Electric-blue ice clouds seeded by meteor dust have been spied over Antarctica by a NASA spacecraft

By Tom Yulsman | December 6, 2016 10:53 am

Not to worry, this is normal. But climate change may be playing a role.

Noctilucent clouds

An animation based on data from NASA’s AIM spacecraft shows the sky over Antarctica glowing blue at the start of noctilucent cloud season in the Southern Hemisphere. The data were acquired by AIM Nov. 17 to 28, 2016.
(Source: NASA/HU/VT/CU-LASP/AIM/Joy Ng, producer)

As summer gets under way in the Southern Hemisphere, electric blue clouds seeded by meteor dust begin to glow high in the sky over Antarctica’s vast icy reaches.

This year, according to NASA, these night-shining, or “noctilucent,” clouds turned up much earlier than usual. This corresponds to an early seasonal shift into into the warmer season at lower altitudes over Antarctica.

Here’s how the space agency describes the spectacular phenomenon:

Noctilucent clouds are Earth’s highest clouds, sandwiched between Earth and space 50 miles above the ground in a layer of the atmosphere called the mesosphere. Seeded by fine debris from disintegrating meteors, these clouds of ice crystals glow a bright, shocking blue when they reflect sunlight.

Read More

Massive fracture in Antarctic ice shelf is 70 miles long, a football field wide, and a third of a mile deep

By Tom Yulsman | December 5, 2016 12:22 pm
A massive rift in the Antarctic Peninsula's Larsen C ice shelf, as photographed on Nov. 10, 2016, as photographed by a scientist on NASA's Icebridge mission, an airborne survey of polar ice. (Source: NASA)

A fissure in the Antarctic Peninsula’s Larsen C ice shelf, as photographed on Nov. 10, 2016 by a scientist on NASA’s IceBridge mission, an airborne survey of polar ice. (Source: NASA)

A massive rift in the Antarctic Peninsula’s Larsen C ice shelf has been growing steadily, threatening to cut all the way across. If it does, an iceberg roughly the size of the state of Delaware — and perhaps even bigger — will float off.

New observations by scientists on NASA’s IceBridge mission, an airborne survey of polar ice, reveal that the rift is now about 70 miles long. And it cuts down about 1,700 feet, all the way through the floating shelf of ice.

Should Larsen C throw off a Delaware-sized iceberg, it wouldn’t be terribly unusual in and of itself. Ice shelves naturally shed large chunks as part of their natural life cycles. “That’s just part of life for an ice shelf,” says Ala Khazendar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “That’s how they behave.”

But scientists are concerned that if Larsen C does let loose a massive new iceberg, this will be just the beginning of an irreversible retreat under a warming climate, eventually leading to the demise of the entire ice shelf. And that, in turn, could lead to further sea level rise. Read More

Something really crazy is happening in the Arctic

By Tom Yulsman | November 20, 2016 7:22 pm

At a time when sea ice should be expanding, it’s actually shrinking

A crazy decrease in sea ice

Changes in the concentration of Arctic sea ice between Nov. 12 and 19, 2016 are seen in this animation of satellite data. The North Pole is at the center. Areas with 100 percent coverage of ice are depicted in white. Lighter to darker blue tones are indicative of decreasing concentrations. And areas with no ice are in gray. Ice actually decreased within the area circled in red in the first frame of the animation. (Data: University of Bremen. Images: Polar View. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

Sea ice in the Arctic has been trending at record low levels since the third week of October — and now, something really crazy is happening up there.

The Arctic is heading into the dead of winter, and across a vast swath of territory, the polar night has descended, with 24 hours of darkness each day. This is when temperatures should be plunging, and sea ice should be expanding rapidly.

Instead, temperatures are soaring, and sea ice is actually shrinking

This shouldn’t be happening. Read More

2016 on track to smash record for warmest year globally

By Tom Yulsman | November 16, 2016 9:54 am

“No surprise here, planetary warming does not care about the election”

Here's how temperatures differed from average around the globe in October 2016, which was the second warmest such month on record. Note the particularly intense warmth in the Arctic. (Source: NASA GISS)

Here’s how temperatures differed from average around the globe in October. Note the particularly intense warmth in the Arctic. (Source: NASA GISS)

The heat streak continues, with October 2016 coming in as second warmest such month on record, according to the latest monthly update from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Global average temperature during October 2016 was 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.89 degrees Celsius), warmer than the 1951-1980 mean for the month.

