Sea Levels in the Nino Nina Cycle

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

[UPDATE: Grrr … thanks to an alert commenter, I find that my previous numbers were out by a factor of ten. I love the web for that, my mistakes don’t last long. Doesn’t affect my conclusions, but it is most embarrassing. The netCDF file gave the units as metres, but then in the small print included a “scale factor” of .0001. Never seen that before. It’s taken a bit of time but I’ve corrected the text and graphics. Grrr again. Now that the numbers are correct, I could remove this notice. I won’t. When I’m wrong, I admit it.]

In a recent post entitled “Boy Child, Girl Child” I discussed my functional analysis of the El Nino-La Nina phenomenon. I noted that the Nino-Nina alteration functions as a giant pump moving water from the equatorial Pacific towards both poles. In that post I used this image from NOAA:

Figure 1. The Nino/Nina differences as shown by the TAU/TRITON moored buoys along the Equator. You are looking westward, across the equator in the Pacific Ocean, from a vantage point somewhere in the Andes Mountains in South America. The colored surfaces show TAO/TRITON ocean temperatures. The top surface is the sea-surface, from 8°N to 8°S and from 137°E to 95°W. The shape of the sea surface is determined by TAO/TRITON Dynamic Height data. The wide vertical surface is at 8°S and extends to 500 meters depth. The narrower vertical surface is at 95°W.

In Figure 1 you can see how the strength of the La Nina winds has actually hollowed out the surface of the ocean along the Equator … but unfortunately, there was no scale on that part of the drawing. How much, I wondered, did the sea level go up and down with the Nino-Nina alternation?

Pondering that, I thought I could use the sea level height to determine a minimum value for the amount of water actually pumped over the year-long pumping stroke from El Nino to La Nina.

So I needed a sea level height dataset. I turned to the trusty KNMI Climate Explorer. When you click on their “Daily Fields” link, down near the bottom of the resulting page is the Copernicus 1/4° satellite-based sea level data. I wanted the sea level gridded data in netCDF format. So I selected “sea level anomaly” among the Copernicus choices. And down at the very bottom of that type of page, KNMI generally offers a netCDF option. In this case, it says “C3S sea level anomalies is available as a netcdf file (size 8851.18 MB).

Yikes. Nine gigabytes. It’s a big dataset, but I’m blessed with gig-speed fiber optics to my desk, so it was about a ten-minute download. 

I wanted to make a movie of the 1997/98 Nino/Nina pumping cycle. So from that big dataset, I extracted a subset from January 1, 1997, to December 31, 1998, and converted it into an animated GIF. I used every other day’s data to keep the size of the output down. I then used an online service to convert it to an MP4 movie file. That gives me (and you) control over the display that an animated GIF doesn’t have. It also reduces the size from 67 Mbytes for the GIF down to 14 Mbyes for the MP4, for faster loading.

As always, the result is both fascinating and educational. The peak of the El Nino, which is the intake stroke of the pump, is in November 1997. As noted in my previous post, the phenomenon always lasts ~ twelve months, so the end of the discharge stroke is in November 1998.

Figure 2. Movie of the 1997-1998 El Nino – La Nina pump cycle. White contour lines around bright red and dark blue areas show sea level elevations/depressions of +.2 and -.2 metres.

What did I notice in the movie? Well, lots of things. I noticed that I can see the eddies that extend from the southern tip of Africa clear around to below New Zealand’s South Island. I can see the eddies of the Gulf Stream in the western North Atlantic, as well as those of the corresponding Kuroshio Current in the western North Pacific. I can watch the comings and goings of the ice around Antarctica and in the Arctic.

I also note that in the Indian Ocean something is going on that looks very much like the Nino/Nina alteration in the Pacific … watts up with that?

What else? In November 1997 I can see the well-known effect of the El Nino depressing the ocean surface levels in the islands between Australia and the Equator.

I also notice that starting around March 8th, 1997, there’s a large bulge of seawater that develops around the Equator north of Australia. Curiously, although most equatorial Pacific water is moving westward, over the next six weeks this bulge moves as a wave eastward until it hits the coast of South America. When it hits, the El Nino immediately begins to form and extend out from the coast towards the mid-Pacific. 

That eastward-moving wave goes about 9,000 miles (14,500 km) in 40 days or so. That means it’s moving at about 9 mph (14.5 kph). Curious.

