Remember the North Pole winter thaw? A new study finds a rising trend in Arctic warming spikes in winter

By Tom Yulsman | July 11, 2017 4:02 pm
Blah blah. (Source: Norwegian Polar Institute)

During the N-ICE2015 expedition, scientists froze their boat, the Lance, into the Arctic sea ice to gather data from January to June of 2015. (Source: Norwegian Polar Institute)

During each of the past three years, something quite bizarre has happened in the central Arctic.

No, global warming did not cause some Thing to rise up out of the ice and go on a rampage. It was temperatures that rose up. And not just by a little.

This occurred during extreme warming events near the North Pole that sent temperatures spiking close to, or above, the freezing mark for one to three days. Compare that to average winter temperatures in winter: typically lower than minus 30 degrees Celsius, or -22 F.

Arctic warm spells in winter are by no means unheard of. But were the extreme conditions seen during the last three years a sign that warm episodes are becoming more common than in the past? And has the duration of warm episodes in winter been increasing?

A new study published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters finds that the answer to both questions is yes.

Since 1980, an additional six warming events — defined as temperatures rising above -10 degrees C, or 14 F — are occurring each winter in the North Pole region, according to the study by a team of Norwegian, American and German scientists. In addition, the average length of each event has grown from fewer than two days to nearly two and a half days. Read More

Southern California wildfires blossom as the new GOES-16 satellite watches the action from space

By Tom Yulsman | July 10, 2017 5:40 pm

Meanwhile, 2,000 miles to the north, it’s fire and ice — as seen by NASA’s Terra satellite

Twin California wildfires are seen in this animation of imagery acquired by the GOES-16 weather satellite. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA/NOAA)

Twin Southern California California wildfires — the Alamo Fire and the Whittier Fire a little to the south of it — are seen in this animation of imagery acquired by the GOES-16 weather satellite. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA/NOAA)

It’s that time of year. Sixty-five wildfires — 20 of them new — are blazing in the United States across some 1,100 square miles of land.

For the year to date, 32,737 fires have scorched more than 5,400 square miles — an area equivalent to the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and then some. In terms of acreage, that’s about 30 percent ahead of the year-to-date average for the previous ten years. (For the latest statistics, see the National Interagency Fire Center.)

More than a dozen wildfires are making headlines in California today, including two that have exploded in size in the southern part of the state.

The Alamo fire burning in San Luis Obispo County has consumed 28,926 acres as of this morning. That’s about twice the size of Manhattan.

A little to the south is the Whittier Fire in the Santa Ynez Mountains not far from Santa Barbara. It has burned 10,823 acres. “The combination of old, dry fuels with a newly cured heavy grass crop contributed to the rapid growth of this fire,” according to a morning update from InciWeb, an inter-agency incident information system.

The new GOES-16 weather satellite watched as both blazes blossomed. See above for an animation showing the growth of the smoke plumes from those fires. Read More

The little storm that could: Watch a tenacious tropical depression race ahead of a huge blob of Saharan dust

By Tom Yulsman | July 7, 2017 1:38 pm

The GOES-16 weather satellite eyed Tropical Depression Four in the central Atlantic Ocean on Thursday afternoon, July 6, 2017, as it raced ahead of a huge blob of brownish dust streaming off the Sahara in Africa. (Source: CIRA/RAMMB/NOAA)

It may have a humdrum name, but since Tropical Depression Four formed in the central Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday evening, it has certainly distinguished itself.

It is a “small, tenacious depression” that “has continued to hold its own,” the National Hurricane Center said in its update this morning. The spectacular animation above, from the GOES-16 weather satellite, suggests why that word, tenacious, is appropriate.

Tropical Depression Four has managed to stay alive despite dry and dusty air streaming west from the Sahara in Africa. In the video, you can see the swirling depression racing ahead of a large mass of dusty, brown-tinged air.

For a tropical depression to rev up and grow into a full-blown hurricane, it needs to be fueled by warm, moist air. So dry air has the opposite effect — it saps the strength of depressions and hurricanes.

Tropical Depression Four has held its own while struggling against the dry air. Yet ultimately, the Saharan Air Layer, or SAL, as scientists call it, is winning. And that means in all likelihood the depression will degenerate by tonight. Read More

Arctic sea ice is ebbing faster than normal, and by September it could bottom out at a very low level

By Tom Yulsman | July 6, 2017 8:53 pm
This animation using false-color imagery acquired by NASA's Aqua satellite shows how sea ice just off the Russian coast in the East Siberian Sea changed between June 18 and July 6, 2017. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

This animation consists of false-color images of the Russian coast and adjoining East Siberian Sea acquired by NASA’s Aqua satellite. On June 18, the offshore waters were choked with sea ice. By July 6, 2017, a lot of it had broken up. In the false-color scheme, land is green, black is indicative of open water, and ice is a light turquoise. The darker blue prominent in the June 18th image probably is indicative of melting snow and ice that’s causing liquid water to accumulate. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

Under frigid winter conditions, the Arctic’s floating lid of sea ice typically expands to a maximum extent in March. But thanks to human-caused global warming, that maximum seasonal spread of the ice has been shrinking over the years — and this past March it reached the lowest level ever observed for the month.

