Watching for the Next El Niño
August 13, 2002
This TOPEX/Poseidon image of sea-surface heights was taken during a 10-day collection cycle ending August 7, 2002. Sea-surface heights are a measure of how much heat is stored in the ocean below to influence future planetary climate events. Since May 2001, there have been a series of warm Kelvin waves--eastward-moving ocean waves that cross the equatorial Pacific in about two months. A sizable one arrived at the South American coast last February, raising the ocean temperature by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and triggering the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's forecast for a mild El Niño in 2002. There was another wave in June, followed by the current large pool of warm water in the tropical Pacific that is now moving toward the coast of South America at a speed of 215 kilometers (134 miles) a day and will arrive there in three to four weeks, raising ocean temperatures. Scientists will continue to monitor the Pacific closely for further signs of El Niño formation and intensity.
Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory