Here’s the first installment in a new series at ImaGeo: dazzling imagery from the new GOES-16 weather satellite

By Tom Yulsman | April 23, 2017 4:17 pm
An animation of images from the new GOES-16 weather satellite shows the progression of a day starting on April 21, 2017. (Source: CIRA/RAMMB/NOAA)

An animation of images from the new GOES-16 weather satellite shows the progression of a day for 12 hours starting on April 21, 2017. (Source: CIRA/RAMMB/NOAA)

With Earth Day just behind us, I’ve been inspired to start a new series here at ImaGeo: semi-regular posts showcasing the truly dazzling imagery now being produced by the GOES-16 weather satellite.

It’s now on its shakedown cruise, so to speak. Scientists are still testing everything out and evaluating the data being returned by the satellite. So it is not yet officially operational.

Even so, just have a look at the animation above, and the others below, and I think you’ll agree that GOES-16 seems to be experiencing smooth sailing so far. (Although I’m guessing that the engineers working behind the scenes might take issue with that!) Read More

There’s no place like home

By Tom Yulsman | April 22, 2017 7:40 pm

A visual celebration of the home planet, starting with a view from Earth as seen from Saturn — 870 million miles away — and zooming in close


In this image, acquired by the Cassini spacecraft just this past April 12th, the rings of Saturn dominate the view. But see that little white dot? That’s home — 870 million miles away.

On the morning of the first Earth Day, on April 20th, 1970, a friend and I boarded the IRT subway line in Brooklyn and headed for Manhattan. Our destination: Fifth Avenue, where New York City’s festivities were to take place.


Source: NASA

I don’t recall ever having heard the term “home planet” back then. Yet the basic idea already had great currency, thanks to the iconic image of the Earth rising above the limb of the moon, shot by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders on Christmas Eve of 1968. The late and great landscape photographer Galen Rowell is said to have described it as  “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”

In fact, it may well be one of the most important photographs ever taken, period. That’s because it helped us realize that we humans live on a finite planet, “spaceship earth,” as some called it, and that if we didn’t take care, we could foul it beyond repair.

As Apollo 8 astronaut Jim Lovell put it in a live broadcast from lunar orbit: Read More

Tropical Storm Arlene spins up in the Atlantic, two months before average date of first storm of hurricane season

By Tom Yulsman | April 21, 2017 9:25 pm

Is climate change playing any role in an apparent lengthening of the hurricane season?

Tropical Storm Arlene

Arlene, as seen by NASA’s Terra satellite on the morning of Friday, April 21, 2017 — probably before it was downgraded in status from a tropical storm. The U.S. East Coast is off screen to the left. (Source: NASA Worldview)

It’s way early for hurricane season to start, but that’s precisely what happened yesterday with the formation of Tropical Storm Arlene in the far northern Atlantic.

Brian McNoldy, a researcher at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, writing at his Tropical Atlantic Update blog, puts this into perspective:

. . . this is exactly two months before the average date of first storm formation (June 20). It is also the 6th pre-season named storm to form in the past 6 years.

And as Weather Underground meteorologist Brian Henson put it in a post today: Read More

Check out this cool animation illustrating California’s dramatic change in fortunes

By Tom Yulsman | April 21, 2017 3:20 pm

The animation, based on data from a NASA airborne observatory, show just how much the state’s snowpack has grown

Animation of snow water equivalent

Snow water equivalent — the water content of snow — in California’s Tuolumne River Basin, as seen in an animation comparing 2015 and 2017. Lighter blue indicates less snow, deeper blue is more snow (see color bar at left). The 2017 snow water equivalent was 21 times greater than 2015, which was the lowest snowpack on record. (Source: NASA)

The incredible impact of California’s drought-busting deluges has now become even clearer, thanks to this compelling new animation from NASA.

You’re looking at a comparison of snowpack on April 1, 2015 and 2017 in the Tuolumne River Basin of the Sierra Nevada range. Famous Mono Lake is to the right. The entire basin spans more than 1,600 square miles, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.

The data that underlie these images, collected by instruments aboard NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory, or ASO, tell a dramatic story: Not only is the snowpack in the basin currently 21 times greater than it was in 2015; it is also larger than the four previous years of snowpack — combined.

This is great news for San Francisco and California’s Central Valley growers, since the Tuolumne basin is a major source of water for both. Read More

We just had our 2nd warmest March, and with El Niño maybe rising from the dead, things could get interesting

By Tom Yulsman | April 18, 2017 4:01 pm
This map shows how temperatures varied from the long-term average in March 2017. Europe and all of Russia were again much warmer than the 1951-1980 base period. Much of the United States was also relatively warm, but Alaska was cool. (Source: NASA GISS)

This map shows how temperatures varied from the long-term mean in March 2017. Europe and all of Russia were again much warmer than the 1951-1980 base period. Much of the United States was also relatively warm, but Alaska was cool. (Source: NASA GISS)

The home planet just experienced its second warmest March on record, according to an analysis released by NASA last week. The agency’s temperature records go all the way back to 1880

From the analysis:

Last month was 1.12 degrees Celsius warmer than the mean March temperature from 1951-1980. The two top March temperature anomalies have occurred during the past two years.

Here’s how the year so far compares with the seasonal cycle for every year since 1880: Read More

It sure does look like a flying saucer zinging around Saturn

By Tom Yulsman | April 17, 2017 5:43 pm

But in reality, it is a flying saucer moon named Atlas

Source: NASA

Source: NASA

Who knew? I certainly didn’t… Saturn has a moon shaped eerily like a flying saucer.