In any case, as you may recall, I started this hejira because thought I could use the sea level height to determine a minimum value for the amount of water actually pumped over the year-long pumping stroke from El Nino to La Nina. So what I did was, I calculated the difference between the sea level heights at peak El Nino (November 1997) and peak La Nina (November 1998). Figures 3 to 5 show those results. To begin with, here is the average November 1997 sea height.

Figure 3. Sea surface height anomaly, November 1997.

Next, here’s the opposite end of the pumping cycle, in November 1998.

Figure 4. Sea level height anomaly, peak La Nina conditions, November 1998. Note the different legend range and colors.

Finally, here’s the difference between the two:

Figure 5. November 1998 (La Nina) sea level anomaly minus November 1997 (El Nino) sea level anomaly.

And this gives me the information I need to estimate the minimum amount of water pumped. I chose the rectangular area shown in red above as the main location of what is pumped. It goes from 5°N to 5°S, and from 170°W to 85°W. It is approximately the sum of the NINO34, NINO2, and NINO1 areas used to analyze the El Nino phenomenon.

For each gridcell in that area, I multiplied the surface height difference times the number of square metres in the gridcell. The sum of these is the total amount moved by the Nino-Nina pump cycle. This turns out to be about 3.6 trillion cubic metres of warm equatorial Pacific water pumped westwards and eventually polewards.

So … is 3.6 trillion cubic metres a lot or a little in a very big ocean? Well, the volume of water flowing in an oceanic current is measured in “sverdrups”. One sverdrup is a flow of a million cubic metres per second. Depending on where and when you measure it, the Gulf Stream flow ranges between about thirty to about a hundred and twenty sverdrups. And the AMOC, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current, runs at about twenty sverdrups.

And a flow of 3.6 trillion cubic metres per year works out to about 0.1 million cubic metres per second, which is 0.1 sverdrups.

As I said up near the top, I consider this a minimum amount moved. I say this because as the wind is hollowing out the area near the equator, water is tending to flow by gravity into that depression from all sides. This means that water is being pumped to the west even when there is no change in the sea surface level.

So the answer to my question that started this out is, over the year of its operation, at least a hundred thousand cubic metres every second is pumped westward and poleward by the Nino-Nina pump, for a total of at least 3.6 trillion cubic metres over the year.

What else? Well, by the end, the Nino-Nina cycle has exposed subsurface water that is about 4° cooler than the surface water at the start of the cycle … and it does so over about 10% of the entire tropical ocean.

And then, of course, there’s all the other stuff I learned along the way, which is its own reward.

Anyhow, that was my weekend. Did the research Friday and yesterday. Writing it up today, publish Monday morning … plus football. Gotta watch or at least listen to the games while I do other things. Like trimming away the redwood branches that have been hitting my overhead internet line, using my whizbang bolt-on adjustable ladder adapter for uneven ground that I designed and built a couple of days ago.

I started by U-bolting the four corners of the plywood in the center of the picture to a couple of rungs on the ladder. Then I adjustable bolted legs onto that. That lets me get 20′ (6m) up a redwood tree trunk here on my hillside in relative safety, whereupon I lash the top of the ladder to the tree with a ratchet strap. Works a treat, rock-solid.

Hey, do us 73-year-old geriatricats know how to party or what?

My best regards to everyone, and please, quote what you’re talking about. It saves endless misunderstanding. I can defend my own words. I can’t defend your interpretation of my words.

Hele on,


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Bill Treuren
November 23, 2020 10:15 am

To some extent the water temperature acts as the height changer. Rather than moving the entire surface from place A to B.

The water temperature and salinity of the water column define the sea level height. Atmospheric pressure is an impact but rolls through weather patterns.

Bill Treuren
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
November 23, 2020 11:35 am

Willis I forgot to thank you for your sensational work and what must cost you a large amount of thought.
Almost everything you bring to the table is worth thinking about.

On Covid is there to be a further round up of the data?

Greg Goodman
Reply to  Bill Treuren
November 23, 2020 3:18 pm

Yes, Willis is an ace at manipulating these large data sets in R. The results are very interesting.

I too thought that the height difference was basically density “lensing”. We can see in the RHS of fig 1 that the WPWP is much deeper during La Nina conditions and the top of the thermocline is depressed.
Equally, in the east Pacific, the colder water of the thermocline is much higher with similar lensing effects at +/-8 deg. latitude.

