eARTh: The North Atlantic Ocean comes alive in beautiful blue and green swirls of painterly phytoplankton

By Tom Yulsman | June 6, 2016 10:54 am
Phytoplankton bloom south of Iceland

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite acquired this image of a large phytoplankton bloom just south of Iceland on June 3, 2016. (Source: NASA Worldview. Note: This version is enhanced a little to bring out details in the swirling eddies. See below for specifics.)

Billions of tiny plant-like organisms have painted the seas in a swirling pattern reminiscent of Vincent Van Gogh’s famous painting, The Starry Night.

It’s part of an annual event — a bloom of phytoplankton that spreads north in the Atlantic Ocean, peaking in late spring. On June 3, the clouds parted just enough south of Iceland to reveal part of this year’s bloom to NASA’s Terra satellite.

Using photosynthesis to capture solar energy, phytoplankton form the basis of marine food webs. In the North Atlantic, they are so prolific that they help make Icelandic waters among the most productive fisheries in the world.

The beautiful coloration in the bloom spotted by the Terra satellite comes from the chlorophyll that enables phytoplankton to capture solar energy and, through photosynthesis, turn it into chemical energy. The varying tones of blue and green are the result of different kinds of phytoplankton:

Types of phytoplankton

Meet the eARTh painters: five different kinds of phytoplankton that create beautiful swirling patterns of blue and green in ocean waters.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Arctic, EarthArt, Nature, Ocean, select, Top Posts

No let up yet in the relentless rain pummeling Texas and surrounding Southern Plains

By Tom Yulsman | June 3, 2016 10:38 am

Parts of Europe have also been deluged, and today, Paris is flooding

Texas mesoscale convective system

An animation of infrared imagery from the GOES East satellite shows the development of a massive complex of severe thunderstorms over central Texas late Wednesday through Thursday, June 1 and 2, 2016. The almost black tones show the coldest cloud-top temperatures. Here, the tops of thunderstorms have punched highest into the atmosphere. (Map data: © 2016 Google/INEGI. Imagery: SSEC Real Earth. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

A slow-moving low-pressure system sucking tropical moisture from the Gulf of Mexico into Texas and nearby areas is forecast to become nearly stationary today. The very unfortunate result: More thunderstorms will pummel a region already reeling from record rainfall.

Flooding from the rainfall has been implicated in the deaths yesterday of five U.S. Army soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas. Their military vehicle overturned at about 11 a.m. local time while they were attempting to cross a swollen creek. Three soldiers were rescued, while another four were swept away and remain missing as I’m writing this on Friday morning. (For the latest updates on this tragedy from the Fort Hood Press Center, go here.)

The evolution of the mesoscale convective system, or MCS, that contributed to yesterday’s tragedy is seen in the animation above. I created it using infrared satellite imagery from the GOES-East weather satellite.

The system — a massive blob of multiple thunderstorms — formed over central Texas late Wednesday night and into Thursday. After drenching the San Antonio area with 4 inches of rain, the thunderstorm complex moved north on Thursday, while yet more showers and thunderstorms boiled up in east Texas, including the Houston area. Read More

Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away

By Tom Yulsman | May 17, 2016 2:41 pm

Mount Washington weather observers didn’t exactly fly away on 109 mph winds, but from the looks of this video, it could have happened

Mount Washington

While winds up to 109 miles per hour buffeted New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Observatory on May 16, weather observers Mike Dorfman and Tom Padham shot this video on the observation deck. (Source: Facebook/Mount Washington Observatory)

Weather observer Mike Dorfman describes the wind that roared across the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire yesterday as “blustery.” But if you click on the image above to watch the video of what it was like, I’m sure you’ll agree that it was much more than that!

Dorfman and his colleague Tom Padham shot the video on the observation deck on May 16, 2016, and posted it to Facebook and Youtube.

As Dorfman points out in a blog post: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Extreme Weather, select, Top Posts, Weather

Second dramatic spike in thawing on the Greenland ice sheet heralds an early start to the melt season

By Tom Yulsman | May 16, 2016 2:53 pm

The Arctic will “go through hell this year,” says one prominent scientist

melting spike

Source: Greenland Today, National Snow and Ice Data Center

Note: This story was updated on 5/16/2016 at 7 p.m. EDT with comments from Ted Scambos of the National Sea and Ice Data Center. |

On April 11, a dramatic early spike in melting of snow and ice at the surface of Greenland’s ice sheet prompted a Danish climate scientist to say that she and her colleagues were “incredulous.”

Now, there has been a second bout of unusual melting.

