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Pacific Ocean Shows Higher Than Normal Sea Surface Heights
This page contains archived content and is no longer being updated. At the time of publication, it represented the best available science. However, more recent observations and studies may have rendered some content obsolete.
The latest image from NASA’s Jason oceanography satellite, taken during
a 10-day collection cycle ending December 2, 2002, shows the Pacific
dominated by two significant areas of higher-than-normal sea level
(warmer ocean temperatures). In the central equatorial Pacific, the
large area of higher than normal sea surface heights (warmer than normal
sea surface temperatures) associated with growing El Niño conditions has
recently migrated eastward toward the coast of South America. Meanwhile,
the influence of the 20- to 30-year larger than El Niño/La Niña pattern
called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation continues to create warm,
higher-than-normal sea-surface heights in the north Pacific that are
connected in a warm horseshoe pattern with the western and southern
Pacific. Sea-surface heights are a measure of how much heat is stored in
the ocean below. This heat influences both present weather and future
planetary climate events.
The image shows red areas in the north Pacific and at the equator that
are about 10 centimeters (4 inches) above normal; white areas indicate
sea surface heights between 14 and 32 centimeters (6 to 13 inches) above
normal. These regions contrast with the western tropical Pacific, where
lower-than-normal sea levels (blue areas) have developed that are
between 5 and 13 centimeters (2 and 5 inches) below normal, while purple
areas range from 14 to 18 centimeters (6 to 7 inches) below normal.
Along the equator, the red sea surface heights equate to sea surface
temperature departures greater than one degree Celsius (two degrees
Fahrenheit) and the white sea surface heights are sea surface
temperatures 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius (three to five degrees
Fahrenheit) above normal.