The difference in sea level from temperature changes in that layer will be on the order of millimetres.

The mixed layer is from 100-200m deep ; water density changes about 10% from 30deg C down to 4 deg C. The range in fig. 1 seems to be 31 to 7. That seems like plenty to explain the +/-30 cm variations shown in the maps above.

Despite all the studies of mechanisms, no one seems to have a hypothesis of what actually triggers the quasi periodic changes from Nina to Nino and back. My hypothesis is that it is tidal movements on the top of the thermocline.

Yeas ago I did some ball park figures. The strongest response to tide raising forces at the surface is 6h-12h. If we compare the density change at the surface to the density change at the top of the thermocline and scale 6h-12h accordingly , we may expect that density change to respond most strongly around 2 years. Various studies of ENSO “period” seems to be 24-29 months.

The famous cold water rising up the coast of tropical S. America, bringing deep, nutrient rich waters and boosting anchovy harvests may be a massive, basin wide ripple splashing up against the steep continental rise.

The changes in the trade winds and the positive feedbacks Willis described in this last article on this and the consequences. The cause of the conditions which trigger the emergent phenomena seem to remain unaccounted for.

Reply to  Greg Goodman
November 23, 2020 8:37 pm

Take a look at viscosity and surface tension changes, too.

Reply to  Bill Treuren
November 23, 2020 3:26 pm

I love the little ripples moving back across the ITCZ in the last few months of the animation. I’ve often wondered about this phenomenon. I wonder if this is manifestation of Kelvin waves.

By that I mean real Kelvin waves, not the NOAA nonsense about “vertical Kelvin waves”. That is an oxymoron. A Kelvin wave is by definition a surface effect and does not propagate vertically.

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
November 23, 2020 12:27 pm

“Also, what would be causing the El Nino area to cool? The answer is, it’s not cooling. It’s colder subsurface water being exposed by the wind.”

Extraordinary. With your first 2 graphics, it’s given me brand new ways to visualize the dynamics involved. Complexities into elegant simplicity. Thanks.

Ron Long
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
November 23, 2020 1:16 pm

Willis, interesting report, but sorry to insert this here, but here it comes: Science just took a kick to the groin area when Presumptive President Elect Joe Biden named John Kerry to be his “Climate Czar”. Stand by for full monty crazy. Sorry.

Reply to  Ron Long
November 23, 2020 3:43 pm

Kerry is a climate change catastrophist. He’s been banging on about it for years as if he is some kind of expert.

I’m looking forward to the Democrats costing the GND and putting it to the American people.

It’ll go down like a cup of cold sick.

Reply to  leitmotif
November 23, 2020 11:25 pm

The Democrats will never reveal such information.They will make wild claims about how much economic growth, job growth, and life extension will result. They will trash all those who make reasonable estimates of the cost or of any cost/benefit ratio.

Reply to  Ron Long
November 23, 2020 3:46 pm

Without a doubt

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
November 23, 2020 10:16 pm

Willis, I have noted that the SOI is affected by sea level or tides. The tide changes at Darwin are quite high but it appears that there is little tide changes in Tahiti so the SOI is influenced by the tides at Darwin. It is quite noticeable how the daily SOI figures change with the phase of the moon ie periods of 28 days. Secondly, it is noticeable when there is a King tide (ie when the moon is closer in its orbit around the Earth. Just for interest it seems that BOM and others are claiming there is a La Nina. It is correct that the SOI has turned positive but it is not on a monthly average +10 positive yet. Secondly the Inter-decadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) is still in the positive phase -strong La Ninas occur when the SOI is +10 (positive) and when the IPO is less than -1 (ie negative). Have a look at this government site and download the poster on rainfall or the one on Variable rainfall with cyclone tracks. At the bottom are graphs of SOI and IPO going back to 1890. You will the years 1974 and 2011 with both the SOI and IPO in blue and these were years of strong La Nina with floods in which people drowned in Qld. While the SOI spikes are something like 10 years periodical the IPO periods seems to be about 30-40 years. Could the combination of these two periods come from an alignment of planets which of course has nothing to do with the influence of humans