But then, something unexpected happened: In May, sea ice retreated much more sluggishly.

This prompted some people who deny the reality of humankind’s impact on the climate to pounce. “ARCTIC SEA ICE BOUNCES BACK,” shouted one headline (on a blog that bills itself as being dedicated to “common sense on climate change”). Well, hold on…

Now we have the latest monthly report from the scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, and wouldn’t you know it: During June, Arctic sea ice shrank faster than average. That resulted in June’s ice cover coming in at sixth lowest in the satellite monitoring era, which began in 1979.

But that’s not the most newsworthy part of the report. In my view, this is: By July 2, Arctic sea ice had retreated to a particularly low level matching what was seen on the same date in 2012.

That’s significant because in 2012, sea ice went on to set a record that has not been broken since. During the summer of that year, ice extent dropped precipitously, and in September it went lower than ever seen before. Read More

The iceberg about to crack off Antarctica will be a million times more voluminous than the Empire State Building

By Tom Yulsman | July 5, 2017 9:08 pm

According to a new estimate, the impending iceberg could be the size of Delaware and extend more than 60 stories beneath the surface


Antarctica’s soon-to-be iceberg is visualized here in a graphic from the European Space Agency.  

An ever-widening rift in an Antarctic ice shelf has grown from 70 miles long back in December 2016 to 124 miles long now. That means there’s just another three miles to go before the fissure reaches the ocean.

When that happens, the ice shelf will let loose a berg extending across 2,316 square miles, according to a new estimate based on satellite radar data released today by the European Space Agency. At its deepest, the berg will extend 689 feet below the sea’s surface, ESA says. That’s about 64 stories high. By comparison, the Empire State Building in New York is 102 stories tall.

Combine that Delaware-sized geographic extent with the thickness and you get a berg that contains a mind-boggling 277 cubic miles of ice. By my calculations, that really does come to more than a million times the volume of the Empire State. Read More

Has the Sun blown its top?

By Tom Yulsman | July 5, 2017 2:02 pm

It sure looks that way in this animation showing the Sun up close and personal. And there are two other ‘holes’ visible as well.

A big dark area in the north polar region makes it appear as if the Sun has blown its top. And in a way, it has.

You can see what’s going on by watching the animation above. It’s based on data acquired by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft over 48 hours, starting on July 3rd and continuing into today (the 5th). Two other large dark areas are visible as well, including one in the south polar region and another along the equator.

What you’re looking at is a trio of “coronal holes,” dark regions of the corona — the Sun’s outer atmosphere. The images that go into the animation were acquired in the extreme ultraviolet part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which highlights the corona as well as hot plasma from flares.

The dark coronal holes are places where very little radiation is being emitted. Here, the Sun’s magnetic field lines open outward into space. The following image allows us to visualize what that looks like: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: select, Sun, Top Posts

As wildfires explode across the western U.S., satellites above spy the giant smoke plumes — and bloviating partisans below politicize what’s happening

By Tom Yulsman | June 30, 2017 12:41 am

In blaming western wildfires on environmentalists and the Forest Service, politicians are ignoring science — and putting people at risk


Giant smoke plumes from wildfires blazing in Utah and Arizona were easily visible to the GOES-16 weather satellite on June 27th, 2017. The Brian Head fire is to the north, in Utah. The Goodwin Fire near Prescott, Arizona is to the south. A much smaller plume can also be seen growing in Arizona. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA/NOAA)

Thanks to hot, dry and windy conditions, new wildfires have exploded across the western United States in the last few days, forcing thousands of people to evacuate their homes and flee from encroaching flames.

As of Thursday, June 29th, 29 large wildfires were blazing in ten states, 28 of them in the West, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. The flames have spread across 207,345 acres — an area larger than the City of New York. More than 8,400 firefighters and support personnel are involved in battling the blazes. (For the latest update from the fire center, go here.)

The largest is the Brian Head Fire in southern Utah. At 58,319 acres as of Thursday, it had grown to more than a third the size of Chicago. Although firefighters have slowed its advance, by Thursday evening it was only 15 percent contained.

