Time-lapse video captures the ash plume from Hawaii’s volcano exploding higher than Mt. Everest

By Tom Yulsman | May 17, 2018 8:14 pm

The biggest explosion yet from the Kilauea volcano propelled 1,000-pound rocks into the air, and sent ash rocketing 30,000 feet high

A timelapse video from the cloud camera on the Gemini Observatory on the Big Island of Hawaii captured the ash cloud exploding high in the atmosphere from the Kilauea volcano just before dawn on May 17, 2018. The plume explodes above the cloud deck shortly after four minutes into the video. Note: The video may take a little while to load. (Source: Gemini Observatory/Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy)

A timelapse video from a camera on the Gemini Observatory on the Big Island of Hawaii captured the ash cloud exploding high in the atmosphere from the Kilauea volcano just before dawn on May 17, 2018. The plume explodes above the cloud deck shortly after four minutes into the video. Lightning and meteors streaking across the sky are also visible. (Source: Gemini Observatory/Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy)

The eruption of Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island this morning sent an ash plume exploding about 30,000 feet high into the atmosphere.

And as luck would have it, a camera was watching.

The camera is located about 40 miles away on the Gemini North telescope atop 13,803-foot Mauna Kea. It’s ordinarily is used to monitor the sky so that telescope operations can be handled remotely. The plume of ash from the massive eruption is visible in the video above as a dark puff shooting up above the clouds near the end of the time-lapse sequence.

Look for it at about 39 seconds from the end, or a little after four minutes from the beginning.

Here’s how the U.S. Geological Survey described the eruption that produced the plume:

Just after 4 am this morning, an explosion or series of explosions from the Overlook vent within Halemaumau crater at Kilauea Volcano’s summit produced a volcanic cloud that reached as high as 30,000 ft [above sea level] based on NWS radar information. The cloud drifted generally northeast and traces of ash fell with rain in the Volcano Golf Course, Volcano Village, and other areas immediately around the Kilauea summit.

Here’s a full resolution static image of the ash plume acquired by the Gemini North camera at 4:16 a.m. local time: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Geology, select, Top Posts, Volcanoes

A tiny spacecraft nicknamed ‘Wall-E’ shot this pale-blue-dot shot of Earth from more than 600,000 miles away

By Tom Yulsman | May 16, 2018 10:57 am

‘Wall-E’ is one of a pair of CubeSats that’s following a lander spacecraft as it cruises toward Mars

Earth as a pale blue dot

The first image captured by one of NASA’s Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats. The image, which shows both the CubeSat’s unfolded high-gain antenna at right and the Earth and its moon in the center, was acquired by MarCO-B, nicknamed ‘Wall-E’, on May 9. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

In 1990, the Voyager 1 spacecraft was cruising outward in the solar system, heading toward interstellar space. The late Carl Sagan, a member of the Voyager imaging team, had the idea of pointing the spacecraft back toward home for one last look.

Pale Blue Dot

Voyager’s Pale Blue Dot image. Can you spot Earth? (Source: NASA/JPL)

The result was an image that Sagan made famous in his 1994 book “Pale Blue Dot” — an image showing Earth as a barely visible bluish dot.

Now, we have another pale blue dot image, this one captured by a tiny CubeSat spacecraft, one of a pair that’s shadowing NASA’s InSight lander to Mars. The two briefcase-sized CubeSats, known collectively as Mars Cube One, or MarCO, will serve as a communications relay system when InSight attempts to land on the Red Planet, transmitting status information back to Earth.

On May 9, the CubeSats were more than 600,000 miles from Earth. One of then, called MarCO-B — and affectionately known as “Wall-E” to the MarCO team — used a fisheye camera to snap its first photo. The image helped mission engineers confirm that the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna had unfolded properly. Read More

Beautiful Bergs! Arctic Overflights Yield Inspiring Images

By Tom Yulsman | May 14, 2018 6:02 pm

NASA’s Operation IceBridge is the largest airborne survey of Earth’s polar ice ever flown

Matterhorn berg

An aerial photograph of an iceberg shaped like the Matterhorn floating in Scoresby Sund along Greenland’s eastern coast. The photo was taken during an Operation IceBridge flight on Apr. 21, 2018. (Source: NASA/Joe MacGregor)

During my very first visit to the Arctic, the Sun did a lazy 360 above Tromsø, Norway each day. It was summer, and I was simply entranced by the midnight sun.

But I wasn’t really bitten by the Arctic bug until a visit the next winter. And what really got me was the light.

Yes, the Arctic light in winter.

Although the Sun doesn’t rise for months at a time at that time of year, before it comes back (and also just after it departs) it spends a fair amount of time transiting just below the horizon. And so in January in Tromsø, the magic-hour light of sunrise and sunset lasted for hours, even without the Sun actually rising above the horizon.

