Reports

GEOSAT Altimeter Observations of Kelvin Waves and the 1986-87 El Niño

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Science  01 Jan 1988:
Vol. 239, Issue 4835, pp. 52-54
DOI: 10.1126/science.239.4835.52

Abstract

Two years of GEOSAT altimeter observations are used to investigate the response of sea level to anomalous westerly wind bursts in the tropical Pacific Ocean before and during the 1986-87 El Niño. Sea level time series along the equator show examples of both positive and negative anomalies of 10-centimeter amplitude and 2- to 4-week time scale propagating across the Pacific with phase speeds of 2.4 to 2.8 meters per second, suggesting downwelling and upwelling Kelvin waves, respectively. A comparison of island wind observations with sea level indicates one instance (May 1986) in which a positive sea level anomaly can be related to westerly winds caused by a cross-equatorial cyclone pair in the western Pacific. This episode was followed by additional wind bursts later in the year, and finally by sustained westerlies in the western Pacific during November-December 1986, at the height of El Niño. The GEOSAT observations reveal the sea level response to these meteorological events and provide a synoptic description of the El Niño oceanographic phenomenon.