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Ocean Surface Topography from Space
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Warm water pool is thinning
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February 19, 1998

This image of the Pacific Ocean was produced using sea surface height measurements taken by the U.S.-French TOPEX/Poseidon satellite. The image shows sea surface height relative to normal ocean conditions on Feb. 5, 1998 and sea surface height is an indicator of the heat content of the ocean. The area and volume of the El Niño warm water pool that is affecting global weather patterns remains extremely large, but the pool has thinned along the equator and near the coast of South America. This 'thinning' means that the warm water is not as deep as it was a few months ago. Oceanographers indicate this is a classic pattern, typical of a mature El Niño condition that they would expect to see during the ocean's gradual transition back to normal sea level. In this image, the white and red areas indicate unusual patterns of heat storage; in the white areas, the sea surface is between 14 and 32 centimeters (6 to 13 inches) above normal; in the red areas, it's about 10 centimeters (4 inches) above normal. The green areas indicate normal conditions, while purple (the western Pacific) means at least 18 centimeters (7 inches) below normal sea level. The El Niño phenomenon is thought to be triggered when the steady westward blowing trade winds weaken and even reverse direction. This change in the winds allows a large mass of warm water (the red and white area) that is normally located near Australia to move eastward along the equator until it reaches the coast of South America. The displacement of so much warm water affects evaporation, where rain clouds form and, consequently, alters the typical atmospheric jet stream patterns around the world. Using satellite imagery, buoy and ship data, and a forecasting model of the ocean-atmosphere system, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA), has continued to issue an advisory indicating the so-called El Niño weather conditions that have impacted much of the United States and the world are expected to remain through the spring.

For more information, please visit the TOPEX/Poseidon project web page at http://topex-www.jpl.nasa.gov/


Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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