A Tale of Two El Niños, 1997-1998 and 2015-2016

In the midst of a very up and down El Niño season, have you ever wondered: are all El Niños the same? For the answer to that question, we need to compare data imagery from two separate El Niño events. And what better way to do that then with global observations from space. One place to find what we’re looking for is the Center for Climate Sciences, El Niño page.

Here scientists compare multiple datasets from the largest El Niño on record, 1997-1998, with the current 2015-2016 El Niño season. Some of the datasets show what are called “anomalies” (deviations from the norm), and others show how the El Niño phenomenon can impact the entire Earth System.

Fig. 1 Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly March 1,1998
Fig. 2 Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly March 1, 2016


Generally, scientists observe the “modulation” (regulation or adjustment) of: sea surface temperature (SST), sea surface eight (SSH), and near-surface winds. But they don’t stop there. Water vapor, rainfall and humidity along with a large list of other parameters are also measured.

So to answer our question, are all El Niños the same? If you were with us for Dr. Stephanie Schollaert Uz’s webinar entitled “Impacts felt around the world” (click here to view the archived talk if you missed it), you would know the answer is…”No”. Each El Niño is very different and keeps scientists guessing (or employed) and researching the same question every two-year-old asks non-stop, “but why?” 

Fig. 3 Sea Surface Height Anomaly February 23, 1998
Fig. 4 Sea Surface Height Anomaly February 22, 2016


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