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
November 24, 2020 2:51 am

Willis, please look at the posters on the web site. There is a poster of wet and dry periods the duration of the periods vary between 5 and 13 years. This has been put forward by the Queensland government department not me. Secondly, as I said look at the poster on rainfall with cyclone tracks. That gives an explanation of El Ninos and La Nina and the graphs at the bottom. Just have a look at the IPO graph and how the SOI peaks within the IPO period. You will see that pink of IPO & red of SOI lead to strong El Ninos (dry periods in Australia) and the blue of IPO & blue of SOI lead to strong La Nina and wet periods in Oz. The graphs are monthly average values. I have been collecting daily SOI in an Excel spread sheet. It is here in the daily results within the monthly values that one sees the 28 days moon period. The daily values are given here for 30 days history and the page also gives the monthly value for the last 3 months. My excel file has the daily SOI values back to Aug 2015. The 28 day variation of the moon is very clear in this file. As an exercise I down loaded tidal data from Darwin for one+ year and the variation of the tides corresponded with the variation of the daily SOI figures. The correspondence of monthly average tides with the monthly average SOI is unlikely to be picked up because of small differences and measuring errors. You will not pick anomalies if we are looking at different data.
Even in the 30 days of the last month (Oct to Nov) you will see negative daily SOI from the end of Oct to 28 days later in Nov. At present were are in a weak La Nina because the IPO is in red positive phase. One needs to look at data back to at least 1890 (the mentioned graphs) to determine periodical variations. BOM do not seem to be able to look and analyse this data.

Gary from Chicagoland
Reply to  Bill Treuren
November 23, 2020 3:51 pm

Very cool video showing the sea level changes between the El Niño/LaNina cycle. I’m a visual learner and really enjoyed and learned from watching your video. As to your inquiry, the WeatherBell site discusses the Indian Ocean DiPole, and how it effects the weather globally. My inquiry to you after reading your article is how much more water is evaporated during the El Niño cycle as opposed to the La Niña within your calculated equator rectangle into the atmosphere, then how much more heat is released into the atmosphere during this El Niño cycle?

November 23, 2020 10:32 am


I’m sorry to be distracted by the image at the end of your excellent article, but being an occasional tinkerer myself I can’t help but make an observation. It’s a very adapatable design and I confess to some jealousy in not having come up with it myself. But the integrity of your whiz-bang adjustable ladder base depends upon the ability of two 2x4s to withstand tension perpendicular to the grain.

Hoping you stay safe, Earle

If you are a scrawny cuss it may never become an issue, but if you are girth-rich like me then the likelihood increases that the 2×4 could split and you end up having a mishap. Given the quality of wood one finds at lumber yards these days it strikes me that there might even be flaws within the wood that make such a failure more likely.

Mark Whitney
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
November 24, 2020 5:43 am

Chuckle. Modified ladders violate OSHA directives! > ; }

Reply to  Earle
November 23, 2020 12:08 pm

I like the design. Given my size I might add 8 metal straps around the 2 x 4, so the stress on the 2 x4 is transferred to the top of the 2 x 4

Ben Vorlich
November 23, 2020 10:35 am

Good work on the research, very enlightening you’ve created some useful areas of research for others to follow.

Have you patented that ladder or made it available to all?

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
November 23, 2020 1:07 pm

Ah oh.. lawsuit coming in 3, 2, 1. You need a DISCLAIMER!

Reply to  rbabcock
November 23, 2020 3:58 pm

Or a Darwin Award.

November 23, 2020 10:37 am

“in the Indian Ocean something is going on that looks very much like the Nino/Nina alteration in the Pacific ”
Could this be the monsoon?

David Chorley
Reply to  d
November 23, 2020 1:58 pm

You could call it the Edina….. The Edina Monsoon and it would be Absolutely Fabulous

Reply to  d
November 23, 2020 3:25 pm

Also it looks like ‘stuff’ shoots from the Indian Ocean across equatorial Africa and Africa spits out blobs in the eastern Atlantic

November 23, 2020 10:40 am

Fantastic animation!

Willis said “I also note that in the Indian Ocean something is going on that looks very much like the Nino/Nina alteration in the Pacific … watts up with that?”

I noticed that too. But then I looked at the Atlantic. It has a very weak pattern though. So my question is….why do the Indian and Pacific oceans show this pattern, but the Atlantic does not? What’s different about the equatorial Atlantic?

