The Arctic in the Age of Trump

By Tom Yulsman | January 23, 2017 11:54 am

“I am fearful this will affect the Arctic in ways that we have not seen yet” — Margot Wallström, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden


Donald J. Trump walks out of the U.S. Capitol to be sworn in as America’s 45th President. (Source: White House Facebook page)

Note: I’ve written this from Tromsø, Norway, where I’m covering the Arctic Frontiers conference. A version of this commentary is also scheduled to be published in the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet. 

On January 18, U.S. climate-monitoring agencies confirmed that 2016 was the warmest year in records dating back to 1880. And that made it a climatic trifecta:


In this map of temperature anomalies across the globe in 2016, the Arctic stands out as being the most unusually warm region on Earth during the year. (Source: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies)

“Remarkably, this is the third consecutive year a new global annual temperature record has been set,” the analysis from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stated.

Just two days later, Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States. As he placed his hand on a bible for the swearing-in ceremony, the temperature in Washington, D.C. hovered at 48 degrees. That made it the 4th warmest January inauguration ever. Read More

A wimpy La Niña is on the way toward La Nada status

By Tom Yulsman | January 14, 2017 3:48 pm

La Niña typically cools the Pacific. But this time, large swathes of warmer-than-average sea temperatures have muted the cooling.

Wimpy La Niña

A comparison of sea surface temperature anomalies in the Pacific Ocean for two seven-day periods: Dec. 28, 1998 to Jan. 3, 1999; and Dec. 26, 2016 to Jan. 1, 2017. The strong La Niña of 1998/1999 is characterized by widespread blue colors concentrated especially along the equator west of South America. Whereas today’s Pacific is far warmer, with a wimpy La Niña characterized by only mildly cool temperatures along the equator. (Images: NOAA. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

The surface waters of the Pacific Ocean have been considerably warmer than average lately — with one exception: a small spear of coolness along the equator that’s characteristic of La Niña.

Apparently, all that warmth has prevented the current La Niña — a cool phase in the Pacific that influences weather worldwide — from gaining much strength. In fact, as La Niña’s go, this one has indeed been wimpy ever since it got going in late summer last year.

And now it is almost certainly on the way out, according to the latest analysis by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

The forecast is for La Niña to fully dissipate by February, and for neutral conditions — neither La Niña nor its warm opposite, El Niño — to remain in place through the first half of the year. (There are some hints that after that a new El Niño could blossom, but it is way too soon to say.)

Our current wimpy and fading La Niña has been starkly different from a much stronger one that occurred in 1998 and 1999. You can see just how different they’ve been by watching the animation above. It depicts how sea surface temperatures varied from average in late December and early January during both episodes. Read More

A new “hole” in the Sun’s atmosphere has sparked stunning displays of the northern lights here on Earth

By Tom Yulsman | January 8, 2017 1:26 pm

As the coronal hole rotated into view of the Solar Dynamics Observatory, the spacecraft captured a video of what it looked like

Data from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory were used to create this view of an elongated coronal hole rotating across the face of the Sun in the first week of January 2016. (Source: Solar Dynamics Observatory, NASA)

Data from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory were used to create this view of hole in the Sun’s corona rotating across the face of the Sun in the first week of January 2016. (Source: Solar Dynamics Observatory, NASA)

Ok, let’s say it straight away: A “hole” in the Sun’s corona is completely natural. It’s just one of those things that happens from time to time.

Even so, when it occurs, the results can be spectacular — on the Sun itself, as well as here on Earth.

And it just happened. Again.

The video above shows the Sun spinning on its axis and carrying an elongated coronal hole across its surface. It was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft between January 2nd and 5th.