You can see both of them in the graph above from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, or NSIDC. It charts the percentage of the Greenland Ice Sheet experiencing surface melting. In both cases, the thaw exceeded 10 percent of the ice sheet’s area.

When I noticed the second spike, I reached out by email to Ted Scambos, lead scientist for the NSIDC science team, to get his reaction to what has been happening in the Arctic lately. Here was his reply:

The Arctic is going to go through hell this year. Both the sea ice and the Greenland surface melting. Snow cover will also set a record.

Scambos emphasized that he wasn’t basing his prediction on a rigorous analysis of data. Instead:

I’m going on ‘duck test’ here: if it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck…

The quacking so far this year has been rather loud all around the the high north, with unusual and persistent warmth, large-scale fracturing of Arctic sea ice, plunging sea ice extent (more about that in a minute), and the two spikes in Greenland surface melting.

The April spike was particularly unusual because of its size, and the fact that it occurred so early in the spring.

The second spike peaked on May 12 and appears to be subsiding now. It prompted scientists with the Danish Meteorological Institute, or DMI, to announce that the Greenland melt season had begun in earnest — and that this tied with 1999 as the fifth earliest start on record. Read More

April 2016: The heat goes on

By Tom Yulsman | May 14, 2016 4:05 pm

April was the warmest such month on record, continuing an extraordinary stretch of global warming

Unusual warmth dominated much of the globe in April, particularly the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. It was the warmest April on record. (Source: NASA GISTEMP)

Unusual warmth dominated much of the globe in April, particularly the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. It was the warmest April on record. (Source: NASA GISTEMP)

Following six previous record-setting months, April 2016 kept the run going: It was the warmest such month on record, according to data just released by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

April was .43 degrees F warmer than the previous record for April, set in 2010.

The extraordinary warmth of the past seven months is attributable in some measure to the record-setting El Niño now finally subsiding.

SEE ALSO: As El Niño fades, here comes La Niña

But the warmth contributed by El Niño has been built atop a much higher base: Due to human-caused warming, Earth’s global average temperature is now considerably higher than it once was.

That said, there are signs that things may be cooling off from the extreme record set last February. That month was an astonishing 2.39 degrees F (1.33 C) warmer than the 1951-1980 average, which smashed the previous record for a February.

SEE ALSO: Reliable, official numbers now in for February 2016 show that it smashed the previous record for the month

April was “just” 1.99 degrees F (1.11 C) warmer than the long-term average for the month.

So maybe we’ve come off the downright scary peak we saw in February. And with a cooling La Niña episode likely to take hold by late summer or fall, it’s possible that a temporary hiatus from month after of month of tumbling records is coming.

But even if that happens, the long-term trend of human-caused warming almost certainly will continue. So in the decades to come, we should expect many more records to fall.

As El Niño fades, here comes La Niña

By Tom Yulsman | May 12, 2016 2:51 pm

A big blob of cold water is rising from the depths in the equatorial Pacific, heralding the likely arrival of La Niña by fall

La Niña

Sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific have cooled since January, as seen in this animation. The first image shows warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific along the equator on Jan. 1, 2016. The second shows significant cooling, as of May 12, 2016. (Images: Animation: Tom Yulsman)

What a difference a few months make. In January, El Niño was still going strong. But now, not only is it waning but there is a 75 percent chance that its opposite — La Niña — will develop by fall, according to the latest monthly update from the Climate Prediction Center.

SEE ALSO: If La Niña follows the current super El Niño, it will probably be bad news for drought-plagued California

La Niña

Typical impacts of La Niña in winter. (Source:

This is important because both phenomena — the two sides of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO — have powerful effects on the weather. Click on the map at right to see what the odds favor in terms of winter impacts, should La Niña take hold as predicted.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate, ENSO, Ocean, select, Top Posts

Spiraling global warming

By Tom Yulsman | May 10, 2016 9:03 pm

Clear, simple and compelling: a visualization of the rise in our planet’s average temperature from 1850 to the present

I spotted this animated visualization over at the Washington Post’s awesome Capital Weather Gang site today, and I found it so compelling that I had to share it here at ImaGeo. Click on the graphic above to watch the animation on Twitter.

Credit goes to Jason Samenow at WashPo for jumping on this. Check out his article here. Climate scientist Ed Hawkins posted the visualization itself to Twitter yesterday.