Ben Vorlich
Reply to  ThinkingScientist
November 23, 2020 11:01 am

Possibly the fact that the Atlantic sends quite a lot of water up into the Arctic Ocean?

Smart Rock
Reply to  ThinkingScientist
November 23, 2020 2:33 pm

One thing that makes the equatorial Atlantic different is that the world’s two largest rivers (by mean flow), the Amazon and Congo, are discharging very large volumes of fresh water into both coasts. Combined, this is a quarter of the combined flow all the world’s rivers. Almost dead on the equator. The Amazon delta is at 0.5°N and the Congo delta is at 3.5°S.

It would take deep thought to imagine how this would affect the development of a potential Nino/Nina in the Atlantic.

By contrast, the west coast of equatorial South America, where the Nino starts, is a desert.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Smart Rock
November 23, 2020 4:05 pm

I do not think the rivers are why
Those rivers are far to small to affect global heat flow, or so it seems to me.
See my longer answer, when it clears moderation, for my alternative explanation.
Tell me if it makes sense…I have spent lots of time studying physical geography for much of my life.
Not sure if my musings constitute “deep thought” though.
But I think I have it figured out.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Smart Rock
November 23, 2020 4:36 pm

When it comes to deserts, the oceans off the west coasts of nearly all of the continent sized landmasses are some of the largest and driest deserts on the planet.
The exceptions are where warm currents from the south and southwest deliver moisture to the continent and offshore areas.
These are Europe from about Spain and Portugal northward (Spain and Portugal are only seasonally very dry as the gif below shows), North America from Northern California to the Gulf of Alaska, and the Intertropical Convergence Zone as it shifts north and south with the Sun.

The Atacama Desert is something of an anomaly, and is about the driest desert on Earth due to several geographical peculiarities.
I wrote a paper about this in college.
One of the more interesting and little known peculiarities has to do with increased friction with land causing an increase in subsidence of the offshore belt of semi-permanent high pressure, as this friction unbalances the forces which typically cause the offshore geostrophic winds to flow parallels to the isobars. The increase in friction causes divergence, which induces increased subsidence, inhibiting cloud formation. This same phenomenon is partly why the West Coast of Australia is as dry as it is, dryer than the latitude would otherwise indicate it should be. The effect is far more severe in the Atacama region due to the Andes causing far more friction to affect the geostrophic balance.

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Gary Pearse
Reply to  Smart Rock
November 23, 2020 5:33 pm

Smart : the Amazon and Congo were aligned before the Jurassic breakup!

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Gary Pearse
November 23, 2020 6:12 pm

I wonder if maybe the Amazon flowed the other way at that time?
There would have been no Andes Mountains prior to the rifting and westward movement of South America.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  ThinkingScientist
November 23, 2020 3:58 pm

Thinking Scientist,
There is a continuous current that flows from the western side of South Africa, all the way up the coast to the equator (Benguela Current), and then west as it crosses the equator (South Equatorial Current)still moving north, into the Caribbean and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico.
It then flows in a loop, called the Loop Current (!), which spins off large eddies several times a year that typically drift towards Texas, and sometimes pinches off entirely into a VERY large eddie, and for a time there is no loop current, until it can re-establish.
Sometimes, the there are so many of these pinched off eddies in the Gulf, and they are so close together, that they induce counterclockwise spinning eddies in the spaces between them.
The difference in the direction of rotation shows up in the temperature of the ones spinning in opposite directions. Maps below show this.
This flow, from the southern into the northern hemisphere, constitutes the bulk of the water that is constantly piling up in the Gulf ( with the rest coming from the southernmost section the the North Atlantic gyre), and which flows out through the Straits of Florida, then turns northward as the Gulf Stream.

So there is a condition in the tropical Atlantic that does not exist in those other basins…a constant flow through from southeast to north west.
This could be why, as it may tend prevent a buildup of water that has to then slosh back the other way.
The convergence of the South and North Equatorial Currents does cause a backflow, called the Equatorial Countercurrent, to develop at times.
Note that many ocean current maps do not show the Equatorial Countercurrent
What is basically going on is, the eastward flow of the Southern Equatorial current runs into the wedge-shaped East coast of South America, causing it to split and deflecting a large portion of it northward. All of the water of the Southern Equatorial current that is north of the nose of South America (does it have a name?) crosses the equator and flows in the Caribbean.

