Update: See the end of the post for clarifications and new information from the communications coordinator for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.
With record-breaking temperatures across Alaska showing no signs of abating, wildfires like the ones seen in the image above from NASA’s Terra satellite may well be a common sight coming weeks.
Here’s a snippet from the National Weather Service forecast discussion for the Fairbanks area:
…REGARDLESS OF WHICH MODEL IS FOLLOWED…ALL OF THEM SPELL EXTREME HEAT FOR NORTHERN ALASKA ALL THE WAY THROUGH THE MID RANGE MODELS. THERE IS SOME DEVIATION IN TERMS OF HOW HOT…BUT RECORD BREAKING HEAT IS LIKELY THROUGH AT LEAST THE END OF THE MONTH ACCORDING TO ALL OF THE MODEL RUNS.
For Fairbanks and other areas in northern Alaska, that means temperatures in the high-80s and even low-90s, compared to normal maximum temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s.
Alaska’s heat wave isn’t simply a one-off, freak event. Since the mid-20th Century, the average temperature of the Earth has increased by about 0.6°C (1.1°F), driven in large measure by our emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. But the warming hasn’t been uniform. In fact, the far north has been warming faster than anywhere else, with the Arctic heating up twice as fast as the global average.
This map shows how temperatures around the globe varied from the long-term mean between 2000 and 2009: Read More
I was out in the prairie northeast of Denver today with researchers from the National Severe Storms Laboratory using a drone aircraft to observe developing thunderstorms when we got the news: A tornado had touched at Denver International Airport, about 50 miles to the south of us.
Interestingly, we got the news from Twitter — and that’s where this awesome picture of the twister, which touched down briefly and harmed no one, turned up shortly thereafter:
— Marshall Zelinger (@7Marshall) June 18, 2013
The team from the severe storms lab, working with students and researchers from the University of Colorados’s Research and Engineering Center for Unmanned Vehicles, were out with two Dopper on Wheels radar trucks, or DOWs, a van bristling with weather monitoring equipment, a weather balloon, and the drone airplane.
The idea was to use the drone to gather data on the evolution of temperature and moisture near thunderstorms that’s difficult to obtain otherwise, and cross check it with information from the other instruments. The goal: improve forecasting of thunderstorms and tornadoes.
Luckily for the research, the thunderstorm cells that produced the DIA twister moved in our direction. And luckily for all of us, we were close enough to get good data, but no one was ever at risk.
I took a lot of pictures and video and will post some of them in the next day or so. In the meantime, here’s another Twitpic photo of the tornado that touched down at the airport this afternoon:
— Jen Milazzo (@jmilazz) June 18, 2013
At the end of a long journey back from Cambodia last week, I had my face glued to the window as the plane passed low over Colorado’s Front Range on its way to a landing in Denver. The scenery is always spectacular, but I was also looking for something specific, and I found it: dust on snow.
A lot of it.
Check out the picture above and you’ll see it: beige coloring on what would otherwise be bright white snowpack.
This isn’t just a curiosity. The relatively dark color of dust causes snowpack throughout the Western United States to absorb more solar energy than it otherwise would, and thus melt out earlier and faster, resulting in major headaches for water managers. More disturbingly, the dust storms that cause this buildup could be harming human health.
With all of this in mind, I emailed my colleague at the University of Colorado, Jason Neff, who conducts research on this issue. Neff, director of the university’s Environmental Geochemistry Laboratory, wrote me back right away: “The dust is particularly dirty this year!” The cause: A series of dust storms that deposited one layer after another of the stuff atop of the snow. As the snow melts, the dust concentrates, eventually leaving a very dirty surface. Read More
Last summer, melting of surface snow and ice in Greenland went down in the record books as being far more extensive than that seen in any year since satellite records began in 1979. At one point, during a spate of extraordinarily warm weather, 97 percent of the Greenland Ice Sheet experienced some degree of surface melting.
It’s still too soon to say exactly what this year will ultimately bring. But so far, the early part of the warm season in Greenland is looking eerily similar to what happened last year.
Operating in a special mode, the GOES-14 weather satellite captured a stunning animation of the birth and growth of massive thunderstorms over the Upper Midwest yesterday. Click on the image above to watch it.