Check it out in the image above, acquired by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on April 12, 2017 during a flyby that came as close as 7,000 miles from the moon.

This is the closest image ever taken of the moon, named Atlas, according to NASA. The object is just 19 miles across; it orbits Saturn just outside the giant planet’s A ring — the outermost of Saturn’s main rings. Read More

Say, WHAT? After one of the strongest El Niños on record, another one may be brewing

By Tom Yulsman | April 17, 2017 5:03 pm

The equatorial Pacific Ocean is suffering from a split personality disorder: El Niño-ish in the east; La Niña-ish to the west. El Niño is likely to win out.

Split personality: warm water to the east, cool to the west

Sea surface temperatures in March 2017 compared to the 1981-2010 average. Cooler-than-average SSTs are present in the west-central equatorial Pacific and El Niño-ish warmer-than-average temperatures prevail to the east, extending out from the South American coast. (Source: NOAA map, based on GEO-Polar data.)

Climate forecast models are predicting a full-fledged El Niño by summer or fall. If it should happen, it would bring all manner of disruption to global weather patterns.

And it would also be an extraordinary event.

If you’ll recall, in 2015-16, the planet experienced a monster El Niño event, one of the three strongest on record. It then transitioned into its opposite, La Niña, which has since fizzled into neutral conditions. Now, if El Niño rises from the dead, it would mark just the second time since 1950 that this sequence — El Niño/La Niña/El Niño — will have occurred in three consecutive years. The first time was between 1963 and 1966.

SEE ALSO: Although its impacts on the weather still reverberate, El Niño now has officially gone bye bye

But while the computer forecast models are gung-ho on El Niño roaring back to life by fall (or maybe mewing back to life — it’s not clear how strong it could be), human forecasters, observing what the Pacific has looked like in advance of previous El Niño’s, are being more cautious.

According to a forecast issued last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there is a 50 percent chance of El Niño developing by September. This is slightly more probable than the current neutral conditions continuing. Forecasters peg those odds at 40 percent. (And La Niña? Forget about it. Just a 10 percent chance.) Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate, ENSO, Ocean, select, Top Posts, Weather

Another month, yet another record low for Arctic sea ice

By Tom Yulsman | April 12, 2017 9:43 pm
The edge of Arctic sea ice in the Barents Sea between Svalbard and Novaya Zemlya, as seen by NASA's Terra satellite on April 2, 2017. Sea ice hit a record low in March.

The edge of Arctic sea ice in the Barents Sea between Svalbard and Novaya Zemlya, as seen by NASA’s Terra satellite on April 2, 2017. (Source: NASA Worldview)

Finally! Some relief from the unrelenting decay in Arctic sea ice.

Well, no. I was hoping to be able to report that. But I can’t. The National Snow and Ice Data Center’s most recent update shows the extent of Arctic sea ice in March dropping to a record low for the month. And that marks the sixth month in a row of record-setting lows.

On March 7, the extent of Arctic sea ice seems to have reached its maximum extent for the year, after an entire winter of frigid temperatures. But here too, there was no good news to report: that maximum extent also was noteworthy for being the lowest in the 38-year satellite record. And this is the fourth year in a row that this particular record has been broken.

“The strange seems to be the everyday up there now,” says Mark Serreze, the NSIDC director. Read More

California’s drought ends (at least for now) in a blaze of wildflower glory so intense it’s visible from space

By Tom Yulsman | April 10, 2017 8:29 pm

A before-and-after animation of images acquired by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the Landsat 8 satellite. It shows the impact of copious winter precipitation on California’s Anza-Borrego desert landscape. Compared to the image acquired in March of last year, the one taken on March 23, 2017 is noticeably more verdant. (Images: NASA Earth Observatory. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

After epic drought, California experienced an equally epic rainy season this past winter. And the state’s deserts have responded with an explosion of wildflowers and other vegetation.

Maybe you’ve seen those almost unreal photos of hills blanketed in emerald green grass, and bright yellow, orange and purple wildflowers? If not, check it out:

Now, NASA’s Earth Observatory has published before-and-after satellite images of the Anza-Borrego Desert showing what the spectacle looks like from space. I put them together in the animation above. And while the photos shot on the ground certainly are more dramatic, even from space, the impact of precipitation following extreme drought is quite evident. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate, Drought, select, Top Posts, Water

Climate change in 2016 — and continuing into 2017 — has brought the planet into “truly uncharted territory”

By Tom Yulsman | March 22, 2017 10:37 am

A new report confirms that last year brought record global temperatures, exceptionally low sea ice, and unabated sea level rise


Global temperature anomalies during 2016 compared to a base period of 1961–1990. (Source: UK Met Office Hadley Centre via World Meteorological Organization)

Yesterday I reported that even though the warming influence of El Niño is long gone, February of 2017 brought very little letup in global warming.

SEE ALSO: As the Trump administration proposes to gut climate change funding, the climate continues to change

Now, the World Meteorological Organization is confirming that 2016’s “extreme weather and climate conditions have continued into 2017.”

The report released by the WMO yesterday finds that 2016 brought record global temperatures, as well as exceptionally low sea ice at both poles, unabated sea level rise, and continuing accumulation of heat in the ocean. And those trends appear to be continuing.

“Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system, said World Climate Research Programme Director David Carlson, in a WMO press release. We are now in truly uncharted territory.” 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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