Check it out:
Some maps showing the larger overall flows:
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Note some show a counter current and others do not.

And now some very cool maps of what happens when this water flows into the Gulf of Mexico:
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That was a good question with an interesting answer.
The short answer is, the shapes of the coastlines containing the basins prevents it from occurring in the Atlantic.
And winds up warming Europe and strongly affecting the weather over a large part of the inhabited lands of the Earth. Controlling the weather, one might almost say.
Because of these currents, there is no buildup of hot water that gets released periodically, as in the tropical Pacific. Instead, it forms the continuous flow of heat which is characteristic of the Gulf Stream.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
November 23, 2020 4:00 pm

Dang…that should be “…buildup of *hot* water that gets…” in the next to last sentence.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
November 23, 2020 4:58 pm

Note also the deficit of water in the South Atlantic that is caused by the flow from the South into the North Atlantic, by way of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.
I hypothesize that this induces water to flow into the South Atlantic from the Indian Ocean, by way of the Agulhas Current around the Cape of Good Hope.
Interestingly, the zone where adjacent currents run in opposite directions on the southern and eastern margins of the Agulhas is thought to be the cause of rogue waves, which form in this place more frequently than just about anywhere on Earth.

Reply to  ThinkingScientist
November 23, 2020 8:43 pm

Shorter fetch of the wind.

November 23, 2020 10:51 am

> Hey, do us 73-year-old geriatricats know how to party or what?

We had to get my 83yo grandmother to reluctantly agree to stop painting the house any higher than the second story windows.

You did too much work. A simple “A” shaped triangle wedged under the second rung and clamped/strapped to the first does the same thing with 1/3rd the wood and bolts and 1/10th the holes.

Reply to  Rob_Dawg
November 23, 2020 11:56 am

Hmm. From an engineering standpoint, I think you are right. From a work standpoint, probably not – that looks like a “what is in the scrap wood pile, and what bolts do I have” project. Too, once you have the drill out and set up, might as well make as many holes as you ever think will be wanted.

I have three sawhorses that look much like that, except far more colorful from various painting projects.

November 23, 2020 11:25 am

Willis ==> The graphics show SSH anomalies in METERS. Is that correct? A positive anomaly up to 3 meters/10 feet?

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
November 23, 2020 1:08 pm

Thanks for figuring that out Kip, Willis. I was wondering if the +3 meters and the -2 meters were for real, we would have seen pics of that in Malaysia and The Philippines, if I’m getting my geography right, surely (from the alarmists on the upswing, and from nobody on the downswing).

Even so, it would still be a half meter swing. That’s a lot.

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
November 23, 2020 2:27 pm

Now, after two refreshs it’s back, sorry for wrong alert !

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
November 23, 2020 2:26 pm

Can’t see the video anymore 🙁

November 23, 2020 11:46 am

A thing that I noticed was the anomoly values — tenths of a meter in these data vs the tenths of a centimeter cited for accelerating sea level rise purported to be from ice melt. Gee, I wonder how the studies that claim global warming causes inudation of coastal cities can normalize their readings over a half-meter, non-seasonal, non-tidal variation in sea level.
Great presentation.

Steve Fitzpatrick
November 23, 2020 11:47 am

Hi Willis,

Nice animation. I noted that the sea surface appears to change by ~4 meters along the western coast of South America and some places north of Australia over the cycle. That seems like a lot. I mean, 4 meters is enough to cause serious coastal flooding in many places….. or maybe serious exposure of coral reef tops when the level is low. Do you know if tide gauges confirm such a large ENSO change?

Joel O'Bryan
November 23, 2020 11:52 am

“In Figure 1 you can see how the strength of the La Nina winds has actually hollowed out the surface of the ocean along the Equator…”
“So I needed a sea level height dataset.

There’s much more to ENSO water movement that that which moves at the gravitational surface by by geo-height potential. You’re missing a much bigger picture going on under the ocean surface in the form of Eastward equatorial propagating Kelvin waves that run 300 meter depth to upwards of 50 meters depth by the time they reach the Galapagos.
“Equatorial Kelvin waves are a special type of Kelvin wave that balances the Coriolis Force in the northern hemisphere against its southern hemisphere counterpart. This wave always propagates eastward and only exists on the equator.”
And see more here:

As for your, “I also note that in the Indian Ocean something is going on that looks very much like the Nino/Nina alteration in the Pacific … watts up with that?”

