NASA spots sign of El Niño from space: 'If it's a big one, the globe will see record warming'

Using Sentinel-6 The Kelvin wave phenomenon, which is frequently seen as an early sign of El Nio, was captured by the Michael Freilich satellite as it moved eastward over the Pacific.

After one of NASA's satellites observed warm water in the Pacific Ocean traveling eastward toward the west coast of South America in March and April, the agency was able to detect the first indications of El Nio from space.

Kelvin waves may be seen traveling over the Pacific Ocean according to data from the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite, which tracks sea levels. Despite being hundreds of miles long, these large ocean waves are just 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) tall. When they develop at the equator and transport the warm upper layer of water to the western Pacific, they are seen as a forerunner of El Nio.

Josh Willis, a project scientist on Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), stated in a statement, "We'll be watching this El Nio like a hawk." "The world will experience record warming if it's a big one."

How frequently does El Nio happen?

The El Nio-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climatic cycle includes El Nio. Typically, trade winds, which are dominant easterly winds around the equator, move surface water west across the Pacific, transporting warm water from South America to Asia. Cold water rises to replace the heated water as it flows.

Trade winds are known to diminish during El Nio, which causes the warm water to be pushed eastward.

This has a huge effect on global weather patterns. The United States will have hotter weather in the northwest and drier weather in the south.

In contrast, La Nia, its opposite, causes more warm water to be pushed west by powerful trade winds.

El Nio might happen more or less frequently, although it typically only occurs once every three to five years. The most recent El Nio occurred in 2019 and lasted from February to August for six months.

Is this a year with El Nio?

It was predicted by NOAA officials on May 11 that there was a 90% probability El Nio will occur this year and last into the winter in the Northern Hemisphere. There is an 80% likelihood that it will be at least a mild El Nio, defined as an increase in ocean surface temperatures of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius), according to NOAA's forecasts.

According to NOAA, there is a 55% likelihood of a severe El Nio with temperature increases of 2.7 F (1.5 C).

Images obtained by the Sentinel-6 satellite between the beginning of March and the end of April show Kelvin waves carrying warm water east, pooling it off the shores of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, according to a statement from JPL posted on May 12. Warmer water and greater sea levels are depicted in the animation's red and white sections.

The announcement was made by Nadya Vinogradova Shiffer, NASA program scientist and manager for Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich. "Ocean waves slosh heat around the planet, bringing heat and moisture to our coasts and changing our weather," she stated.

Over the following months, the NOAA and NASA will keep an eye on the Pacific to see whether and when El Nio will arrive, as well as how strong it may be. Following the drenching we had last winter, Willis warned that "here in the Southwest U.S. we could be looking at another wet winter."

Scientists noted the highest ocean surface temperatures ever in April, with a worldwide average of 69.98 F (21.1 C). This record illustrates the effects of both global warming and the end of the last La Nia. Oceanographer Michael McPhaden of the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory earlier told Live Science that the tropical Pacific, a big, wide ocean, is warming now that La Nia is gone.

El Nio and elevated ocean temperatures, according to Willis' statement to Nature, may result in a "string of record highs" throughout the course of the upcoming year. If El Nio actually takes off, "this coming year is gonna be a wild ride," he predicted.