Down here on Earth, the consequences truly were stunning, as the following time-lapse video posted to Twitter documents. (Make sure to keep reading below it for even more imagery.) Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Photography, select, Sun, Top Posts

New analysis: global sea ice suffered major losses in 2016

By Tom Yulsman | January 7, 2017 2:47 pm
sea ice

A visualization of Arctic sea ice during March of 2016. The red line marks the long-term average extent of ice. On this date, sea ice reached a record low wintertime maximum extent. It was the second straight year that a record low was set in winter — a highly unusual event. (Source: NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio/C. Starr)

The extent of sea ice globally took major hits during 2016, according to an analysis released yesterday by the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

At both poles, “a wave of new record lows were set for both daily and monthly extent,” according to the analysis.

In recent years, Arctic sea ice has been hit particularly hard.

“It has been so crazy up there, not just this autumn and winter, but it’s a repeat of last autumn and winter too,” says Mark Serreze, director of the NSIDC.

In years past, abnormal warmth and record low sea ice extent tended to occur most frequently during the warmer months of the year. But for the past two years, things have gotten really weird in the colder months. Read More

Here’s what Earth and the Moon look like to a telescope on a Mars orbiter that’s 127 million miles from home

By Tom Yulsman | January 7, 2017 12:38 pm
Earth and the Moon

The HiRISE telescopic instrument in orbit around Mars captured this view of Earth and the Moon, showing continent-size detail on our home planet. (Source: ASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona) (Source: ASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

Just two days ago, I posted a spectacular picture from the most powerful telescope orbiting Mars showing a fresh blast zone and crater gouged into the surface of Mars by an impacting space rock.

Now, comes this spectacular composite image, acquired around the same time.

You’re looking at Earth and the Moon, as seen on Nov. 20, 2016 by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The Mars orbiter was 127 million miles from our home planet when HiRISE captured the images that were composited to produce this view.

SEE ALSO: A chunk of interplanetary debris recently slammed into Mars and left this fresh crater and spray of ejecta

The bright blob at the bottom-left of Earth is Antarctica. Other bright white areas are clouds. Meanwhile, the reddish feature toward the middle is Australia. And Southeast Asia is at upper left. The lushly green region appears red because this is a false color image. Read More

The first of several climate verdicts is in: 2016 was the warmest year on record — as widely expected

By Tom Yulsman | January 5, 2017 9:47 pm

Air temperatures at a height of two meters for 2016, shown relative to their 1981-2010 averages. (Source: ECMWF, Copernicus Climate Change Service)

On the heels of a study confirming that there had been no slowdown in global warming, there is now this news: 2016 was indeed the warmest year on record. The analysis was announced Thursday by the the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.

Scientists have been predicting for quite some time that 2016 would achieve this dubious distinction.

SEE ALSO: “Might not feel like it today, but 2016 will be the warmest year in the surface temperature records”

The announcement follows preliminary findings in December from the Japan Meteorological Agency also showing that 2016 would be the warmest year.

Two U.S. government agencies, NASA and NOAA, will follow soon with their own analyses. While they may differ somewhat in the details, there is no doubt that they will concur about 2016’s record-setting status.

In its analysis, the Copernicus Climate Change Service found that this past year was warmer than 2015 by close to 0.2°C. “Global temperatures reached a peak in February 2016 around 1.5°C higher than at the start of the Industrial Revolution,” according to a press release from Copernicus.

As the graphic above shows, the Arctic was especially warm. And no part of the Arctic was warmer in 2016 than the island archipelago of Svalbard, which sits more than 500 miles north of Norway in the high Arctic. Read More

A chunk of interplanetary debris recently slammed into Mars and left this fresh crater and spray of ejecta

By Tom Yulsman | January 5, 2017 2:43 pm

A small crater and surrounding blast zone on Mars, as imaged by the HiRISE instrument on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on November 27, 2016. (Source: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

Small asteroids and chunks of cometary debris frequently slam into the surface of Mars, gouging out new craters. Thanks to a high resolution camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists can often spot such impacts relatively soon after they occur.

The image above, acquired by the orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment is a compelling example. It shows a crater and blast zone from an impact that likely occurred as recently as this past August, and no later than January 2014, according to HiRISE scientists.

