Peruvian fisherman named El Niño (Spanish for “the boy child”) after the Christ child because the climate phenomenon usually shows up around Christmastime. But its counterpart, La Niña, is the gift giver, bringing cold, nutrient-rich water to the equatorial Pacific off South America. Those nutrients are a boon to marine life, supporting a larger fish population and increasing the fishermen’s catch. Fishermen might expect a good year ahead, as a strong La Niña is now dominating the Pacific Ocean.
“This is one of the strongest La Niña events in the past half century, and will likely persist into the northern hemisphere summer,” says Bill Patzert, an oceanographer and climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Climatic impacts include heavy rains and flooding, which has damaged crops and flooded mines in Australia and Asia. It also has resulted in flooding in northern South America and drought conditions in Argentina. This powerful little lady is spreading her curses and blessings across the planet. She’s the real deal.”
La Niña’s cold water signal is strong in the top two images. The left image shows ocean surface temperatures on December 15, 2010, as measured by the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for EOS (AMSR-E) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. In December 2010, sea surface temperatures were colder than average across the equatorial Pacific.