Images captured from orbit show disturbing views of smoke billowing from California’s wildfires

By Tom Yulsman | August 8, 2018 2:56 pm
Smoke cloud rising from Ferguson Fire

An astronaut aboard the International Space Station took this photo of a towering pyrocumulus cloud rising from the Ferguson Fire near Yosemite National Park. Make sure to click on the image and then click again to view close-up details. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)

When California’s 2018 wildfire season is over — if it actually ends — it may well be remembered as the summer of the “new normal.”

That is, of course, the meme that has exploded across news and social media this summer as an extraordinary series of wildfires has scorched vast swaths of California.

I’m not actually sure why the meme didn’t take hold last year, which was both the deadliest and most destructive year for wildfires in the state’s history, with at least 41 people killed and 9,393 structures destroyed. All told, wildfires scorched 1,266,224 acres of the state in 2017 — an area approaching half the size of the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

In any case, I’ll save the concept of “new normal” for a future post. Here, I thought I would simply offer a selection of compelling remote sensing imagery of still-burning California wildfires, with some statistics and science woven in for context.

Let’s start with the image at the top of this post. Read More

Earth’s climatic report card is out — and we humans are still receiving a failing grade

By Tom Yulsman | August 1, 2018 5:10 pm

Annual climate report finds that as CO2 continues to accumulate at an increasing rate, 2017 was among the hottest years on record

The world has experienced an increasing number of hot days since 1950, relative to the average for 1961-1990. (Source: NOAA, adapted from BAMS State of the Climate in 2017 Report)

The world has experienced an increasing number of hot days since 1950, relative to the average for 1961-1990. (Source: NOAA, adapted from BAMS State of the Climate in 2017 Report)

As abnormally warm temperatures continue to grip much of western North America, a new climate report finds that last year was the warmest on record that did not receive a temperature boost from El Niño.

Considering all years, the 28th annual State of the Climate report confirms that in records dating back to 1880, 2017 saw the second or third highest global average temperature, depending on the dataset used.

The cause? Carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases we humans are pouring into the atmosphere. As noted in the report: Read More

Satellite imagery reveals a shocking blanket of thick smoke smothering huge portions of California and Oregon

By Tom Yulsman | July 30, 2018 1:15 am

The smoke has drifted far, all the way to Colorado, Texas and beyond

Wildfire smoke enshrouds large portions of California and Oregon, as seen by NASA's Aqua satellite on Sunday, July 29, 2018. (Source: NASA Worldview)

Wildfire smoke enshrouds large portions of California and Oregon, as seen by NASA’s Aqua satellite on Sunday, July 29, 2018. (Source: NASA Worldview)

Since I began this blog in 2013, I’ve seen a lot of satellite imagery of wildfires burning in the American West. Yet despite that experience, I have to admit that when I first saw this image, acquired by NASA’s Aqua satellite today, I was blown away by just how much of California and Oregon are being smothered by thick blankets of choking wildfire smoke.

Thanks to a stubborn ridge of high pressure that has brought soaring, fire-stoking temperatures to a large portion of the West, there are very few clouds visible in the image. Those that are present are bright white in color. That leaves the thick and sprawling patches of wildfire smoke, identifiable by its grayish, bluish and tan tones.

The Tweet above is from the day before, showing Northern California, a large portion of Nevada, and a sliver of Oregon. The amount of smoke is stunning.

The most dangerous inferno now burning in the West is the Carr Fire, which late last Thursday and early Friday rampaged into Redding, California. As I’m writing this on Sunday night, six people have perished. The blaze has destroyed 874 structures so far, according to CalFire. Another 5,000 or so are threatened.

Shifting winds, brutal heat, desiccated vegetation, and steep landscape contributed to rapid growth of the Carr Fire today. It has spread across 95,368 acres — a third of the size of the City of Los Angeles — and is still just 17 percent contained. Read More

Watch as California’s devastating Carr fire explodes, sending a giant smoke cloud soaring into the atmosphere

By Tom Yulsman | July 27, 2018 4:32 pm

A satellite was watching as the blaze expanded by half the size of San Francisco and began its deadly rampage into a California city

Carr Fire

An animation of satellite images shows a giant cloud erupting from California’s Carr Fire late in the afternoon of July 26, 2018. (Note: If the animation does not load after you click on the screenshot, make sure to hit ‘play’ in the upper left corner of the animation website. If there is a delay, try refreshing the page. Source: RAMMB/CIRA/SLIDER

Moving erratically and with blazing speed, Northern California’s Carr fire tore into the city of Redding late yesterday. By this morning, two firefighters had perished — and conditions were ripe for continued expansion of the inferno.