The three warmest Octobers on record have now occurred during the last three years. Looking at an even longer period, the top 10 October temperature anomalies all have occurred since 2000.

“We continue to stress that long-term trends are the important thing, much more so than monthly rankings,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of the Goddard institute, in a statement issued yesterday.

Here’s that long-term trend, with Schmidt’s prediction for 2016 overall — along with a little editorial comment about the recent election:  Read More

Smoke from a siege of wildfires spreading across the southeastern U.S. is easily seen from orbit

By Tom Yulsman | November 14, 2016 11:20 am
Plumes of smoke from wildfires burning the southern Appalachians are seen blowing south by southeast in this broad view of nearly half the United States acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite on November 12, 2016. The smoke plumes are roughly dead center in the image. Click on it and then click again for extreme closeup views. (Source: NASA Worldview)

Plumes of smoke from wildfires burning in the southern Appalachians are seen in this broad view of nearly half of the United States acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite on November 12, 2016. The smoke plumes are roughly dead center in the image, almost straight north from Florida. Click on the image and then click again for extreme closeup views. (Source: NASA Worldview)

Spurred on by intensifying drought, wildfires continue to spread across portions of the southern United States, sending up palls of smoke that are easily visible from orbit.

In the image above, acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite on November 12, the thickest plumes are rising from fires in the southern Appalachians within North Carolina and Georgia. But smoke from fires in Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and South Carolina is also visible.

A zoomed-in view over Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surroundings, as seen by the Suomi NPP satellite on November 12, 2016. Clingmans Dome within the park(Source: NASA Worldview)

A zoomed-in view over Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surroundings, acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite on Nov. 12, shows thick smoke rising from multiple wildfires. Labelled in the image is Clingmans Dome, which is located within park. (Source: NASA Worldview)

The smoke has prompted authorities to urge residents in some areas to wear masks outdoors. And on Saturday, an estimated 4.5 million residents experienced moderate to heavy smoke in northern Georgia and Alabama. Read More

She’s back! La Niña conditions take hold in the Pacific

By Tom Yulsman | November 10, 2016 11:40 am

But will La Niña last for long?

Cooler than normal sea surface temperatures indicative of La Niña conditions stretch across most of the eastern and central equatorial Pacific. (Source: earth.nullschool.net)

Cooler than normal sea surface temperatures indicative of La Niña conditions stretch across most of the eastern and central equatorial Pacific. (Source: earth.nullschool.net)

After much anticipation, La Niña is finally here.

During October and now into November, cooler than normal sea surface temperatures indicative of this weather-altering phenomenon have been stretching across most of the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean.

Here’s a summary of the situation from today’s update by the Climate Prediction Center of the National Weather Service:

. . .  the forecaster consensus favors the continuation of weak La Niña conditions through December-February (DJF) 2016-17. At this time, the consensus favors La Niña to be short-lived, with ENSO-neutral favored beyond DJF.

The forecast pegs the odds of these conditions persisting through winter of 2016-17 at 55 percent.

What might this mean weather-wise for North America? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate, ENSO, select, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: climate, ENSO, La Niña, weather

Middle school students help produce a spectacular work of Earth art, thanks to Sally Ride’s EarthKAM project

By Tom Yulsman | November 10, 2016 10:15 am
EarthKAM

The Sahara desert in western Libya as seen from the International Space Station in October. (Source: Sally Ride EarthKam/NASA)

Middle school children programmed a camera on the International Space Station to capture this stunningly beautiful photograph of the Sahara in Libya.

It’s part of a NASA project called EarthKAM: “Earth Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students.”

The program was begun in 1998 by Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space. (At the time it was called KidSat.)

EarthKAM is intended to use the unique vantage point of space to help students, teachers, and the public gain knowledge about one of the planets in the solar system: our own home planet, Earth. As part of the program, middle school students around the world request images of specific locations on Earth, and these are archived in searchable archive.

The image above was posted to the International Space Station’s Instagram feed yesterday. Not much in the way of caption detail was offered, so I’ll try to fill in the gaps. Read More

Dear President-Elect Trump: Climate change is not a hoax. Please consider this: It’s raining near the North Pole.

