Here’s what real science says about the role of CO2 as Earth’s preeminent climatic thermostat

By Tom Yulsman | March 12, 2018 2:07 pm

The relatively thin atmospheric cocoon that protects us from meteor impacts and radiation also makes for a habitable climate, thanks to the greenhouse gases it contains — carbon dioxide first and foremost. In this photograph captured by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station on July 31, 2011, the oblique angle reveals the atmosphere’s layers, along with a thin crescent Moon illuminated by the Sun from below the horizon of the Earth. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)

Whenever I post something here at ImaGeo involving climate change, it’s a good bet that I’ll get a spectrum of critical responses in the comments section. These range from skepticism about the urgency of the problem to outright dismissal of humankind’s influence on climate through our emissions of greenhouse gases.

A recent post here about thawing permafrost releasing climate-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere was no exception. For the story, I reviewed dozens scientific research papers, and used information and quotations from two interviews. Based on that reporting, here’s what I wrote at the top of the story:

The coldest reaches of the Arctic on land were once thought to be at least temporarily shielded from a major — and worrisome — effect of a warming climate: widespread melting of permafrost. But a recent study suggests these northernmost Arctic areas are likely to thaw much sooner than expected. That’s concerning because melting permafrost releases climate-warming greenhouse gases.

As always, I expected skeptical pushback — but nothing as extreme as this:

As CO2 has had no noticeable effect on climate in 600 million years, until 15- 20 years ago, when carbon tax was invented, any alleged climatic effects can be ignored.

I took this to mean that a liberal scientific establishment invented the idea that carbon dioxide plays a role in Earth’s climate system to support raising taxes. Read More

Say what? This is the storm-tossed north pole of Jupiter?

By Tom Yulsman | March 9, 2018 2:54 pm

NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter has produced some wild imagery of the giant planet, showing massive swirling cyclones with a 3D effect

Juno image of Jupiter's north pole

This computer-generated image is based on an infrared image of Jupiter’s north polar region that was acquired on February 2, 2017, by the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument aboard Juno during the spacecraft’s fourth pass over Jupiter. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM)

When I first glanced at the image above, I thought I was looking at the surface of the Sun. But no, these really are mega cyclones swirling with winds up to 220 miles per hour around Jupiter’s north and south poles, as seen by NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

According to new research, they are long-lasting features unlike anything else seen before in our solar system.

A wealth of new findings from Juno about the giant gaseous planet have been published this week in the journal Nature. They’ve also been featured in a release by NASA.

As seen in the image above, Jupiter’s north pole features a dominating central cyclone surrounded by eight others with diameters as large as 2,900 miles. This means the largest surrounding cyclone is big enough to cover much of North America. Read More

Permafrost in coldest Arctic areas will melt faster than thought, releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases

By Tom Yulsman | March 8, 2018 6:10 pm

No, calamity is not imminent. But new findings offer worrisome insights into the ongoing transformation of the Arctic—and our planet.

Collapsed permafrost block of coastal tundra on Alaska's Arctic Coast. (Source: USGS)

Collapsed permafrost block of coastal tundra on Alaska’s Arctic Coast. (Source: USGS)

|Update March 9: I’ve added some commentary at the end of this piece on the implications of the permafrost research described here. |

The coldest reaches of the Arctic on land were once thought to be at least temporarily shielded from a major — and worrisome — effect of a warming climate: widespread melting of permafrost.

But a recent study suggests these northernmost Arctic areas are likely to thaw much sooner than expected. That’s concerning because melting permafrost releases climate-warming greenhouse gases.

Overall, the new findings, coupled with previous research, suggest that the Arctic has entered a new epoch — call it “The Great Thawing” — with implications for the entire planet.

Permafrost is permanently frozen soil, sediment, and rock, sometimes found with wedges of ice. Although it is found across 15 percent of Earth’s surface, it harbors about half of our planet’s stores of soil carbon. Scientists have long feared that a warming climate would cause substantial amounts of that carbon to be released into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide and methane, helping to accelerate global warming.

The new study found that if humankind’s emissions of greenhouse gases continue unabated, permafrost in the coldest Arctic areas will experience widespread melting during this century — not centuries hence, as previously thought. As they do, they will become a net source of additional climate-altering carbon to the atmosphere. The transition will peak in the relatively short span of 40 to 60 years.

“We keep finding more surprises,” says Nicholas Parazoo of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, lead author of the study, which appears in The Cryosphere, a scientific journal. “And the scary word in all of this is ‘irreversible.’ Once we thaw permafrost, it becomes very difficult to refreeze.” Read More

eARTh: A Portrait of Our Planet Painted With Photons

By Tom Yulsman | March 5, 2018 6:31 pm
Portrait of Earth

An instrument aboard the NOAA-20 satellite acquired this image portraying heat energy radiated from Earth. Bright yellow regions are the hottest and emit the most energy out to space. Dark blue and bright white regions, which represent clouds, are much colder and emit the least energy. (Source: NASA)

When I first saw this beautiful remote sensing image, I couldn’t help but feel that I was looking at a painting by an abstract expressionist.

