Hot, dry and windy conditions today could worsen the vicious wildfire that has forced evacuation of Fort McMurray, the oil sands capital of Canada in Alberta.
Yesterday, officials ordered the entire city of 61,000 people to leave, prompting the largest wildfire evacuation in Alberta’s history. Several neighborhoods in the city are believed to have been lost to the fire, according to the CBC. But critical infrastructure, such as the city’s water treatment plant and bridge over the Athabasca River, appeared to remain intact — at least so far.
As the fire exploded yesterday, it sent a clouds of ash and water vapor billowing high into the atmosphere. The result was a towering fire cloud, known scientifically as a pyrocumulus cloud, that was visible to NASA’s Aqua satellite passing overhead. The image above shows what Aqua saw.
SEE ALSO: Giant Fire Clouds Over California
The evanescent auroras that form shimmering curtains of light in the high latitudes of both the Northern and Southern hemispheres are stunning enough when seen from below. But from above, the spectacle is simply out of this world.
Except it’s not, really, since the aurora borealis in the north, and aurora australis in the south, are very much a part of our world. That’s demonstrated quite dramatically in the compilation of time-lapse videos linked from the image above.
The video is in ultra-high definition 4K. Even if you don’t have a UHD monitor, it’s still a stunner. In addition to numerous auroras, you can see the bright crackling of lightning at night; the orange glow of towns and cities helping to sketch out maps of the landscape below; and stars, constellations and galaxies turning in the heavens above.
It’s now the Indian Ocean’s turn.
After record setting cyclones in the Northeast Pacific (Hurricane Patricia, Oct. 2015), and the Southwest Pacific (Tropical Cyclone Winston, Feb. 2016), the Indian Ocean has now experienced its strongest storm on record.
Say hello to Cyclone Fantala, as seen in the satellite image above. Fantala’s wind speeds reached an estimated 170 miles per hour on April 18, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.
Modern, reliable records of storm strength in the Indian Ocean extend back only to 1990, according to NASA’s Earth Observatory, source of the image above. But still, I think it’s an achievement worth marking.
Fantala has since weakened considerably, with winds subsiding to just shy of 100 miles per hour as I’m writing this on April 20th local time. The cyclone is expected to make a nearly 180-degree to the southeast and possibly head towards Madagascar — likely in a much weakened state.
When I saw this sweet piece of eye candy, produced recently by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, I felt it was time to come out of blogging hibernation.
Over the past couple of weeks, my day job as a journalism professor at the University of Colorado has held me back from posting regularly here at ImaGeo. But thanks in part to this image, I’m back. I hope you find it to be as spectacular as I do.
You’re looking at a thunderstorm as photographed by an unnamed astronaut aboard the International Space Station some time in late March. It’s a great example of a phenomenon called “overshooting tops.”
Here’s what the phenomenon looks like from an airplane: Read More
Note: Thanks to a spring-break getaway, I’m just now catching up to this new research showing that warming ocean waters are threatening the stability of giant, floating shelves of ice fringing Antarctica. The post that follows offers a summary of the new findings, followed by a Q&A with the study’s main author.
By carving giant channels into the undersides of Antarctica’s ice shelves, warming sea water is leaving some of them more vulnerable to disintegration — and raising new concerns about sea level rise.
“We found that warm ocean water is carving these ‘upside-down rivers,’ or basal channels, into the undersides of ice shelves all around the Antarctic continent,” says lead researcher, Karen Alley, a graduate research assistant at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, and a Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado in Boulder. (See note at the end of this post about my own connection to the University of Colorado.)
These shelves form over thousands of years as ice flows off the mighty ice sheets of Antarctica and into the ocean through outlet glaciers. They can extend over the water for many miles, with bergs calving from their faces. They are, in essence, floating extensions of the grounded ice on the continent.
The ice shelves also act like dams that impound the glaciers behind them, slowing their movement to the sea. Read More
Thanks to dramatically warm conditions, more of the Arctic’s sea surface seems to have remained unfrozen this winter than ever before in the era of satellite monitoring, the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced today.
This year’s low extent of wintertime Arctic sea ice breaks the previous record set just last year. (Satellite monitoring began in 1979.)
