Fishing activities take up four times as much area as agriculture—and can now be monitored in real time

By Tom Yulsman | February 25, 2018 1:24 pm

The global footprint of fishing is even bigger than expected. But a novel monitoring tool could help put it on a more sustainable path.


An interactive website powered by a dataset and algorithm detailed in a new study allows the global footprint of fishing to be tracked in real-time — down to the level of individual vessels. See below for details on how to use the website. (Source: Global Fishing Watch)

To satisfy our hunger, we humans catch something on the order of one trillion fish ever year — a yield that amounts to more than 90 million tons of animal flesh.

We’re clearly the top predator of the seas. But just how much of the oceans are being fished at an industrial scale, what are the patterns, and how are they changing over time? Answering those questions could help us make fishing more sustainable.

And now, scientists have come up with some answers.

Using common ship-tracking technology, and self-learning computer programs to process huge volumes of data, a team of researchers has produced the first ever picture of the global footprint of fishing.

That footprint is, in a word, gargantuan.

Fishing activity now spreads across more than 55 percent of the world’s oceans, according to the new study, published in the journal Science. That’s an area four times greater than all the farmed land on Earth.

Global footprint of fishing

Source: The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

According to the research, 70,000 fishing vessels traveled nearly 286 million miles in 2016. This is equivalent to traveling to the Moon and back 600 times.

“I think most people will be surprised that until now we didn’t really know where people were fishing in vast swaths of the ocean,” says co-author Christopher Costello, a professor at the University of California Santa Barbara.

But the researchers didn’t just produce a static picture of fishing’s imprint. They’ve created a dynamic, interactive dataset, called “Global Fishing Watch,” that makes it possible to monitor the footprint in real time, right down to the level of individual ships. Read More

Watch: Not just one but TWO hurricane-force storms swirling in the North Atlantic Ocean

By Tom Yulsman | February 22, 2018 8:51 pm
An animation of GOES-16 weather satellite images shows two hurricane-force storms swirling in the North Atlantic Ocean over the course of about 16 hours starting on Feb. 18, 2018. (Source: RAMMB GOES-16 loop of the day)

An animation of GOES-16 weather satellite images of the North Atlantic Ocean starting on Feb. 18, 2018 and covering about 16 hours. (Source: RAMMB GOES-16 loop of the day)

In recent days, two powerful storms packing hurricane-force winds have spun up in the North Atlantic. You can watch them in the animation above of GOES-16 satellite imagery. It was posted to the awesome GOES-16 Loop of the Day website.

The storm closer to North America was so strong that it churned the waters up into stupendous waves higher than 60 feet tall:

That would be almost high enough to inundate the White House. Read More

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

Rather than growing like it should in winter, sea ice off Alaska has been shrinking dramatically

By Tom Yulsman | February 18, 2018 3:07 pm

Meanwhile, ice losses elsewhere allowed a Russian tanker to make the first ever independent winter crossing of the Arctic

A decline in sea ice in the Bering Sea is seen in this animation covering Feb. 6-16, 2018. Lower sea ice concentrations are seen in darker blue colors. One hundred percent ice coverage (and snow as well) is shown in white. The animation consists of imagery from NASA's Terra satellite with an overlay of microwave data from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. (Source: NASA Worldview)

This should not be happening: a dramatic wintertime decline in sea ice in the Bering Sea between Feb. 6-16. Darker blue colors show areas with the lowest sea ice concentrations. One hundred percent ice coverage (and snow as well) is shown in white. Western Alaska is at the bottom, the Aleutians to the left, and Siberia in the upper right. From top to bottom, the scene covers about 600 miles. The animation consists of imagery from NASA’s Terra satellite with an overlay of microwave data from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. (Images and sea ice data: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

The Bering Sea off Alaska’s west coast has just experienced a shocking loss of ice over a 10-day period — in winter.

See the graph below for the details. To my eye it looks like sea ice extent declined from about 420,000 square kilometers on Feb. 6 to about 260,000 square kilometers on the 16th.

