Niño of 2015-2016 was the biggest, so far, of the 21st Century. Below are side by side comparisons of Pacific Ocean sea surface height (SSH) anomalies during the 2015-16 event with the famous 1997-1998 El Niño.

December 1997 vs. December 2015 El Nino events
This image shows the December 1997 vs. December 2015 El Niño events. Larger image

Although there are similarities between El Niño events, each one has a unique timing and variations in impacts. The 1997-98 El Niño peaked in November 1997. The 2015-16 El Niño, which peaked in January 2016, was longer lasting and was larger in area than the 1997-1998 episode.

In 2014-2015 there was a weak, central Pacific El Niño, so the El Niño of 2015-16 had a jump start. The 1997-98 El Niño was followed by a strong La Niña event, while a mild La Niña followed the 2015-16 El Niño – reminding us yet again, that each El Niño event is different.

The 1997-1998 and 2015-2016 El Niño animations below were made from data collected by the TOPEX/Poseidon (1997-1998) and the OSTM/Jason-2 (2015-2016) satellites.

Since 1992, TOPEX/Poseidon, Jason-1, Jason-2 and Jason-3 have successively used space-based radar altimetry to collect sea surface height data of all the world's oceans. These images are processed to highlight the interannual signal of SSH – the mean signal, seasonal signal, and the trend have been removed.

Animation options:

1997-1998 vs. 2015-2016 Comparison

2015-2016 Only

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