Arctic sea ice, which expands during the 24-hour darkness and frigid temperatures of winter, reached its maximum annual extent on March 24, topping out at 431,000 square miles shy of the long-term average.
That’s an area of open water equal in size to nearly two thirds of Texas.
“I’ve never seen such a warm, crazy winter in the Arctic,” said NSIDC director Mark Serreze in the announcement from the center. “The heat was relentless.” Air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean between December and February were 4 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit above average in most areas. (Please see the end of this post for a note about my connection with the University of Colorado, where the NSIDC is based.) Read More
| Please see important correction at end |
Earlier this month, a spate of headlines proclaimed that February 2016 was the warmest such month on record for the globe. At that time, I wrote that we should wait until official, reliable analyses were in before drawing any final conclusions.
The first of those reliable analyses has just been released, and it shows that this past month did indeed set a new record for warmest February in a record extending back to 1880.
According to the analysis by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, this past month was 1.35 degrees C (2.43 F) warmer than the month’s long-term average (measured between 1951 and 1980).
February’s spike was not just a one-off. January also set a record. In fact, we’ve now experienced a string of five record-setting months in a row.
But the increase temperature anomaly spike seen last month was particularly steep. As Gavin Schmidt, head of NASA GISS, put it on Twitter today: “Normally I don’t comment on individual months (too much weather, not enough climate), but last month was special.”
According to Gerald Meehl, a research scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the odds of monthly records being set are raised right now, thanks to “the juxtaposition of a large El Niño and ongoing human-caused warming.”
A spike of El Niño warmth has, in fact, occurred atop the long-term global warming trend-line. But as the string of recent monthly records suggests, that trend line also seems to be angling sharply upward now, after what many climate scientists regard as a multi-year period of slower warming.
But Meehl also cautions that we should not expect each successive month necessarily to be warmer than the preceding one. That’s in part because El Niño’s fade — as this one appears to be doing. And they often transition into La Niña, the opposite of an El Niño, resulting in cooling.
Moreover, climate can be quite labile, with natural variation causing lots of ups and downs.
This past Wednesday, March 9, 2016, the Moon blotted out the Sun in a total eclipse, turning day to dusk starting in Sumatra, moving east across many other Indonesian islands, and then out into the wide Pacific Ocean.
But how did it look from geostationary orbit —22,236 miles out in space — looking down on Earth? Have a look by watching the animation above. Read More
The Curiosity Mars rover took this selfie — actually, 57 of them stitched into one mosaic — as it was exploring a feature on the Red Planet known as the “Namib Dune.”
The rover used its Mars Hand Lens Imager, or MAHLI, instrument at the end of its robotic arm to snap the images on Jan. 19, 2016, during the 1,228th Martian day, or sol, of its work on Mars. (A Mars solar day has a mean period of 24 hours 39 minutes 35.244 seconds.)
This is the sixth such self portrait for Curiosity. But as luck would have it, I had never seen one of these before. So for me, this was a totally fresh perspective.
My second reaction (after, “A rippled dune on Mars! I want to go!) was puzzlement: How did the rover produce a stand-off selfie like this without its robotic arm getting into the image? Curiosity certainly did not set up a camera on a tripod, hit the self-timer button, and then back up for the portrait.
I’ll get to the answer in a minute. But first, take a close look at this beautiful image. Make sure to click on it, and then click on it again to enlarge it. Check out the stunning details, including some damage to one of the rover’s wheels — which for scale are 20 inches in diameter and about 16 inches wide. (The wheels actually have developed punctures, tears and other signs of damage, but Curiosity manages to soldier on…) Read More
As I’m writing this, rain and snow has finally arrived in California — and as the animation above shows, some of that moisture has traveled an exceedingly long distance.
As in all the way across the Pacific Ocean.
The animation shows the evolution of total precipitable water, or TPW, in the atmosphere for 72 hours between March 2 and 5. If you could convert all the water and water vapor contained in the atmosphere, from top to bottom, into the liquid phase, TPW is what you’d wind up with. The deepest reds in the animation above show TPW amounts in excess of 2.4 inches.
This is the feedstock for storms, including the one now hitting California. Read More