Global warming in December blows the previous record right out of the (exceedingly warm) water

By Tom Yulsman | January 16, 2016 1:49 pm

Result for 2015 overall likely to be the same

global warming

This graph from the Japan Meteorological Agency shows how the global average temperature during each December (dark circles) varied from the long-term average. As the graph shows, global average temperature in December 2015 was by far the warmest for the month in the record, which dates back to 1890. (Graph: JMA. Globe: Mashup: Tom Yulsman)

The first verdict on just how warm the globe was during December of 2015 is now in. And while it is not surprising, I still gasped when I saw it.

As the graph from the Japan Meteorological Agency above shows, global warming last month really did blow the previous record for December right out of the water — which was astonishingly warm itself (speaking of the oceans here), as the underlying image suggests.

The graph shows how the global average temperature in December, measured across land and sea surfaces, varied from the long-term average for the month. By the JMA’s calculation, it was 0.67°C above the 1981-2010 average, and 1.05°C above the 20th century average — the warmest by far since 1891.

Here’s how temperature anomalies varied in December across the globe: Read More

The birth and evolution of Hurricane Alex, as seen in spectacular satellite imagery

By Tom Yulsman | January 15, 2016 11:33 am

A highly unusual winter hurricane swirls in the North Atlantic Ocean

Hurricane Alex

An animation of imagery from the GOES-13 satellite shows the evolution of a cyclonic storm between January 6 and 14, 2015, that culminated in the formation of Hurricane Alex in the North Atlantic Ocean. (Source: Satellite Blog of the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison)

Since 1851, records show that just two hurricanes have churned through the Atlantic Ocean in January.

Until yesterday, that is, when a cyclonic low pressure system born off the U.S. southeast coast early in January evolved into Hurricane Alex.

After achieving hurricane strength, Alex subsided to tropical storm strength, coming ashore today as a tropical storm in the Azores, according to the National Hurricane Center: Read More

The Godzilla El Niño now drenching California is getting a boost from another potent climatic phenomenon: ‘MJO’

By Tom Yulsman | January 5, 2016 8:51 pm

Expect continuing California rains, and the East to turn much colder


A phenomenon known as the Madden-Julian Oscillation, or MJO, has been moving from west to east across the tropical Pacific Ocean, and now seems to be enhancing the effects of the already powerful El Niño in progress. The animation of infrared satellite images above shows areas where enhanced storminess from the migrating MJO is occurring (as indicated by other remote sensing data). The blue and green colors with embedded splotches of bright yellow and red are indicative of higher levels of atmospheric water vapor. Duller orange and red indicates less water vapor. (Source: RAMMB/NOAA/NESDIS)

Godzilla El Niño stormed ashore in Southern California today, offering up a good drenching that has caused flooding, closed roads, and transformed the usually trickling Los Angeles River into a raging torrent.

Today’s fast-moving tempest will be just the first in a parade of storms this week. An El-Niño-energized subtropical jet stream promises to help deliver at least two more rounds of copious rainfall to the drought-plagued region between now and Sunday.

SEE ALSO: Had enough meteorological mayhem? Sorry, thanks to El Niño, things are likely to get even worse

All of this was expected from the El Niño that has been growing in the tropical reaches of the Pacific Ocean for months. But now, it seems to be getting a boost from another climatic phenomenon: the Madden-Julian Oscillation.

The active phase of the MJO is moving eastward through the tropical Pacific, and it is helping to enhance El Niño there.

We’re essentially seeing a mash-up of both El Niño and the MJO at the moment,” says Michelle L’Heureaux, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Wherever MJO goes, it tends to increase storminess. And it’s doing precisely that right now in the central tropical Pacific Ocean — where El Niño has been doing the same thing.

This is very far from California. But the weather that happens there doesn’t just stay there. It tends to influence events much farther afield.