That is likely the Southern Asian Monsoon and Australian Monsoon cyclicity that operates anti-phase with each other.
See more here:

In that reference you will find this:
“The monsoons of Asia comprise a dry, cold winter phase and a wet, warm summer phase. During winter, cold, dry winds blow out of the continent, driven by an atmospheric high-pressure system located in Siberia. In summer, moisture is delivered from the Indian Ocean to the Indian subcontinent, Mainland Southeast Asia, and SW China in the case of the South Asian monsoon (SAM). This flow is driven by a low-pressure system in northern India. In the East Asian monsoon (EAM), the moisture derives from the Pacific Ocean and South China Sea and is transported to central and northern China, as well as to the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese islands. The Asian monsoons mirror a similar antiphased and less intense seasonal climate system affecting northern Australia and New Guinea. The summer wet season progressively advances across each region but typically commences in April–May, finishing in September–October.”

The change is sea surface height is related of course to those wind field seasonal flows.

November 23, 2020 11:54 am
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
November 24, 2020 6:40 am

Thanks! The data is at this address.
If you allow, note the difference in the solar magnetic activity at the beginning of the 23th cycle and the 25th solar cycle.
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In my opinion, the energy of the solar wind indirectly influences the wind along the equator.
Therefore La Niña this year, growing by leaps and bounds. This can be seen in the rapid changes in SOI values.

Reply to  ren
November 24, 2020 8:51 am

The fluctuations in the SOI index are related to the increase in the speed of the solar wind that strikes at high latitudes: as geomagnetic activity increases, the SOI value increases.
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Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
November 25, 2020 12:40 am

I’m no scientist, but I watch how it behaves in the tropopause jet stream during periods of reduced solar activity.

Notice the blockage of ozone in the lower stratosphere above the Bering Sea, which translates into blockage of the jetstream.

Thank you for your attention and best regards.

Reply to  ren
November 25, 2020 6:30 am

You’re right. I can only note that we have a weak start of a new solar cycle and large spikes in wind force in the western equatorial Pacific. Am I wrong?
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November 23, 2020 11:56 am


Great video.

Maybe that new satellite Space X sent up from Vandenberg last Saturday can add some decent data for you, W.

It might also be able measure subsidence as well as the water level, huh? Anyone my age from New Orleans and south of there can vouch for subsidence in Louisiana, and the warmistas explain flooding and such using “rising sea level” versus lower hydrostatic pressure from Big Muddy. Just need some “ground truth” rock someplace that hasn’t been influenced up or down for last 70 or 80 years.

Gums sends…

Gordon Saul
November 23, 2020 12:00 pm

Great stuff, I might point out you get more done in a weekend than most of us complete in a year!
The Copernicus sea level heights are fascinating. Is it possible to integrate this with air pressure ? I have a suspicion that the coral bleaching that creates so much alarm is a function of low sea levels rather than high temperatures.

November 23, 2020 12:25 pm

Interesting movie Willis.

I’ve watched it a couple of times and it’s not obvious to me water is being pumped. Had you considered the possibility the level changes are more to do with evaporation and rainfall?

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
November 23, 2020 6:06 pm

“what goes up must come down”

True enough but not necessarily in the same place. And my intuition tells me the moist atmosphere moves orders of magnitude faster than the ocean current. We already know ENSO impacts rainfall in Australia vs South America and presumably everywhere in between. Its a very interesting movie. There is a lot of level variation that is hard to explain.

November 23, 2020 12:32 pm

At each end of both the Suez and Panama canals are tidal gauges which have not altered one millimetre since they were constructed over 100 years ago!

November 23, 2020 12:40 pm

Beautiful video!! Reminds me of a little kid in a bathtub.

Tom Abbott
November 23, 2020 1:13 pm

Maybe ole John Kerry can figure all this nino-nina cycle stuff out. It looks like Biden has picked John Kerry for his new Climate Czar.

