Smoke from Siberian fires blows all the way to Canada — and is seen by a satellite nearly a million miles from Earth

By Tom Yulsman | July 16, 2018 5:01 pm
A smoke plume across Canada was visible to a spacecraft a million miles away.

NASA’s EPIC camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory spacecraft, known as DSCOVR, captured this image of Earth on June 9, 2018, when it was 993,764 miles from Earth. Bluish-gray wildfire smoke is visible. (Image: NASA GFSC. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

We’ve become accustomed to striking imagery of wildfires captured by earth-monitoring satellites, including weather satellites stationed about 26,000 miles from the surface.

That may seem amazing enough (it always does to me). But check out the image above of a plume of wildfire smoke so big and thick that it was visible to a satellite nearly a million miles away.

Make sure to click on the image so see a larger version, and then click again to enlarge it. You’ll see a faint yet visible pall of smoke mainly over Canada. It’s bluish in contrast to clouds, which are much whiter.

SEE ALSO: A blanket of smoke from fires in Siberia is so huge it can be seen from nearly 1 million miles away in space

The image was acquired by the EPIC camera aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory. DSCOVR’s main role is to monitor the Sun for massive eruptions of material toward us that could disrupt communications networks, electrical grids and other systems. But the EPIC camera watches Earth, and on June 9th, it spotted that massive smoke plume.

In case you doubt that it’s smoke, check out this much closer view from a weather satellite: Read More

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

Major TV news networks are derelict in their duty to provide vital climate change context on U.S. heat waves

By Tom Yulsman | July 13, 2018 6:10 pm
The Sun has burned down with unusual intensity during recent heat waves along Colorado's Front Range. I shot this image with my iPhone in June during a particularly hot run. (Photo: ©Tom Yulsman)

The Sun has burned down with unusual intensity during recent heat waves along Colorado’s Front Range. I shot this image with my iPhone in June during a particularly hot run. (Photo: ©Tom Yulsman)

It has been an unpleasant few weeks here in Colorado.

Brutal heat and air pollution have made many of my daily runs along trails like the one above challenging — to put it mildly. Recurrent poor air quality has taken a particular toll.

Yours truly, during a particularly hot run near Niwot, CO in late June.

Yours truly, during a particularly hot run near Niwot, CO in late June.

Smoke from eight major wildfires burning in Colorado — more than anywhere else in the contiguous United States right now — has mixed with urban air pollutants and been cooked by the unrelenting sun into a nasty, stagnant atmospheric stew.

That sound you hear while you’re reading this is me coughing.

I am, of course, not alone in my misery. Not by a long shot. Large swaths of the United States and Canada too have been beset with heat wave conditions over the past few weeks. All-time high temperature records have been tumbling, and unfortunately, people have been dying.

Science has shown pretty conclusively that human-caused climate change has made heat-waves like these more frequent, intense and long-lasting. Yet the response from major broadcast news networks has been, well, crickets.

More specifically, a survey by Media Matters for America shows that while ABC, CBS, and NBC aired 127 segments on the recent heat waves, only one (on CBS This Morning) mentioned climate change. Read More

Latest forecast: El Niño likely will develop later this year, promising significant impacts around the world

By Tom Yulsman | July 13, 2018 12:12 pm
Sea surface temperatures in large parts of the tropical Pacific Ocean are edging above normal. (Image source: Climate Reanalyzer)

Sea surface temperatures in large parts of the tropical Pacific Ocean are edging above normal. (Image source: Climate Reanalyzer)

El Niño’s coming.

That’s the increasingly confident forecast from the U.S. Climate Prediction Center. In its latest monthly report, the CPC continued an El Niño watch and boosted the odds of it developing during the Northern Hemisphere winter of 2018-2019 to 70 percent. Last month, the center pegged El Niño’s chances at 65 percent.

El Niño weather impacts. (Source: NOAA)

El Niño weather impacts. (Source: NOAA)

This is important because El Niño has profound impacts on weather around the world.

Here in the United States, El Niño tends to result in an amplified winter storm track across the southern tier of the country. This usually brings wetter conditions — including to southern California and portions of Nevada and Arizona, areas now afflicted by severe drought. Click on this map to see typical winter weather impacts during El Niño episodes. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate, Drought, ENSO, select, Top Posts, Weather

Climatic yin and yang: from the coldest places on Earth to a spot that just set an astonishing new heat record

By Tom Yulsman | June 27, 2018 5:23 pm
A science traverse in 2007 to 2009 crossed the East Antarctic Plateau in late summer. The coldest conditions on Earth occur in this region few months later, in July and August, during the polar night. (Photo: Ted Scambos, NSIDC.)

