A satellite launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base nearly two years ago to study sea level has detected signs of the El Niño weather phenomenon.
Data from the craft has indicated early signs of a developing El Niño across the equatorial Pacific Ocean, showing Kelvin waves that have been known as a pre-cursor to an El Niño, according to the satellite team.
By late April, the satellite noted warmer water and higher sea levels off the coasts of Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia.
The El Niño climate phenomenon can affect weather patterns around the world, and is characterized by higher sea levels and warmer-than-average ocean temperatures.
Specifically, the condition can bring cooler, wetter conditions to the U.S. Southwest, including California, and drought to countries in the western Pacific, such as Indonesia and Australia.
“We’ll be watching this El Niño like a hawk,” said Josh Willis, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. “If it’s a big one, the globe will see record warming, but here in the Southwest U.S., we could be looking at another wet winter, right on the heels of the soaking we got last winter.”
Both the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the World Meteorological Organization have recently reported increased chances that El Niño will develop by the end of the summer.
Scientists expect to get better clarity in the coming months as they get additional data from instruments aboard satellites including the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich.
“When we measure sea level from space using satellite altimeters, we know not only the shape and height of water, but also its movement, like Kelvin and other waves,” said Nadya Vinogradova Shiffer, NASA program scientist and manager for Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich in Washington.
“Ocean waves slosh heat around the planet, bringing heat and moisture to our coasts and changing our weather.”
Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, named after former NASA Earth Science Division Director Michael Freilich, is one of two satellites that compose the Copernicus Sentinel-6/Jason-CS (Continuity of Service) mission.
Sentinel-6/Jason-CS was jointly developed by the European Space Agency, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, NASA, and NOAA, with from the French space agency.
Spacecraft monitoring and control, as well as the processing of all the altimeter science data, has been handled by EUMETSAT with the support of all partner agencies.