The crater is about 13 feet acrossis about 13 across. That means the asteroid or comet fragment that gouged it out was probably about three to six feet across. Read More

On New Year’s Eve, this comet and the crescent moon will rendezvous in the sky to bid farewell to 2016

By Tom Yulsman | December 30, 2016 12:43 pm

If you have binocs, clear, dark skies, and some luck, Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková may be just the way to ring in the New Year

Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková, captured on October 1st, 2011. (Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková, captured on October 1st, 2011. (Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

Maybe you’ve seen stories about the comet that will supposedly provide some fireworks on New Year’s Eve, as it appears low on the western horizon?

As USA Today put it:

Apart from the traditional fireworks and illuminated ball in Times Square, look for a blazing comet to light the night sky on New Year’s Eve.

“Light the night sky”? Uhm, no. Not even remotely close. But if you’re properly equipped, and in the right place, Comet 45P may well put on a pretty — albeit subtle — show for you.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Comets, select, Top Posts

As seen from space: the sacred lands of Bears Ears — now protected as a national monument

By Tom Yulsman | December 29, 2016 10:00 pm

As far as I can tell, this is the first published satellite image of the newly created Bears Ears National Monument

Landsat-8 satellite image of the region encompassing the new Bears Ears National Monument, created under the Antiquities Act by President Barack Obama on Dec. 28, 2016.

Landsat-8 satellite image of the region encompassing the new Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, created under the Antiquities Act by President Barack Obama on Dec. 28, 2016.

Speaking of the wild western side of the Bears Ears buttes in Utah, Wallace Stegner wrote in 1969:

To start a trip at Mexican Hat, Utah, is to start off into empty space from the end of the world.

And now, 47 years later, a huge chunk of of this empty space — some 1.35 million acres of it, an area nearly as large as Delaware — has been set aside by President Barack Obama as the new Bears Ears National Monument.

I do have to respectfully disagree with Stegner on one point: This land is not at all empty space. In addition to some of the most spectacular geological features on Earth, it is filled with stunning rock art, ancient cliff dwellings, ceremonial sites, caches of untouched cultural remains, and countless other artifacts — much of it at increasing risk from vandals and looters.

As President Obama put it in his proclamation establishing the monument:

Rising from the center of the southeastern Utah landscape and visible from every direction are twin buttes so distinctive that in each of the native languages of the region their name is the same: Hoon’Naqvut, Shash Jáa, Kwiyagatu Nukavachi, Ansh An Lashokdiwe, or “Bears Ears.” For hundreds of generations, native peoples lived in the surrounding deep sandstone canyons, desert mesas, and meadow mountaintops, which constitute one of the densest and most significant cultural landscapes in the United States.

“The reason we are where we are now is because of the dignity and integrity of the tribal leaders,” says Charles Wilkinson, Distinguished Professor at the University of Colorado Law School. Wilkinson consulted with five tribes — the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni, and Ute Indian Tribe — as they produced the proposal for the monument that President Obama has now created, under authority granted by the Antiquities Act. Read More

Here’s what the the northern lights look like from 512 miles up in space: glowing swirls of diaphanous fog

By Tom Yulsman | December 28, 2016 10:31 am
northern lights

The VIIRS instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite captured this view of the aurora borealis during the nighttime hours of Dec. 22, 2016. The northern lights — those swirling, almost cloud-like features along the top of the of image — stretched across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut, and Northwest Territories. The point sources of light are cities and towns. (Source: NASA)

Just hours after the winter sosltice this month, particles blowing in the solar wind slammed into Earth’s magnetic field and kicked up quite the auroral ruckus.

northern lights

Source: NASA Earth Observatory

The Suomi NPP spacecraft, orbiting 512 miles overhead — more than twice as high as the International Space Station — recorded all the action over Canada on December 22. The image above is based on the data that the spacecraft’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, or VIIRs, gathered that night.

Click on the thumbnail at right for an annotated image that can help you get your geographic bearings.

And to get a sense of scale, check out this broader composite image (compiled using the spectacular SSEC Real Earth tool), showing almost all of North America: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: select, Sun, Top Posts


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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