The Arctic sea ice max for this winter was second lowest on record, thanks in part to an “extreme heat wave”

By Tom Yulsman | March 23, 2018 1:40 pm

The maximum extent of sea ice after a winter of growth was well below average — an area of lost ice about two-thirds the size of Alaska

Arctic sea ice extent on March 17, compared to the long-term median. (Source: NSIDC)

Arctic sea ice extent on March 17, compared to the long-term median. (Source: NSIDC)

After expanding all winter, the Arctic’s floating lid of sea ice has now reached its maximum extent — and it has continued an unsettling trend.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center announced today that this year’s maximum extent is the second lowest in the 39-year record of satellite observations.

“The four lowest maximum extents in the satellite record have all occurred in the past four years,” according to the NSIDC. Last year set the record for the very lowest.

Arctic sea ice appears to have maxed out this year on March 17, with an extent that was 448,000 square miles below the long-term median. That area of lost ice would cover about two thirds of Alaska.

Autumn freeze up occurred late this year, particularly in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska. This occurred in part because of large amounts of ocean heat being transported into the area through the Bering Strait.

In addition to the delayed freeze-up, air temperatures were persistently high in the Arctic, helping to retard ice growth. And February brought “an extreme heat wave over the Arctic Ocean,” according to the NSIDC.

In the dead of winter, warm air from the south surged across the Arctic toward the North Pole, bringing temperatures that soared to, and possibly above, the freezing mark. “This is the fourth winter in a row that such heat waves have been recorded over the Arctic Ocean,” the NSIDC says.

recent study shows that these winter heat waves are becoming more frequent and intense.

WATCH: Tropical Cyclone Marcus marauding through the Indian Ocean, as seen in this beautiful satellite video

By Tom Yulsman | March 22, 2018 9:21 pm

Marcus is the world’s strongest storm so far in 2018

After strengthening into the year’s first Category 5 storm, Tropical Cyclone Marcus has weakened.

At it strongest, the storm attained maximum sustained winds of 185 miles per hour as it swirled off the northwestern coast of Australia on Wednesday. As I’m writing this on Thursday (Friday morning in Australia), Marcus has settled down to 120 mph, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

It is forecast to continue to weaken and pose no risk to land.

The video above shows Marcus at its strongest, as seen by Japan’s Himawari-8 satellite. The animation begins at 20:00 UTC on March 21, 2018 and runs through 14:00 UTC on March 22. The cyclone’s maximum sustained winds during this period qualified it as a Category 5 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

A portion of northwestern Australia is seen at the bottom right, and the Indonesian archipelago is visible in the upper right. Read More

New research documents a counterintuitive impact of global warming: sea-ice hazards to shipping

By Tom Yulsman | March 21, 2018 1:48 pm

Human-caused warming is popping the frozen corks that normally bottle up thick sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, allowing it to pour south

Sea-ice hazards

NASA’s Aqua satellite captured these two views of different sea ice conditions over the Lincoln Sea, a part of the Arctic Ocean north of Greenland and Ellesmere Island. Breakup here happened much earlier than usual in 2017, allowing huge volumes of thick sea ice to pour south through a narrow passage and ultimately into the North Atlantic Ocean. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

Ships plying the North Atlantic Ocean in spring are facing increased hazards from floating Arctic sea ice as a result of human-caused global warming.

That might seem counterintuitive, but here’s what’s happening, according to a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters:

Warming temperatures are causing ice that normally blocks narrow ocean passages in winter and spring to break up earlier than in the past. Like a cork removed from a champagne bottle, the early break up in these passages is allowing thick, old sea ice to flow south from the Arctic Ocean into the North Atlantic, choking areas used by fishing, shipping and ferry boats.

“Heavy ice conditions along Canada’s east coast during spring 2017 presented hazardous conditions for the maritime industry at a time of year when vessels typically do not need to contend with sea ice,” the researchers note in their paper. As warming has caused Arctic sea ice to shrink and thin overall: Read More

Here’s what real science says about the role of CO2 as Earth’s preeminent climatic thermostat

By Tom Yulsman | March 12, 2018 2:07 pm

The relatively thin atmospheric cocoon that protects us from meteor impacts and radiation also makes for a habitable climate, thanks to the greenhouse gases it contains — carbon dioxide first and foremost. In this photograph captured by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station on July 31, 2011, the oblique angle reveals the atmosphere’s layers, along with a thin crescent Moon illuminated by the Sun from below the horizon of the Earth. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)

Whenever I post something here at ImaGeo involving climate change, it’s a good bet that I’ll get a spectrum of critical responses in the comments section. These range from skepticism about the urgency of the problem to outright dismissal of humankind’s influence on climate through our emissions of greenhouse gases.

