Arctic Sea Ice Heading for One of Lowest Extents on Record

By Tom Yulsman | September 4, 2015 2:47 pm
Crew members of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy dip their feet in a melt pond on Arctic sea ice during NASA's ICESCAPE mission in 2011.  (Source: NASA/Kathryn Hansen)

Crew members of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy on Arctic sea ice during NASA’s ICESCAPE mission in 2011. (Source: NASA/Kathryn Hansen)

When I heard the news from the National Snow and Ice Data Center that Arctic sea ice will likely reach its third or fourth lowest minimum extent on record in coming weeks, I started looking for a compelling image to illustrate what’s happening — one a bit more interesting than a map or graph.

The photograph above is what I’ve come up with. These two crew members from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy are taking a break from their work on NASA’s ICESCAPE mission in 2011. They’re dangling their feet in a melt pond atop Arctic sea ice.

I find the photo symbolic of humanity’s relationship with the Arctic. Right now, we’re dipping our feet into a region that is warming faster than any other on Earth, causing sea ice to shrink in extent and beckoning us to move even farther into this new “frontier,” as some call it, to exploit its resources and potential sea routes. Read More

First Time on Record: Three Category-4 Hurricanes Swirl East of the International Dateline at the Same Time

By Tom Yulsman | August 30, 2015 4:53 pm
three hurricanes

Three hurricanes are seen in this screenshot of an animation of images from the GOES-15 weather satellite. From left to right: Hurricane Kilo, Hurricane Ignacio and Hurricane Jimena. (Source: Scott Bachmeier, CIMSS)

The unusually warm waters of the Pacific Ocean have helped spawn three hurricanes in the Pacific Ocean.

And according to Scott Bachmeier of the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, this is something we haven’t seen before: three hurricanes rated at category-4 swirling east of the dateline at one time.

You can see them lined up in the screenshot above, from an animation of satellite images. Click it and be mesmerized by this synoptic view of hurricanes Kilo, Ignacio and Jimena all kicking it up together in a kind of cyclonic chorus line.

Click here for the latest reports on the three hurricanes from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

Here’s another view of the three hurricanes, acquired by NASA’s Terra satellite on Saturday, Aug. 29:

three hurricanes

NASA’s Terra Satellite captured this image of three hurricanes in the Pacific Ocean on Aug. 29, 2015. From left to right: hurricanes Kilo, Ignacio and Jimena. (Source: NASA Worldview)

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U.S. Wildfires: Glow is Bright Enough to be Seen From Space

By Tom Yulsman | August 21, 2015 8:27 pm

A nighttime image of most of Washington state acquired on August 19 by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) sensor on the Suomi NPP satellite. Wildfires are circled in red. (Cropped and annotated version of an image from NASA’s Earth Observatory.)

Wildfires are burning hot and bright across portions of the Western United States — so much so that their glow is visible from space.

The image above was captured by the VIIRS instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite early in the morning of Aug. 19, 2015. The lights of the city of Seattle glow brightly toward the left side of the image. To the south, in the lower left corner of the frame, is Portland Oregon.

Just as bright is the glow from four raging wildfire complexes, which I’ve circled in red.

SEE ALSO: Wildfire Smoke Drifts Across 1,000 Miles of the West

To get yourself oriented, have a look at this animation of day and nighttime images (which also afford a broader view): Read More

Wildfire Smoke Drifts Across 1,000 Miles of the West

By Tom Yulsman | August 20, 2015 9:22 pm
A thick pall of smoke originating from wildfires in Washington and Idaho and covering a broad swath of the Western United States is seen in this image acquired by NASA's Terra satellite on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. (Source: NASA Worldview)

A thick pall of smoke originating from wildfires in Washington and Idaho and covering a broad swath of the Western United States is seen in this image acquired by NASA’s Terra satellite on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. (Source: NASA Worldview)

Strong winds blew through Washington State yesterday (Aug. 19), whipping up wildfires and causing them to run into new territory.

