[Athena] [Curriculum] [Oceans]

El Niño Phenomenon

One day, around Christmas time, fishermen off the west coast of Peru started on their traditional annual fishing expedition. Much to their surprise, there were no fish! They knew immediately what had happened. Tales from years gone by had told them this was another occurrence of El Niño (Spanish for the Christ child) which sometimes severely interrupts fishing for many months!

Teacher Talk

Student Activities

Task #1- Small Group Activity

Research El Niño in your group. Below are a few good sites you can check but feel free to expand your search as well. You might want to work in pairs of students in your group, then get back together and discuss what you've learned. As you look, be thinking about the following questions:

1. What is El Niño?
2. What might cause El Niño?
3. What are the physical consequences of El Niño?
4. Are there any economic consequences?
5. How does this phenomenon get its name?
After researching several sites about El Niño, use your Science Journal to answer as many of these questions as you can. Make sure you discuss them with your entire group prior to writing your report.

El Niño sites:

Task #2

Look at the two graphics below. Compare and contrast them in your group. Then, write your explanation of them in your Science Journal.

Task #3 - Examine the frequency of El Niño in this century.

Print and complete the following Task Card. For more information about this table, look here.

Task #4

In your group, create a model - one showing El Niño and one showing the normal pattern. Be prepared to share them with and explain them to the class. You might want to check out the following site as a model. However, yours should not be a duplicate of this one. Consider salt/flour maps, or any other medium you might like. Be creative and have fun with this!

Task #5

Complete the Economic Task Card.

Task #6 - TOPEX/Poseidon and El Niño

Currently, scientist are able to better predict El Niño occurrences using data from the TOPEX/Poseidon satellite. Access this site and read the information about the T/P. Write an explanation in your journal about how this satellite can predict the coming of an El Niño.

This series of sea level deviation maps , uses data provided by the TOPEX/Poseidon satellite. They demonstrate eastward upwelling waves along the equator and rising sea level along the coast of South America. Recreate this model using some other kind of visual demonstration. You may use technology or do it freehand.

Task #7 - El Niño in the news.

Check for El Niño in the news. If you can find something going on currently, do a current event presentation. This task may not be possible to do at all times, but it's an option to consider.

Task #8 - El Niño and the Southern Oscillation Index.

Check this site. Read "What is the Southern Oscillation Index?" This graph is updated monthly. Create a different way to show this data (line graph, bar graph, etc.) and record the changes monthly.

Teacher Talk
Written by: Martine Wayman
Last Modified August 10, 1997