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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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