“Buona notte dallo spazio!”

By Tom Yulsman | January 31, 2015 1:06 am

Earth, from the International Space Station, by Samantha Cristoforetti.

Pic of the Day

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti posted this absolutely stunning image to Twitter from the International Space Station on Friday, Jan. 30.

She included this message: “Buona notte dallo spazio!” (“Good night from space.”)

Completing one trip around the globe every 92 minutes, and cruising at 27,700 km (17,200 miles) per hour, Samantha and her colleagues aboard the ISS experience 15 or 16 sunrises and sunsets every day. So I’m looking forward to many more images like this.

Halfway Through Season, Snowpack in U.S. West Thins

By Tom Yulsman | January 30, 2015 5:49 pm

An animation showing snowpack in the western United States compares conditions at the end of January, 2011 and this year. (Maps: NOAA NOHRSC; Animation: Tom Yulsman)

January was not kind to snowpack in the mountains of the U.S. West — from which most residents of this part of the country derive their water.

This week is about the half-way mark for snow season in the West, and scientists have fanned out throughout the region to measure the amount of water locked in snow — a measure called “snow water equivalent.” This is a monthly ground-truthing exercise to back up an automated monitoring system called SNOTEL.

What they’ve been finding, combined with SNOTEL and drought data, is concerning.

I created the animation above to provide a visual sense of what’s happening. The first frame shows the snow water equivalent in the mountains of the West at the end of January 2011, when drought was absent from most of the region and conditions were closer to the long-term average. The second frame is from today.

The change is pretty obvious. Read More

Politicians and Oil Men Swoon at the Arctic’s Siren Call Even as Scientists Warn of the Rocks Ahead

By Tom Yulsman | January 29, 2015 6:47 pm

Scientists warn that we’re pushing the climate toward something akin to the Pliocene Epoch between 2.6 million and 5.3 million years ago. At that time, sea level may have been about 30 meters (~100 feet) higher than today. Here’s what that much sea level rise would do to New York City and surroundings. (Interactive sea level maps: Alex Tingle, flood.firetree.net. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

From increasing heat, to melting snow and ice, and rising sea level, we’ve been getting a clearer picture of how Earth’s climate is changing and where it is probably heading in the next hundred years.

But what about beyond a century?

One way to gain some insight into that question is to study past climates when atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases were as high or higher than they are today. And not surprisingly, that research paints a picture of considerably less ice and much higher sea level.

But the past turns out to be an imperfect guide. That’s because there is little in the past to compare with how fast and hard we’re currently pushing the climate.

“The fact is we are changing things fast, and we really don’t know where we will end up and what the world will look like,” says Bjørg Risebrobakken, a climate scientist at Uni Research in Bergen, Norway.

This unsettling picture was my take-away from the science portion of the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Norway last week, where Risebrobakken spoke about her research on climate change in the north.

A very different picture emerged from the policy section of the conference, which featured a European prince, prime ministers, diplomats, high officials, oil industry executives, and analysts.

To be sure, I didn’t hear anyone deny the reality of significant human-caused climate change — a refreshing difference from those 49 Republican U.S. senators who did just that in a recent vote. Read More

As Obama Restricts Arctic Drilling, A Look at the Region’s Different Faces: From ‘Workable’ to ‘Extreme’

By Tom Yulsman | January 27, 2015 1:22 pm
Fishing boats docked in Tromsø harbor on Jan. 18th, 2015. (Photo: © Tom Yulsman)

Fishing boats docked in Tromsø harbor on Jan. 18th, 2015. Thanks to ice-free conditions, this is the so-called “workable Arctic.” (Photo: © Tom Yulsman)

Note: This is a guest post by Gloria Dickie, one of two master’s students who joined me in Tromsø, Norway to attend the Arctic Frontiers conference last week. She wrote this post before today’s announcement by the White House that it is designating 9.8 million acres in the Arctic waters of  the Beaufort and Chuckchi Seas off Alaska’s coast as off-limits to consideration for future oil and gas leasing. This announcement makes her piece particularly newsworthy today. 

