In my last post I talked about how knowing the science behind a picture makes it better. I still say that’s true, but also, sometimes, the beauty and awe of a picture can speak for itself.
Behold, swirls of sea ice off the coast of Greenland:
Breathtaking, isn’t it? [Click to phasechangenate.]
This was taken by NASA’s Aqua satellite on October 16, 2012. Aqua is designed to observe Earth’s water cycle: the oceans, evaporation, clouds, precipitation, snow cover, and, obviously, sea ice. It takes a vast amount of energy to move water from the ocean into the atmosphere and then move it around the planet, energy which comes from sunlight and steered by the Earth’s spin. Observations like those of Aqua show us how the constituents of the atmosphere change how that transport occurs, how that energy is stored, and how we humans affect that with our grand experiment of adding carbon dioxide to the air. That also affects our environment, how plants and animals eat, drink, live, and die.
We are animals, too, and we live in this environment created by sunlight, air, water, ice, and our own actions.
I am awed and moved when I see images like the one above. Its beauty is transcendent, and was made possible by our curiosity, our desire to learn more about the world we live in – an urge so strong we invented science, and engineering, and then built satellites that can look back at us from space and show us how surpassingly beautiful our world is, and how we need to take care of it.
Hmmm. I suppose I was wrong at the beginning of this post. Sometimes the picture doesn’t always speak for itself. It still helps to know the how and why of it. When you do, the picture speaks with far more authority, import, and wide-ranging impact.
Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Land Rapid Response Team
The Petermann Glacier is a vast tongue of flowing ice in Greenland. In 2010 it calved – broke off a chunk – releasing an iceberg far larger than Manhattan Island in New York City. That huge chunk of ice moved into the ocean and eventually melted in the Atlantic (see Related Posts below for more on that event).
And now Petermann has done it again. A crack appeared several years ago, and on July 16th conditions were right to allow a new chunk to break free:
Note the scale: the width of that glacier at that point is 20 kilometers, or 12 miles.
This iceberg was imaged by NASA’s Aqua satellite, designed to monitor Earth’s oceans. The berg itself is about half the size of the last one, but don’t kid yourself: that’s still huge.
As before, we can speculate whether this is due to global warming or not. Icebergs calf all the time. However, note that the last time, the berg calved later in the summer (August), and this crack is much farther up the glacier than usually seen.
As climate scientist Michael Mann says, global warming is like loaded dice. You don’t know if any particular throw of snake eyes is due to them being fixed, but you’ll see a lot more rolls turn up snake eyes than you would otherwise. Global warming is predicted to give us longer, hotter summers, drier conditions across the US, more record temperatures, thinner arctic ice, and having it cover less surface area of the Earth. And, yes, more frequent glacier calving.
By the way, the 2010 calving event was the largest seen in nearly 50 years. And also by the way, June 2012 was one of the hottest since records have been kept. And also also by the way June 2012 had the highest land and ocean average surface temperatures in the northern hemisphere in recorded history. And oh, one more thing: it also was the 328th consecutive month with a global temperature higher than the 20th century average. You can read all about this in the NOAA report "State of the Climate Global Analysis" for June 2012.
But you global warming deniers, you just go ahead and keep on denying. Keep cherry picking, keep changing the subject, keep misinterpreting graphs, and keep slinging ad hominems (note: that last one is skeevy and foul and disgusting almost beyond belief).
In the meantime those of us who understand the actual situation will take it seriously, and continue to speak out. Because this we know:
The Earth is warming up. The rate of warming has increased in the past century or so. This corresponds to the time of the Industrial Revolution, when we started dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases warm the planet (hence the name) — if they didn’t we’d have an average temperature below the freezing point of water. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas which is dumped into the atmosphere by humans to the tune of 30 billion tons per year, 100 times the amount from volcanoes. And finally, approximately 97% of climatologists who actually study climate agree that global warming is real, and caused by humans.
NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using data from the Land Atmosphere Near real-time Capability for EOS (LANCE).
[The Desktop Project is my way of forcing myself to clean off my computer's desktop by systematically writing a blog post for every cool picture I've been collecting and neglecting. I've been posting them every day for two weeks now. And there's more to come!]
Regular readers know I’m fascinated by clouds. The shapes they take on and the processes that form them are really interesting, especially when more unusual and rare conditions produce spectacularly odd clouds.
You’ve probably never heard of "cloud streets", technically called horizontal convective rolls. I hadn’t either until recently, but they are amazingly cool-looking, especially when seen from space. Proof: check out this shot from March 2012 of cloud streets over Greenland taken by NASA’s Aqua satellite:
[Click to ennebulenate, or grab an even higher-res version.]
Isn’t that incredible? The formation mechanism for these clouds isn’t well understood, but it involves gently rising warm, moist air getting blown to the side by a shear wind. This starts up a rotation in the clouds and stretches them out into these fantastically long parallel strips. Each row you see is spinning along the long axis, and each one is spinning in the opposite direction of the one next to it (this diagram may help).
To give you a sense of scale, this image is over 2000 km (1200 miles) across! So these clouds can stretch a long, long way.
You probably see clouds every day, or certainly quite often. Yet there’s a lot we don’t know about them, and certainly many kinds I bet you’ve never even heard of. What else is there you might be missing that’s sitting in plain sight?
Image credit: Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC
In case you were wondering what the snow was like here in Colorado the other day…
[Click to ensnowflakenate.]