Dramatic decline in wintertime sea ice in the Bering Sea

Trends in ice extent for the Bering Sea off Alaska’s west coast. (Source: Multisensor Analyzed Sea Ice Extent/NSIDC)

That’s a drop of 38 percent (and an area of lost ice a little smaller than Wisconsin) — just when the ice should be expanding toward a cold season peak in March. Read More

As Trump Seeks Climate Funding Cuts, Intelligence Community Highlights Risks

By Tom Yulsman | February 15, 2018 11:27 am
As the world warms, and risks of extreme weather mounts, the U.S. intelligence community highlights the risks to national security.

This animation shows how global temperatures in 2017 varied from the long-term average. Click on the image to watch the animation, which shows temperature anomalies in degrees Fahrenheit on a spinning globe. (Source: NASA Scientific Visualization Studio)

New research suggests that large parts of the world are headed for record-breaking extreme weather events. At the same time, the U.S. intelligence community has broken with President Trump on the threats posed by climate change and other environmental challenges.

Meanwhile, the president is proposing to slash climate science and renewable energy research while boosting investments in oil, gas and coal — the fuels driving global warming.

According to the new research, even if nations manage to meet the temperature target they’ve agreed to in the Paris climate agreement, the planet is likely to see “substantial and widespread increases in the probability of historically unprecedented extreme events.” The study was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

The Paris agreement commits the 174 countries that have signed it to limiting global warming to no more than 2 degrees C above preindustrial levels. But according to the study, led by by Stanford University climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh, even with nations’ pledges to reduce greenhouse gases under the agreement, the planet will likely shoot through that goal to warming of 3 degrees C.

“We find that humans have already increased the probability of historically unprecedented hot, warm, wet, and dry extremes, including over 50 to 90% of North America, Europe, and East Asia,” Diffenbaugh and his colleagues concluded.

Even before the study was published, the U.S. intelligence community was signaling its concern about the threats to security posed by climate change.

Read More

A NASA satellite spotted this strangely prominent pattern of long, sinuous clouds over the Pacific

By Tom Yulsman | February 14, 2018 4:31 pm

The conspiracy-minded will shout “chemtrails.” Of course that’s nonsense. But just what is creating these clouds?

Ship tracks

The northeast Pacific as seen by NASA’s Terra satellite. (Source: NASA Worldview)

I have to admit that I was a little taken aback when I saw these long, sinuous cloud shapes snaking across the northeast Pacific Ocean.

The image, captured by NASA’s Terra satellite on Feb. 12, 2018, covers a huge amount of territory — as is evident if you look to the extreme right, where a good portion of the west coast of North America is visible.

Before I get into what’s creating these features, let’s get something out of the way immediately: These are not so-called chemtrails — evidence of widespread spraying of chemicals that’s part of a government conspiracy to control our minds or, well, whatever. The chemtrail conspiracy has been soundly debunked, including by a survey of 77 atmospheric and geochemists.

Click to see typical airliner routes between the U.S. West Coast and Asia. (Source: Great Circle Mapper)

Click to see typical airliner routes between the U.S. West Coast on the Great Circle Mapper website.

Moving right along… I also quickly dismissed the notion that these were airliner contrails. That’s because these don’t look anything like typical routes between North America and Asia. (Click the thumbnail image at right to see what those routes look like.)

Okay, maybe military aircraft? I don’t think so. That would be a huge number of them covering a vast amount of territory.

And then finally I had my aha moment: ship exhaust! Read More

Does this huge warm water blob herald an end to La Niña?

By Tom Yulsman | February 12, 2018 11:56 am
Is La Niña waning?

Departure from average of the surface and subsurface tropical Pacific sea temperature averaged over five-day periods starting in early January 2018. The vertical axis shows depth below the surface in meters, and the horizontal axis is longitude, from the western to eastern tropical Pacific. This cross-section is right along the equator. (Source: ENSO Blog/ figure from Climate Prediction Center data.)

La Niña is still with us and influencing drought and other weather patterns in the United States and elsewhere.

But check out the animation above. That large mass of warm water coursing through the depths of the Pacific Ocean may signal that by this spring, La Nada will be with us.

The warm blob and other signs have prompted the Climate Prediction Center to peg the odds of La Niña fading to neutral conditions at 55 percent during the March through May season. Read More

Arctic Sea Ice Just Set Another Record Low—In Winter

By Tom Yulsman | February 8, 2018 5:39 pm

And what’s happening in the New Arctic is not staying there

The New Arctic

I shot this iPhone photo of Arctic sea ice in the Davis Strait between Greenland and Baffin Island while flying from Iceland to Denver on Jan. 30, 2018. (Photo: ©Tom Yulsman)

Another month, yet another record low for Arctic sea ice extent in a warming world.