A recent post here about thawing permafrost releasing climate-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere was no exception. For the story, I reviewed dozens scientific research papers, and used information and quotations from two interviews. Based on that reporting, here’s what I wrote at the top of the story:

The coldest reaches of the Arctic on land were once thought to be at least temporarily shielded from a major — and worrisome — effect of a warming climate: widespread melting of permafrost. But a recent study suggests these northernmost Arctic areas are likely to thaw much sooner than expected. That’s concerning because melting permafrost releases climate-warming greenhouse gases.

As always, I expected skeptical pushback — but nothing as extreme as this:

As CO2 has had no noticeable effect on climate in 600 million years, until 15- 20 years ago, when carbon tax was invented, any alleged climatic effects can be ignored.

I took this to mean that a liberal scientific establishment invented the idea that carbon dioxide plays a role in Earth’s climate system to support raising taxes. Read More

Say what? This is the storm-tossed north pole of Jupiter?

By Tom Yulsman | March 9, 2018 2:54 pm

NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter has produced some wild imagery of the giant planet, showing massive swirling cyclones with a 3D effect

Juno image of Jupiter's north pole

This computer-generated image is based on an infrared image of Jupiter’s north polar region that was acquired on February 2, 2017, by the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument aboard Juno during the spacecraft’s fourth pass over Jupiter. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM)

When I first glanced at the image above, I thought I was looking at the surface of the Sun. But no, these really are mega cyclones swirling with winds up to 220 miles per hour around Jupiter’s north and south poles, as seen by NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

According to new research, they are long-lasting features unlike anything else seen before in our solar system.

A wealth of new findings from Juno about the giant gaseous planet have been published this week in the journal Nature. They’ve also been featured in a release by NASA.

As seen in the image above, Jupiter’s north pole features a dominating central cyclone surrounded by eight others with diameters as large as 2,900 miles. This means the largest surrounding cyclone is big enough to cover much of North America. Read More

Permafrost in coldest Arctic areas will melt faster than thought, releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases

By Tom Yulsman | March 8, 2018 6:10 pm

No, calamity is not imminent. But new findings offer worrisome insights into the ongoing transformation of the Arctic—and our planet.

Collapsed permafrost block of coastal tundra on Alaska's Arctic Coast. (Source: USGS)

Collapsed permafrost block of coastal tundra on Alaska’s Arctic Coast. (Source: USGS)

|Update March 9: I’ve added some commentary at the end of this piece on the implications of the permafrost research described here. |

The coldest reaches of the Arctic on land were once thought to be at least temporarily shielded from a major — and worrisome — effect of a warming climate: widespread melting of permafrost.

But a recent study suggests these northernmost Arctic areas are likely to thaw much sooner than expected. That’s concerning because melting permafrost releases climate-warming greenhouse gases.

Overall, the new findings, coupled with previous research, suggest that the Arctic has entered a new epoch — call it “The Great Thawing” — with implications for the entire planet.

Permafrost is permanently frozen soil, sediment, and rock, sometimes found with wedges of ice. Although it is found across 15 percent of Earth’s surface, it harbors about half of our planet’s stores of soil carbon. Scientists have long feared that a warming climate would cause substantial amounts of that carbon to be released into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide and methane, helping to accelerate global warming.

The new study found that if humankind’s emissions of greenhouse gases continue unabated, permafrost in the coldest Arctic areas will experience widespread melting during this century — not centuries hence, as previously thought. As they do, they will become a net source of additional climate-altering carbon to the atmosphere. The transition will peak in the relatively short span of 40 to 60 years.

“We keep finding more surprises,” says Nicholas Parazoo of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, lead author of the study, which appears in The Cryosphere, a scientific journal. “And the scary word in all of this is ‘irreversible.’ Once we thaw permafrost, it becomes very difficult to refreeze.” Read More

eARTh: A Portrait of Our Planet Painted With Photons

By Tom Yulsman | March 5, 2018 6:31 pm
Portrait of Earth

An instrument aboard the NOAA-20 satellite acquired this image portraying heat energy radiated from Earth. Bright yellow regions are the hottest and emit the most energy out to space. Dark blue and bright white regions, which represent clouds, are much colder and emit the least energy. (Source: NASA)

When I first saw this beautiful remote sensing image, I couldn’t help but feel that I was looking at a painting by an abstract expressionist.