The Brian Head Fire is the northerly one visible in the incredible animation above of GOES-16 weather satellite images. The more southerly smoke plume is coming from the Goodwin Fire near Prescott, Arizona.

Here’s a broader view of western states, also acquired by GOES-16: Read More

Watch: Animation of satellite images shows smoke from the Brian Head fire drifting across much of Utah and beyond

By Tom Yulsman | June 27, 2017 4:52 pm

With hot, dry and windy conditions continuing, the dangerous Brian Head fire is expected to grow significantly

GOES-West animation of the Brian Head Fire

A giant smoke plume from Utah’s Brian Head Fire is seen streaming across much of the state and on into Wyoming and Colorado in this animation created from images captured by the GOES-West weather satellite on Monday, June 26, 2017. The white arrow in the first frame marks the location of the fire, near the Brian Head ski resort. (Source: RAMSDIS Online/RAMMB/CIRA)

Super dry conditions and winds gusting to more than 40 miles per hour yesterday have fanned Utah’s Brian Head wildfire, reportedly sending flames shooting 100 feet into the air.

Those flames lofted giant plumes of smoke that were easily seen by the GOES-West weather satellite. You can see it happening in the animation above, which I created using imagery acquired by the satellite between 7:15 a.m. and 9:15 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time.

Here’s a closer, static view from the satellite: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate Change, select, Top Posts, Wildfire

A dramatically detailed animation from the new GOES-16 satellite shows Hurricane Dora swirling in the Pacific

By Tom Yulsman | June 26, 2017 9:09 pm

Dora is the Western Hemisphere’s 1st hurricane-strength storm of 2017

The GOES-16 weather satellite captured this view of Hurricane Dora churning in the northeastern Pacific Ocea

The GOES-16 weather satellite captured this view of Hurricane Dora churning in the northeastern Pacific Ocean on Monday, June 26, 2017. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA GOES-16 Loop of the Day)

Click on the screenshot above and say hello to Dora, the first storm of 2017 in the Western Hemisphere to reach hurricane strength.

The imagery that went into the animation comes from NOAA’s new GOES-16 weather satellite. This is the first hurricane that the satellite has tracked since it was launched in November of 2016.

As I’m writing this late on the afternoon of Monday, June 26th, Dora is a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 90 miles per hour, with stronger gusts. The tropical cyclone is moving away from the coast of southwestern Mexico and is forecast to pass well south of the Baja California peninsula on Tuesday. The Mexican coast will probably get some heavy rain, but Dora poses no significant threat on land. (For the latest information on Dora from NOAA, go here.)

The Advanced Baseline Imager, or ABI, is the primary instrument on GOES-16, and it is far more capable than the current imagers found on the operational GOES-East and GOES-West satellites. It can create an image of Earth’s full disk in just 5 to 15 minutes, compared to every three hours for the current satellites. But its capabilities don’t end there. Among other things, the ABI can provide high definition imagery of severe weather as often as every 30 seconds. That’s getting darn close to real time!

GOES-16 currently is on its shakedown cruise. Scientists are still testing everything out and evaluating the data being returned by the satellite. So it is not yet officially operational. That may come as soon as November.

Another stunner from the Juno spacecraft: Jupiter’s giant cloud bands and ‘String of Pearls’

By Tom Yulsman | June 26, 2017 7:49 pm

This enhanced-color image of Jupiter was created by citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran using data from the JunoCam imager on NASA’s Juno spacecraft. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt /Seán Doran)

After a bit of an absence for vacation, and to finish work on a feature article on Arctic climate change and geopolitics for bioGraphic magazine, I’m back to blogging here at ImaGeo. And when I spotted this arresting image of Jupiter from the Juno spacecraft, I knew this had to be my first post since returning.

Before I get into the details, you might be wondering how images of far away planets fit in a blog dedicated in large measure to the science of our planet. That word, ‘planet,’ gets at the answer. Here at ImaGeo I frequently feature images and write stories that consider Earth from a planetary perspective — remote sensing images of storms, for example, and articles examining how the global climate is changing and how our activities as humans are contributing.

For scientists, understanding our solar system siblings, including Jupiter as well as Mars and all the others, provides insight into the origin and evolution of our own planet. This in turn can help explain why Earth alone came to host an unimaginably diverse array of life forms, including a primate species capable of asking questions about its cosmic origins — and also to fling spacecraft out to other planets in a quest to answer those questions.

So that’s why I frequently post compelling images of other planets here, including the one above. It was acquired on May 19, 2017 by NASA’s Juno spacecraft from an altitude of about 20,800 miles above Jupiter’s cloud tops. 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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