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Envisat altimeter watches Pacific for cold tongue of La Niña

g and possibly summer.

"The development of a negative anomaly does seem to be well in hand," agrees altimetry expert Christophe Maes of the Institut de Recherche pour le Dveloppement (IRD) in New Caledonia. "It will still take a few months for the scientific community to better comprehend what is going on because the system has often surprised us in the past.

"If it is necessary to be careful in forecasting El Nio then it is all the more necessary for La Nia not due to any feminine mystique but simply due to our lack of experience. La Nia events are simply less frequent than their male equivalents. This asymmetry has yet to be explained from a theoretical point of view at the current time."

The coming of La Nia is marked by shifts in global atmospheric circulation patterns, as colder than normal waters in the eastern tropical Pacific suppress rainfall in the vicinity, at the same time as increasing it to the west.

During the northern hemisphere winter, wetter than normal conditions are found over northern Australia and Indonesia. They also occur over the Philippines during the northern hemisphere summer, and Indian monsoon rainfall also increases, particularly in northwest India. Meanwhile South America's tropical west coast undergoes drier than normal winters.

In turn these shifts affect the position and weaken the intensity of jet streams and the behaviour of storms occurring beyond the tropics in both hemispheres, including a summer decrease in hurricane activity in the eastern tropical North Pacific and a corresponding increase in the number of hurricanes in the tropical North Atlantic. The last La Nia took place during 2000-2001, a weak event compared to the previous La Nia in 1998-2000 it, and the 1988-89 event together setting the terms of reference for a 'standard' La Nia.

Each week radar altimetry adds a new frame to the ongoing film being shot of the Pacific Ocean. Other satellite instrument types c
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Contact: Mariangela D'Acunto
mariangela.dacunto@esa.int
39-069-418-0856
European Space Agency
3-Mar-2006


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