Starting in the 1940s, abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock and Clyfford Still “valued spontaneity and improvisation, and they accorded the highest importance to process,” writes Stella Paul of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Flame by Jackson Pollack, c. 1934-38. For more information, click here. © 2018 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society, New York)

The Flame by Jackson Pollock, c. 1934-38. For more information, and other works by Pollack, click here. (Source: Museum of Modern Art. © 2018 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society, New York)

These artists placed “an emphasis on dynamic, energetic gesture,” she notes. Their works also were primarily abstract. You can see these very qualities in the Jackson Pollock painting at right. (Click to enlarge it.)

In the remote sensing image above, the continents all aglow like faint apparitions, as well as the scientific color key, were obvious give-aways that this was something other than a painting. Yet it is very much the product of rigorous process. And to my eye at least, the interplay of colors express a dynamism that looks almost painterly.

The pattern also looks abstract, at least at first glance. But in fact, what we see in this image is a kind of portrait of our planet painted with photons.

Those photons were collected by a sensor aboard the new NOAA-20 satellite not long after it began scanning Earth for the first time on January 5 of this year. Those photons constitute light that our eyes cannot see  — light in the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum emanating up into space from the land, oceans, and clouds. Read More

Snowpack declines in the western U.S. are comparable to all of the water stored in the West’s largest reservoir

By Tom Yulsman | March 3, 2018 12:58 pm
This animation of Landsat images shows Lake Mead near its highest and lowest points over the past 32 years. The high-water image was acquired on May 15, 1984. The low-water image was acquired on May 23, 2016. (Images: NASA Earth Observatory. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

This animation of Landsat images shows Lake Mead near its highest and lowest points over the past 32 years. The high-water image was acquired on May 15, 1984; the low-water image on May 23, 2016. (Images: NASA Earth Observatory. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

Thanks in large measure to warming temperatures, the average snowpack in U.S. western states has dropped by 15 to 30 percent since 1915.

The water in that lost snowpack is comparable in volume to Lake Mead. With a maximum capacity of 9.3 trillion gallons, Mead is the West’s largest manmade reservoir.

The new data on snowpack declines are among the striking results of a study led by Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University. As part of the study, Mote and his colleagues analyzed measurements from 1,766 snow-monitoring sites in the western United States going back more than a century. The researchers found that greater than 90 percent of those sites experienced declines in snowpack. Of those, 30 percent were found to be statistically significant.

Declining trends are observed across all months, states, and climates, but are largest in spring, in the Pacific states, and in locations with mild winter climate,” Mote and his colleagues write in their paper, published on March 2 in the journal NPJ Climate and Atmospheric Science, a Nature publication.  Read More

In satellite imagery, the dangerous nor’easter battering the U.S. East Coast is a beastly beauty of a storm

By Tom Yulsman | March 2, 2018 3:22 pm
Satellite image of the nor'easter that's battering the U.S. East Coast today. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA)

Satellite image of the nor’easter swirling along the U.S. East Coast today. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA)

A nor’easter with winds ranging up to hurricane strength is causing misery along much of the U.S. East Coast today. But from space, it’s a strangely beautiful sight to behold.

The fierce storm is causing flooding, power outages, suspension of Amtrak rail service, and hundreds of delayed or cancelled flights in and out of area airports. New York’s LaGuardia airport has closed down completely due to high winds.

The storm may even turn out to be more damaging than the “Bomb Cyclone” that struck the region in early January.

The view of the storm at the top of this post was acquired by the GOES-16 weather satellite just after sun up on the East Coast. The image captures something of a decisive moment — the storm swirling along the coast during the transition from nighttime to daytime.  Read More

WATCH: Heavy flooding stretching from Indiana to Mississippi, as seen in satellite imagery

By Tom Yulsman | March 1, 2018 1:47 pm
Before and after satellite images reveal extensive flooding

A before-and-after animation of satellite images reveals the extent of flooding along rivers in the southern United States in late February of 2018. (Images: NASA Earth Observatory. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

As February was drawing to a close, heavy rains and melting snow led to extensive flooding in the central and southern United States that was easily visible to orbiting satellites.


The red box shows the area covered by the large animation of images above. (Image source: NASA Earth Observatory)

The before-and-after animation above is a noteworthy example. The river running from top to bottom is the Mississippi, with Arkansa to the left and Tennessee to the right. Small portions of Missouri, Kentucky and Mississippi are visible as well. Click on the thumbnail at right to see the area covered by the image.

The before image was acquired on February 17, 2017 by NASA’s Aqua satellite. The very heavy rains that came in late-February of this year led to the flooding that’s clearly evident in the the second image, captured by the Terra satellite, Aqua’s twin, on February 26, 2018. To clearly discern the flooding, the images are false color, employing a combination of visible and shortwave infrared light. 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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