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


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

Striking imagery shows American Airlines Flight 1897 flying through a hellish storm as it’s battered by hail

By Tom Yulsman | June 6, 2018 7:59 pm

Satellite imagery and flight tracking show the plane trying to evade a storm that ultimately destroyed its nose and smashed the windshield

American Airlines Flight 1897

Two views from the GOES-16 weather satellite show powerful storms boiling up over Texas and New Mexico. An infrared view is on the left, and visible imagery is on the right. The path of American Airlines Flight 1897 — which was struck by hail and forced to make an emergency landing — is included. Please click to watch the animation. (Source: Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies.)

After I watched the animation of satellite imagery above a few times, the words “bob and weave” came to me as a way to describe the evasive maneuvers American Airlines Flight 1897 seemed to be taking to avoid the worst parts of vicious thunderstorms that were boiling up everywhere along its flight path.

Unfortunately, the twin-engine Airbus 319 couldn’t avoid the devastating punches from one particularly nasty and towering thunderstorm cell, which pummeled the aircraft with hail stones that may have been as large as 2.5 inches in diameter. We’re talking almost baseball size — and those big chunks of ice smashed into the aircraft as it was jetting along at about 575 miles per hour.

The results were devastating. The hail destroyed the nosecone of Flight 1897, and it smashed the windshield so badly that the pilots could not really see out. Read More

State-of-the-art NOAA-20 satellite is operational, promising better weather forecasts

By Tom Yulsman | May 31, 2018 12:53 pm

Check out this imagery from the next generation, polar-orbiting NOAA-20 spacecraft, which also heralds improved environmental monitoring

Infrared image from NOAA-20 satellite

The NOAA-20 satellite captured this infrared image of Tropical Cyclone Mekunu on May 25 as it was approaching Yemen and Oman. (Source: NOAA/UWM/SSEC/CIMSS, William Straka)

A constellation of satellites that monitor the vital signs of our planet just got a new, official member: the next-generation NOAA-20 satellite. It was declared fully operational yesterday after undergoing months of rigorous testing.

Launched last November as part of NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System, NOAA-20 is designed to observe Earth’s atmosphere, land and waters with greater precision than any of NOAA’s previous polar-orbiting satellites.

Regular readers of ImaGeo might recognize the names of some of these satellites — Terra, Aqua, Suomi-NPP — because I regularly use imagery from them here. As an unabashed remote sensing geek, I’m thrilled to see what NOAA-20 will add to what these spacecraft have already been providing.

NOAA-20 spacecraft

The JPSS spacecraft design. (Source: NOAA/NESDIS)

The image above, as well as more to follow below, offers a taste of what’s to come. It’s an infrared image of powerful Tropical Cyclone Mekunu on May 25 as it was about to slam into Oman and Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula with winds equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane.

The image shows data on the temperature of the cloud tops, with darker colors indicating colder temperatures. Changes in cloud-top temperatures can help forecasters determine whether a storm is strengthening or weakening.

When the temperatures get colder and colder it means that the clouds in a storm are blossoming higher and higher into the atmosphere. This happens as thunderstorms — in this case within the cyclone — grow and get more powerful, indicating a strengthening of the storm. Conversely, when cloud-top temperatures drop, it’s an indication that the storm is weakening. Read More

New closeup video shows flares sputtering and gargantuan glowing loops dancing at the Sun’s surface

By Tom Yulsman | May 30, 2018 3:28 pm
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft captured this view of an active region on the Sun rotating into view between May 23 and 25, 2018. (Source: Solar Dynamics Observatory, NASA)

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft captured this view of an active region on the Sun rotating into view between May 23 and 25, 2018. (Source: Solar Dynamics Observatory, NASA)

Although the Sun is in a singularly serene state right now, that doesn’t mean it’s asleep. The video above is proof of that.

Captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft, it shows an active region on the Sun’s surface rotating into view between May 23 and 25. Here’s how NASA describes what we’re looking at:

An active region rotated into view and sputtered with numerous small flares and towering magnetic field lines that stretched out many times the diameter of Earth . . . Active regions are areas of intense magnetic energy. The field lines are illuminated by charged particles spiraling along them and easiest to discern when viewed in profile. The colorized images were taken in a wavelength of extreme ultraviolet light.

If you didn’t notice the little inset picture of the Earth, check it out in the upper left corner. It’s rendered to scale and offers a sense of just how large the feature’s on the Sun’s surface are.

After reaching a peak in 2014, solar activity has been calming down and is headed soon for a minimum in the 11-year solar cycle. In recent months, the Sun has been particularly placid — at least relatively speaking! — with a dearth of sunspots and active regions. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: select, Sun, Top Posts

Cloud porn: Watch as a swirl of clouds materializes into a beautiful, nearly perfect circle

By Tom Yulsman | May 29, 2018 12:53 pm

A striking circle of clouds with a bullseye center is seen over Asia in a high-resolution satellite image, and an animation of multiple images

NASA's Terra satellite captured this image of a circular swirl of clouds over Lake Balkhash in eastern Kazakhstan on May 22, 2018. (Source: NASA Worldview)

NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image of a circular swirl of clouds over Lake Balkhash in eastern Kazakhstan on May 22, 2018. (Source: NASA Worldview)

We’re accustomed to seeing satellite images of clouds organized in big swirly circles. They are, of course, called cyclones.

