SPECIAL SECTION - Climate Data from TOGA-TAO Buoy Array


Changes in surface wind patterns, sea surface and sub-surface temperatures and currents across the tropical Pacific are all essential characteristics of the changes in our climate system related to the ENSO cycle. An important array of instruments - the Tropical Ocean-Atmosphere or "TAO" Array - provide real-time data from a large area of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, extending from Papua New Guinea in the west to the Galapagos Islands in the east (shown in the map above).

The TAO Array consists of about 70 buoys moored in the deep ocean, with surface and subsurface instruments and satellite transmitters, that provide data essential to our ability to monitor and predict changes in the ENSO cycle and subsequent impacts like droughts, floods, altered storm activity, fishery migrations, environmental changes and other effects which have been linked to ENSO in many areas around the globe. Several nations, including France, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, and the United States, cooperate to maintain this important array of sea-based instruments.

The NOAA Ship KA'IMIMOANA, shown on station at a TAO buoy in the picture at top left, has primary responsibilities for maintaining a large part of the TAO Array in the central and eastern tropical Pacific. As an officer in the NOAA Commissioned Corps (a uniformed service under the U.S. Department of Commerce/NOAA, with operational responsibilities for the NOAA Fleet and other programmatic support roles throughout the agency), the Editor of Pacific ENSO Update performed a temporary tour of sea duty aboard KA'IMIMOANA in November-December 1996, under a newly established arrangement for dual responsibilities as project officer for the Pacific ENSO Applications Center and part-time shipboard officer for the NOAA fleet. These responsibilities complement each other, and are typical of the kinds of work performed by NOAA Corps Officers.

Sample data from the TAO Array is shown at bottom left. This data, depicting anomalies, or differences from average long-term values, of sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and winds over the last four month, is available in near-realtime via an internet site maintained by NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) in Seattle. Dashed contours indicate regions of below-normal SSTs, reflecting a typical (though weak) La Niña pattern of below-normal SSTs to the east and above-normal SSTs to the west. Unlike earlier in 1996, the wind anomalies have been small and variable in recent months, compared to stronger easterly anomalies throughout the region that would be more typical of La Niña conditions.

- Editor

Real-time TAO Data

Back to Pacific ENSO Update - 1st Quarter 1997- Vol.3 No.1