That’s an image taken by NASA’s Aqua satellite on February 5, 2012. I live in Boulder, to the northwest of Denver (which is labeled), right on the edge of the Rockies. We got well over 30 cm here locally, and it was deeper in other places. Typical of the area, though, the Sun was out the next day, and now our yard looks like a fairyland of sparkles.
It’s unusual to get a heavy snowfall like this in February (we do get big ones, but later in the year) and from what I’ve heard this was a record for a February. And not to overextend the post to climate change, but a) weather is not climate… unless you add time, and 2) contrary to any soundbite you might hear, snowstorms will actually become more common as the Earth warms. Warmer weather means more evaporation, so more moisture in the air. It’s still cold higher up in the atmosphere, and it’s still cold in the winter over land, so a warmer planet overall means more snow in some places. I’m not attributing this event to global warming, to be clear. But it’s the kind of thing we can expect in the coming years.
NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC
This is truly amazing: you may remember that last August, a vast iceberg 25 km long calved off the Petermann glacier. This chunk of ice broke free and has made its way off Labrador and is headed to the north Atlantic.
NASA’s Aqua satellite caught it in the open water:
It looks almost serene and tiny, doesn’t it? Yeah, until you grasp the scale of this picture: from left to right it’s well over 400 km (320 miles) across, and that ice floe is still something like 20 km (12 miles) across, having shrunk a bit on its 3000 km journey. A beacon was placed on it last year and you can track its position online. Some fisherman shot some close-up video of the berg, too.
It’s unclear what will happen with this monster icecube. It may present a shipping danger, or even be trouble for offshore oil rigs in the Newfoundland area. Between the radio beacon and satellite images like this, hopefully its position and movement will be tracked well enough to predict where it’s headed and minimize any trouble it might cause.
Image credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC
- Enormous glacier calves in largest arctic event seen in 48 years
- Dramatic glacial retreat caught by NASA satellite
- Subterranean glaciers on Mars
- The Amazing Cruise: Day 3 (pix of a glacier I took in Alaska)
The other day I posted a video showing GOES space imagery of the severe storms that blasted across the United States on April 27. NASA has other satellites that observe the Earth as well, including Aqua, which captured the image below of the aftermath of the storms. The picture is centered on Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and you can clearly see the tracks in the ground left by the killer tornadoes that swept through the state.
The videos people took of the tornadoes are absolutely terrifying. The Red Cross was in the area immediately after the storms went through; if you have a mind to, they are as always accepting donations.
Images like this help meteorologists track down and understand the conditions for such storms to form. Obviously, the better we understand those conditions the more prepared we can be. And the farther in advance we can predict these storms — even by minutes — the more lives we can save.
Image credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC.
So yesterday I spent several hours rearranging my office and had a pile of other stuff to do, keeping me pretty busy throughout the day. So instead of some deeply insightful science post or lengthy discussion of skepticism, I’ll simply show you this beautiful image of a phytoplankton bloom off the coast of Patagonia:
[Click to unmicroorganismenate]
This was taken by NASA’s Aqua satellite, designed to study the Earth’s oceans. This isn’t really a true-color picture, since seven different colors were used to make it (though there is one available closer to natural colors). But it’s still pretty. And useful scientifically; blooms like this happen when there’s a confluence of various factors, like currents, nutrients, sunlight, and of course the plankton themselves, so scientists can use these blooms to study conditions in the water. And since about half the planet’s supply of oxygen is created by photosynthesis by these little guys, blooms are useful in a more basic way, too!
Image credit: Norman Kuring, NASA’s Ocean Color website
I have no real reason to post this image of the new hurricane Igor — now exploding into a category 4 monster in the Atlantic — other than to make the joke in the title, and because it’s terribly pretty.
[Click to encoriolisize, or go here to see a range of size options.]
The picture was taken by NASA’s Aqua satellite on Sunday, September 12 at 16:00 UT.
It’s well east and south of the US right now, but its path is unclear. I suspect Chris Mooney at The Intersection will be keeping a close eye — yes, haha — on it. Stay tuned.
Image credit: NASA, Aqua team
This is very cool: a live camera pointed at the Iceland volcano Eyjafjallajökull. I don’t think it’s embeddable, so just click that link and take a look. To add to the coolness factor, there is also a thermal camera pointed at it with the same field of view and scale, so you can compare what you’re seeing visually with what’s going on in the far infrared.
Here’s a still I grabbed last night; You can clearly see the ash plume through the cloud layers:
They provide a map of the camera location, but there’s no scale. I put it into Google maps, and it appears to be just a few kilometers from the volcano. That matches the rate the plume appears to change, too.
Take a look. It’s mesmerizing. And don’t forget that the NASA Earth Observatory is posting very high-resolution and beautiful images of the volcano quite often as well. Put that in your RSS feed reader! I check it every day; besides the volcano they frequently have incredible imagery of places I’ve never even heard of. It’s a big planet, with lots to see.
On April 22, 2010, a sandstorm swept across the western Sahara desert. NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this frightening event:
Yegads. Click to ensandinate. This is a closeup of a much larger panorama at the border of Niger and Burkina Faso. The whole front of the storm was about 1000 km (600 miles) across!
I looked at the zoomed image, but couldn’t find Rick O’Connell’s biplane. That’s probably all for the best.