The phenomenon, which causes strong rainfall along the pacific coast of South America but severe drought in the Amazon rainforest as well as in east Africa, occurs every four to five years around Christmas. This is why it is called El Niño, which means infant Jesus in Spanish.
In order to being able to react to its occurance and take preventive measures, more accurate predictions are needed. This is what Adrian Constantin, mathematician from the University of Vienna, wants to contribute with his research in the future: "For precise predictions, data has to be put in a theoretical relation systematically".
The origin of this phenomenon is a deep water current in the Pacific Ocean. Adrian Constantin explains: "Due to the high solar altidude at the equator all year around, the insolation ist particularly strong and warms up the water surface. The heat reaches only 100 to 200 meters into the ocean, the water layers below are considerably cooler. With temperature, density changes as well. If two layers of different density converge, an internal wave emerges due to disruptions. This wave is up to 40 meters high, more than 100 kilometers long and flows more than 10.000 kilometers from west to east - unlike waves at the surface."
The research of the scientist takes the equatorial deep water current into consideration in a theoretical model for the first time. Constantin and his team want to deduce weather anomalies from precise measurement data. For this, they calculate the exact speed of the deep water current, create simulations, compare the results and build models. Even though they cannot predict when an El Niño event occurs by means of those models, they should be able to give an indication about the intensitv of the event.
You can read more about this project in a recent press release by the University of Vienna and a Comic produced on this project by WWTF and the University of Vienna (both in German).