And, in fact, as I’m writing this post, one of these — Subtropical Depression Alberto — is looking quite impressive in all its swirly glory as it spins over Alabama.

But until I spotted the satellite image above in a story on NASA’s Earth Observatory site, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen clouds organize themselves into an almost perfect circle — let alone with a bullseye at the center.

The MODIS instrument on the space agency’s Terra satellite spotted the circular swirl of clouds as it drifted over Lake Balkhash in eastern Kazakhstan on May 22nd. According to NASA, the evidence suggests that “a few hours before Terra MODIS acquired the image, the circular feature was linked to an area of convection to the southwest over the western Tien Shan mountains.” Then…

Cyclonic wind flow drew the clouds into the circular pattern, which had a radius of roughly 200 kilometers (100 miles)—small enough that meteorologists would classify it as a mesoscale feature. In contrast, synoptic scale features have horizontal lengths greater than 1,000 kilometers, while microscale features have widths less than 1 kilometer.

After reading about this on the Earth Observatory site, I was curious to see if I could create an animation of satellite images to show the evolution of this feature. Here’s what I came up with: Read More

Every-day wonders: the edges of a giant Colorado thunderstorm cell, captured in photo mosaics

By Tom Yulsman | May 22, 2018 11:02 pm

The summer monsoon season in Colorado is still probably weeks away, but we got a spectacular preview today

Northern edge of a giant Colorado thunderstorm cell

An iPhone photomosaic showing the northern edge of a giant thunderstorm cloud that boiled up east and north of Boulder, Colorado today. (Photomosaic:  © Tom Yulsman)

As I was leaving Boulder, Colorado this afternoon, heading for home out on the plains at the foot of the Rockies, I looked up and was stopped short by a giant, glowing thunderstorm cell that was building fast, in all dimensions.

I’ve long been enamored of Western skies. That’s true in all seasons, each of which brings its own wonders. But there’s something particularly special about the cumulonimbus clouds that often boil up in the late afternoon and evening as the warm season gets cooking.

We’re not really in the summer monsoon season yet — it typically doesn’t ramp up in these parts until June or July. But I guess someone forgot to tell that to the atmosphere, which was channeling copious moisture northwards into our region from the Gulf of Mexico, as happens during the summer monsoon.

I love making photographs of our skies, so I pulled over at a spot where I thought I’d get a good perspective on the swelling thunderstorm cell. I only had my iPhone, not my regular rig. But it’s capable of producing quite compelling images.

By this point, the storm was huge. So I took two sets of three images each with my iPhone, one focusing on the northern edge, and the other on the southern one. With each set, I overlapped the images with the idea of using Photoshop later to merge them into a photomosaic.

One of the results of this fun exercise is the image above. Beyond stitching the photos together to create the mosaic, I did some processing, including a little enhancement of contrast overall as well as micro contrast — to bring out some details in the cloud. Read More

Another remarkable time-lapse video shows Hawaii’s volcanic activity from a unique perspective

By Tom Yulsman | May 22, 2018 7:43 pm

A ‘cloud camera’ 40 miles away and high on a mountain captured the eerie glow emanating from continuing volcanic activity

A time-lapse acquired by the Gemini North telescope cloud camera on the night of May 21/22 shows the glow from volcanic activity on the Big Island of Hawaii. (Source: Gemini Observatory/AURA/NSF)

Time-lapse video acquired by the Gemini North telescope cloud camera on the night of May 21/22 shows the glow from volcanic activity on the Big Island of Hawaii. (Source: Gemini Observatory/AURA/NSF)

Last week I featured time-lapse video capturing the ash plume from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano exploding skyward higher than Mt. Everest. Now, the same camera, located on the Gemini North telescope atop 13,803-foot Mauna Kea, has captured yet another remarkable video.

The new time-lapse shows the intense glow from an extensive region of volcanic fissures on Hawaii’s Big Island. As described in a release from the Gemini Observatory:

During the sequence, multiple fissures expelled lava in the area in and around Leilani Estates in the Puna district of the Big Island of Hawai‘i. The lava also flowed into the ocean during the period of the video.

The camera is located about 40 miles away from the eruptions. It’s ordinarily used to monitor the sky so that telescope operations can be handled remotely.

The view is eastward, toward the town of Hilo, which is under the cloud deck roughly at center. According to the observatory release:

The moon illuminates the landscape early in the sequence. Later, the setting moon (behind the camera) casts shadows of Gemini and several Mauna Kea observatories as well as a projection of the mountain onto the atmosphere.