On snow-covered slopes ooverlooking Tromsø, and in the low, bluish light, the landscape was reduced to a Zen-like essence.

The photograph above captures that same feel, I think. It was taken on April 21 of this year from a P-3 Orion aircraft during an overflight of Greenland, part of NASA’s Operation IceBridge. Read More

Human-caused climate change is “supercharging” hurricanes, raising the risk of major damage

By Tom Yulsman | May 12, 2018 5:19 pm

A new study shows that record-breaking ocean heat pumped up Hurricane Harvey, contributing to catastrophic flooding

Climate change is supercharging hurricanes, a new study focusing on Hurricane Harvey has found

An animation of infrared imagery from the GOES-16 weather satellite shows the evolution of Hurricane Harvey between Aug. 25 and 28 2017. (Note: The animation may take awhile to fully load and play smoothly. Source: RAMMB/CIRA)

The North Atlantic hurricane season last year was extraordinary for a number reasons, but none more memorable than these:

Irma, Maria and Harvey.

These three hurricanes brought enormous devastation to portions of the continental United States, the Caribbean islands, and other parts of the tropical Atlantic. Harvey alone produced more than 100 trillion kilograms of rain, causing cataclysmic flooding along the Gulf Coast.

Now, a new study links Harvey’s devastation to climate change resulting from human activities.

As the summer of 2017 began, the amount of heat stored in the world’s oceans was the highest ever recorded. That was also true within the Gulf of Mexico, where Harvey prowled, according to the study, appearing in the journal Earth’s Future.

All that heat pumped Harvey up with enormous amounts of moisture — making it one of the wettest storm systems in United States history. The highest rainfall amount recorded on land during Harvey totaled 48.20 inches at a rain gauge on Clear Creek near Houston. That ranked as the highest rainfall amount in a single storm for any place in the continental United States, according to NOAA.

And by one estimate, 1,300 square miles of Harris County’s 1,800 square miles was inundated with 1.5 feet of water from Harvey.

Shortly after Harvey hit, I created this animation for a story intended to help readers visualize the full extent of the flooding: Read More

Even as an unusual chill enveloped most of North America, the rest of the planet was plenty warm in April

By Tom Yulsman | May 7, 2018 3:44 pm
Unusually warm conditions gripped much of the planet during April

Temperature anomalies at Earth’s surface for April 2018 relative to the April average for the period 1981-2010. (Source: European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts, Copernicus Climate Change Service. Adapted by ImaGeo)

Some regions of the world shivered last month. But as was the case in March, most of the planet continued to be unusually warm.

You can see the pattern in the map above showing temperature anomalies for April, produced by Europe’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. The chill was particularly pronounced over North America, as evidenced by the blue tones on the map. (This probably comes as no surprise to those of you from Canada or the eastern two-thirds of the United States!)

Meanwhile, check out the red and orange tones over almost all of Europe. These are indicative of extremely warm April temps. “Following below-average European temperatures in February and March, April 2018 became, by a clear margin, the warmest April on record,” according to the monthly report from Copernicus. Read More

NASA says the Sun is “tangled up in blue”

By Tom Yulsman | May 4, 2018 10:59 am

A bright tangle of magnetic field lines has appeared on its surface. But otherwise the Sun is singularly serene. What’s going on?

Tangled up in blue

View of the Sun from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory

The other day, NASA posted this closeup view of the Sun under the headline: “Tangled Up in Blue.”

The reference to the Bob Dylan tune aside, I found the video particularly intriguing. That’s because the Sun’s surface, as imaged here by the Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft, is actually quite placid. But there’s one exception: a very bright active region, seen as a tangle of bright filaments tracing out magnetic field lines emerging from the Sun’s surface.

When the Sun is in a more active part of its 11-year cycle, you’re likely to see more active regions like this. These are areas that roil with gargantuan filaments, loops, and prominences formed from unimaginably hot plasma levitated by magnetic fields.

Sometimes, radiation will blast outwards from the Sun’s surface. These solar flares, a million times more energetic than volcanic eruptions on Earth, often are accompanied by enormous explosions of plasma. Such coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, propel a billion tons of material outward at hundreds of miles per second.

Yet here, the SDO spacecraft shows the Sun in a serene state — except for that one active region.

Here’s how NASA describes what we’re looking at: Read More

As summer looms, western U.S. snowpack is very thin

By Tom Yulsman | May 3, 2018 3:09 pm

What’s happening in the West over the long run is less about reduced snowfall and more the result of warming temperatures

An image of the mountains of the Western U.S. acquired by NASA's Terra satellite on April 21, 2016 shows much more snowpack than one acquired on almost the same day this year.

