Climate change in 2016 — and continuing into 2017 — has brought the planet into “truly uncharted territory”

By Tom Yulsman | March 22, 2017 10:37 am

A new report confirms that last year brought record global temperatures, exceptionally low sea ice, and unabated sea level rise


Global temperature anomalies during 2016 compared to a base period of 1961–1990. (Source: UK Met Office Hadley Centre via World Meteorological Organization)

Yesterday I reported that even though the warming influence of El Niño is long gone, February of 2017 brought very little letup in global warming.

SEE ALSO: As the Trump administration proposes to gut climate change funding, the climate continues to change

Now, the World Meteorological Organization is confirming that 2016’s “extreme weather and climate conditions have continued into 2017.”

The report released by the WMO yesterday finds that 2016 brought record global temperatures, as well as exceptionally low sea ice at both poles, unabated sea level rise, and continuing accumulation of heat in the ocean. And those trends appear to be continuing.

“Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system, said World Climate Research Programme Director David Carlson, in a WMO press release. We are now in truly uncharted territory.” Read More

As the Trump administration proposes to gut climate change funding, the climate continues to change

By Tom Yulsman | March 21, 2017 1:46 pm

Last month brought scant relief from global warming, and there’s a chance that 2017 could turn out to be the warmest year on record

Global climate map February 2017

Global map of temperature anomalies for February 2017. (Source: NASA GISS)

Even though the warming influence of El Niño is long gone, and 2017 was expected to offer some relief from record temperatures set last year, February saw very little letup in global warming.

And now there’s at least a chance that 2017 as a whole could be headed for the record books.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is moving aggressively to halt U.S. efforts at combatting climate change, and to blind us to continuing change through cuts to monitoring programs.

This past month was second only to February 2016 as the warmest in records dating back to 1880, and it wasn’t really all that much cooler. That’s according to the latest analyses by both NASA and NOAA.

By NASA’s reckoning, last month was 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than the mean February temperature for the 1951-1980 period. That was just 15 percent lower than February of 2016, the record holder for warmest February.

As NASA’s graphic above shows, conditions in February were particularly warm in North America and Eurasia.

And let us not forget the Arctic, which has been warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe: Read More

Wildfires raging on more than a million acres in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas leave at least six people dead

By Tom Yulsman | March 7, 2017 7:40 pm

The wildfires show up clearly in these animations of satellite imagery

Southern Plains wildfires

An animation of images from NASA’s Terra satellite shows fires burning across Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The first image in the sequence is in natural color; the second is in a false color scheme that highlights burned areas; and the third shows where the satellite detected active burning. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

Fierce winds, temperatures in the 80s, and low humidity, have whipped up deadly wildfires in the Southern Plains that so far have killed at least six people and prompted the evacuation of thousands.

The wildfires appear to have gotten started late Sunday into Monday — and then exploded today. A fire official in Kansas told the Wichita Eagle that the fire emergency there was “unprecedented.”

“We’ve had bad fires and we’ve had really bad fires but never multiples at once like this,” said Eric Ward, a fire specialist with the Kansas Forest Service, quoted by the newspaper.

I made the animation above using images acquired today by NASA’s Terra satellite. Smoke plumes and burn scars are easily visible.

Here’s what one of the fires in Kansas looked like from the air today: Read More


Why did scientists deliberately freeze themselves into sea ice near the North Pole, enduring storms and brutal cold?

By Tom Yulsman | March 7, 2017 3:10 pm

The work of the Norwegian Young Sea Ice Cruise is providing insights into rapid Arctic changes caused by human-induced global warming

The research vessel Lance was frozen into the Arctic sea ice pack in the midst of the polar night in January 2015, under the auspices of Norwegian Polar Institute led project N-ICE2015 to study the effects and feedbacks of the thinning of Arctic sea ice. For 6 months the ship will serve as platform for about a hundred scientists from more than ten nations studying the interaction of the atmosphere, ice, ocean and marine ecosystem, to help us understand future changes better. (Source: Norwegian Polar Institute)

The research vessel Lance was frozen into the Arctic ice pack in the midst of the polar night in January 2015, under the auspices of Norwegian Polar Institute. The expedition, known as N-ICE2015, was launched to study the effects and feedbacks of the thinning of Arctic sea ice. (Source: Norwegian Polar Institute)

Note: This story was written by guest blogger, Zoë Rom, with contributions from me. Rom is a master’s student at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, which I direct. She and I traveled to Tromsø, Norway together to cover the 2016 Arctic Frontiers Conference. This story is based in part on reporting Rom did while she was there. 

