NOAA's Role in El Niño Research, Monitoring and Prediction

For the latest El Niño update, see NOAA's Climate Prediction Center (CPC) El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) discussion, at

NOAA has the primary responsibility within the Federal Government to routinely provide climate forecasts and products to the Nation. Most parts of NOAA are in some way involved in El Niño research, monitoring and prediction. For example, NOAA monitors the developing and, in time, decreasing pool of warm waters in the tropical Pacific with state-of-the-art satellites; launches new research initiatives; improves future climate forecasts; monitors the impact of the climate event on the fish population in U.S. coastal waters; operates research ships to study the world's vast oceans; and provides critical ocean data to users.

Climate Program Office
NOAA's Climate Program Office (CPO) leads the NOAA Climate and Global Change Program. NOAA has the primary responsibility within the Federal Government to routinely provide climate forecasts and products to the Nation. CPO funds focused scientific research on El Niño and other climate systems within NOAA and the external research community. This research is aimed at understanding climate variability and its predictability. Through studies in these areas, researchers coordinate activities that jointly contribute to improved predictions and assessments of climate variability over a continuum of time scales from season to season, year to year, and over the course of a decade and beyond. CPO's participation in these areas has assisted NOAA in augmenting the state of science in the United States, guiding the development of our research efforts, and providing valuable scientific data and information for practical use and social and economic benefit. Check out the CPO El Niño web site.
Contact: Monica Allen at (301) 734-1123.

Earth System Research Laboratory
Numerous research initiatives help scientists improve future predictions of climate events. The primary activities are located at NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory, located in Boulder, Colo. The ESRL studies the nature and causes of climate variations on various time scales from a month to centuries. ESRL also explores short-term climate variations including droughts and floods over the continental United States. It also looks at global changes associated with the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. Among ESRL's goals are to advance the understanding and predictions of ENSO, improve monitoring and descriptions of climate variability, identify major patterns of climate variability on decade and longer time scales and investigate the air-sea interaction which causes much of the climate variability. These issues are particularly important because of their devastating effects on populations around the globe, on the economy and on the environment. The current El Niño event provides the ESRL the ideal opportunity for additional research to improve future climate forecasts and applications.
Contact: Anatta at (303) 497-6288

Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory
Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory conducts scientific investigations in physical oceanography, marine meteorology, geochemistry, and related subjects. Located in Seattle, Wash., and Newport, Oregon. PMEL is responsible for installing and maintaining a network of El Niño monitoring buoys in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Real-time measurements from the El Niño buoy network are available via the PMEL "El Niño Theme Page" at
Contact: Monica Allen at (301) 734-1123

Hurricane Research Division
El Niño has a significant effect on Atlantic and Pacific hurricane frequency. NOAA's Hurricane Research Division, in cooperation with academic institutions, studies the relationship between hurricanes and climate events such as El Niño. More information is available on the Hurricane Research Division's home page at
Contact: Monica Allen at (301) 734-1123

NOAA's Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO)
The NOAA ship Ka'imimoana, home ported in Honolulu, Hawaii, supports oceanographic and climate research in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. The ship's primary mission is to deploy, recover, and service deep sea moorings that measure ocean currents, ocean temperatures, and atmospheric conditions throughout the equatorial regions of the Pacific Ocean.

The Ka'imimoana supports a series of 70 buoys known as the Tropical Atmosphere-Ocean (TAO) array, which were first deployed as part of an international oceanographic research program to learn how to predict the El Niño/Southern Oscillation phenomenon. The buoys measure wind direction and speed, air temperature and humidity, and temperature of the ocean at the sea surface and at various depths to 500 meters. A few buoys also measure currents, rainfall, and solar radiation. These buoys help scientists learn more about how warm water of the equatorial Pacific affects world-wide climate, and are providing critical data about the current El Niño event.

As part of the NOAA research fleet, the Ka'imimoana is operated and managed by officers and civilian staff of the Office of NOAA Corps Operations. Information on the ship is available at . Real time images and data from the ship are available at: .
Contact: David Hall at (301) 713-7671

National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service
NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service operates two polar-orbiting environmental satellites that obtain data for numerous applications. Since 1982 NESDIS has been producing sea surface temperatures from the five-channel Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer observations of the NOAA Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites. NESDIS scientists are generating monthly mean rainfall charts from instruments on board the Defense Department's Defense Meteorological Satellite Program satellites. Measurements from the Special Sensor Microwave/Imager are particularly valuable for studying precipitation variations associated with ENSO events. ENSOs greatly impact the global distribution of precipitation, causing droughts in some regions and floods in others.
Contact: John Leslie at (301) 713-9210 ext 174

