An El Niño is characterized by an abnormal warming of sea surface temperatures in the equatorial central and eastern Pacific Ocean. This sea surface temperature change is accompanied by anomalous atmospheric circulation and convection changes around the globe. The 2010 El Niño reached maximum strength during January and February 2010. The Microwave Limb Sounder instrument on NASA's Aura spacecraft observed a clear eastward shift of deep convection, indicated by large amounts of cloud ice in the upper troposphere. The enhancement of cloud ice from 13 kilometers (approximately 40,000 feet) and above is the greatest since Aura launched in July 2004.
On July 15, 2004, NASA's Aura spacecraft launched from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base on a mission to study Earth's ozone layer, air quality and climate. Aura's data are helping scientists address global climate change issues such as global warming; the global transport, distribution and chemistry of polluted air; and ozone depletion in the stratosphere, the layer of Earth's atmosphere that extends from roughly 15 to 50 kilometers (10 to 30 miles) in altitude.
Aura is the third and final major Earth Observing System satellite. Aura carries four instruments: the Ozone Monitoring Instrument, built by the Netherlands and Finland in collaboration with NASA; the High Resolution Dynamics Limb Sounder, built by the United Kingdom and the United States; and the Microwave Limb Sounder and Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer, both built by JPL. Aura is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
The Microwave Limb Sounder is a second-generation instrument that is helping scientists improve our understanding of ozone in Earth's stratosphere, especially how it is depleted by processes of chlorine chemistry. The instrument measures naturally occurring microwave thermal emission from the edge of Earth's atmosphere to remotely sense vertical profiles of atmospheric gases, temperature, pressure and cloud ice.