Giant Fire Clouds Over California

By Tom Yulsman | August 6, 2014 1:21 am
A developing pyrocumulus cloud above the Oregon Gulch fire, part of the Beaver Complex fire. Photographed from an Oregon Air National Guard F-15C fighter jet by James Haseltine on July 31, 2014, at 8:20 PM Pacific Daylight Time. (Source: Nasa Earth Observatory)

A developing pyrocumulus cloud above the Oregon Gulch fire, part of the Beaver Complex fire. Photographed from an Oregon Air National Guard F-15C fighter jet by James Haseltine on July 31, 2014, at 8:20 PM Pacific Daylight Time. (Photo: James Haseltine via NASA Earth Observatory)

On Sunday, I posted satellite images of massive fire clouds billowing from wildfires raging along the California-Oregon border.

On Tuesday, NASA’s Earth Observatory weighed in with more details, as well as spectacular photographs taken on the evening of July 31 by James Haseltine from an Oregon Air National Guard F-15C fighter jet — including the one above.

And this one too: Read More

After a 4-Billion-Mile Journey, the Rosetta Probe is Less than a Day Away from Historic Rendezvous With a Comet

By Tom Yulsman | August 5, 2014 11:16 am

The Rosetta space probe captured this image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on August 4, 2014 from a distance of about 234 kilometers (145 miles). The spacecraft is less than a day away from its final rendezvous. (Please click the image for a spectacular closeup view of the comet’s surface. Source: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM)

The Rosetta spacecraft is poised to make history.

If all continues to go well, it will complete its rendezvous with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at 8 GMT tomorrow, Aug. 6 (4 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time), and settle into orbit.

This would be a first: No spacecraft has ever orbited a comet before.

Rosetta is now closer to the comet than the International Space Station is to the surface of Earth — and the image above shows that the view is already quite spectacular. The spacecraft’s NAVCAM camera acquired the image yesterday.

Read More

Double Trouble for Hawaii: Iselle and Julio

By Tom Yulsman | August 5, 2014 12:26 am
double trouble

NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image of Hurricane Iselle, to the left, and Tropical Storm Julio, to the right, on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. Both are headed toward Hawaii. (Source: NASA)

Heads up Hawaii: Double trouble is headed your way in the form of two tropical cyclones.

The image above, acquired Monday (Aug. 4) by NASA’s Terra satellite, shows the situation: Hurricane Iselle to the left, and Tropical Storm Julio to the right. Both are expected to affect the Hawaiian Islands in the coming week.

As I write this late on Monday night, Iselle is a strong storm with winds over 130 miles per hour, qualifying her as a Category 4 cyclone. Iselle also has the distinction of being a very rare “annular” cyclone, according to Jeff Masters, chief meteorologist for Weather Underground. This means it features a thick eye wall and a dearth of spiral bands. Read More


Holy Toledo! This Nasty Lake Erie Algae Bloom is the Likely Source of the Toxin Causing Your Drinking Water Woes

By Tom Yulsman | August 3, 2014 7:16 pm

An algae bloom in the western part of Lake Erie just offshore of Toledo, Ohio is visible in this image captured today (Aug. 3) by NASA’s Terra satellite.

Do you see it? The green slime at the western end of Lake Erie in the satellite image above? That could be the source of the toxins  that have caused the city of Toledo, Ohio to impose a drinking water ban affecting 500,000 people.

The ban continued today, as further testing revealed evidence of the toxin microcystin in a drinking water plant.

Microcystin is produced by blooms of cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae. In the image from NASA’s Terra satellite above, a widespread bloom is evident; whether it contains the the cyanobacteria that produce microcystin I can’t say for sure. But I’d put money on it.

I didn’t want to say this in the headline, because I didn’t want to seem sensationalistic: Mycrocystin-LR, which is commonly produced by cyanobacteria blooms, is actually more toxic than sodium cyanide.  So no wonder Toledo imposed the drinking water ban!

According to an “urgent water notice” from the city:

Chemists testing water at Toledo’s Collins Park Water Treatment Plant had two sample readings for microcystin in excess of the recommended “DO NOT DRINK” 1 microgram per liter standard.  This notice applies to ALL customers of Toledo water.

What happens if you should drink the stuff?:  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, select, Top Posts

Heat, Drought and Lightning Spark Upsurge in Wildfires

By Tom Yulsman | August 3, 2014 6:08 pm

Natural and false color views of wildfires burning in California and Oregon alternate in this animation of images captured Aug. 2, 2014 by NASA’s Aqua satellite. (Source: NASA)

Wildfire activity is really picking up in California and Oregon, thanks to extreme drought, high temperatures and lightning crackling across the region.

In California alone, the area burned by wildfire has quadrupled since last Wednesday.

The animation above consists of natural and false color satellite images acquired yesterday by NASA’s Aqua satellite. In it, I count at least five wildfires. The biggest plume, toward the top, is streaming from a fire in the lightning-started Beaver Complex, which as of this morning had burned about 32,000 acres and was only 10 percent contained, according to Inciweb.

The complex consists of the Salt Creek Fire about 20 miles northwest of Medford, and the Oregon Gulch Fire about 15 miles east of Ashland. The latter blaze was discovered on July 31 and spread southeast from the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument into California.

The natural-color image in the animation at the top of the post accentuates the smoke streaming off the fires, and what appear to be towering pyrocumulus clouds. These form when intense heating from a wildfire (or a volcanic eruption for that matter) creates air currents that pull water vapor high into the atmosphere. As it cools the water vapor condenses, creating clouds that look very similar to thunderheads. (For more on pyrocumulus clouds, check out this excellent explanation.)