The thunderstorms spawned tornadoes, large hail, tree-toppling winds, and widespread power outages. But so far the storm system has failed to produce a derecho — a widespread, highly damaging cluster of thunderstorms arrayed in a line. Forecasters had warned that formation of a derecho was possible.
After their birth over parts of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois, the huge thunderstorms moved east. They’ve now barreled into the mid-Atlantic.
To record the birth and evolution of the storms in detail, the GOES-14 satellite was put into a special mode in which it captured images at a rate of one per minute, as opposed to the normal 15 per minute. For more details, check out this blog post from the folks at the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies., source of the animation. And for a spectacular, higher resolution Quicktime version of the movie, click here. (Warning: This is a big file!)
A wildfire raging in the wooded Black Forest area just northeast of Colorado Springs, Colorado’s second largest city, has already consumed an estimated 8,500 acres — an area more than half the size of Manhattan Island. Primed by high temperatures and dry conditions, the blaze has triggered the evacuation of up to 9,500 people and destroyed 92 homes. It could grow by another 3,000 acres.
UPDATE 4:00 p.m. Thursday: Since I posted the original version of this story, the Black Forest Fire has grown to more than 15,000 acres — larger than Manhattan island — and has destroyed 360 homes. This makes it the most destructive fire in Colorado history, surpassing last year’s nearby Waldo Canyon Fire. According to the Denver Post, strong winds are pushing the fire now toward the city of Colorado Springs — Colorado’s second largest city. As I get more information, I’ll provide further updates.
There have been no reports of deaths or injuries.
The blaze is clearly visible in the animation above. I put it together using true color and false color images of the area captured by the MODIS instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite on Wednesday, June 12. Read More
It may not be the “airpocalypse,” but as I write this post from a hutong district in Beijing, the air quality is deteriorating.
If you’ve been following ImaGeo, you may know that I’ve been taking a break from regular blog posts while I travel in Asia for a few weeks. My family and I are currently in Beijing, which last January suffered horrific air pollution — with readings of small particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, literally off the charts. To see just how bad it was, check out this piece with accompanying photos from the Washington Post. Read More
I launched the ImaGeo blog here at Discover back in February, and ever since I’ve been focusing on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet. Starting Thursday, May 16, I’ll be slowing down a bit on my posts as I head off to China and Cambodia for a few weeks.
I plan on continuing to blog here at ImaGeo while I’m gone. Just not every day. I’m particularly interested in the phenomenon of megacities. Along those lines, check out the image above. It’s a screenshot of a timelapse animation consisting of Landsat images showing the growth of Shanghai since 1984. Click on it to see the animation on Google’s Earth Engine.
The growth of Shanghai’s urbanized area is simply astonishing. It has been driven by rapid industrialization and a rise in population from about 12 million people in 1984 to 23 million today.
I’m bringing two cameras on my trip, and I hope to share photographs and other imagery while I’m away. Read More
The sun really seems to be ramping up its activity. At 9:45 EDT on Tuesday night, it unleashed its fourth flare in as many days. You can see it toward the left side of the sun in the image above from the Earth-orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft.
The false coloring in this picture is due to the wavelengths of light that the instrument on SDO viewed the sun with. These wavelengths are particularly good at revealing flaring activity.
Characterized as an X1.2 flare, it was not nearly as powerful as the one late Monday night. Nonetheless, X-class flares are the strongest, unleashing the energy of millions of hydrogen bombs almost all at once.
Last night the sun unleashed its latest tirade: the third flare in as many days, and the most powerful one in 2013 so far.
Exploding from the Sun’s surface with energy equivalent to millions of 100-megaton hydrogen bombs, the flare spewed intense radiation into space. It peaked last night at 9:11 p.m. EDT.
It was not directed toward Earth, but NASA says solar material from all three of the recent flares will pass by the Spitzer Space Telescope and could give a “glancing blow” to the STEREO-B and Epoxi spacecraft. All these spacecraft can be put into a protective safe mode.
The latest eruption was characterized as an X3.2-class flare. The X-class category is the most powerful, and each step up in number indicates a doubling of energy. So this flare was more than twice as powerful as Sunday’s X1.7-class flare.
The panel of images above, from NASA’s Earth-orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft, shows the massive eruption of energy in four different wavelengths. Read More