“It was just another day at the office.”

That’s how Mats Granskog of the Norwegian Polar Institute describes the work he did aboard a former sealing boat named the Lance after he and his colleagues deliberately froze themselves into the Arctic sea ice near the North Pole in 2015. It was part of an expedition known as the Norwegian Young Sea Ice Cruise, or N-ICE2015.

With the Lance transformed into a modern research vessel, they carried out extensive scientific experiments using tons of equipment they unloaded onto the ice. During their sojourn, they endured weeks of darkness, roaring storms, roaming polar bears, and temperatures plunging below minus 40 degrees. Between January and June of 2015, the 69 researchers and 27 support crew members of the Lance also faced the risk that their “office” might disappear beneath their feet and crumble into the Arctic Ocean — a threat that turned out to be far from theoretical.

This wasn’t the first time that Arctic explorers froze their boat into the sea ice to answer basic questions about its ebb and flow. And it probably will not be the last. Read More

Even without a boost from El Niño, January 2017 was 3rd warmest such month in records dating back 137 years

By Tom Yulsman | February 16, 2017 9:01 pm
January 2017 temperature anomalies

A map of temperature anomalies for January 2017 shows that most of North America and Siberia were much warmer than the 1951-1980 base period. Much of the rest of Asia was also relatively warm. (Source: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies)

Unlike last year, January 2017 got no temperature boost from El Niño. Yet it was still remarkably warm.

In their monthly analyses, both NASA and NOAA concur that this past month was the third warmest January since record keeping began in 1880. Read More

California rivers are so swollen from runoff that the impact is easily seen in these before and after satellite images

By Tom Yulsman | February 11, 2017 6:08 pm

An animation of satellite images taken about a year apart shows a huge difference in the amount of water flowing through waterways in California’s Sacramento River Delta. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)


This animation of satellite images shows in dramatic fashion just how far California has come following one of its most devastating droughts on record.

To get the full effect, make sure to click on the animated GIF.

On Feb. 9, 2016, California was still in the grips of the drought. At that time, the waterways of the Sacramento River Delta were barely visible from space, as seen in the first image of the animation, acquired by NASA’s Aqua satellite. The second image, acquired today by Terra, Aqua’s twin, shows those waterways swollen and laden with brown sediment.

Also take a look at the coastal waters. The animation reveals that a lot more sediment is flowing into the ocean than a year ago — because so much more runoff is flowing out to sea.

| Story updated 2/13/17 with this new animation:


A closer before-and-after satellite view of the Sacramento River Delta area. One image was acquired by the Aqua satellite on Feb. 8, 2016; the other on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017 by Terra, Aqua’s twin. The Sacramento River Delta is downstream of Lake Oroville, the massive reservoir to the north where severe erosion of the emergency spillway prompted evacuation of 188,000 people on February 12th. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman) |

In fact, there’s so much runoff from the huge amount of precipitation California has received in recent weeks that the Sacramento Bee is reporting thisRead More

Bye bye La Niña, we hardly knew you. (And btw, is that your baby brother, El Niño, lurking there in the shadows?)

By Tom Yulsman | February 11, 2017 4:46 pm
With La Niña's demise, just a small patch of blue indicative of cooler than average sea surface temperatures remains in the central equatorial Pacific Ocean. Meanwhile, very warm water has formed off the coast of Peru. (Source: NOAA View)

With La Niña’s demise, just a small patch of blue indicative of cooler than average sea surface temperatures remains in the central equatorial Pacific Ocean. Meanwhile, very warm water has formed off the coast of Peru. (Source: NOAA View)

The La Niña of 2016 is now officially gone. Following on from a monster El Niño, it turned out to be one of the shortest and weakest on record.

La Niña, which can influence weather across many parts of the world, is characterized by abnormally cool surface waters in the central equatorial Pacific Ocean. Those have now mostly dissipated, leaving behind temperatures that are close to average for February. Forecasters expect these neutral conditions to continue for the next few months.

