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Mr. Brooks' School Facts
The New El Nino versus El No-No
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A TAO bouy in the Pacific Ocean



A Web Based Learning Experience




Have you ever watched the evening news with your folks and wondered how the weather person could have been so wrong?  You wore shorts to school that day only to find yourself freezing during lunch.  Predicting the weather is a very difficult task.  The many factors which impact your daily local weather can be thousands of miles away, so Meteorologists use a variety of different remote tools including satellites and buoys to help them make predictions. The buoy to the right is an example of a tool used by scientists. These experts make their predictions by building models using historical and current data.

El Niņo and La Niņa cycles are examples of these complex patterns.  In this investigation, you will learn more about El Niņo and La Niņa cycles, and how they impact the weather in your area.  To accomplish this task, you will be logging into one of same ocean buoys that scientists use to develop their models.  


You will be part of an expert team.  Your team will consist of three or four students, and be responsible for collecting data, organizing it in an appropriate graphic form, and analyzing it for the purpose of making weather predictions in your community.  After making your prediction, you will write a speculation paper that details how you reached your conclusion.  Your last task will be to share your findings with the scientific community. 

As winter approaches, you will be on the hot seat, and youll get a taste of what it's like to be a weather person.  To be successful, you need to ask great questions, seek out the answers, develop new relationships, and take a stand.


Your team will be taking a seven-step approach to accomplishing the project.  You will begin by learning more about El Niņo and La Niņa.  After gaining a solid understand of these cycles, you will log into an ocean buoy and begin gathering your data and building a model.  Your final task will be to craft an effective speculation paper about the coming winter, and share your findings with the scientific world.




Step 1: In the news

El Niņo and La Niņa cycles have a tremendous impact on the world's weather.  It is hard to believe that ocean water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean can impact mid-America states, but the national news organizations have reported on the extensive impact of the cycle. Read the two articles below, and write a short summary of each one. Each group member is responsible for these summaries, which should be a total of one page for the two summaries.

Step 2: Background information

Split up and assign each member of your group one of the Web pages listed below.  After exploring the Web pages individually, get back together in your group and answer the following questions.

  1. What is the difference between El Niņo and La Niņa?
  2. Why is predicting these cycles important?
  3. What are the possible impacts on weather due to a La Niņa cycle?
  4. What are the possible impacts on weather due to an El Niņo cycle?
  5. Is the earth always in either an El Niņo or El Niņa cycle?
  6. Write and answer four additional questions that you believe would help people understand the El Niņo and La Niņa Cycles.

Resources :

·         About La Niņa and El Niņo - Climate Prediction Center

·         Global La Niņa Impacts - Climate Prediction Center

·         Global El Niņo Impacts - Climate Prediction Center

·         El Niņo Basics - Climate Prediction Center








Step 3:  Review the (TAO) story (Tropical Atmosphere Ocean Project)


The TAO story is an animated PowerPoint-like presentation on what the Tropical Atmospheric Ocean Project is all about. Each group member is required to write 250 words on what TAO is and how and why they do what they do. Explain who benefits from TAO.

Step4:  Real-time data

It's time to start gathering sea surface temperatures (SST), so your team can begin to build a useful model.  You will be using a buoy located at 110 degrees West and 0 degrees North.  You will begin by gathering today's real-time data, and then adding that value to the temperatures for the last 14-days. First you will want to make a data table, and later you will convert this to graphs.

Current Real-Time Data

Java Applet #1

Java Applet#2

Last 14-days

(Make sure you use the data from the buoy at 110 W)

  1. Use the link above to collect the today's daily (SST) for the 110 W 0 N buoy. (Note: When you place the mouse on the correct buoy, the window below will show the real-time information.)
  2. Access and print the data for the last 14-days.
  3. Calculate temperature anomaly, which is the difference from the average temperature for each day.
  4. The average, or mean SST values are listed in this table.  (Mean SST Values
  5. Place the data and calculations in a well-constructed table. Be sure to include a table title, column headings, and units.  Include daily temperatures, Mean Temperatures, and Anomalies (differences).
  6. Create a line graph for both the SST data and your calculated anomalies.
    (Example anomaly graph)
    (Example SST graph)




Step 4: Historical model

Scientists have been tracking SST for many years, and it has allowed them to create a historical model that helps them predict El Niņo and La Niņa cycles.  Use the link below to answer the following questions:

·         Which two years show the greatest "positive" anomalies?

·         Which two years show the greatest "negative" anomalies?

·         Compare the anomaly graph you created in step 5 with the historical anomaly graph.  Does it look like the current year is either an El Niņo or La Niņa cycle?

·         How could you make your model a better predictor of the cycle?

Historical Anomaly Graph- TOA/TRITON

Step 5: Temperatures and participation

The buoy we have been tracking is several thousand miles away, so it is hard to believe that sea surface temperatures can have an impact on your local weather.  Use the links below to investigate how the El Niņo and La Niņa cycles impact your local weather.  You may want to split up the links between each of your team members, and allow each individual to become a site expert.  Be prepared to use this information when you write your final speculation paper. 

·         La Niņa Seasonal U.S. Temperature & Precipitation - Climate Prediction Center

·         Seasonal Mean Temperatures and Precipitation for the
United States during Strong El Niņos
- Climate Prediction Center

·         Words of CAUTION - by William S. Kessler NOAA / Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory

·         Cold and Warm Episodes by Season - Climate Prediction Center

Step 6: Speculation

It's time for you to take a stand.  The model you developed in step 5 was only for a 15-day period, so you may also want to extend your graph to include a longer period of time.  You can access additional SST by visiting the TOA / TRITON Data Delivery System.
(Note: Make sure you are gathering data from the correct buoy.)

Step 6: Speculation  (continued)

Is the world currently in an El Niņo or La Niņa cycle?  Is the world having normal weather now, not influenced by any El Nino?  What are your predictions for temperature and precipitation in your local area? You will be required to provide solid support when making your case. Your group needs to work together to reach consensus.  After your group has reached consensus, your task is to construct a solid speculation essay, so you may want to read a few Tips on Writing Speculation Papers
You may also want to view a possible grading rubric before beginning

Step 7: Share your prediction

Your last step is to share your speculation with the world.  Access the Climate Prediction Center Feedback Form, and cut and paste your paper into the form.  Maybe you'll hear back.


Good Luck!  Remember, luck only occurs where opportunity and preparation meet.  Read, write, gather data and create your model with care.  This winter you may actually live out your speculation. 

 What You Are Required to Turn In:

1.      Step #1 Summary (individual work 5 points)

2.      Step #2 Background questions (group 5 points)

3.      Step #3 TAO Story Summary (individual 5 points)

4.      Step #4 Data Collection and Analysis (group)

a.    Data table   (5 points)

b.   anomaly graph  (5 points)

c.    SST comparison graph (5 points)           

d.   anomaly questions (5 points)

5.      Speculation Paper (steps #5 & 6) (group 15

6.      Step #7 Extra Credit  (individual work 5 points)

7.      Step #8 Extension (individual work 5 points)
compare and contrast data from two other bouys to see if your results are consistent with your original finding.







Our Bouy