California Snowpack Melts With Breathtaking Speed as Drought Continues in Most of the Western United States

By Tom Yulsman | April 18, 2014 11:58 am
California snowpack

Much of the Western United States is visible in this photograph shot from the International Space Station. (Source: NASA)

Severe drought continues in a large portion of the West, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report, issued yesterday.

In California, already particularly hard hit by drought, the situation is worsening. Temperatures there were 9 to 12 degrees above normal, which caused breathtakingly rapid melt of the California snowpack. Some areas of the Sierra Nevada lost half of the water locked up in snow in just one week. Yet, there was little change in inflows into the state’s starved reservoirs. Read More

California Drought, Midwest Chill Tied to Climate Change?

By Tom Yulsman | April 17, 2014 11:08 am
Climate Change

The Great Lakes on the night of April 16, 2014, as seen by the VIIRS instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite. Ice is still present on all the Great Lakes except Lake Ontario. (Source: CIMSS Satellite Blog)

Here we are in mid-April and the Midwest is experiencing yet another unusual wintry blast. No wonder there’s still quite a lot of ice in the Great Lakes, as you can see in the remarkable image above, captured under a full moon at night by the Suomi NPP satellite.

Click on it to enlarge it. The ice is particularly evident in Lake Superior at upper left.

Meanwhile, warm and dry conditions continue in California.

New NASA-funded research led by Simon Wang at Utah State University, suggests that this pattern — frigid cold in the North American mid-section and dry in California — is connected to global warming.  In this post, I’ll explain the connections identified in the research, which was published in Geophysical Research Letters. But before I get to the details, I do want to emphasize the caveats: This is just one study, and it’s in an area of cutting edge research. More about the caveats toward the end, but first… Read More

While Rest of Globe Basked, U.S. Mostly Shivered in March

By Tom Yulsman | April 15, 2014 1:28 pm
shivered

NOAA’s national climate overview for March. (Source: NOAA National Climatic Data Center)

The globe overall might have been quite warm in March, but here in the United States the picture was quite different.

Following yesterday’s release by NASA of data showing that this past March was the fourth warmest globally in 134 years of record-keeping, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration today announced that the United States experienced its 43rd coldest March in a record stretching back to 1895.

But that’s just part of the U.S. climatic story for March. The map above summarizes the most significant events.

The cold average March temperature for the United States as a whole was driven by relatively frigid conditions in the Midwest and the Northeast, where nine states had temperatures that ranked among their 10 coldest on record, according to NOAA. But while more than half of the country shivered, and two-thirds of the Great Lakes were still frozen even as late as early April, areas west of the Rockies mostly experienced warmer than normal temperatures. California, for example, experienced its ninth warmest March.

Even so, the month of March was mostly defined by cold. No state experienced record warmth. And there were “five times as many record cold daily maximum and minimum temperatures (5,822) as record warm daily maximum and minimum temperatures (1,149),” according to NOAA’s report.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate, Environment, select, Top Posts, Weather

The Vicious Valparaiso Wildfire as Seen From Space

By Tom Yulsman | April 15, 2014 9:33 am
Valparaiso wildfire

NASA’s Terra satellite acquired this image of the wildfire that swept through Valparaiso, Chile at 11:10 am local time on Sunday, April 13, 2014. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)

As a raging wildfire swept through Chile’s coastal city of Valparaiso last weekend, destroying 2,000 homes and killing at least 15 people, NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image of the blaze as it passed overhead.

A plume of smoke is clearly visible streaming northwestward over the Pacific Ocean from areas outlined in red where the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on Terra detected fire.

The cause of the Valparaiso wildfire is still unknown, but it appears to have begun in a forest draping the steep and heavily populated hills. As of Monday, firefighters were still battling flames in some areas.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: select, Top Posts, Wildfire

Massive Sea of Warmth Propels March to Fourth Hottest

By Tom Yulsman | April 14, 2014 6:56 pm
Massive sea of warmth

Although NASA pegs March as being the fourth warmest since record-keeping began in 1880, temperature patterns varied widely as is seen in the map. The color coding shows the degree to which temperatures departed from the long term average. (Source: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies)

An area of extraordinarily high temperature stretching more than half way around the globe helped propel this past March into the record books as the fourth warmest since historical record-keeping began in 1880, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The global average temperature for March was warmer only in 2002, 2010 and 1990.

The massive sea of warmth extending from Europe across Russia and into North America is clearly evident in the map above, which shows how temperatures during the month departed from the long-term average. The dark red tones show where average temperatures were 4 degrees C or more higher than normal.

Within that dark red zone, wildfires are burning today — and have been for much of April. Read More

Documenting the Disappearing Rio Grande

By Tom Yulsman | April 13, 2014 7:05 pm
Disappearing Rio Grande

A watercolor of the Rio Grande as it flows through Hatch, New Mexico alternates in this animated gif with a satellite image of the same area. Journalist and adventurer Colin McDonald is getting ready to follow all 1,896 miles of the river by kayak, canoe and on foot. You can help him document the disappearing Rio Grande by contributing to his Kickstarter campaign. (Painting: Matt Morris)

From its headwaters amidst towering Colorado peaks to its mouth in a small delta along the Gulf of Mexico, the Rio Grande flows 1,896 miles — a ribbon of life-giving water through a parched land.

And it is disappearing.

As environmental journalist and adventurer Colin McDonald tells it:

For more than 3,000 years it has supported civilizations and been the lifeblood of the valleys it passes through. Now cities and farms are sucking the ancient river dry, it is evaporating ever faster and being hidden by a growing border wall.

Colin has spent the last eight months as a Ted Scripps Fellow in Environmental Journalism, a program that I direct at the University of Colorado, preparing to head down the river to document the disappearing Rio Grande. In June, he will launch a seven-month journey along the river’s entire course — by kayak, canoe and foot.

