Baked Australia: Bushfires Blaze as New Report Pins Blame for Intense Heat Waves on Climate Change

By Tom Yulsman | February 9, 2015 9:26 pm
Baked Australia

Australia as seen by NASA’s Terra satellite on Feb. 9, 2015. The black strips are areas of missing data. Note the plumes of smoke from bushfires in the far southwestern part of the country. (Source: NASA)

A new report out earlier this week says climate change is making Australia hotter, with anomalously warm days occurring more often and heat waves becoming hotter, longer and more frequent.

Perhaps the report should have been titled “Baked Australia” instead of “Quantifying the Impact of Climate Change on Extreme Heat in Australia.”

To be honest, at first I wasn’t going to post anything about this. That’s because the report, from Australia’s Climate Council, doesn’t seem to have much if anything  that has not been published before. It’s certainly useful as a synthesis of information. But then I grew concerned that its release was timed to stick a fork in the eye of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who was about to undergo a political near-death experience. More about that in a minute. But first…

Baked AustraliaAfter deciding not to post anything about the report, I noted that an intense heatwave was actually gripping a large portion of the country today (Feb. 9th) — and the forecast is for more. (Click the thumbnail at right.)

Also, two large bushfires continued to burn in the southwestern part of the country. You can see the plumes from one of them, in the image up top. Look in the extreme southwestern portion of the country. I wrote about these infernos a few days ago here. (And to see how one of them, near the town of Northcliffe, has evolved over the past 11 days, see the animation lower down in this post.)

Read More

How and Why It’s Weird Outside — In Six Images

By Tom Yulsman | February 7, 2015 3:23 pm

Temperature anomaly forecast for North America on Friday, Feb. 6. (Source: Climate Reanalyzer,, Climate Change Institute, University of Maine, USA)

Dateline — Niwot, Colorado, Feb. 6, 2015, 9:30 p.m.: 

Temperature: 65 degrees F. Normal low for this date: ~ 20.

Dateline — New York City, Feb. 6, 2015: 

Low temperature for the day: 16 degrees. Normal low: ~28

Dateline — Eureka, CA, Feb. 7, 2015: 

From KIEM TV: “Fifteen families have been stranded and several students relocated after weather related washouts and slides hit the North Coast. Fox Creek in Carlotta destroyed part of a private road taking out pavement and creating an almost 20 foot gap where that road used to be. It left families wondering what to do.”

Yes indeed, it sure seems weird outside. But if you need additional evidence, check out this photograph:


Ice floes on the Hudson River? Really? (iPhone photograph courtesy Claire Cornish)

My friend Claire Cornish shot this photograph with her iPhone on Friday along the shore of the Hudson River just north of New York City. In the distance, you can see the George Washington Bridge and Manhattan’s tall buildings.

And yes, those sure do look like ice floes…

What’s going on? The map at the top of this post gets at it, in graphic form: Weirdly warm in the West, and freakily frigid in the East. But why? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Extreme Weather, select, Top Posts, Weather

Whispers of Ecological Change in the Arctic Are Trying to Tell Us Something. Are We Listening?

By Tom Yulsman | February 6, 2015 3:19 pm

Brilliant shades of blue and green explode across the Barents Sea north of Norway and Russia in an image acquired on August 14, 2011, by NASA’s Aqua satellite. The color was created by a massive bloom of phytoplankton, which is common here in August. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Avery McGahaone of two master’s students who joined me in Tromsø, Norway to attend the Arctic Frontiers conference in January, 2014. It is supplemented with some additional reporting by me. McGaha’s trip was made possible by a grant from the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism

Following the recent announcement by NASA and NOAA that 2014 was likely the hottest year on record a loud controversy erupted over global warming. As DotEarth blogger Andrew Revkin pointed out, the fight was a distraction from the clear-cut, long-term trend of rising temperatures.

The noise about global warming overall has also tended to drown out relative whispers of subtle — but significant — change taking place at a variety of scales in the Arctic. These range from tiny organisms living underneath sea ice, all the way up to charismatic creatures like reindeer and walruses, as well as the food webs of which these living things are a part.

One example of the ecological whispers coming from the Arctic: Recent research has shown that warming in the Barents Sea north of Norway and Russia has caused an increase in the productivity of phytoplankton, tiny photosynthesizing organisms that sustain aquatic food webs. You can see a big, beautiful — and natural — bloom of phytoplankton in the satellite image above.

Satellite imagery and other forms of remote sensing comprise a powerful tool for monitoring the Arctic. But scientists also have been digging beneath these broad views and turning up other evidence of change.

Warmer and Wetter Winters

One example is the work of Brage Bremset Hansen, a population biologist at Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who spoke at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Norway in January. Read More

Smoke From Aussie Bushfires Blown Almost to Antarctica

By Tom Yulsman | February 5, 2015 10:33 am

Smoke from large bushfires in Western Australia streamed south almost to Antarctica, as detected by a sensor on the Suomi NPP satellite. (Source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Two big bushfires — one described as the largest in Western Australia’s recent history — have lofted large amounts of smoke high into the atmosphere, where it has been picked up by winds and blown 2,000 miles to the south.

Have a look at the image above, which was created using data from the Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite instrument, or OMPS, on the Suomi NPP satellite. The big magenta-colored spot to the south of Western Australia shows the highest concentration of aerosols from the smoke. When I follow the lighter blue plume from there to the south and east, I think I see some aerosols just off the coast of Antarctica. Read More

Arctic Bulls Forced to Cool Their Heels Even as Arctic Warms

By Tom Yulsman | February 4, 2015 9:04 am

Sea ice in the Davis Strait between Greenland and Canada, as seen from an aircraft on January 23, 2015. (Photo: © Tom Yulsman)

It seems that at least for now, the bloom is off the Arctic rose.