Satellite Products
The National Oceanographic Data Center's Laboratory for Satellite Altimetry provides, in near-real time, data from altimeter satellites. Highly accurate sea level observations are included in the weekly ocean model run of the National Weather Service. For near realtime sea level analyses see:

Numerous satellite charts are available that depict information relevant to El Niño. The most relevant are satellite-derived observations of sea surface temperature and their associated departures from climatology -- anomalies. These twice-weekly charts provide the highest resolution, both in space and time, of the development [and ultimate demise] of the far-reaching warm waters throughout much of the eastern Pacific [centered along the equator]. The SST anomaly charts are found at:

Charts depicting regions of potential coral reef bleaching may be useful when high surface temperatures related to El Niño invade coral reefs in the eastern Pacific and Caribbean. The charts is available at:

Additional satellite products with relevance to ENSO are:

National Marine Fisheries Service
The warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean has significant impact on marine life. NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is studying the effect of El Niño and other climate events on the marine environment. The NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center is working with Scripps Institution of Oceanography and NOAA's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research to study California offshore waters in order to expand current information about the impact of El Niño on marine fisheries and the ocean environment.
Contact: (562) 980-4022

NMFS' Northwest Fisheries Science Center scientists have several ongoing research projects that will contribute to the greater understanding of how El Niño events impact anadromous and marine resources. For example, beginning in 1996, Northwest Fisheries Science Center scientists at the Newport Field Station (central Oregon coast) initiated studies to investigate relationships among coastal upwelling, ocean conditions, zooplankton production, and the growth and survival of coho salmon. Although this project was not specifically designed to focus on the impacts of El Niño, the timely start of this work (particularly the oceanographic sampling) prior to the onset of the 1997 El Niño and continued monitoring during and after the event should provide important information on the impacts of El Niño on coastal productivity.

As part of the NMFS Northwest Fisheries Science Center's ongoing stock assessments for west coast groundfish, staff will continue annual fishery monitoring and periodic surveys to estimate the new generations of young fish in this commercially important species group. These data form a time series that can be used to explore relationships of species abundance before, during, and after the 1997 El Niño. Further, in response to El Niño, the 1998 summer survey for Pacific whiting will be adjusted to account for more northerly migration.

As part the long-term investigation of salmon predator/prey interactions in the nearshore ocean, NMFS Northwest Fisheries Science Center scientists are conducting annual surveys of zooplankton distribution from Grays Harbor, Wash., to Cape Blanco, Ore. A primary focus of research is to quantify the abundance and distribution of northern anchovy (using an egg production index) and relate this to salmonid productivity. The time-series of zooplankton composition and distribution over this large coastal area will provide an important data set for prospective analyses of the impacts of El Niño.

NMFS Northwest Fisheries Science Center researchers also are investigating environmental factors affecting the location, size, and dynamics of toxic algal blooms and the elements associated with toxin production. Associated with these studies are numerous opportunities to increase the geographic scope and frequency of sampling and to greatly improve the ability to increase understanding of the ecology of harmful algal bloom in relation to El Niño events.

The NMFS Northwest Fisheries Science Center staff are investigating the distribution and severity of infectious fish diseases along the Oregon coast. The increased frequency and magnitude of Vibrio infections appear associated with the warming of sea surface temperatures experienced on the U.S. west coast in the past two months, coinciding with the El Niño.
Contact: Brian Gorman (206) 526-6613 or Janet Sears (206) 526-6172.

The NMFS Southeast Fisheries Science Center scientists will study the significance of increased rainfall resulting from El Niño and its effects on Gulf of Mexico fisheries productivity next spring, especially on pink and brown shrimp throughout the Gulf. In addition, agency scientists hope to determine whether increased freshwater river runoff creates an environment for algal blooms (hypoxia) in the Gulf of Mexico from the Mississippi River mouth westward along the coast to Texas.
Contact: Chris Smith at (727) 570-5301

National Weather Service
Many different offices within the National Weather Service are actively engaged in the current El Niño event, providing the nation with climate and weather warnings, forecasts and information. Several key offices follow. The Climate Prediction Center, located in Camp Springs, Md., provides climate services to users in the government, the research community, the private industry and the public. The CPC currently issues monthly El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Diagnostic Advisories, as well as climate outlooks for the coming season. All the data is available via the Internet at Knowledge of ENSO also is applied to multi seasonal climate outlooks out to 13 months in the future. Information about flood events as they occur is available from local forecast offices ( and the Hydrologic Information Center at In addition, NWS field offices and River Forecast Centers are also working with local communities about the possible associated impacts of El Niño and preparedness efforts. Current weather information or other background on the National Weather Service is available at
Contact: (301) 713-0622

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