The false color image in the animation up top accentuates areas of active burning, as well as burned over ground. Read More

Pure Dumb Luck Saved Us from a Calamity in 2012 Sparked by One of the Strongest Solar Storms in Recorded History

By Tom Yulsman | August 2, 2014 1:27 am

On July 23, 2012, billions of tons of plasma exploded from the Sun and raced out into space in what was one of the most powerful solar storms ever recorded.

And it’s only by chance that Earth wasn’t in the way of this gargantuan coronal mass ejection, or CME.

“If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces,” Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado told NASA.

And that may be putting it mildly. A CME of the size that almost hit us in July of 2o12 would probably knock out satellites we depend on for modern telecommunications and also cause global blackouts lasting for months.

Everything that plugs into a wall socket would be disabled. And as NASA puts it, “Most people wouldn’t even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps.”

For a good overview of the solar storm that almost caused this kind of mayhem in 2012, and how it compared to the notorious Carrington event of September, 1859 (which set telegraph lines on fire and caused auroral displays as far south as Cuba), check out the video above.

“I have come away from our recent studies more convinced than ever that Earth and its inhabitants were incredibly fortunate that the 2012 eruption happened when it did,” Baker says. “If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire.” Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: select, Solar System, Sun, Top Posts

Even as Spectacular Storms Bring Relief to U.S. Southwest, Drought Conditions Persist — and Worsen in California

By Tom Yulsman | July 31, 2014 5:59 pm

A massive thunderhead blossoming over the Manzano Mountains, about 30 miles southeast of Albuquerque, New Mexico, as photographed on the evening of Wednesday, July 30th, 2014 by photojournalist Jerry Redfern.  (Photograph: © Jerry Redfern)

After a profound lack of precipitation, parts of the Southwestern United States have finally begun to get some desperately needed relief.

New Mexico, where the spectacular photo above was taken yesterday, has been suffering through four years of drought. And while the drought hasn’t ended (not by a long shot), the storms have finally come — in very dramatic fashion.

Overall, rainfall totals through July 29th have been twice normal in several New Mexico locations, according to the latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor, out today. Albuquerque has accumulated 3.34 inches — a whopping 242 percent of normal. That has made it the wettest July on record for the city.

Rainfall since late June has almost made up the precipitation deficit for the entire year, at least as measured at Albuquerque’s airport.

A friend and colleague, Jerry Redfern, who lives just south of the city, took the photograph above yesterday evening. The massive thunderhead blossomed just east of the Manzano Mountains. Jerry reports that it produced half-dollar sized hail and winds above 60 miles per hour.

Thunderstorm activity in the region also produced spectacular displays of lightning: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, select, Top Posts, Weather

Possibly Toxic Cyanobacteria Bloom Mucks up Baltic Sea

By Tom Yulsman | July 29, 2014 2:36 pm

A thick bloom of cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, along the shore at Torö, Sweden, near Stockholm. (Photograph: Courtesy Susanna Baltscheffsky)

Summer sun, warm temperatures, and pollution have all combined to brew up an explosion of potentially toxic cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, in the Baltic Sea.

You can see the nasty muck up close in the photo above, taken on Sunday by a friend in Torö, Sweden, near Stockholm. On the same day that she posted the picture to Facebook, I spotted a view of the Baltic bloom on NOAA’s Environmental Visualization Laboratory web site:


A massive bloom of phytoplankton containing possibly toxic cyanobacteria swirls in the Baltic Sea on July 24, 2014. The image, captured by the VIIRS instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite, shows features not ordinarily apparent in normal visible imagery. (Source: NOAA/NASA)

In this image, Sweden is to the left. It was captured on July 24 by the VIIRS instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite. (For a Google map of the region, click here.)

Blooms of cyanobacteria can contain different species — including toxic forms that can cause a variety of exceedingly unpleasant effects in humans. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says “cyanotoxins” produced by these bacteria can include: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Pollution, select, Top Posts, Water

Earth Art: Wildfire Abstraction

By Tom Yulsman | July 20, 2014 1:01 pm

Wildfire smoke filling valleys in British Columbia creates an abstract pattern in this highly processed image based on data acquired by NASA’s Aqua satellite on July 16, 2014. (Source image: NASA. Processed image: © Tom Yulsman)

By mid-afternoon on Saturday, July 19th, raging wildfires in Oregon and Washington had consumed 947,583 acres, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. That’s an area more than three times the size of New York City, and up from a bit more than 300,000 acres on Thursday.

About 100 homes have been destroyed in Washington, and many more have been threatened. So it is without question a terrible situation. But in one satellite image of an area to the north in British Columbia, I found a kind of savage beauty — an almost abstract, tendril-like pattern created by smoke filling a network of river valleys. Read More

Super Typhoon Rammasun Slams Ashore in Southern China

By Tom Yulsman | July 18, 2014 5:27 pm

A screenshot from an animation of infrared images from the COMS-1 satellite shows Super Typhoon Rammasun slamming ashore in southern China today. Click the image to watch the animation. (Source: Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies)

Super Typhoon began pummeling the mainland of southern China today, slamming ashore on the Luichow Peninsula with winds at landfall that may have been as high as 135 miles per hour.

Click on the image above to watch an animation of infrared satellite images showing the storm barreling ashore. It was the strongest storm to hit southern China in 41 years.

Here’s a spectacular closer view: 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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