Here We Go Again: Massive Dust Storms Pummel High Plains

By Tom Yulsman | March 18, 2014 7:42 pm
here we go again

Two huge dust storms are visible in Colorado and Texas in this mosaic of satellite images captured on Tuesday, March 18, 2014 by NASA’s Terra satellite. (Source: NASA)

Just a week ago, I posted some imagery of an intense dust storm sweeping south through the High Plains. Well, here we go again…

Today, high winds triggered two dust storms, one in Colorado stretching into Kansas and the Oklahoma Panhandle, and the other in the Texas Panhandle — the same region as last week’s storm. They were so big that they are clearly visible in a mosaic of images from NASA’s Terra satellite showing almost all of the United States. (See above.)

Here’s an animation of two close-up images of the Colorado dust storm, the first taken by Terra and the second taken later in the day by the spacecraft’s sister satellite, Aqua: Read More

“What We Know” Climate Report From Leading Science Organization Seeks to Persuade Citizens. #FAIL.

By Tom Yulsman | March 18, 2014 6:05 pm

AAAS What We Know global warming

The “What We Know” report about climate change issued today by the august American Association for the Advancement of Science is intended to persuade ordinary people that our climate really is changing, we’re largely responsible, and we need to do something about it. Soon.

The report features clear, straight-forward language without overly complex and opaque scientific jargon.

And as the black non-image at the top of this ImaGeo post symbolizes, there is another thing that the report lacks as well: imagery.

In fact, there is not a single image in the report — not one visualization to help us understand what’s happening to our world, not a single photograph to dramatize the impact of climate change on people, not even one little graphic to show a trend in, oh, I don’t know, temperature maybe.

Okay, I exaggerate just a little. The title page does have one ambiguous photograph of someone using a surveying instrument on some ice sheet somewhere, for what reason God only knows.

And true, the “What We Know” web site includes, in addition to the report, a number of videos. One is actually mildly entertaining and effective. It features a mountain biker racing down a trail to symbolize the perilous path ahead and the need to slow down. (Our carbon emissions, of course.)

But the rest consist of talking heads (scientists telling us what they know) intercut with what broadcast journalists call “B-roll” — time lapse video of cars, smoke pouring out of stacks, a little snippet of water pouring into the New York City subway system during Hurricane Sandy —  you get the idea.

So here’s some unsolicited advice to the creators of “What We Know” from someone who thinks visual communication is actually an incredibly powerful way to communicate complex information and also connect with the heart as well as the mind: Read More

High Plains Haboob Blows Across Five States

By Tom Yulsman | March 13, 2014 7:45 pm
High Plains Haboob blows

NASA’s Terra satellite spied these streams of dust blowing south across Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico on March 11, 2014. (Source: NASA)

As a cold front blew across parts of the High Plains on Tuesday, winds kicked up a huge and intense dust storm. You can see it in the image above, captured by NASA’s Terra satellite.

The dust is streaming south out of Colorado and Kansas into Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. (Look for the streamers of pale, sand-colored stuff south of the big cloud bank.)

With winds gusting to nearly 60 miles per hour, visibility in southwestern Kansas was reduced to zero, according to the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies. CIMSS also describes a pilot report of severe turbulence at 45,000 feet in the region, possibly the result of the passing cold front.

On the ground, a towering wall of dust known as a haboob rushed across a vast swath of the High Plains, enveloping towns and cities in a brown pall. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Drought, Environment, select, Top Posts, Weather

Birth of El Niño?

By Tom Yulsman | March 8, 2014 8:17 pm

Something seems to be stirring in the western Pacific — a quickening that may herald the birth of El Niño.

Should it actually happen, weather conditions in many places around the globe could be affected starting in the fall, including the possibility of wetter conditions for drought-plagued California, as well as a warmer globe overall.

I put together the video above to help show in visual terms what’s going on — and why the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Friday issued an El Niño watch, saying there is a 50 percent chance that one will develop this summer or fall.

El Niño, meaning “the Little Boy” or “Christ Child” in Spanish, is one half of what’s known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation cycle. It is characterized by a periodic warming of the sea surface across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific.

For the past year and a half, near-neutral conditions have prevailed in the Pacific, meaning that neither an El Niño nor it’s opposite, a La Niña, has been present. But as the video above shows, westerly winds have been picking up in parts of the western Pacific Ocean region, something that could signal the birth of El Niño.

When neutral conditions are present in the Pacific, trade winds blow from east to west in the equatorial region. This tends to enhance upwelling of cold, deep water off the coast South America. These chilly waters spread toward the west, moderating sea surface temperatures. Meanwhile, strong trade winds corral warm surface waters on the western side of the ocean.

But when anomalous westerly winds start to kick up north of New Guinea, things can begin to change by helping to weaken the trade winds and thereby set the stage for warm water to spread toward the South American side of the Pacific. Starting in January, and continuing into February and March, westerly winds have indeed begun to kick up. And earlier this month, a tropical storm helped enhance this pattern.

And something else seems to be happening too. Read More

Crumbling Asteroid Spied by Hubble Space Telescope

By Tom Yulsman | March 6, 2014 5:47 pm

It’s not every day that astronomers get to witness an asteroid crumbling into a bunch of glowing chunks hurtling through space.