Tragically, it appears that those winds caused flames to overtake a U.S. Forest Service vehicle carrying personnel who were battling a blaze in the foothills of the Cascades in north-central Washington. The resulting accident killed three of the firefighters.

“It was a hell storm up here,”Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers told Spokane news station KXLY-TV. “The fire was racing and the winds were blowing in every direction and then it would shift. … It was tough on ‘em up here.”

SEE MORE: The West’s Wildfire Surge—It’s Nasty, It Could Set a Record. But Should We Cool the Rhetoric a Little?

Read More

Among 1,627 Months in a Record Dating to 1880, July 2015 Was the Warmest Ever

By Tom Yulsman | August 20, 2015 12:44 pm

July 2015

Last week, analyses by NASA and the Japan Meteorological Agency showed that July 2015 was the warmest such month on record. Now, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration concurs.

But that’s not all. NOAA’s latest monthly report finds that no other month since 1880 has been warmer globally than July 2015.

As my headline states, this past month was the warmest among 1,627 on record.

SEE ALSO: Two Analyses Find That July 2015 Was Warmest on Record. World Likely Headed for Warmest Year as Well.

While large portions of Earth’s land surfaces were much warmer than average, that wasn’t the only contributor to July’s record setting global temperature. The oceans were an even bigger contributor.

According to NOAA’s report: Read More

The West’s Wildfire Surge: It’s Nasty, It Could Set a Record. But Should We Cool the Rhetoric a Little?

By Tom Yulsman | August 19, 2015 6:19 pm
wildfire surge

Numerous smoke plumes from dozens of wildfires burning in the western United States are visible in this image acquired by NASA’s Aqua satellite on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015. Red dots mark places where the satellite sensor detected heat from active burning. (Source: NASA Worldview)

As of today (Aug. 19), 78 large fires were burning across 1,260,830 acres in ten states, most of them in the western United States, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).

You can see smoke plumes from many of these blazes in the satellite image above.

The region has seen a dramatic wildfire surge in recent weeks, with 16 new large blazes reported on Monday, Aug. 17 alone (and four new ones today), most of them in Idaho and Montana. Some 30,000 firefighters are battling the blazes, and resources are getting stretched thin.

“Based on the number of large, uncontained fires on the ground right now, overall we will probably wind up burning on the higher end of the historical records,” says Randy Eardley, spokesperson for the NIFC.

Yes, this a dangerous situation — and it is likely to get worse before things improve as conditions moderate with the coming change of seasons. It’s also a harbinger of even worse fire seasons to come, thanks to climate change.

But I also have to say that some of the media coverage of what’s happening has been running a little too hot.

Mea culpa — I can be prone to that sort of thing too. But in a spirit of constructive criticism, and with accuracy as the goal, my goal with this post is to cool things down just a little.
Read More

Two Analyses Find That July 2015 Was Warmest on Record. World Likely Headed for Warmest Year As Well.

By Tom Yulsman | August 14, 2015 8:02 pm

Mean surface temperature anomalies for the past month, the past three months, and the past 12 months. (Data: NASA GISS. Maps and graph: Makiko Sato, Columbia University)

Last month was the warmest July on record globally, according to independent analyses by NASA, and by the Japan Meteorological Agency.

With a significant El Niño likely to continue through the end of the year — and possibly peak as one of the strongest on record — it’s looking ever more likely that calendar year 2015 will go down as the warmest on record, and possibly by a large margin.

SEE ALSO: Latest El Niño Forecast: Expect It to Last Into Spring and Possibly Peak as One of the Strongest on Record

The maps above show how temperatures have varied from the long-term average, using data from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. July is in the upper left, the past three months at upper right, and the past 12 months are at lower left.