As an article in this week’s Economist argues, fervent hopes for developing the Arctic’s energy and minerals, and for using an Arctic sea route to ship goods between Asia and Europe more quickly, have faded.

Blame plunging petroleum prices that have made exploring for Arctic oil uneconomic — but not just that.

Despite global warming, which has caused the Arctic to warm faster than any other region, it is still an inhospitable place. And no amount of bullishness for development of resources there will make the natural up and down swings of weather and climate go away — swings that complicate the best laid plans of the Arctic bulls.

That said, the opportunities haven’t necessarily gone away either. But as is often the case, nature has turned out to be less cooperative than some would have liked.

At the center of it all is a paradox, one I’ve written about quite a lot here at ImaGeo — the polar paradox: Read More

Crisscrossing Glaciers

By Tom Yulsman | February 2, 2015 10:21 am
crisscrossing glaciers

A view of crisscrossing glaciers on Canada’s Baffin Island as seen out the window of a 747-400 on Jan. 23, 2015. (Photo: ©Tom Yulsman)

Pic of the Day

For a flight back from Europe on Jan. 23, I knew our great circle routing would take us very far north. So I made sure to snag a window seat in hopes that I’d get a chance to shoot some photos of ice sheets, glaciers and sea ice. I wasn’t disappointed.

I shot the photo above with my iPhone as we cruised over Auyuittuq National Park of Canada on Baffin Island. We had just crossed over the Davis Straight from Greenland and had made landfall in North America. I was struck by the lighting and the crisscrossing glaciers.

This area is very close to the Arctic Circle, so the day was only four hours long. That meant it was close to sunset when we were passing overhead — and the light was simply magical.

I decided to publish this as a Pic of the Day after seeing a pair of images of crisscrossing glaciers in Greenland on NASA’s Earth Observatory site. Here’s one of them: Read More

A Superstorm for Superbowl Sunday

By Tom Yulsman | February 1, 2015 12:22 pm

An animation consisting of false-color GOES-West satellite images of the huge storm in the northeastern Pacific Ocean.  (Source: Space Science & Engineering Center)

Just in time for the Superbowl: a super-sized storm swirling in the northeastern Pacific Ocean that’s pushing up waves possibly as high as apartment houses.

You can see it just south of Alaska in the animation of false-color weather satellite images above.

And here’s a true-color view, captured by NASA’s Terra satellite yesterday: Read More

“Buona notte dallo spazio!”

By Tom Yulsman | January 31, 2015 1:06 am

Earth, from the International Space Station, by Samantha Cristoforetti.

Pic of the Day

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti posted this absolutely stunning image to Twitter from the International Space Station on Friday, Jan. 30.

She included this message: “Buona notte dallo spazio!” (“Good night from space.”)

Completing one trip around the globe every 92 minutes, and cruising at 27,700 km (17,200 miles) per hour, Samantha and her colleagues aboard the ISS experience 15 or 16 sunrises and sunsets every day. So I’m looking forward to many more images like this.

Halfway Through Season, Snowpack in U.S. West Thins

By Tom Yulsman | January 30, 2015 5:49 pm

An animation showing snowpack in the western United States compares conditions at the end of January, 2011 and this year. (Maps: NOAA NOHRSC; Animation: Tom Yulsman)

January was not kind to snowpack in the mountains of the U.S. West — from which most residents of this part of the country derive their water.

This week is about the half-way mark for snow season in the West, and scientists have fanned out throughout the region to measure the amount of water locked in snow — a measure called “snow water equivalent.” This is a monthly ground-truthing exercise to back up an automated monitoring system called SNOTEL.

What they’ve been finding, combined with SNOTEL and drought data, is concerning.

I created the animation above to provide a visual sense of what’s happening. The first frame shows the snow water equivalent in the mountains of the West at the end of January 2011, when drought was absent from most of the region and conditions were closer to the long-term average. The second frame is from today.

The change is pretty obvious. Read More

Politicians and Oil Men Swoon at the Arctic’s Siren Call Even as Scientists Warn of the Rocks Ahead

By Tom Yulsman | January 29, 2015 6:47 pm

Scientists warn that we’re pushing the climate toward something akin to the Pliocene Epoch between 2.6 million and 5.3 million years ago. At that time, sea level may have been about 30 meters (~100 feet) higher than today. Here’s what that much sea level rise would do to New York City and surroundings. (Interactive sea level maps: Alex Tingle, Animation: Tom Yulsman)

From increasing heat, to melting snow and ice, and rising sea level, we’ve been getting a clearer picture of how Earth’s climate is changing and where it is probably heading in the next hundred years.

But what about beyond a century?

One way to gain some insight into that question is to study past climates when atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases were as high or higher than they are today. And not surprisingly, that research paints a picture of considerably less ice and much higher sea level.

But the past turns out to be an imperfect guide. That’s because there is little in the past to compare with how fast and hard we’re currently pushing the climate.

“The fact is we are changing things fast, and we really don’t know where we will end up and what the world will look like,” says Bjørg Risebrobakken, a climate scientist at Uni Research in Bergen, Norway.

This unsettling picture was my take-away from the science portion of the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Norway last week, where Risebrobakken spoke about her research on climate change in the north.

A very different picture emerged from the policy section of the conference, which featured a European prince, prime ministers, diplomats, high officials, oil industry executives, and analysts.

To be sure, I didn’t hear anyone deny the reality of significant human-caused climate change — a refreshing difference from those 49 Republican U.S. senators who did just that in a recent vote. Read More


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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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