In partnership with The Texas Tribune, Colin intends to tell the story of the river in real time, “with photos, videos, blog posts and written stories uploaded from the banks of the river via satellite. The content will be free and available for anyone to see and share online.”

It is an incredibly valuable project — and ambitious as well, requiring some investment up front to pay for equipment, evacuation insurance, a photographer to help document the journey, and other expenses. Colin has begun a Kickstarter campaign to raise the necessary funds, and he’s off to a terrific start, with enough funding so far for the purchase of a bare minimum amount of equipment.

But more funding is needed, so I thought I’d let you know about the project and encourage you to contribute. Read More

Tropical Cyclone Ita Lumbers Along Australian Coast

By Tom Yulsman | April 12, 2014 1:06 pm
Tropical Cyclone Ita

Two satellite images of Tropical Cyclone Ita alternate in this animation. Captured by the VIIRS instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite, the images show the storm just before it made landfall on Australia’s Queensland coast on April 11, 2014. (Source: CIMSS Satellite Blog)

After making landfall in Queensland, Australia on Friday, April 11 as a category 4 storm, Tropical Cyclone Ita has been lashing coastal areas between Cairns and Townsville with heavy rain and gale force winds, including gusts up to 60 miles per hour.

Despite having remained mostly over land since landfall, Ita’s cyclonic structure has remained fairly intact, and its center of circulation is still “tightly wrapped,” according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. Moving south-southeastward at about six miles per hour, the storm is expected to track right along the coast through the weekend before heading back out to sea on Monday. (For Ita’s predicted track, click here.)

The animation above shows Ita just before landfall, as seen by the VIIRS instrument aboard the Suomi NPP satellite. Read More

El Niño Looks Increasingly Likely

By Tom Yulsman | April 10, 2014 8:50 am
El Niño

An animation of weekly sea surface temperature anomalies for the past 12 weeks shows the development of warmer than normal waters in the eastern Pacific and near the
International Date Line. (Source: National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center)

The odds that an El Niño will develop by summer appear to be getting stronger.

In a report released yesterday, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology raised the odds of an El Niño developing by summer (winter in the Southern Hemisphere) to greater than 70 percent. And in his monthly analysis, Klaus Wolter of NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory noted that the evolution of conditions over the past four months suggest that a strong El Niño may well be on the way. He found nine cases that look similar to what has been occurring in the equatorial Pacific:

Of the 9 cases selected in this fashion, three remained either neutral (1960) or dropped back to La Niña status within a year (1961, 1984). The other SIX cases look like a roll-call of historic El Niño events since 1950: 1957-58,’65-66, ’72-73, ’82-83, ’86-88, and ’97-98. Not only does this confirm the increased odds of an El Niño in 2014 (first pointed out four months ago on this wepage), it also translates into higher odds for a moderate-to-strong El Niño. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate, Environment, select, Top Posts

Despite Storms, Scant Relief for California Snowpack

By Tom Yulsman | April 2, 2014 10:13 am
scant relief Sierra Nevada snowpack

Satellite images of the northern portion of California’s Sierra Nevada acquired on March 24 in 2013 and 2014 show how much snowpack has shrunk. In the image from 2014, the scar from the Rim Fire is clearly visible. (Source: NASA)

When surveyors for California’s Department of Water Resources skied back down from sites high in California’s Sierra Nevada range yesterday, they brought sobering news: Although late-season storms have boosted the snowpack, it is still shockingly below average as the melt season looms.

According to a DWR report issued yesterday, the water content of the snowpack is only 32 percent of average for this time of year — which is when it typically reaches its peak and then melts off. This situation, combined with California’s minimal rainfall, means the state faces serious water shortages and a high risk of wildfire as the summer looms.

The animation above shows the snowpack in the northern part of the range on March 24 of 2013 and 2014. It consists of images captured by NASA’s Aqua satellite. The big lake in the upper center is Lake Tahoe. The smaller, greenish lake in the lower right corner is Mono Lake. Read More

Climate Change Impacts Around the World — In One Graphic

By Tom Yulsman | March 31, 2014 7:53 pm
Climate change impacts around the world

Global climate change impacts. (For a full explanation, see below. Source: IPCC Working Group II Summary for Policymakers.)

Here’s my take-away on the new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that was released today:

Regardless of what you may hear on radio and television shout-fests masquerading as journalism, the best science leads to one simple conclusion: If we want to reduce the risks of significant climate change that would challenge our ability to adapt, we need to act now. Time is running out.

According to the IPCC Working Group II report, climate change is already having substantial impacts “on all continents and across the oceans” — and the worst is still to come.

The graphic above, which is from the report, shows that no region has been spared. It contains a lot of information (too much, really), so here’s a little help in interpreting what you’re looking at:

The rectangles across the top show broad climate change impacts that have been documented across nine regions. In North America, for example, changes have been observed in glaciers, snow and ice, as well as in ecosystems on land. The bars next to each of the symbols show the degree of confidence that scientists have in attributing the impacts to climate change.

Within the land areas on the map, regional-scale impacts where climate change has played a major role are shown by symbols that are colored in. For impacts in which climate change has played a minor role, the symbols are only outlined.

Here in the Western United States where I live, we’re already familiar with two significant climate change impacts: a decreasing amount of water in spring snowpack, and earlier peak flows in our rivers as warming occurs sooner in the spring than it used too. These impacts pose significant challenges in a region prone to drought to begin with, and which is projected to experience further drying as temperatures warm further.

Overall, the litany of changes that have now been observed and attributed to climate change with medium to high confidence is sobering. Among them are these: Read More

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ImaGeo

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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