“This fire is making a significant push into the northwestern portion of Redding,” said Unified Incident Commander Chief Brett Gouvea during a briefing yesterday. “We ask everyone to heed evacuation orders, and leave promptly. This fire is extremely dangerous and moving with no regard for what’s in its path.”

The Carr Fire exploded from 28,000 acres late Thursday to 44,450 acres by Friday morning. That means the fire expanded by more than half the size of the city of San Francisco.

As of the latest update from CalFire, the inferno was just three percent contained. Sixty-five structures have been destroyed. And at least 37,000 people have been forced to evacuate.

An animation I put together of GOES-16 weather satellite images shows the moment when the Carr Fire exploded late in the day on Thursday. In the screenshot above, I’ve marked where to look.

Once you’ve got your bearings by looking closely at the screenshot, click on it for the animation. You’ll be taken to another website to watch it. If it doesn’t begin right away, make sure to click ‘play’ in the upper left corner. (And if there is a delay, try refreshing the page.) The animation starts at about 7:30 a.m. on Thursday. The massive cloud begins to erupt at about 5:15 p.m.

It is what’s known as a pyrocumulus cloud. Here’s an explanation from the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies: Read More

Whoa! What are these weird whirlpools spotted by satellites on opposite sides of the planet?

By Tom Yulsman | July 26, 2018 6:32 pm
Plankton whirlpool

Satellite image of green vortex swirling in the Gulf of Finland on July 18. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)

I hope you’ll excuse the exaggerated exuberance in the headline, but when I saw the image above, and then the animation lower down in this story, my first reaction really was to exclaim out loud “whoa!”

I was really struck by the two very curious whirlpool-like features on opposite sides of Earth — one gigantic the other small, one eerily green and the other swirling over a red desert. And so I decided to try to shoehorn them into one ImaGeo post! Here goes…

At first, the glowing green whirlpool seen in the image above seemed wondrous: It turns out to be a giant bloom of phytoplankton in the Gulf of Finland that has been swirled into a vortex by an ocean eddy. It was imaged on July 18, 2018 by the the Landsat 8 satellite, according to a NASA Earth Observatory story. Read More

A heat wave bringing critical and extreme fire weather is arriving as California and Oregon wildfires continue to rage

By Tom Yulsman | July 23, 2018 5:22 pm
NASA's Terra satellite acquired this image of California and Oregon on July 23, 2018. (Source: NASA Worldview)

Satellite view of California and Oregon on July 23, 2018. Smoke from the Ferguson Fire near Yosemite National Park is visible in the lower right quadrant. Another sprawling smoke pall can be seen in southern Oregon at upper left. (Click to open the image and then click again to zoom in. Source: NASA Worldview)

You may have heard about California’s Ferguson Fire, which has killed one firefighter and is threatening to spread into Yosemite National Park. But a series of other fires, sparked by lighting to the north, are also raging.

And now, thousands of firefighters struggling to contain the blazes must contend with a heat wave descending on the region.

In the image above, acquired today (Monday, July 23) by NASA’s Terra satellite, look for a thick pall of smoke in the lower right quadrant. This is the Ferguson Fire.

Another sprawling area of smoke is seen in the upper left quadrant. This is from the fires in southern Oregon. The smoke can be distinguished from wispy white clouds by it’s grayish and, in some places, bluish cast.

Here’s a closer view of the Oregon fires:

NASA's Terra satellite captured this view of wildfires burning in northern California and southern Oregon on July 22, 2018. (Source: NASA Worldview)

Satellite view of wildfires burning in southern Oregon (plus one in northern California) on July 22, 2018. (Source: NASA Worldview)

In the image, dense smoke from multiple conflagrations is visible. Red dots indicate where the satellite detected the heat signature of fire.

One phenomenon worth mentioning: Check out how smoke has filled in some of the valleys, highlighting their dendritic nature. Read More

Satellite images refute claim that deadly Branson thunderstorm “came out of nowhere”

By Tom Yulsman | July 21, 2018 2:49 pm

Weather forecasts and remote sensing imagery show that the Branson duck boat tragedy was avoidable

Satellite imagery shows development of severe thunderstorms in southwest Missouri on July 19, 2918. In early evening, tragedy struck in Branson, Missouri

An animation of GOES-16 weather satellite images shows the development of severe thunderstorms in southwest Missouri on July 19, 2918. Note: The animation may take a little time to load after you click on the screenshot above. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA)

The duck boat tragedy in Branson, Missouri, was made all the more horrible by the fact that it was completely avoidable.