A science traverse in 2007 to 2009 crossed the East Antarctic Plateau in late summer. The coldest conditions on Earth occur in this region few months later, in July and August, during the polar night. (Photo: Ted Scambos, NSIDC.)

We’ve now got new insight into just how extreme conditions on our planet can get — at opposite ends of the thermometer.

In a new study, a team of researchers has found that some sites in Antarctica get as cold as minus 98 degrees Celsius.

That’s 144 degrees below zero on the Fahrenheit scale!

According to the scientists, led by Ted Scambos of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, this is about as cold as it is possible to get at Earth’s surface.

Meanwhile, meteorologist Jeff Masters at the Weather Underground Category 6 blog is reporting today that “a singularly unenviable heat mark” was set on Tuesday in Quriyat, Oman: a 24-hour low temperature of 42.6 degrees C.

That’s a daily LOW of 108.7 F! Read More

As a heat wave builds, dozens of wildfires are burning across nearly a half million acres of the U.S.

By Tom Yulsman | June 27, 2018 4:06 pm
An animation of GOES-16 weather satellite images shows thick plumes of smoke billowing from wildfires in California on June 24 and 25, 2018. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA)

An animation of GOES-16 weather satellite images shows thick plumes of smoke billowing from wildfires in California on June 24 and 25, 2018. (Note: When you click on the image, you will be taken to another website to watch the animation. It may take a little time load properly. Source: RAMMB/CIRA)

As I’m writing this Wednesday, June 27, 51 large, active wildfires are burning on more than 450,000 acres in the United States, most of them in western states and Alaska. That’s an area more than twice the size of New York City.

Overall, 2.2 million U.S. acres have already been scorched in just the first half of the year. That’s approaching the long-term average for an entire year. (For the latest statistics on large U.S. wildfires, go here.)

The animation above shows smoke from several wildfires burning in California. The biggest is the Pawnee Fire near Clear Lake north of the San Francisco area. (In the screenshot, it’s indicated by the middle arrow.) The Pawnee Fire is now at 13,500 acres, with 25 percent containment today, up from just five percent yesterday.

“The fire is being driven by low relative humidity, erratic winds, and above normal temperatures,” according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Twenty-two structures have been destroyed so far, including 12 homes. Some 600 additional structures are threatened.

And things have really only begun to heat up. Literally.

Here’s what’s building right now: Read More

Dazzling satellite video reveals lightning dancing inside a mega-complex of thunderstorms

By Tom Yulsman | June 18, 2018 4:29 pm
Lightning mapped within a giant complex of thunderstorms

An animation of GOES-16 weather satellite imagery showing a complex of thunderstorms over Iowa on June 14, 2018, with an overlay of lightning mapping. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA GOES-16 Loop of the Day)

As a giant complex of thunderstorms blew across Iowa and into Illinois and Missouri on June 14, the GOES-16 weather satellite was watching — and mapping the crackling lightning discharges.

The result is the video above, originally posted to the terrific GOES-16 Loop of the Day site. I found it so compelling that I wanted to share it here at ImaGeo.

You’re looking at a “mesoscale convective system” — a group of thunderstorms that organize into a large complex. And this MCS is indeed very large — it spans the entire state of Iowa! But it wasn’t just huge. It also dumped more than five inches of rain in Iowa.

But the one thing that makes this video so compelling, in my view, is the mapping of the lightning that crackles within the storm complex. This is made possible by a detector on GOES-16 called the Geostationary Lightning Mapper.

GLM detects near-infrared light (invisible to our eyes) coming from lightning. It can see lightning within clouds, moving from cloud-to-cloud, and also from clouds to the ground. GLM also happens to be the first instrument to continually monitor lightning from space.

A dramatic increase in lightning activity often occurs many minutes before weather radars can detect a storm blossoming into a severe menace with the potential to unleash damaging winds, hail and even tornadoes. So by combining data from the lightning mapper with other satellite data, plus radar and surface observations, forecasters may be able to issue earlier warnings for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, while also reducing false alarms.