Dickie is a student in the environmental journalism program I direct at the University of Colorado’s new College of Media, Communication and Information. Her work has appeared in High Country News, The London Free Press, and OnEarth.org. She recently worked as an intern at National Geographic online.

For centuries, the vast expanse of the Arctic has combined with the harshness of its climate and the darkness of its winter days to pose daunting challenges to explorers, scientists, and businessmen alike.

But there really is no such thing as the Arctic. It is actually an immensely varied region that includes permanently frozen stretches of the Arctic Ocean at one extreme, and the cosmopolitan city of Tromsø, Norway, which as early as the 1800s was described as the “Paris of the North,” at the other. This city is home to 70,000, including people from 100 different countries.

Speaking at this year’s Arctic Frontiers conference, Tim Dodson, executive vice-president of StatOil, said the Arctic can be melted down to three simple categories: extreme, stretch, and workable. StatOil, a Norwegian oil and gas company that brings in nearly $95 billion a year and is the 26th most profitable company in the world, has a particular interest in those first two categories.

Read More

The Blockbuster Nor’easter as Seen From Space

By Tom Yulsman | January 26, 2015 10:33 pm
A GOES-13 satellite view of the full disk of the Earth. The Nor'easter is visible toward the upper right. (Source: NOAA)

A GOES-13 satellite view of the full disk of the Earth. The nor’easter is visible toward the upper right. (Source: NOAA)

|Update: See the two new spectacular satellite images I’ve added below. |

As I’m writing this post, it’s 11:30 p.m. on the U.S. East Coast and heavy snow has been falling from New York City all the way north to New Hampshire.

More than 29 million people are under a blizzard warning.

Weather bloggers, journalists, Tweeters, Instagramers, etc., are blanketing this storm with minute-by-minute updates. So I thought I could add some value by featuring some imagery that puts this nor’easter storm in perspective — the very broad perspective of what it looks like from space. I’ve chosen three satellite images, plus one graphic based on the output of a weather model; I’ll add others as they start rolling in.

The image at the top of this post shows the storm from the broadest possible perspective. It was captured on Monday, January 26th, by the GOES-13 weather satellite. I find it compelling because you can see the size of the overall weather system in which the snowstorm is embedded. Read More

Possibly ‘Historic’ Blockbuster Blizzard Aims at Northeast

By Tom Yulsman | January 25, 2015 2:09 pm

New York and Boston are in the crosshairs of a blockbuster blizzard forecast for Monday night and Tuesday.

In its forecast discussion today, the National Weather Service in New York described it this way:


Snowfall rates of 2 to 4 inches an hour are possible, with accumulations of one to two feet possible in New York City and similar amounts in Boston, according to the weather service. As of Sunday morning, a blizzard watch was in effect from coastal New Jersey to Massachusetts.

The video at the top of this post shows forecast surface winds for 4 a.m. Tuesday morning. (Source: earth.nullschool.net) Deep low pressure in the forecast storm combined with high pressure to the north and west are expected to produce winds gusting to 50 miles per hour or more. If this comes to pass, it would produce fierce blizzard conditions. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Extreme Weather, select, Top Posts, Weather

There’s No Place Like Home

By Tom Yulsman | January 24, 2015 5:02 pm
mountain wave

Mountain wave clouds over Colorado’s Front Range northeast of Boulder, Jan. 24, 2015. (Photo: ©Tom Yulsman)

Pic of the Day

After a little over a week in Tromsø, Norway, I’m back home. And it’s my birthday. So I celebrated with a run on the backroads near my home town of Niwot, Colorado.

Along the way, I shot the iPhone photomosaic above — my Pic of the Day. It shows a mountain wave cloud over the Front Range (toward the left of the image, above the yellow glow). For more photos of mountain wave clouds, and an explanation, see this Pic of the Day post from earlier in January.

If you follow ImaGeo, you probably know that I was in Tromsø for the Arctic Frontiers conference. I’ve published a few posts from there already. (See here and here, for example.) And I have more coming in the next week, including guest posts from two graduate students who came with me. (I teach journalism at the University of Colorado.) So stay tuned for those.