Starting in the 1940s, abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock and Clyfford Still “valued spontaneity and improvisation, and they accorded the highest importance to process,” writes Stella Paul of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Flame by Jackson Pollack, c. 1934-38. For more information, click here. © 2018 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society, New York)

The Flame by Jackson Pollock, c. 1934-38. For more information, and other works by Pollack, click here. (Source: Museum of Modern Art. © 2018 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society, New York)

These artists placed “an emphasis on dynamic, energetic gesture,” she notes. Their works also were primarily abstract. You can see these very qualities in the Jackson Pollock painting at right. (Click to enlarge it.)

In the remote sensing image above, the continents all aglow like faint apparitions, as well as the scientific color key, were obvious give-aways that this was something other than a painting. Yet it is very much the product of rigorous process. And to my eye at least, the interplay of colors express a dynamism that looks almost painterly.

The pattern also looks abstract, at least at first glance. But in fact, what we see in this image is a kind of portrait of our planet painted with photons.

Those photons were collected by a sensor aboard the new NOAA-20 satellite not long after it began scanning Earth for the first time on January 5 of this year. Those photons constitute light that our eyes cannot see  — light in the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum emanating up into space from the land, oceans, and clouds. Read More

Snowpack declines in the western U.S. are comparable to all of the water stored in the West’s largest reservoir

By Tom Yulsman | March 3, 2018 12:58 pm
This animation of Landsat images shows Lake Mead near its highest and lowest points over the past 32 years. The high-water image was acquired on May 15, 1984. The low-water image was acquired on May 23, 2016. (Images: NASA Earth Observatory. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

This animation of Landsat images shows Lake Mead near its highest and lowest points over the past 32 years. The high-water image was acquired on May 15, 1984; the low-water image on May 23, 2016. (Images: NASA Earth Observatory. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

Thanks in large measure to warming temperatures, the average snowpack in U.S. western states has dropped by 15 to 30 percent since 1915.

The water in that lost snowpack is comparable in volume to Lake Mead. With a maximum capacity of 9.3 trillion gallons, Mead is the West’s largest manmade reservoir.

The new data on snowpack declines are among the striking results of a study led by Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University. As part of the study, Mote and his colleagues analyzed measurements from 1,766 snow-monitoring sites in the western United States going back more than a century. The researchers found that greater than 90 percent of those sites experienced declines in snowpack. Of those, 30 percent were found to be statistically significant.

Declining trends are observed across all months, states, and climates, but are largest in spring, in the Pacific states, and in locations with mild winter climate,” Mote and his colleagues write in their paper, published on March 2 in the journal NPJ Climate and Atmospheric Science, a Nature publication.  Read More

In satellite imagery, the dangerous nor’easter battering the U.S. East Coast is a beastly beauty of a storm

By Tom Yulsman | March 2, 2018 3:22 pm
Satellite image of the nor'easter that's battering the U.S. East Coast today. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA)

Satellite image of the nor’easter swirling along the U.S. East Coast today. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA)

A nor’easter with winds ranging up to hurricane strength is causing misery along much of the U.S. East Coast today. But from space, it’s a strangely beautiful sight to behold.

The fierce storm is causing flooding, power outages, suspension of Amtrak rail service, and hundreds of delayed or cancelled flights in and out of area airports. New York’s LaGuardia airport has closed down completely due to high winds.

The storm may even turn out to be more damaging than the “Bomb Cyclone” that struck the region in early January.

The view of the storm at the top of this post was acquired by the GOES-16 weather satellite just after sun up on the East Coast. The image captures something of a decisive moment — the storm swirling along the coast during the transition from nighttime to daytime.  Read More

WATCH: Heavy flooding stretching from Indiana to Mississippi, as seen in satellite imagery

By Tom Yulsman | March 1, 2018 1:47 pm
Before and after satellite images reveal extensive flooding

A before-and-after animation of satellite images reveals the extent of flooding along rivers in the southern United States in late February of 2018. (Images: NASA Earth Observatory. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

As February was drawing to a close, heavy rains and melting snow led to extensive flooding in the central and southern United States that was easily visible to orbiting satellites.


The red box shows the area covered by the large animation of images above. (Image source: NASA Earth Observatory)

The before-and-after animation above is a noteworthy example. The river running from top to bottom is the Mississippi, with Arkansa to the left and Tennessee to the right. Small portions of Missouri, Kentucky and Mississippi are visible as well. Click on the thumbnail at right to see the area covered by the image.