What impacts on U.S. weather can we expect from the El Niño-MJO mashup? Read More

Had enough meteorological mayhem? Sorry, thanks to El Niño, things are likely to get even worse

By Tom Yulsman | December 31, 2015 5:03 pm
Meteorological mayhem

The evolution of El Niño from the start of 2015 through Dec. 27 is seen in this animation using data from the Jason-2 satellite. The satellite measures the height of the sea surface. Expansion from warming raises sea level, and visa versa. In the image above, the warmest waters are depicted in white, the coolest in deep purple. The long tongue of warm water that develops along the equator is a hallmark of El Niño. (Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

From preternatural Christmas warmth enveloping the eastern U.S., to deadly tornados raking the nation’s midsection, to historic flooding that followed close behind, and most recently to a monstrous storm that unfroze the Arctic, the past several weeks have brought a pronounced bout of meteorological mayhem.

SEE ALSO: One of the most powerful N. Atlantic storms on record builds 55-ft waves and brings winter melting to North Pole

And that list doesn’t include the impacts that many millions of people in poor parts of the world have been experiencing. As my friend and colleague at the BBC, Matt McGrath, reports: Read More

One of the most powerful N. Atlantic storms on record builds 55-ft waves and brings winter melting to North Pole

By Tom Yulsman | December 30, 2015 7:53 pm
Massive storm brings melting to North Pole.

The low pressure system that exploded on Dec. 30, 2015 into one of the strongest storms on record in the North Atlantic is seen in this video consisting of enhanced infrared imagery from the Meteosat-10 satellite. The video shows the entire development of this extremely powerful system. Meteorological surface analyses also are included, at the end. (Source: National Weather Service Ocean Prediction Center)

A monstrously powerful North Atlantic storm has done the unthinkable: By drawing warm air up from the south into the Arctic, it likely pushed up temperatures at the North Pole today to just above the melting point.

The North Pole unfreezing — in winter? That’s seems like a fitting way to end a year that will go down as the warmest on record, by far.

See also: 2015 will almost certainly end as warmest year on record — and 2016 is now forecast to be at least as warm

One caveat is in order: There is no permanent weather station at the North Pole, so an actual measurement of the temperature has not been taken there. But weather models using data from satellites and the nearest weather stations provide good estimates of what’s happening in the Arctic, including at the North Pole.

Massive storm brings melting to the North Pole.

The temperature at the North Pole, as estimated by the weather models, crept up above freezing on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, thanks to a powerful storm swirling near Iceland. (Source:

In the graphic above, you can see the powerful storm swirling over Iceland, as visualized using data from weather models. The lines indicate wind direction, and colors are indicative of temperature. The green shows warm air being sucked up from south of the Arctic by the storm, and flung on a beeline over Svalbard and on to the North Pole. Read More

2015 will almost certainly end as warmest year on record — and 2016 is now forecast to be at least as warm

By Tom Yulsman | December 19, 2015 12:01 pm
November 2015 warmest on record

Nov. 2015 warmest on record

During 2015, one global warming record after another has fallen.  And if you’re looking for relief in the new year, you can probably forget about it.

More about the forecast for 2016 in a minute. But first, let’s wrap up 2015:

The latest global warming record to fall for the year now ending was the one for the month of November: According to data released this past week, the combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces last month was an astonishing 1.75 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 20th century average of 55.2 degrees F.

That means November 2015 shattered the previous record, set in 2013, for warmest such month in the 136-year period of record.

With this tally in, it’s now clear that September through November also set the mark for highest departure from average temperature for the season — by far. In fact, nine of the first eleven months of 2015 have been record warm, as has been the period January through November.

So now there really is just one significant question remaining: By how much will 2015 beat the previous mark — set in 2014 — for warmest year on record? We’ll have to wait until the analyses are published, probably in the second week of January, to get an answer.

In the meantime, let’s delve a bit deeper, with the help of some graphics — starting with the one above. Read More

There’s no place like the home planet

By Tom Yulsman | December 18, 2015 6:33 pm
In this image, created with data acquired by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, the Earth is seen above the limb of the Moon, above Compton crater. (Source: NASA)

In this image, created with data acquired by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, the Earth is seen above the limb of the Moon, above Compton crater. (Source: NASA)

After a bit of a blogging hiatus, I’m back — and I thought I’d lead off with the image above. I find it singularly striking.

Make sure to click on the image to fully take in the beauty of the home planet.

It consists of a composite of photographs acquired on Oct. 12, 2015 by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. At the time, LRO was above the Compton crater on the Moon’s far side.

It looks like LRO captured a picture of Earthrise on the Moon — and that’s how NASA has headlined it. But this is a bit of poetic license — because a stationary observer on the Moon actually would never see the Earth rising or setting.

Here’s why: Read More

As seen from space: ‘Earth’s connecting point to the rest of the universe’ — and a fierce legal battleground too

By Tom Yulsman | November 30, 2015 2:02 pm
connecting point

Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano, as seen from the International Space Station on Nov. 1, 2015. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)

Click on this arresting photograph of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano, shot from orbit, and then see if you can make out a series of white structures on the summit.

See them? They form a ‘C’ right at the top. (For an original, high resolution version of the image, go here.)

These are some of the 13 working telescopes near the volcano’s summit, as seen from the International Space Station on Nov. 1, 2015 and posted today by NASA’s Earth Observatory.

As the website for the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy puts it, these telescopes make Hawaii “Earth’s connecting point to the rest of the Universe.” Read More

The Sun blows its top — again

By Tom Yulsman | November 30, 2015 11:51 am

A sequence of images captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft shows the Sun in different wavelengths. Three of the images show a prominent coronal hole toward the top of the Sun, where solar particles have blown outward into space leaving a dark, relatively cool region. A fourth image adds a map of magnetic field lines. (Source: NASA)

Every once in awhile, a kind of hole blows out in the Sun’s atmosphere — a “coronal hole,” as it is called. And it has happened again, this time on top of the Sun.

You can see it above in a sequence of images captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft, or SDO, in different wavelengths of light. Look for the big dark area on the Sun’s cap.

Not to worry! This is completely normal.

SEE ALSO: Has the Sun blown its top?

Ordinarily, the Sun’s magnetic field lines extend up through the atmosphere, or corona, and then loop back down to the surface. This bottles up solar particles near the surface, where they heat up and glow.

But sometimes, magnetic field lines extend up and out into space without reconnecting to the surface. Here, the opening in the magnetic field allows particles to blow out into space. Wherever this happens, the surface becomes darker and cooler, giving the impression of a hole in the Sun.

I created the animation above to illustrate this process. It consists of SDO images of the Sun captured in different wavelengths. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, select, Stars, Sun, Top Posts

Lunar puzzler: What is the mysterious feature in this beautiful image of the Lunar Module orbiting the Moon?

By Tom Yulsman | November 23, 2015 2:28 pm

The Apollo 12 Lunar Module as seen from the Command and Service Modules on Nov. 19, 1969. (Source: NASA)

UPDATE: The lunar puzzler is solved! For the answer, read through to the end of this post. — T.Y. 

Last Thursday marked the anniversary of a significant event in human history: the Apollo 12 Moon landing on Nov. 19, 1969.

This was just the second time humans ever stepped foot on our cratered satellite. But the occasion passed us by last week largely unheralded.

That’s understandable, because the landing wasn’t a first — the astronauts of Apollo 11 hold that honor. And a 46th anniversary isn’t as resonant as, say, a 50th would have been.

“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence,” said Auric Goldfinger in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel. (*See the end for the rest of the quote.) But Apollo 12 showed just the opposite: Landing on the Moon a second time wasn’t just coincidence.

It showed that humans were capable of more than just one giant leap. We could leap a second time across across more than 220,000 miles of space and then land with breathtaking precision — within walking distance of the mission’s target, the robotic Surveyor III spacecraft that had touched down back in 1967.

So I think it is fair to say that with Apollo 12, humans became true spacefarers.

To mark the anniversary of the landing, NASA published the image above. 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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