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H o t  S c i e n c e

When a pool of water gets hot, the surface begins to evaporate quickly, adding moisture and heat to the air above it. The hot air rises, and carries the moisture with it. This process is known as convection. Once the moist, hot air rises and begins to cool, the process of precipitation begins. This cycle is perfectly normal and happens over warm ocean water all of the time.

So why is El Niño a problem? The difference is the location of the hot water. Normally, the hot water gathers in the western tropical Pacific Ocean where the ecosystem has adapted to the heavy rains that result. During El Niño, the hot water gathers in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean where the climate, geography, and people are not prepared for the unusual weather events.

As scientists learn more about El Niño, people around the world can better prepare for the unusual weather events. While it is unlikely that El Niño will ever be harmless, in future years the hot air over hot water may become less dangerous.

Scientists who study El Niño need to understand many different areas of science including oceanography, climatology, and meteorology. These excellent resources explore some of the science, although none of them are easy for young kids to read alone. They are fairly simple for adults and older kids to understand, however.

El Niño Rules
From "The Why Files," this resource explains the basic science of El Niño as well as the history and effects.

The Child Returns
This module explains the situation, the spheres, remote sensing, and what El Niño is.

Children of the Tropics: El Niño and La Niña
Written by scientists, this basic overview of the science of El Niño is relatively easy to understand.

Oceans and Climate
Ocean Currents
Explore how ocean currents impact climate.

Ocean Currents: We All Go with the Flow
Currents influence climate and living conditions for plants and animals, even on land.

Ocean Currents: Floating Shoes
Sixty thousand Nike shoes spilled from a storm-tossed cargo ship. Their journey to land is a fascinating adventure, retraced here.

Tracking Ocean Currents: Tritium and Turbidity
Learn how scientists track ocean currents.

Activity: Find the Gulf Stream
Use global ocean drifter buoy data to chart the Gulf Stream.

 
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