By Tom Yulsman | November 9, 2016 1:19 pm

A postcard to the incoming president

Postcard to President-Elect Trump

Heavy rain and little snow has been the story for weeks in the town of Longyearbyen on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. The local church was evacuated yesterday (Nov. 8, 2016) because heavy rainfall had raised the risk of landslides. It should be cold and snowing this time of year in a town located just 800 miles from the North Pole.  (Photo: Courtesy Leif Magne Helgesen)

Dear President-Elect Trump:

You’ve said publicly that climate change is a “hoax,” and that the concept “was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” During the presidential campaign, you also said that you would zero out all federal funding related to climate change.

With that in mind, I wanted to send you this ‘postcard’ from the Arctic, a region I love dearly.

For the people who live in the Arctic, climate change is no hoax. They have been living with its effects for quite some time now. The region is warming twice as fast as any other on Earth. So in this postcard, I wanted to share with you just one small piece of that very large story.

Some of what follows comes from Leif Magne Helgesen, the pastor of the planet’s northernmost church. He tends to the spiritual needs of the residents of Longyearbyen on the archipelago of Svalbard, which is located a scant 800 miles from the North Pole.

Postcard to President-Elect Trump

Leif Magne Helgesen, pastor of the world’s northernmost church, in Longyearbyen, Svalbard. (Photo: Leif Jone Ølberg)

On the day that you won the presidency, Mr. Trump, the church, as well as other parts of the town, were evacuated because of the risk of landslides due to near-record rainfall. This is in winter, not far from the North Pole. As you might imagine, it should be cold and snowing there now, not warm and raining. Read More

Watch intense rivers of atmospheric moisture spray the Pacific Northwest like a firehose

By Tom Yulsman | November 8, 2016 12:21 am

In recent weeks, atmospheric rivers have also helped ease the drought in Northern California.

atmospheric rivers

The amount of precipitable water in the atmosphere over the northern Pacific is seen in this animation created using data from microwave observations by polar orbiting satellites. The animation covers the period between Nov. 5th and 7th, 2016. (Source: Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies.)

During this past weekend and into Monday of this week, parts of British Columbia were hosed with copious, flood-inducing precipitation, thanks to at least two so-called ‘atmospheric rivers’ originating far to the south and west.

You can see them in the animation above, which shows the amount of precipitable water in the atmosphere. Watch for long, thin plumes depicted in green, yellow and orange, stretching from near Hawaii and hitting the Pacific Northwest.

Atmospheric rivers contain an almost unimaginable amount of moisture. A strong one can move water vapor “roughly equivalent to 7.5–15 times the average flow of liquid water at the mouth of the Mississippi River, according to NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory.

To offer another comparison, one study found that atmospheric rivers can even carry more moisture than the mighty Amazon River, with flows on the order of 200,000 tons or more per second. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Atmosphere, select, Top Posts, Weather

The Arctic, as you’ve never seen it: beautiful and in distress

By Tom Yulsman | November 5, 2016 7:51 pm

NASA has published a spectacular image mosaic of the Arctic — just as sea ice extent in the region was reaching yet another record low. How much sea-ice shrinkage are you responsible for? Keep reading…

A composite of images captured by the Suomi NPP satellite shows the Arctic on September 2, 2012. The composite was compiled using multiple imaging channels during 14 orbits of the satellite. The imagery was stitched together to blend the edges of each satellite pass. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)

A composite of images captured by the Suomi NPP satellite shows the Arctic on September 2, 2012.  (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)

Satellites have been providing a synoptic view of the Arctic since 1979, helping scientists chart declines in sea ice driven largely by emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

Now, NASA scientists have created one of the most beautiful satellite views yet — a mosaic of images from the Suomi NPP satellite. And shortly after the space agency published it, a new record was set: the lowest Arctic sea ice extent for October in the era of satellite observations.

Arctic sea ice extent

Time series of Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent anomalies in March (the month of maximum ice extent) and September (the month of minimum ice extent). The anomaly value for each year is the difference (in percent) in ice extent relative to the mean values for the period 1981-2010. The slopes of the black and red dashed lines indicate ice losses of -2.6% and -13.4% per decade in March and September, respectively. (Source: NOAA Arctic Report Card 2015)

The spectacular image mosaic above shows the area as it looked to the satellite in early September. At this time, Arctic sea ice was headed for its seasonal minimum extent. Sea ice began expanding in October, but at an extremely sluggish rate.

The images in the mosaic were acquired by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite aboard Suomi NPP during 14 orbits of the spacecraft on September 2nd. Multiple imaging channels were used, allowing nighttime portions of the Earth to be seen. The imagery was then stitched together, producing the beautiful, seamless mosaic. 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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