The image shows what happens when a very strong El Nino strikes surface waters in the Central equatorial Pacific Ocean. The sequence shows warm water anomalies (red) develop in the Central Pacific Ocean. Winds that normally blow in a westerly direction weaken allowing the easterly winds to push the warm water up against the South American Coast. Credit: NASA
Scientists studied the winds and rains in the eastern Indian Ocean for hints at developing El Ninos. They used that information to create an "Index" or gauge that accurately predicted the El Nino of 2002-2003.
El Nino is signaled by a warming of the ocean surface off the western coast of South America that occurs every 4 to 12 years when cold, nutrient-rich water does not come up from the ocean bottom. It causes die-offs of plankton and fish and affects Pacific jet stream winds, altering storm tracks and creating unusual weather patterns in various parts of the world. The researchers used the TRMM and QuikScat satellites to track wind, rainfall, and warmer sea surface temperatures moving from the Indian to the Pacific Ocean in early 2002, before the 2002-03 El Nino.
During the winter of 2001-2002, climate conditions in the eastern Indian Ocean changed dramatically. Westerly winds increased and the weather flip-flopped from dry to wet.
Rob Gutro | EurekAlert!
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