Here’s another time lapse animation featuring GLM data, rendered in a different way than the one above: Read More

Last month was the fourth warmest May on record, two reports out today agree

By Tom Yulsman | June 18, 2018 1:54 pm
May 2018 temperature anomalies

Here’s how surface temperatures around the globe in May varied from the long-term average for the month. Last month was the fourth warmest May globally on record. (Source: NASA/GISS)

In their monthly climate reports released today, both NASA and NOAA agree that last month was fourth warmest among all Mays dating back to 1800.

This means that the period 2014 through 2018 has brought the five warmest Mays in 138 years of record-keeping, according to NOAA’s report. The warmest was May 2016.

“May 2018 also marks the 42nd consecutive May and the 401st consecutive month with temperatures, at least nominally, above the 20th century average,” according to NOAA. Read More

El Niño is gestating in the Pacific, possibly heralding warmer global temps and extreme weather in 2019

By Tom Yulsman | June 15, 2018 5:17 pm
Sea surface conditions are neutral now, but hints point to El Niño being in place by early 2019

Here is how sea surface temperatures differed from the the 1981-2010 average during May of 2018. (Source: ENSO Blog/Climate.gov)

While 2019 is still a long way off, we’ve now got some strong hints that the coming year could bring even warmer global temperatures, plus droughts in some regions, and floods in others.

These climatic and weather effects would come from an El Niño that seems to be gestating in the tropical Pacific. Read More

Nearly two decades of revealing satellite images now available at your fingertips

By Tom Yulsman | June 10, 2018 1:43 pm

Bear witness to the changing face of our planet using an easy-to-use tool for accessing a trove of satellite data

A comparison of views of Shanghai acquired by NASA's Terra satellite, one on March 26, 2000, and the other on March 10, 2018 — and a large amount of development had occurred. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

A comparison of views of Shanghai acquired by NASA’s Terra satellite, one on March 26, 2000, and the other on March 10, 2018. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

The longest continuous daily satellite observation record of Earth ever compiled is now available for all of us to peruse. All you need is access to a computer.

Multiple instruments aboard NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites, launched in 1999 and 2002, respectively, have kept close watch on the virtually the entire planet for nearly 20 years. Now, for the first time, the entire treasure trove of imagery and scientific information is available for exploration in Worldview, an engaging, interactive web-based application.

I’ve been using Worldview regularly to find imagery for use here at ImaGeo since I launched the blog in 2013. But until now, there was a significant limitation: The data available went back only to 2012. Now, after more than five years of work, NASA has extended what’s available on Worldview back to the year 2000, when the Terra satellite first became operational.

Terra was lofted into polar orbit with a suite of five remote sensors. The most comprehensive is an instrument called the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS. Here’s NASA’s explanation of MODIS, which is also carried aboard the Aqua satellite Terra’s twin: Read More

Carbon dioxide at highest level ever directly measured

By Tom Yulsman | June 8, 2018 2:42 pm

Rather than declining, CO2 levels in the atmosphere are rising thanks to continuing growth in emissions of the climate-altering gas

Carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by human activities moves and changes through the seasons. This visualization shows the behavior of carbon in the atmosphere from Sept. 1, 2014, to Aug. 31, 2015, based on observations and modeling. (Source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/K. Mersmann, M. Radcliff, producers)

This visualization shows the behavior of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from Sept. 1, 2014, to Aug. 31, 2015, based on observations and modeling. In May, atmospheric CO2 reached the highest levels ever directly measured. (Source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/K. Mersmann, M. Radcliff, producers)

The Paris Agreement was intended to turn the world onto a new path, one that would limit the risks and impacts from climate change through lowered emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

But according to the latest indication, we’re still on the old path.

Carbon dioxide

Source: NOAA/ESRL

In May, CO2 levels in the atmosphere exceeded 411 parts per million, as measured at an observatory atop Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, according to an analysis released yesterday by scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

That’s significant because it’s the highest monthly average ever directly measured. It also suggests that 2018 could turn out to be the seventh year in a row with large increases in concentrations of the heat-trapping gas.

To put the current CO2 level in perspective, consider that right before the preindustrial revolution — before we ramped up our burning of fossil fuels — the concentration stood at just 280 parts per million.

Even more telling: Research shows that you have to go back at least 3 million years to find a time when CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere were this high. And the impact we’ve already had on the atmosphere will linger for a very long time to come. As Pieter Tans, lead scientist of NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, put it in a release from NOAA: 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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