La Niña

This animation showing week-by-week sea surface temperature anomalies begins on Nov. 16, 2016. At the time, a spear of cooler than average surface water extended along the equator across much of the Pacific. By the week of Feb. 1, that cool pool had mostly dissipated, heralding the end of La Niña. (Source: NOAA Climate Prediction) Center

Despite its relative puniness, 2016’s La Niña did produce some typical impacts in North America. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate, ENSO, select, Top Posts

Extraordinary warmth continues to afflict the Arctic, taking a wicked toll on its floating cap of sea ice

By Tom Yulsman | February 9, 2017 7:28 pm

In January, average extent of Arctic sea ice was the lowest on record

A polar bear perches on a slab of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, as photographed by Marcos Porcires aboard the research vessel Lance during the Norwegian N-ICE2015 expedition. (Source: Marcos Porcires/Norwegian Polar Institute)

A polar bear perches on a slab of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, as photographed by Marcos Porcires aboard the research vessel Lance during the Norwegian N-ICE2015 expedition. (Source: Marcos Porcires/Norwegian Polar Institute)

A journalist would never write a story saying, “No homes burned down today.” Novelty makes news, not humdrum, every day stuff.

So why another story here at ImaGeo saying that Arctic sea ice has set yet another record for lowest monthly extent since the satellite record began in 1979? After all, in addition to the low extent observed this past January, multiple record lows were also set last year — in January, February, April, May, June, October, and November.

Moreover, on a day-to-day basis, not just month-to-month, record lows are almost becoming, well, ho hum. As the National Snow and Ice Data Center puts it in their most recent update:

Record low daily Arctic ice extents continued through most of January 2017, a pattern that started last October.

Of course I’m being facetious about all of this becoming humdrum. The repetition of record lows is actually quite striking. Something really weird is going on. Read More

With the new GOES-16 satellite, Earth has never looked more stunningly beautiful from space

By Tom Yulsman | February 9, 2017 2:58 pm

GOES-16 also promises better weather forecasts, severe storm warnings, solar flare alerts, and a host of other benefits


This full-disk visible image of the Western Hemisphere was captured by NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite at 1:07 pm EST on Jan. 15, 2017 and created using several of the 16 spectral channels available on the satellite’s sophisticated Advanced Baseline Imager. The image, taken from 22,300 miles above the surface, shows North and South America and the surrounding oceans. (Source: NOAA)

In recent weeks, two new weather satellites — GOES-16, lofted into orbit by the United States, and the Japanese Himawari-9 — have begun sending back spectacular images of the home planet.

With GOES-16, the United States is actually playing catch-up with the Japanese, whose incredibly capable Himawari-8 satellite has been in operation since July of 2015. Himawari-9 is its twin — and is now serving as its backup. Make sure to scroll down to see some of its first images, sent back to Earth on January 24th.

Meanwhile, GOES-16 is the first in a series of four next-generation geostationary weather satellites. Launched on November 19, 2016, it began sending its first images back to Earth a couple of weeks ago. In its capabilities, it is very similar to the Himawari spacecraft.

“Meteorologists are drooling,” says atmospheric scientist and meteorologist Angela Fritz, writing in the Washington Post about the GOES-16’s first images, including the composite above showing the Western Hemisphere on Jan. 15, 2017.

You can check out a very high resolution version of the image (almost 30 megabytes) by clicking on it. Then make sure to click again to zoom in really close. The detail is simply amazing. Read More

Check out this breathtaking view of the Colorado Plateau, as seen from the International Space Station

By Tom Yulsman | February 7, 2017 9:10 pm
Colorado River

Nearly the full length of Lake Powell on the Colorado River in southern Utah and northern Arizona is visible in this photograph shot by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, on Sept. 6, 2016. The view is toward the southwest. Water flow is from the lower right toward the top. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)

When I first spotted this stunning image on NASA’s Earth Observatory site, it stopped me dead in my tracks. It’s a view over Lake Powell on the Colorado River, the second-largest artificial reservoir in the United States, after Lake Mead further downstream.

Almost the entire lake is visible in this photograph, taken by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station last September. I was really struck by the clarity, the color, and the oblique angle at which it was taken. The photograph almost looks like it was taken from an aircraft — not from orbit almost 25o miles above the surface.

Click on the image, and then click again in the lower right corner to enlarge it. You should be able to make out a white structure in one of the blue arms of the reservoir. This is the Bullfrog Marina. Are those little white specks seen in the lake near the marina houseboats? I think so.

Granted, this photo was taken with an 800 millimeter lens — as glass goes, that’s a monster! Even so. Small. Boats. Seen. From. Space…  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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