In fact, it has never been wintessed before — until now.

Scientists from NASA and the European Space Agency announced today that the Hubble Space Telescope has photographed the fragmentation of an asteroid, designated P/2013 R2, into 10 separate chunks, each with its own glowing comet-like dust tail. The four largest chunks are about 400 meters in diameter, which is more than four football fields wide.

“This is a really bizarre thing to observe — we’ve never seen anything like it before, ”said co-author Jessica Agarwal of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Germany, quoted in a NASA/ESA press release about the discovery.

The video above shows a sequence of Hubble observations of the asteroid over a little more than two months in late 2013 into January. (The sequence plays several times.) The fragments move around with respect to each other, and new chunks seem to break off.

How did it happen? Read More

Storm Brings 100-year Flood to Christchurch, New Zealand

By Tom Yulsman | March 5, 2014 12:14 pm
flood extreme weather Christchurch storm

NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image of a powerful storm swirling off the coast of New Zealand on March 4. The storm has caused what has been reported as a 100-year flood in the city of Christchurch. (Source: NASA)

The satellite image above shows the powerful storm that brought gale force winds and 36 hours of heavy rainfall to New Zealand, triggering what has been described as a 100-year flood in the city of Christchurch.

The city has been beset by flooding before, as well as a devastating magnitude 6.3 earthquake in 2011 that killed 185 people.

Read More

Follow the Carbon If You Want to Understand What Will Happen Next in Putin’s Ukrainian Adventure

By Tom Yulsman | March 3, 2014 11:54 am
Earth at Night follow the carbon

A nighttime view captured by the Suomi NPP satellite stretching from Western Europe at left to East Asia at right. In addition to the lights from cities, flaring gas in Siberian oil fields are clearly visible in the circled areas. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC)

As Russian forces have taken complete control of the Crimean Peninsula, little action to counter this violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty seems forthcoming from the nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. At least for now.

As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday:

European heavyweights like Germany and France appeared to rule out any moves that might lead to a widening confrontation with Russia, such as military action or even economic sanctions.

Even a boycott of the upcoming Group of Eight summit in Sochi, site of the recent Olympics, doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

Why the reticence to take even mild steps to counter Vladimir Putin’s invasion of a sovereign nation? Several factors are at work, including Russia’s integration with Western economies.

And if you want to understand that particular fact on the ground, you should follow the carbon.

Start with the image above. Captured by the Suomi NPP satellite, it shows Eurasia at night. In addition to city lights, you can see the bright glow generated by flaring natural gas in the vast Siberian oil and gas fields. (In the circled areas.)

Here’s a close up view of Russian energy development in Siberia acquired during the day by the Landsat satellite: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Miscellaneous, Remote Sensing

Crimea as Seen in Satellite Images

By Tom Yulsman | March 2, 2014 1:06 pm
Sevastopol Crimea Ukraine

A Google Earth image of Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula, home of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. (Source: Google Earth)

As I’m putting this post together, Ukraine has put its military on high alert, and Russian troops along with other forces have surrounded a number of Ukrainian military bases on the Crimean Peninsula — home to Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet.

Just a week after the end of the Sochi Olympics, the Russians have invaded Ukraine, and so there is now a risk of war in Europe. Hard to believe.

This isn’t a typical kind of topic for ImaGeo, but I thought I’d approach it by providing some remote sensing imagery of the region, and particularly Sevastopol, which has obvious military importance to the Russians, who have a long-term lease from Ukraine on their naval base there.

In the image above, you can see multiple ships docked in the harbor — many of them Russian naval vessels. How strong is the force there?

Here’s how Mark Galeotti, author of “Russian Security and Paramilitary Forces Since 1991,” and a professor at New York University, answered this question in a Q&A with the Washington Post: Read More

Deadly ‘Snowboob’ Envelops Southern Ontario

By Tom Yulsman | February 28, 2014 5:27 pm

I was planning to pack it up early today until I saw this amazing Twitpic on Mashable.

Perhaps you’ve heard of haboobs, intense dust and sand storms that can reach 10,000 feet high. Not uncommon in Phoenix during the monsoon season there, they look like a giant brown wall as they approach. But have you ever imagined a ‘snowboob’?

It turns out that snow squalls can take on the same appearance as haboobs. The wall of snow in the image above enveloped Toronto and other parts of Southern Ontario yesterday (Feb. 27).

Here’s another view: Read More

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

Swirling Cyclone Bears Down on California

By Tom Yulsman | February 28, 2014 2:45 pm

Cyclonic wind fieldGOES image of swirling cycloneWater vapor image of swirling cycloneInfrared image of swirling cycloneAqua satellite image of swirling cycloneAqua false-color image of swirling cycloneTotal Precipitable Water

As I write this, California is being lashed by rain and wind from a storm bringing much needed moisture — but which also threatens to cause some havoc in the form of mudslides and flooding.

Here’s how the National Weather Service in Los Angeles described it in their forecast discussion this morning:



In the gallery above, you won’t see any of those. These images are various satellite views of the swirling cyclone that is bringing both relief and risk to California today and through tomorrow.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Earth Science, select, Top Posts, Weather

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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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