Earth Art: Wildfire Abstraction

By Tom Yulsman | July 20, 2014 1:01 pm

Wildfire smoke filling valleys in British Columbia creates an abstract pattern in this highly processed image based on data acquired by NASA’s Aqua satellite on July 16, 2014. (Source image: NASA. Processed image: © Tom Yulsman)

By mid-afternoon on Saturday, July 19th, raging wildfires in Oregon and Washington had consumed 947,583 acres, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. That’s an area more than three times the size of New York City, and up from a bit more than 300,000 acres on Thursday.

About 100 homes have been destroyed in Washington, and many more have been threatened. So it is without question a terrible situation. But in one satellite image of an area to the north in British Columbia, I found a kind of savage beauty — an almost abstract, tendril-like pattern created by smoke filling a network of river valleys. Read More

Super Typhoon Rammasun Slams Ashore in Southern China

By Tom Yulsman | July 18, 2014 5:27 pm

A screenshot from an animation of infrared images from the COMS-1 satellite shows Super Typhoon Rammasun slamming ashore in southern China today. Click the image to watch the animation. (Source: Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies)

Super Typhoon began pummeling the mainland of southern China today, slamming ashore on the Luichow Peninsula with winds at landfall that may have been as high as 135 miles per hour.

Click on the image above to watch an animation of infrared satellite images showing the storm barreling ashore. It was the strongest storm to hit southern China in 41 years.

Here’s a spectacular closer view: Read More

As Rosetta Nears its Rendezvous With a Comet, Use this Way Cool Interactive Model to See How it Got There

By Tom Yulsman | July 18, 2014 3:30 pm

The folks at Inove, creators of Solar System Scope, got in touch with me this morning to share their recent cool creation: an online, interactive, 3-D model of the Rosetta mission to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft has lately been going through a series of thruster burns to bring it to a final rendezvous with the comet on August 6th. At 1.9 by 3.1 miles in size, 67P is a relatively tiny chunk of dust and ice — making Rosetta’s coming meet-up after a journey of a decade and many millions of miles quite an amazing feat!

To see exactly how Rosetta has gotten there, check out the model above. You can also visit Solar System Scope (link above) and run the model there.

Here’s an animation of some of the latest images of the comet, acquired by Rosetta on July 14: Read More

Numerous Wildfires Rage in Hot and Dry Pacific Northwest

By Tom Yulsman | July 18, 2014 1:16 pm

Smoke plumes from wildfires burning throughout the Pacific Northwest are circled in this image acquired by NASA’s Terra satellite on Thursday, July 17, 2014. Click to see detail in a larger, high-resolution image. (Source: NASA)

| Updated 7/19/14, 10 a.m. MDT: see new image below |

Ignited by lightning strikes on hot and tinder dry forests, more than a dozen large wildfires are raging throughout the Pacific Northwest of the United States and up into British Columbia.


Click for interactive map.

In Oregon and Washington alone, more than 310,000 acres were ablaze as of yesterday (July 17), according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. That’s an area more than twice the size of the city of Chicago. For an interactive map of the wildfires, click on the thumbnail at right.

The image at the top of the post, acquired by NASA’s Aqua satellite yesterday, provides a broad geographic overview of the region. I’ve circled some of the obvious wildfire complexes in Oregon and Washington and also extending up into British Columbia, where plumes of smoke can be seen streaming from fires there. Click on the image for a larger, high-resolution version that shows quite a bit of detail.

| Update, 7/19/14: Here’s a dramatic overview image, from the U.S. Weather Service in Boise, Idaho, showing the fire situation as of two days ago:


Satellite imagery from July 17th reveals the spread of smoke from multiple wildfires burning in the Western United States. (Source: National Weather Service, Boise, Idaho.)

 Here’s closer view captured yesterday (Friday, July 18) by the Aqua satellite of fires blazing in Oregon:

Read More

California Experiences Warmest, 3rd Driest Year Since 1895

By Tom Yulsman | July 17, 2014 11:55 am

Dramatic shrinking of New Melones Reservoir in California is seen in this animation of Landsat images. The first was acquired on July 8, 2002, after a wet season that brought just slightly less precipitation than average. The second is from Thursday, July 10, 2014. (Source: USGS Earth Explorer)

I didn’t think that the release today of the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report would bring significant news about California. As the report says, with much of the state categorized as being in extreme or exceptional drought, and May through September being normally dry anyway, “there is not much more room for further deterioration, at least during the dry season.”

But the report does contain significant news about the continuing profound drought in California: The past year — from July 2013 through June 2014 — has been the warmest and third driest since 1895. And according to the Drought Monitor:

 The only drier July-June periods were in 1923-24 and 1976-77. This is the first time California experienced 3 consecutive years in the top 20 for dryness: 2011-12 ranked 20th, 2012-13 ranked 18th, and statewide precipitation has averaged 67% of normal during this 3-year period, and was just 56% of normal in 2013-14.

The only silver lining is that “California’s reservoirs hold more water than they did in 1977, when the state experienced its 4th and 2nd driest years on record from July 1975-June 1977,” the report states.

They may be fuller now than back then, but that doesn’t mean they’re all in good shape — as the animation of a dramatically shrinking reservoir at the top of this post dramatizes. Read More

June Was 6th Warmest Globally. The Month Brought Raging Wildfires, Brutal Temperatures, and Melting in Greenland

By Tom Yulsman | July 15, 2014 1:48 am

Departures in June from long-term average temperatures are seen in this map from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. (Source: NASA/GISS)

Arctic air may be plunging south into the U.S. midsection this week, but for the globe as a whole, the picture has been quite different recently.