Reply to  Tom Abbott
November 23, 2020 1:58 pm

I also read Climate Envoy. Either way, make sure you know where your wallets are at all times.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  philincalifornia
November 23, 2020 3:15 pm

Holding onto your wallet won’t be enoiugh.
The Progs’ plan is to just inflate away your life savings in bank accounts and CDs, spending what is there by de-valuing the currency it is denominated in.
You need to invest in equity stocks of the companies that have signed onto the WEF’s Great Reset disaster. Those are the companies the Davos-crowd own to ride out the coming hyper-inflation for the world major currencies as the printing presses crank up in the coming years.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
November 23, 2020 4:11 pm

I have no doubt that we will have many posts on here about how this “dumb as a box of rocks” is “mitigating Climate”, “tackling Climate” and even “combatting” that horrid SOB that makes us so far an unmeasurably minuscule bit warmer (if it even does that), and we’ll have loydo and griff countering with what a fabulous job he’s doing with the above. Meanwhile, the Keeling Curve rocks on, mandatory EV vehicles after he’s dead, he gets the Nobel Peace Prize …..

….. and still these thick-as-two-short-planks trolls will continue to believe it.

I think there’s a falsifiable hypothesis in there somewhere.

Pete C
November 23, 2020 4:23 pm

Yes, we should begin using English alphabet for these two weather phenomena. We already adopted canyon and pinyon. These should be Ninyo and Ninya.

To adhere to actual pronunciation, pinyon should be “peenyone” (like “tone”), but the “o” would still be mispronounced as “one” so silent “e” won’t help.

Geoff Sherrington
November 23, 2020 6:43 pm

Your excellent movie will take me many repeats to pick up the full subtlety.
Meanwhile, slghtly off topic, with your skills with large computer files, do you reckon you would be any good at rigging a national election?
It seems like a growth area.

Izaak Walton
November 23, 2020 7:02 pm

Looking at the numbers it would seem that it is not a very effective pump. Willis has suggested that the El Nino moves 0.1 sverdrups of water every couple of years eastwards or westwards. In contrast the gulf stream moves between 100 and 1000 times that amount of water northwards constantly (between 30 and 120 sverdrups according to Willis). So in terms of moving warm water towards the poles the El Nino is basically a second order effect and can easily be ignored.

November 23, 2020 11:42 pm

Always fascinating to see something like this animated. A question, are you able to run it faster? Sometimes that can unmask interesting things too. Watching weather radar images and satellite images, all sorts of things jump out at higher speeds, also using a ‘rocking’ intead of run motion.

Mark Hansford
November 24, 2020 3:33 am

Always fascinated by the way you think Willis. I am still very much a ‘lurker’ and pass comment only very occasionally but I wonder if displacement even when shown as a passing 9mph wave can be measured in Sverdrups. The height is no indicator of flow, just the result of flow. I would imagine the heat pump flow of surface waters during El Nino/La Nina is measured in 100s of Sverdrups, similar to the Atlantic flows, at its height and the little ‘eddies’ surely indicative of localised weather systems and their changes in pressure. I personally (ie in my opinion) cant read the heights as flow just indicators of the power involved. Would 0.1 Sverdrups be moving much heat?

November 24, 2020 11:15 am

Now I understand why in Bob Tisdale’s movies warmer water seemed to be “blowing through” Indonesia into the Indian Ocean as if it were no obstruction at all. It is the scouring wind that blows through…

November 24, 2020 12:59 pm

Coral bleaching is caused by a drop in sea level, correct me if I’m wrong.

‘There are some correlations between the widespread coral bleaching in 1997-1998 and one of the strongest El Nino events of this century, but the patterns are unclear with many exceptions. The correlation exists for the east Pacific, but the bleaching in southeast Asia coincides with a strong La Nina (the complete reverse of El Nino), and the bleaching in the Indian Ocean and parts of the Caribbean do correlate with either El Nino or La Nina.’


Reply to  ironicman
November 25, 2020 12:47 am

Probably it has to do with weak winds along the equator during El Niño.

November 24, 2020 5:23 pm


I like your whizbang ladder adapter. I may make a carbon copy in a few weeks. Gravity is not your friend on uneven ground.

Mr Julian Forbes-Laird
November 26, 2020 12:37 am

Willis, this is amazing.

It looks to my layman’s mk 1 eyeballs like the moment of onset is the eastwards propagation in March 97, which has a westwards twin, albeit weaker and somewhat delayed, in the Indian Ocean.

Is there, I wonder, a common originating phenomenon, that breaks both way, with the No/Na cycle we’re familiar with triggered by this other action striking the continental shelf of the land-masses concerned?

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