Most of the world has obviously been warmer than average, but a good deal of regional variation is evident — especially blobs of coolness over North America and the North Atlantic. So for many of us in the United States, it hasn’t seemed so bad this summer. But look at that angry red and rust colored splotch over Europe in July. And the orange and red tones across most of the rest of the world for May through July. Read More

WATCH: Animation of Satellite Images Shows Smoke Plume From Mammoth Explosions in Tianjin, China

By Tom Yulsman | August 14, 2015 11:19 am
Tianjin Smoke Plume

A animation of Himawari-8 satellite true-color images showing the dark smoke plume from the explosions in Tianjin, China. (Source: Regional and Mesoscale Meteorology Branch, NOAA/NESDIS)

Cameras are everywhere now.

So it’s no surprise that the mammoth explosions in Tianjin, China, and the devastation they wrought, have been documented in grim detail — from the blinding flashes and fireballs, to a poor soul blown away on camera at the entrance to a building, to astonishingly detailed before and after views of the site captured by satellite.

I’m sure you’ve seen much of this imagery (and please do scroll down for examples of what I described above). To that documentation I add the animation above. It consists of images of the smoke plume thrown high into the atmosphere by the explosions — as seen from 22,236 miles above the Earth by the Himawari-8 satellite in geosynchronous orbit.

I’ve circled the smoke plume in the first frame so you can spot it easily (and not be thrown off by what appears to be a thunderstorm cloud). From the timestamp on the first image it seems that it was acquired by the satellite at 5:50 a.m. local time. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Remote Sensing, select, Top Posts

Summer of Misery: Rampaging Floods and Raging Fires

By Tom Yulsman | August 13, 2015 6:53 pm

This before-and-after animation of images acquired by the the Landsat 8 satellite shows just how dramatic flooding has been along the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar (Burma). Source: NASA Earth Observatory

We live on a dynamic planet, so we shouldn’t be surprised when rampaging floods and raging fires cause a great deal of misery at the same time.

Still, the floods and fires documented by satellites in recent weeks are pretty dramatic. So I thought I’d share some satellite imagery of the phenomena.

In Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), hot and dry weather in May of this year has given given way to catastrophic flooding during one of the worst monsoon seasons in decades. The extent of flooding along the Irrawaddy River, the biggest in Myanmar, is dramatically evident in the before-and-after animation of satellite images above.

You’re looking at the Magway region of Burma. For a Google Maps satellite view showing the location of the animation, click here.

The before image was acquired on Aug. 29, 2013. Note the braided nature of the river, and the brown sand bars and islands, where vegetation is mostly absent.

The after image was captured on Aug. 3, 2015. Those sand bars and islands disappear beneath a veritable sea of blue.  Read More

Latest El Niño Forecast: Expect It to Last Into Spring and Possibly Peak as One of the Strongest on Record

By Tom Yulsman | August 13, 2015 2:31 pm
El Niño forecast

Warmer than normal sea surface temperatures, as indicated above by red,orange and yellow colors, dominate the equatorial waters of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean — a hallmark of El Niño. (This visualization is a forecast for Aug. 13, 2015, generated by supercomputers. Source:

A new El Niño forecast is out, and while it may not be terribly surprising, it’s still worth noting:  El Niño will almost certainly be hanging around for at least the next seven months, and probably more.

But not only that.

It continues to look very likely that this El Niño will peak in winter as one of the strongest — if not the strongest — on record.

According to the latest forecast, published today by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, there is a 90 percent of El Niño persisting through the Northern Hemisphere winter of 2015-2016, and about an 85 percent chance that it will last into early spring.

SEE ALSO: As El Niño Gets Even Stronger, He’s Not Really Looking Like a Child Any Longer — More like the Monster of 1997/1998

If conditions stay on their current track, it could turn into what Bill Patzert, a climatologist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has called “the Godzilla El Niño.”

But a big caveat is in order here: This is climate and weather we’re talking about, so there are no guarantees.

Even so, the animation below shows there’s a whole lot of momentum behind this muscular El Niño:

El Niño forecast

The weekly evolution of sea surface temperatures between January 1 and the end of July 2015. (Images: NOAA. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

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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