We start in 1850, the beginning of the HadCRUT4 climate record used by Hawkins, with a circle representing how the Earth’s average surface temperature compared that year to the overall mean of 1850-1900. Read More

Watch tiny, dark Mercury glide across the luminous face of the Sun in glorious timelapse detail

By Tom Yulsman | May 10, 2016 2:10 pm
Timelapse video of Mercury transiting in front of the Sun

A timelapse video consisting of images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft shows Mercury passing directly between the Sun and Earth on May 9, 2016, between 7:12 a.m. and 2:42 p.m. EDT. (Source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Genna Duberstein Music: Encompass by Mark Petrie)

Yesterday’s transit of Mercury between the Sun and Earth was captured by countless amateur and professional astrophotographers alike, including Discover’s photo editor, Ernie Mastroianni. Make sure to check out his post about it, which includes a spectacular image of the transit, here.

Now, the folks at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center have used images acquired by the Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft to create a series of timelapse animations stitched together in one video showing the rare event in beautiful, closeup detail. Click on the screenshot above to watch the spectacle.

The video shows 14 separate views of tiny Mercury, in shadow, drifting in front of the gargantuan, luminous Sun. SDO’s imagery shows the scene in different wavelengths of light, which highlight varying features on the Sun’s surface.

For Dean Pesnell, the transit was an opportunity to focus not just on Mercury but what was happening on the Sun during the transit. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, select, Solar System, Sun, Top Posts

Canada wildfire could be the kickoff to a record-setting summer for Earth’s northern reaches

By Tom Yulsman | May 9, 2016 10:27 am

The same warmth that fueled the Fort McMurray wildfire has been setting up the Arctic for extraordinary losses of sea ice

sea ice

Rotating and fracturing sea ice in the Beaufort Sea off the coast of Alaska and the Canadian Arctic archipelago, as seen in an animation of satellite images acquired between April 1 to 24, 2016. The northern coast of Alaska is towards the left of the frame. (Animation: National Snow and Ice Data Center. Images: NASA Worldview)

The rampaging wildfire that blazed through the city of Fort McMurray in Alberta, destroying an estimated 1,600 homes, will likely continue burning for months to come.

SEE ALSO: Satellite images show Fort McMurray, Canada under assault from the rampaging wildfire nicknamed “the beast”

This should come as no surprise, given the astonishing warmth that has gripped most of Earth’s northern reaches for months on end. That warmth means the Canadian wildfire may well be just the kickoff to a long, hot and possibly record-setting summer in the region of the globe showing the most rapid and obvious signs of human-caused climate change.

Already this year, Arctic sea ice is declining at a pace that could result in a record loss by September. And what happens in the Arctic doesn’t necessarily stay in the Arctic: Recent research shows that declines in Arctic sea ice are connected with changes in weather patterns far afield.

The animation at the top of this post shows one sign of the trouble brewing in the high north. It consists of satellite images acquired between April 1 and 24 over the Beaufort Sea off Alaska and the neighboring Arctic Archipelago in Canada.

It shows a huge area of sea ice — perhaps 500 miles or more across —  that is breaking up as it is rotating. The proximate cause: strong surface winds. But they would likely not be having quite so dramatic an effect were it not for sustained, anomalous warmth. Read More

Satellite images show Fort McMurray Canada under assault from the rampaging wildfire nicknamed “the beast”

By Tom Yulsman | May 7, 2016 4:16 pm
Fort McMurray fire

An animation of before-and-after satellite images shows the area around Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada. The first was acquired on May 1, just hours before the wildfire erupted. The second shows the same scene on Friday, May 6, after the fire had scorched more than 300 square miles. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

Fueled by dry conditions and temperatures in the 80s, the rampaging Canadian wildfire nicknamed “the beast” is expected to grow to more than 700 square miles today — an area equivalent in size to New York City.

The blaze has forced the evacuation of Fort McMurray, Alberta’s oil boom-town city of more than 80,000 people located 400 miles north of Calgary. An estimated 1,600 homes and other buildings have burned so far. Luckily, winds today are blowing the flames to the northeast, away from the city.

Previous days brought no such luck, as the before-and-after animation above shows. It consists of false-color images acquired by NASA’s Terra satellite. The before image shows the scene on May 1, just prior to the fire’s ignition. The after image shows the identical scene on May 6.

The false color scheme renders developed areas, as well as the huge oil sands mining zone north of Fort McMurray, in tan colors. Lakes and rivers, such as the Athabasca River that runs through the city, are dark blue.

Areas scorched by fire are shown in reddish tones. And as the animation shows, some areas in the region had burned prior to this.

The red dots on the May 6th image, reveal pixels where a sensor on the Terra satellite detected active burning.

Here’s here’s the identical scene, this time viewed in natural color: Read More



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


Discover's Newsletter

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

Collapse bottom bar