Animation compares this year’s El Niño with 1997 shocker

The 1997 and 2015 El Niño animations were made from data collected by the TOPEX/Poseidon (1997) and the OSTM/Jason-2 (2015) satellites. [Credits: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory]

The signs are that this year’s El Niño event is shaping up to be as severe or worse than the one of of 1997-98, the strongest on record.

NASA has prepared the above visualisation to compare the two. It shows side-by-side comparisons of Pacific Ocean sea surface height (SSH) anomalies of what is presently happening in 2015 with the Pacific Ocean signal during the famous 1997 El Niño.

An event occurs every two to seven years when an unusually warm pool of water – sometimes two to three degrees Celsius higher than normal – develops across the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.

It spurs extreme weather patterns around the world, in general causing higher than average rainfall and flooding in California to droughts in Australia.

This winter, the 2015-16 El Niño event will be better observed from space than any previous El Niño and certainly better than the one in 1997. All 19 of NASA’s current orbiting Earth-observing missions have been launched since then. 

“El Niño is a fascinating phenomenon because it has such far-reaching and diverse impacts. The fact that fires in Indonesia are linked with circulation patterns that influence rainfall over the United States shows how complex and interconnected the Earth system is,” said Lesley Ott, research meteorologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.

Bill Condie

Bill Condie

Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.

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