January’s average ice extent in the Arctic was 525,000 square miles below the 1981-to-2010 average, making it the lowest January extent in the satellite record. This is an astonishingly large loss of ice — equivalent to 80 percent of Alaska.

But what happened in January was equally, if not more significant, for its timing. It happened when the Arctic was gripped by frigid, polar weather.

Record lows in the Arctic once occurred mostly in September — at the end of summer when relatively warm temperatures naturally cause the frozen lid of sea ice to shrink to an annual minimum extent. With human-caused warming added on top of relatively mild summer temperatures, record melt-backs in summer perhaps are not so surprising.

But now, dramatic reductions in sea ice are occurring more and more often during the cold season.

“Now we are seeing winter really get into the act as well,” says NSIDC director Mark Serreze. “The shrinking Arctic sea ice cover is no longer something that just stands out in summer.”

This shift to record lows in winter, scientists say, is yet another indication that human activities have already transformed the region into what they’re calling “the new Arctic.” Read More

The Naked Sun — Where Have All Its Spots Gone?

By Tom Yulsman | February 6, 2018 12:17 pm
The Naked Sun

Look ma’! No spots!… The Sun on January 26th, 2018. (Source: Solar Dynamics Observatory, NASA)

The Sun recently decided to go naked for awhile, as is evident from this image acquired by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

It lost its spots.

The image is from a video posted by NASA showing the Sun going naked from Jan. 26th to Jan. 30th, when a very small, lonely spot finally turns up. In fact, NASA says that with the exception of this one spot, the Sun was naked for almost two weeks.

Spotless periods like this are common as the Sun approaches the low point in its 11-year solar cycle. We’re headed for that minimum next year.

By contrast, during the peak of a solar cycle, the Sun is freckled with many spots. These crackle with intense magnetic activity producing flashes of x-rays and extreme ultraviolet radiation that can bathe the Earth. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: select, Sun, Top Posts

Hot, Dry Conditions Take a Heavy Toll on Western U.S. Snowpack

By Tom Yulsman | February 4, 2018 1:19 pm
An animation of satellite images shows just how much thinner the snowpack in California's Sierra Nevada range is this year compared to the same time last year. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

An animation of satellite images shows just how much thinner the snowpack in California’s Sierra Nevada range is this year compared to the same time last year. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

Thanks especially to warm temperatures, plus a lack of precipitation, the snowpack in most of the Western United States is in bad shape right now — nowhere worse than in California’s Sierra Nevada range.

For all but the northern reaches of the region, snowpack stands at no more than about 50 percent of average, and in many places it’s much worse.

For California, snowpack as of today, Feb. 4, is at just 25 percent of normal.

Luckily, the state’s reservoirs are still brimming with water, thanks to last year’s copious rain and snowfall. This will provide a sizable cushion for the year ahead should warm temperatures and scant precipitation continue.

“There’s still a lot of the winter left,” says Frank Gehrke of California’s Department of Water Resources, quoted by the Sacramento Bee. “Anything can happen as we move through the rest of the season.”

Still, the comparison with last year couldn’t be more stark — as the animation of satellite images above dramatizes. Both images were collected by NASA’s Terra satellite as it passed over the Sierra Nevada range. An image taken on Jan. 29, 2017 shows an extensive blanket of snow, whereas one acquired on Feb. 3rd of this year shows shockingly less.

Read More

Fighter Pilot, Satellites Spy Swirling Vortex of Clouds off of Southern California

By Tom Yulsman | February 4, 2018 10:54 am

Satellite view of a von Kármán vortex near San Clemente Island off Southern California on Feb. 1, 2018. (Source: NASA Worldview)

Check out this image captured Thursday by NASA’s Aqua satellite. See that swirling vortex, complete with a clear eye? It has formed just off the coast of San Clemente Island to the west of San Diego.

Here’s what it looked like to an F-18 fighter pilot flying directly over the feature:

This is a classic von Kármán vortex, a cyclonic swirl of clouds that can develop when winds are diverted around a big obstacle such an island. The vortices form quite commonly off California as winds interact with coastal topography and the Channel Islands — in this case, San Clemente Island. 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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