While Jim Pattison Jr., president of the company that owns Ride the Ducks Branson, claimed the storm “came out of nowhere,” nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, a severe thunderstorm watch had been issued by the National Weather Service at 11:20 a.m. Central time, nearly eight hours before the sinking. The watch stated that winds could gust to 75 miles per hour.

In the animation above of GOES-16 weather satellite images, you can see the stormy weather already developing at 18:00 UTC, or 1 p.m. Central time.

Then, at least a half hour before the tragedy, the weather service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Table Rock Lake, site of the sinking. A ‘warning’ means severe weather is imminent or already occurring, and people in the affected area should seek safe shelter immediately.

As it turned out, the vicious  thunderstorm outflow gusts that sank the boat were clocked at 63 miles per hour.

As Mike Smith, a retired meteorologist with AccuWeather put it in a blog post: Read More

On the anniversary of the first Moon landing 49 years ago, here are some stunning images you may have never seen

By Tom Yulsman | July 20, 2018 7:55 pm
Man on the Moon — for the first time. July 20, 1969. Apollo 11.

Man on the Moon — for the first time. July 20, 1969. (Source: NASA/Project Apollo Archive)

It has been not quite a half-century since human beings stepped foot on another planetary body for the first time.

Forty-nine years ago today, to be exact.

It was on July 20, 1969 when Neil A. Armstrong, Commander of the Apollo 11 mission, descended the steps of the Lunar Module and upon reaching the surface uttered these instantly famous words: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” (Btw, if you think he didn’t actually say “a man,” thereby committing a grammatical faux pas, read this.)

He was followed to the surface by the LEM pilot, Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. Meanwhile, Michael Collins orbited overhead in the Command Module, to which Armstrong and Aldrin would later return for the ride home.

I was 13 years old at the time, and I still have vivid memories of the live television broadcast of the first Moon walk. But even more memorable than that were the still images the Apollo 11 astronauts made while on the surface. And it is to those that I’m dedicating this anniversary post.

While on the surface, the astronauts shot with the Hasselblad 500EL Data Camera with Reseau plate, fitted with a Zeiss Biogon 60mm ƒ/5.6 lens. The resulting images are mostly astonishingly sharp. And some are incredibly well known.

But to commemorate the anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, I wanted to put together a selection of mostly lesser known images. I wouldn’t call the ones I’m including here outtakes. They’re more like photos you shoot that don’t make it into a photo album of some sort, but nonetheless still have great value. Read More

The heat goes on: NASA pegs last month in a tie for third warmest June in 138 years of modern record keeping

By Tom Yulsman | July 18, 2018 5:17 pm

Although NOAA’s just-released analysis differs somewhat, both show that June 2018 continued the long-term global warming trend

Global temperature anomalies in June 2018

Departures of temperatures during June from the 1951-1980 average. (Source: NASA GISS)

Last month tied with June 1998 as the third warmest such month since 1880.

Only June 2015 and 2016 were warmer, according to the monthly analysis released this week by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Today, the National Oceanic and Administration issued its own, independent analysis, with somewhat different results: June 2018 was the fifth warmest, according to NOAA.

The rankings differ because the two agencies use different methods to analyze global temperatures. But over the long-term, their global temperature records have been in strong agreement. For example, the analyses from both agencies show that the ten warmest Junes on record have all occurred since 2005. Read More

Smoke from Siberian fires blows all the way to Canada — and is seen by a satellite nearly a million miles from Earth

By Tom Yulsman | July 16, 2018 5:01 pm
A smoke plume across Canada was visible to a spacecraft a million miles away.

NASA’s EPIC camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory spacecraft, known as DSCOVR, captured this image of Earth on June 9, 2018, when it was 993,764 miles from Earth. Bluish-gray wildfire smoke is visible. (Image: NASA GFSC. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

We’ve become accustomed to striking imagery of wildfires captured by earth-monitoring satellites, including weather satellites stationed about 26,000 miles from the surface.

That may seem amazing enough (it always does to me). But check out the image above of a plume of wildfire smoke so big and thick that it was visible to a satellite nearly a million miles away.

Make sure to click on the image so see a larger version, and then click again to enlarge it. You’ll see a faint yet visible pall of smoke mainly over Canada. It’s bluish in contrast to clouds, which are much whiter.

SEE ALSO: A blanket of smoke from fires in Siberia is so huge it can be seen from nearly 1 million miles away in space

The image was acquired by the EPIC camera aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory. DSCOVR’s main role is to monitor the Sun for massive eruptions of material toward us that could disrupt communications networks, electrical grids and other systems. But the EPIC camera watches Earth, and on June 9th, it spotted that massive smoke plume.

In case you doubt that it’s smoke, check out this much closer view from a weather satellite: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Remote Sensing, select, Top Posts, Wildfire


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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