Water-watching Satellite Captures Warming Ocean off California Coast

A collaboration between NASA and the French space agency, CNES, has developed the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite mission, which is capable of measuring ocean features, including El Niño, with unprecedented detail. The satellite’s Ka-band Radar Interferometer (KaRIn) instrument has the ability to measure sea surface heights close to coastlines, providing valuable information for researchers and forecasters.

El Niño, a periodic climate phenomenon, is characterized by higher sea levels and warmer ocean temperatures along the western coast of the Americas. The warm ocean waters from the developing El Niño are shifting north along the eastern Pacific Ocean coastlines, interacting with a persistent marine heat wave. These warm waters have recently influenced the development of Hurricane Hilary.

The SWOT satellite’s visualization of sea surface heights off the U.S. West Coast in August shows higher-than-average heights in red and orange, indicating warmer water, and lower-than-average heights in blue and green. Sea levels tend to be higher in places with warmer water, as water expands when it warms.

The measurements made by the SWOT satellite mission provide comprehensive views of the planet’s oceans and fresh water lakes and rivers. The data collected by SWOT will be invaluable for researchers and forecasters in studying the development and progress of phenomena like El Niño. In the September outlook, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasted a strong El Niño for the coming winter, with greater than a 70% chance.

El Niño is also associated with the weakening of equatorial trade winds and can bring cooler, wetter conditions to the U.S. Southwest and drought to countries in the western Pacific, such as Indonesia and Australia.


– NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory

– JPL/NASA (https://phys.org/news/2023-09-water-watching-satellite-ocean-california-coast.html)