Science Concepts—Investigating El Niño

Summary: During an El Niño event, shifting winds and ocean currents lead to greater than normal sea surface temperatures and changes in weather patterns around the globe. In Data in the Classroom lessons, students use real data to explore relationships between ocean and atmosphere, and the ocean characteristics that are associated with El Niño events.

Concepts to teach:


  1. Oregon’s climate is affected by ocean processes centered at distant locations
  2. Complex factors combine to produce patterns of climate variability that can be predicted
  3. The relationship between ENSO and global climate change is not yet well understood


  • NGSS Performance Expectations
    • MS-ESS2-6. Develop and use a model to describe how unequal heating and rotation of the Earth cause patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation that determine regional climates.
  • Ocean Literacy Principle 3
    • The ocean is a major influence on weather and climate

Specific Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  1. Describe how sea surface temperature data can show the presence of an El Niño event
  2. Describe weather characteristics associated with El Niño conditions
  3. Use real data to characterize sea surface temperatures for a given year

Activity Links and Resources:


  • Data in the Classroom includes check your understanding questions at the end of each level
  • Can We Blame El Niño for Wild Weather includes questions at the end of each section
  • El Niño from NOAA Ocean Explorer includes online quizzes at the end of each section