I’ll also have more Pic of the Day images to share. So I hope you’ll come back.

Here Comes the Sun, I Say… It’s Alright

By Tom Yulsman | January 21, 2015 9:16 am

The MS Vesterålen approaches the port of Tromsø in Norway on January 16, 2014. (Photo: ©Tom Yulsman)

Pic of the Day

Today, the Sun poked up above the horizon in the Arctic city of Tromsø, Norway for the first time since late November. From here on out the daytime will get longer and longer until the third week in May when the sun won’t set at all for awhile.

I should say for the record that if you check web sites that give you sunrise and sunset times for cities around the world, they’ll tell you that the Sun returned to Tromsø last Thursday. That’s not what the locals will tell you. And the likely explanation for the discrepancy is that the first sunrise comes earlier in the month the higher up you go on the low mountain that comprises most of the island on which Tromsø is built.

In any case, I had hoped to photograph the Sun’s return today and post it here as my Pic of the Day. But I got out of the Arctic Frontiers conference I’ve been covering a little too late. The Sun had already dipped below the horizon.

So instead, I offer the photo above showing the MS Vesterålen of the Hurtigruten line approaching the dock in Tromsø a few days ago. On the right side of the photo you can see the glorious yellow glow from the sun just below the horizon and behind the mountains.

I’m sure for residents of Tromsø it sometimes does feel like a long, cold lonely winter, and it probably has felt like years since the sun has been here. But with the Sun’s return, the smile’s returning to the faces.

As I’m writing this, I’m celebrating this day by listening to different versions of George Harrison’s awesome song. The version above is by the incredible Nina Simone. I hope you enjoy it.


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Nature, Pic of the Day, select, Sun, Top Posts

The View from the North: Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change Appears Increasingly Unlikely

By Tom Yulsman | January 20, 2015 11:30 am

Rosneft, a Russian petroleum company, completed drilling the northernmost well in the world – the Universitetskaya-1 well in the Arctic — this past September. (Source: Rosneft)

In 2010, representatives of 193 governments agreed to limit global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The goal is to avoid ‘dangerous interference with the climate system.’

Four years later, a widely publicized study concluded that if we are to keep to that goal, all Arctic fossil fuel resources “should be classified as unburnable.” Moreover, there can be no increase in production of unconventional oil, including oil shale and tar sands.

Now, while attending the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Norway, I’ve learned a few things that make me highly skeptical that those Arctic oil and gas reserves will be left unburned, and that global warming will be held to under 2 degrees C.

For evidence, you need go no further than the image above. It shows that drilling in the harsh Arctic environment is already proceeding apace.

The photograph is of the West Alpha rig in Russia’s Kara Sea. In September, it successfully drilled the northernmost well in the world — and into an oil province where oil and gas resources are thought to be comparable in size to the resource base of Saudi Arabia, according to Rosneft, the Russian petroleum company that completed the well.

Considering the agreement amongst so many of the world’s nation’s to avoid dangerous climate change, should drilling like this continue? Read More

In the Arctic, ‘Magic Hour’ Lasts Far More Than Just an Hour

By Tom Yulsman | January 19, 2015 6:08 pm
magic hour

The view west from Mount Storsteinen near Tromsø, Norway, on Jan. 19, 2014.

Pic of the Day

After being absent since October, the sun will return to Tromsø, Norway on Wednesday, Jan. 21. And even though I’m visiting here for just a little over a week, and I have therefore not missed the sun for months on end like the residents of this lovely Arctic city, I’m very much looking forward to the moment when it will briefly poke up above the horizon.

In the meantime, as a photographer — and just someone who appreciates nature every single day — I’m feasting on the magic hour light that goes on for hours and hours on end here while the sun cruises just below the horizon.

That magical light is on dramatic display in the photo above, which I shot from Mount Storsteinen high above Tromsø at about 1 p.m. last Sunday. Those colors are very much real. But they’re just a few examples of a broad spectrum of subtle tones (and sometimes not so subtle) that are on dramatic display during the polar darkness — which turns out to be not so dark at all at this time of year.


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ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

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