A comparison of satellite images showing the Rocky Mountains. Snowpack in April of 2016 was much more substantial than it is now. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

In the western United States, the most important reservoirs are not the manmade ones along rivers, but the natural ones high up in our mountains: the snowpack that accumulates all winter, peaking in April.

As the animation of satellite images above shows, this crucial source of water is looking significantly depleted as we head toward the hot and dry conditions of summer.

The animation consists of images acquired by NASA’s Terra satellite centered over the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and New Mexico. Parts of Wyoming, Utah and Arizona also are visible (as well as the High Plains to the east). One image was acquired on April 21, 2016, and the other on April 24th of this year. The difference in snowpack is pretty dramatic.

Runoff from this region supplies some 40 million Americans with their water needs.

Here’s how the snow-water equivalent (a measure of how much water snow contains) compares to the long-term median values for today, May 3: Read More

Extraordinary satellite imagery captures the ferocity of wildfires that recently roared through the High Plains

By Tom Yulsman | April 25, 2018 11:54 am

The Rhea Fire in Oklahoma, seen in this image, grew to megafire size. And it wasn’t the only blaze to scorch the High Plains in April.

The High Plains Rhea Fire in Oklahoma

The Sentinel-2 satellite captured this image of a wildfire burning near Putnam, Oklahoma on April 13, 2918. (Source: Sentinel-2 satellite data from ESA processed by Pierre Markuse)

That’s right — this image of the roaring Rhea Fire in Oklahoma was captured not from an aircraft but by a satellite about 500 miles above Earth’s surface.

At the time, on April 13th, the blaze was just getting going. Pushed by strong winds and exacerbated by high temperatures and bone-dry humidity of just 3 percent at one point, the blaze turned into Oklahoma’s third megafire in three years.

That term, “megafire,” is not my attempt at being sensationalistic. The National Interagency Fire Center has officially adopted it to describe a fire that has burned at least 100,000 acres. Before 100 percent containment was achieved today, the Rhea Fire had reached 286,196 acres in size — equivalent to more than three quarters the size of the city of Los Angeles.

The recurrence of megafires in Oklahoma can be attributed to a number factors, including alternating extreme wet and dry periods — a pattern seen globally and associated with human-caused climate change, according to meteorologist Bob Henson of Weather Underground. Unusual moisture, such as that seen in Oklahoma during the summers of 2016 and 2017, contributes to growth of lush vegetation. Then, when dramatic drying arrives, all that unusually luxuriant vegetation is primed to explode in fire once ignition happens, and low humidity and wind fan the flames.

As Henson puts it: Read More

A stirring photo shot by an astronaut on the space station shows the West with a beautiful mantle of snowy white

By Tom Yulsman | April 24, 2018 3:31 pm

But looks are deceiving: the West has seen too little of the white stuff

The western United States with a mantle of snowy white

An astronaut aboard the International Space Station captured this photo of the western United States on March 3, 2018. The white mantling of snow is thinner than it should be at this time of year. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)

Views of Earth like this once seemed almost profound — at least I always thought so. That’s because we weren’t accustomed to seeing our home from a planetary perspective.

Now, of course, views of Earth from space are commonplace. So maybe some of us have become a bit jaded. And that’s one reason why I’m sharing this photograph taken by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station last month.

Sure, we’ve seen images like this before. But just take a minute to click on it and then explore it in detail. You just might regain some of the wonder that views of Earth from space once engendered.

You might also feel relieved, as I was when I first saw this photo, to see what seems like a nice white mantling of snow, which of course is crucial to the region’s water supplies. But that snowpack should be a lot thicker and more extensive than it is. Read More

A shark-shaped, climate-shifting blob of warm water — as wide as the Pacific Ocean — is rising from the depths

By Tom Yulsman | April 19, 2018 12:40 am

The ‘shark’ will soon gobble up La Niña’s cool surface waters. What might this mean for the climate later this year?

A blob of water shaped like a shark is rising in the Pacific

A cross section of the equatorial Pacific Ocean showing how water temperature departed from average during the five-day period centered on 3 April 2018. The vertical axis shows depth below the surface. The horizontal axis is longitude, from the western to eastern tropical Pacific. (Source: ENSO Blog/Climate.gov from CPC data)

It’s not every day that you see an animated graphic like the one above hosted on the website of an ordinarily staid U.S. government agency.

And yes, that is indeed an illustration comparing a complex Earth system phenomenon to, well, a shark.

The comparison comes from the fabulous folks at the ENSO Blog, published under the aegis of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (but technically not an official communication from NOAA). The ENSO bloggers focus with unusual clarity — and good humor — on El Niño, La Niña, and their impacts.

So, back to the shark. It’s actually a gargantuan blob of warm water as wide as the Pacific. And it is rising relentlessly from the depths along the Equator. 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.

See More


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collapse bottom bar