The before image was acquired on February 17, 2017 by NASA’s Aqua satellite. The very heavy rains that came in late-February of this year led to the flooding that’s clearly evident in the the second image, captured by the Terra satellite, Aqua’s twin, on February 26, 2018. To clearly discern the flooding, the images are false color, employing a combination of visible and shortwave infrared light. Read More

Freakishly warm air has again surged over the North Pole, and sea ice is breaking up north of Greenland — in winter

By Tom Yulsman | February 26, 2018 4:58 pm

Meanwhile, frigid polar air has spilled south into Eurasia and western North America. Is there a connection to human-caused warming?

North Pole

A weather model forecast for how near-surface temperatures should vary from the long-term mean between Feb. 24th and 26th, 2018. Pinkish colors over the North Pole indicate temperatures near or above freezing. (Source:

It’s happening again: In the dead of winter, warm air from the south is surging across the Arctic toward the North Pole.

Today, weather models suggest that temperatures there have indeed soared to above freezing.

Meanwhile, cold polar air has spilled south into Eurasia and western North America. It’s almost as if someone left the Arctic’s refrigerator door open, allowing its frigid air to pour out and warm air to flow in.

While dramatic warming events like this have happened before, a recent study shows that they are becoming more frequent and intense. In the study, scientists looked at winter air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean from 1893 to 2017. They found that since 1980, an additional six Arctic winter warming events have been occurring each winter at the North Pole, and they’re lasting about 12 hours longer, on average.

You can see what’s happening right now in the Arctic by watching the animation above. It shows weather modeling forecasts for temperature anomalies near the surface, starting on Saturday Feb. 24th and continuing for about two days. The colors indicate the degree to which temperatures are departing from the long-term average.

Look for a large red and pink blob flowing north from Greenland toward the North Pole, located where the hatched lines cross. The pink is indicative of the most dramatic warming.

Looking further ahead, weather models are forecasting that on March 1, another large blob of freakishly warm air will begin surging toward the pole, this time from the Pacific.

The current surge is not just a one-off. Temperatures at Cape Morris Jesup on the northern coast of Greenland just 400 miles from the North Pole have risen above freezing six times since mid-February. Previously, this weather station has experienced above freezing temperature in winter only briefly during February in 2011 and 2017.

Overall, the northernmost reaches of the Arctic, located at 80° north latitude and above, have been running a record-setting fever for weeks now, as this graphic from climatologist Zack Labe shows: Read More

Fishing activities take up four times as much area as agriculture—and can now be monitored in real time

By Tom Yulsman | February 25, 2018 1:24 pm

The global footprint of fishing is even bigger than expected. But a novel monitoring tool could help put it on a more sustainable path.


An interactive website powered by a dataset and algorithm detailed in a new study allows the global footprint of fishing to be tracked in real-time — down to the level of individual vessels. See below for details on how to use the website. (Source: Global Fishing Watch)

To satisfy our hunger, we humans catch something on the order of one trillion fish ever year — a yield that amounts to more than 90 million tons of animal flesh.

We’re clearly the top predator of the seas. But just how much of the oceans are being fished at an industrial scale, what are the patterns, and how are they changing over time? Answering those questions could help us make fishing more sustainable.

And now, scientists have come up with some answers.

Using common ship-tracking technology, and self-learning computer programs to process huge volumes of data, a team of researchers has produced the first ever picture of the global footprint of fishing.

That footprint is, in a word, gargantuan.

Fishing activity now spreads across more than 55 percent of the world’s oceans, according to the new study, published in the journal Science. That’s an area four times greater than all the farmed land on Earth.

Global footprint of fishing

Source: The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

According to the research, 70,000 fishing vessels traveled nearly 286 million miles in 2016. This is equivalent to traveling to the Moon and back 600 times.

“I think most people will be surprised that until now we didn’t really know where people were fishing in vast swaths of the ocean,” says co-author Christopher Costello, a professor at the University of California Santa Barbara.

But the researchers didn’t just produce a static picture of fishing’s imprint. They’ve created a dynamic, interactive dataset, called “Global Fishing Watch,” that makes it possible to monitor the footprint in real time, right down to the level of individual ships. Read More

Watch: Not just one but TWO hurricane-force storms swirling in the North Atlantic Ocean

By Tom Yulsman | February 22, 2018 8:51 pm
An animation of GOES-16 weather satellite images shows two hurricane-force storms swirling in the North Atlantic Ocean over the course of about 16 hours starting on Feb. 18, 2018. (Source: RAMMB GOES-16 loop of the day)

An animation of GOES-16 weather satellite images of the North Atlantic Ocean starting on Feb. 18, 2018 and covering about 16 hours. (Source: RAMMB GOES-16 loop of the day)

In recent days, two powerful storms packing hurricane-force winds have spun up in the North Atlantic. You can watch them in the animation above of GOES-16 satellite imagery. It was posted to the awesome GOES-16 Loop of the Day website.

The storm closer to North America was so strong that it churned the waters up into stupendous waves higher than 60 feet tall:

That would be almost high enough to inundate the White House. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Remote Sensing, select, Top Posts, Weather


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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