As I’m writing this on Tuesday evening, sulfur dioxide is reported to be spewing from the fissures in Leilani Estate area. And this morning, the Kilauea’s summit volcano erupted once again.
CATEGORIZED UNDER: Earth Science, select, Top Posts, Volcanoes

Jupiter as seen from a uniquely beautiful perspective

By Tom Yulsman | May 22, 2018 10:02 am

Citizen scientists used raw images from the Juno spacecraft to produce this southerly view of Jupiter

Southerly perspective on Jupiter

Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstad/Sean Doran

This marvelous view of Jupiter shows the planet from a different perspective than we’re used to: from the south.

It was acquired by NASA’s Juno spacecraft during a close flyby of the giant gaseous planet on April 1. During the encounter, Juno swooped as close as 10,768 miles above the cloud tops of the southern hemisphere.

As NASA notes in a release, this color-enhanced view is unique to Juno — we were not able to see the giant planet from this perspective prior to the spacecraft’s arrival at Jupiter in July of 2016.

With this perspective, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot looms particularly large, perhaps misleadingly so. More than 1,300 Earths would fit inside Jupiter itself. As for the red spot, it is about 1.3 times as wide as Earth.

NASA scientists actually did not create this image. Credit goes to citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran. They started with several separate images from the spacecraft’s JunoCam, then they re-projected, blended, and healed them to produce this striking view.

You too can try your hand at this: JunoCam’s raw images are freely available to the public at

Time-lapse video captures the ash plume from Hawaii’s volcano exploding higher than Mt. Everest

By Tom Yulsman | May 17, 2018 8:14 pm

The biggest explosion yet from the Kilauea volcano propelled 1,000-pound rocks into the air, and sent ash rocketing 30,000 feet high

A timelapse video from the cloud camera on the Gemini Observatory on the Big Island of Hawaii captured the ash cloud exploding high in the atmosphere from the Kilauea volcano just before dawn on May 17, 2018. The plume explodes above the cloud deck shortly after four minutes into the video. Note: The video may take a little while to load. (Source: Gemini Observatory/Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy)

A timelapse video from a camera on the Gemini Observatory on the Big Island of Hawaii captured the ash cloud exploding high in the atmosphere from the Kilauea volcano just before dawn on May 17, 2018. The plume explodes above the cloud deck shortly after four minutes into the video. Lightning and meteors streaking across the sky are also visible. (Source: Gemini Observatory/Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy)

The eruption of Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island this morning sent an ash plume exploding about 30,000 feet high into the atmosphere.

And as luck would have it, a camera was watching.

The camera is located about 40 miles away on the Gemini North telescope atop 13,803-foot Mauna Kea. It’s ordinarily is used to monitor the sky so that telescope operations can be handled remotely. The plume of ash from the massive eruption is visible in the video above as a dark puff shooting up above the clouds near the end of the time-lapse sequence.

Look for it at about 39 seconds from the end, or a little after four minutes from the beginning.

Here’s how the U.S. Geological Survey described the eruption that produced the plume:

Just after 4 am this morning, an explosion or series of explosions from the Overlook vent within Halemaumau crater at Kilauea Volcano’s summit produced a volcanic cloud that reached as high as 30,000 ft [above sea level] based on NWS radar information. The cloud drifted generally northeast and traces of ash fell with rain in the Volcano Golf Course, Volcano Village, and other areas immediately around the Kilauea summit.

Here’s a full resolution static image of the ash plume acquired by the Gemini North camera at 4:16 a.m. local time: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Geology, select, Top Posts, Volcanoes

A tiny spacecraft nicknamed ‘Wall-E’ shot this pale-blue-dot shot of Earth from more than 600,000 miles away

By Tom Yulsman | May 16, 2018 10:57 am

‘Wall-E’ is one of a pair of CubeSats that’s following a lander spacecraft as it cruises toward Mars

Earth as a pale blue dot

The first image captured by one of NASA’s Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats. The image, which shows both the CubeSat’s unfolded high-gain antenna at right and the Earth and its moon in the center, was acquired by MarCO-B, nicknamed ‘Wall-E’, on May 9. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

In 1990, the Voyager 1 spacecraft was cruising outward in the solar system, heading toward interstellar space. The late Carl Sagan, a member of the Voyager imaging team, had the idea of pointing the spacecraft back toward home for one last look.

Pale Blue Dot

Voyager’s Pale Blue Dot image. Can you spot Earth? (Source: NASA/JPL)

The result was an image that Sagan made famous in his 1994 book “Pale Blue Dot” — an image showing Earth as a barely visible bluish dot.

Now, we have another pale blue dot image, this one captured by a tiny CubeSat spacecraft, one of a pair that’s shadowing NASA’s InSight lander to Mars. The two briefcase-sized CubeSats, known collectively as Mars Cube One, or MarCO, will serve as a communications relay system when InSight attempts to land on the Red Planet, transmitting status information back to Earth.

On May 9, the CubeSats were more than 600,000 miles from Earth. One of then, called MarCO-B — and affectionately known as “Wall-E” to the MarCO team — used a fisheye camera to snap its first photo. The image helped mission engineers confirm that the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna had unfolded properly. 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.

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