Check out NASA’s latest rendering of the big global picture above. It shows how temperatures departed from the 1951-1980 average in June. The warm colors covering most of the globe attest that June 2014 was quite warm — according to NASA, the sixth warmest in an instrumental record that goes back 134 years.

The map also offers hints of a number of interesting climate-related stories — from raging wildfires to brutal cold. So read on…

Read More

The Moon: A Visual Appreciation As We Approach the 45th Anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s Historic Small Step

By Tom Yulsman | July 14, 2014 3:54 pm

Supermoonrise over California. (Please click to enlarge. Photograph: © Tom Yulsman)

In this post, I’m going to attempt to tie together the recent rising of a “supermoon,” the first Moon landing, the painter Mark Rothko, and photographic technique. I hope you’ll bear with me, keep reading, and click on all the images… 

As I was flying home from San Francisco last Saturday, the hazy, twilight view out the window was suddenly pierced by a bright light emerging from the cloud tops.

It was the full Moon rising, and it seemed a bit brighter than normal. So I pulled out my Sony RX100 camera, put the lens right up against the window and started shooting.


Photo: © Tom Yulsman

The image above is an interpretation of what I saw. For the original, click on the thumbnail at right. I’ll get to how I processed the image in a minute. But first, more about that moon.

It was indeed  brighter — about 30 percent so. It was also about 15 percent bigger (although that wasn’t really noticeable from the plane). What I saw was, in fact, a rising “supermoon.”

This happens because the Moon’s orbit around us inscribes an ellipse, and one side, perigee, is about 31,000 miles closer than the other, apogee. And when the full Moon just happens to coincide with the Moon’s closest approach, we get a supermoon — more scientifically known as a perigee moon. We’ll get to experience it two more times this summer: on August 10th and September 9th.

In the meantime, there’s another reason to appreciate the moon right now: We’re approaching the 45th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s historic “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Read More

Has the Sun Blown its Top?

By Tom Yulsman | July 12, 2014 11:20 am

An image of the sun based on data gathered by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on July 10, 2014. (Source: NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory)

I spotted this image on the Facebook page for NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and found it so compelling that I had to share it.

The brilliant arcing loops of hot plasma, and the roiling bright areas certainly caught my attention. But I was most intrigued by the two bluish, dark regions, especially the one atop the Sun. If you didn’t know much about solar dynamics, you might guess that the Sun really has blown its top.

And in a way, you’d be right — sort of. Read More

Lake Mead Shrivels to Historic Low Level. In Just Two Years, the Change is Dramatic Enough to be Visible from Space

By Tom Yulsman | July 11, 2014 1:59 pm
As seen in this animation of satellite images, Lake Mead has shriveled enough in just two years for the change to be evident from space. The first image was acquired on June xx, 2012 by NASA's xx satellite. The second was captured by the xx satellite, xx's twin, on June 28 2014.

An animation of images from NASA’s Aqua satellite shows a visible change in the size of Lake Mead in just two years.  (Source: NASA)

Not that it was any surprise, but thanks to continuing drought, Lake Mead is projected to shrivel this week to its lowest level since it first filled behind Hoover Dam in the 1930s.

All told, 40 million people in seven states depend on water from the Colorado River Basin. Lake Mead, situated near Las Vegas, is the giant hydrological savings bank that supplies water to the three lower basin states: Arizona, Nevada and California.

Lake Mead as seen from Hoover Dam. (Source: Bureau of Reclamation)

Lake Mead as seen from Hoover Dam. (Source: Bureau of Reclamation)

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s announcement about Lake Mead this week has received a fair bit of coverage. So you may have heard the news and seen now almost cliché photos of the white bathtub ring around the reservoir made of mineral deposits left behind as the water level has dropped. (Click on the thumbnail at right for an example. It shows Lake Mead from Hoover Dam on March 8, 2014.)

So for this post, I thought I’d try a different visual approach to dramatize what’s happening: the animation above consisting of before-and-after images of the reservoir as seen from space.

To create it, I used two images from NASA’s Aqua satellite. The first is from June 29, 2012, when Lake Mead’s elevation stood at 1,115.86 feet above sea level. Aqua snapped the second image on June 28th, by which point the reservoir had dropped to 1,082.93 feet.

As I write this on July 11, the bureau expects the reservoir to drop below 1,081.75 feet — an historic low.

The past 30 years comprise the driest such period in a record that extends back to 1906. And there is evidence from tree rings and other sources that what’s being seen in the Colorado River Basin is even more unusual than that. The current drought is going on 14 years now. And as Matt Jenkins has reported in High Country NewsRead More

Super Typhoon Neoguri Now Aiming For Japan

By Tom Yulsman | July 7, 2014 3:20 am

Super Typhoon Neoguri is seen churning in the western Pacific Ocean on Monday in this image from Japan’s MTSAT weather satellite. (Source: Japan Meteorological Agency)

Last Thursday, as Hurricane Arthur was bearing down on the North Carolina coast, I posted a short update about trouble just beginning to brew in the Pacific.

Now, that trouble has arrived — big time.

Source: Joint Typhoon Warning Center

Source: Joint Typhoon Warning Center

What was then a tropical storm has now blossomed into Super Typhoon Neoguri. As I’m writing this shortly after midnight on Monday (in California), the storm has sustained winds of 155 miles per hour, with gusts to 190 mph, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

Right now it’s forecast track points toward a brush with Okinawa on Tuesday and then landfall on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu on Wednesday. (Click on the thumbnail image above for a map showing the storms’s expected track and wind speeds.) Read More


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


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.

See More

Collapse bottom bar

Login to your Account

E-mail address:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »