March Puzzler Answer: NWT Winter Road

March 23rd, 2015 by Jesse Allen

winterroad_oli_2015055

The answer to the March 2015 puzzler, most commenters agreed, involved snow and ice and cold climates. A great many guesses correctly zeroed in on far northern latitudes, with surmises about pipelines in Alaska, airport runways in Siberia, railroad sidings, and ice roads on frozen lakes. You can see the full answer and image reveal in our March 22, 2015 Image of the Day.

Reader James Simard was the first to get the location fully correct as the winter road in Canada’s Northwest Territories. James wrote:

The world’s longest ice road connects Yellowknife to three diamond mines: Ekati, Diavik, and Snap Lake. Of the 475 kilometers (300 miles) of ice road, 86 percent of it is across frozen lakes.

The ice road is the only overland supply route for the mines. Each winter, a year’s worth of fuel, construction material, heavy mining equipment, and explosives are trucked to the mines. The road provides the most cost-effective method for transporting these supplies.

However James went a step further and said that it was Landsat 8 image (yes!) from April 10, 2014 (alas, no). It turns out my puzzler choice was something that the USGS Earthshots posted online (and James’ detailed quote is from that page). If I had known the USGS folks had run this before, I would not have selected it as a puzzler. This image is actually a much more recent Landsat 8 image from February 24, 2015. I actually stumbled on it while purusing the daily images from a sister satellite instrument, EO-1’s ALI, but the Landsat image three days later covered more of the winter road. Nice find, James! Clearly I need to comb through the Earthshots page in the future first!

I also want to give a special shout-out to reader Shirley. She also got the right answer, giving the full name of the Tibbett-Contwoyto Ice Road. However, she did have an inside track on the answer. She wrote: “My company works on the road every year.”

On Facebook, many people posted correct answers (including James one minute after he posted the answer here). Some readers locked into the correct answer after recalling episodes of the History Channel’s TV series Ice Road Truckers, which focused on the Tibbett-Contwoyto Ice Road during its first season.

If you would like to know more about the Tibbett-Contwoyo Ice Road, check out the references cited on our Image of the Day answer.

March Puzzler

March 16th, 2015 by Jesse Allen

february_puzzler

Every month on Earth Matters, we offer a puzzling satellite image. The March 2015 puzzler is above. Your challenge is to use the comments section to tell us what part of the world we are looking at, when the image was acquired, what the image shows, and why the scene is interesting.

How to answer. Your answer can be a few words or several paragraphs. (Try to keep it shorter than 200 words). You might simply tell us what part of the world an image shows. Or you can dig deeper and explain what satellite and instrument produced the image, what spectral bands were used to create it, or what is compelling about some obscure speck in the far corner of an image. If you think something is interesting or noteworthy, tell us about it.

The prize. We can’t offer prize money, but, we can promise you credit and glory (well, maybe just credit). Roughly one week after a puzzler image appears on this blog, we will post an annotated and captioned version as our Image of the Day. In the credits, we’ll acknowledge the person who was first to correctly ID the image. We’ll also recognize people who offer the most interesting tidbits of information about the geological, meteorological, or human processes that have played a role in molding the landscape. Please include your preferred name or alias with your comment. If you work for or attend an institution that you want us to recognize, please mention that as well.

Recent winners. If you’ve won the puzzler in the last few months or work in geospatial imaging, please sit on your hands for at least a day to give others a chance to play.

Releasing Comments. Savvy readers have solved some of our puzzlers after only a few minutes or hours. To give more people a chance to play, we may wait between 24-48 hours before posting the answers we receive in the comment thread.

Good luck!

February Puzzler Answer: Bang Kachao

March 3rd, 2015 by Kathryn Hansen

puzzler_201502

The answer to the February 2015 puzzler does not involve the stomach or kidney as many readers suggested. But if your answer mentioned the organ associated with breathing—the lung—then you were partially correct. The image shows Bangkok’s “green lung.” That’s the nickname given to Bang Kachao, a lush protected area that has escaped the dense development seen elsewhere in Bangkok, Thailand. Read more about the region in the caption of the March 1, 2015, Image of the Day.

In response to the February 24 blog post announcing the puzzler, Robert van den Helm was the first to correctly name the city and country. Tanatakorn was the first to specify Bang Ka Chao (one of a number of alternate spellings for the area).

Paul Mueller contributed colorful details about the region that he calls home—and indicates that stomach would have also been an acceptable answer:

 “It’s my home, Khung Bang Krachao, nicknamed “The Lungs of Bangkok” or, as the locals say in Thai: “Pig’s Stomach”. It is located in a meander in the Chao Phraya River just south of Bangkok. Comprised of six subdistricts with a population of around 10,000 and an area of around 16 square kilometers, it is part of the Phrapradaeng District of Samut Prakan Province. It is an island since there are at least two canals that cut through the “neck” It is also the largest green space in the world next to any city the size of Bangkok or larger, but sadly is being quickly developed. In 1977, the original plan by the government was to buy almost the entire island to preserve it as a green space, but it was only in 1982 that the funding came in, resulting in only a little over ten percent actually being purchased …”

Finally, Rolf Dunker contributed some interesting nuggets of information on Facebook, noting that buildings in the area not to exceed the height of the palm trees.

Thank you for participating in the February puzzler discussion. We look forward to hearing from you again in March!

A Century Studying Flight

March 3rd, 2015 by Mike Carlowicz

“Today marks a special anniversary for the NASA family,” Administrator Charles Bolden wrote in a letter to NASA employees.

On March 3, 1915, the U.S. Congress created the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the organization from which NASA was later created in 1958. Bolden notes that NACA was initially formed because political leaders at the time were concerned that the United States was losing its edge in aviation technology to Europe, where World War 1 was raging.

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One of NACA’s missions was to “supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight with a view to their practical solution.” Research by NACA funded engineers led to fundamental advances in aeronautics that enabled victory in World War II, spawned a world-leading civil aviation manufacturing industry, propelled supersonic flight, supported national security, and laid the foundation for modern air travel and the Space Age. Many names we know from the early days of space exploration got their start at the NACA – including Robert Gilruth, Hugh Dryden, Chris Kraft, Gene Kranz and Neil Armstrong, among many others. A number of the laboratories and wind tunnels built in the NACA era are still at work today.

You can learn more about NACA by visiting this page on the main NASA web site. And you can watch pieces of the centennial symposium here.

February Puzzler

February 24th, 2015 by Kathryn Hansen

puzzler_201502

Every month on Earth Matters, we offer a puzzling satellite image. The February 2015 puzzler is above. Your challenge is to use the comments section to tell us what part of the world we are looking at, when the image was acquired, what the image shows, and why the scene is interesting.

How to answer. Your answer can be a few words or several paragraphs. (Try to keep it shorter than 200 words). You might simply tell us what part of the world an image shows. Or you can dig deeper and explain what satellite and instrument produced the image, what spectral bands were used to create it, or what is compelling about some obscure speck in the far corner of an image. If you think something is interesting or noteworthy, tell us about it.

The prize. We can’t offer prize money, but, we can promise you credit and glory (well, maybe just credit). Roughly one week after a puzzler image appears on this blog, we will post an annotated and captioned version as our Image of the Day. In the credits, we’ll acknowledge the person who was first to correctly ID the image. We’ll also recognize people who offer the most interesting tidbits of information about the geological, meteorological, or human processes that have played a role in molding the landscape. Please include your preferred name or alias with your comment. If you work for or attend an institution that you want us to recognize, please mention that as well.

Recent winners. If you’ve won the puzzler in the last few months or work in geospatial imaging, please sit on your hands for at least a  day to give others a chance to play.

Releasing Comments. Savvy readers have solved some of our puzzlers after only a few minutes or hours. To give more people a chance to play, we may wait between 24-48 hours before posting the answers we receive in the comment thread.

Good luck!

Flipped, Dirty, Amazing Icebergs

February 6th, 2015 by Adam Voiland
flipped_cornell

Photo © Alex Cornell.

Icebergs are white, right? Well, no, not completely. As seen in this shot (above) of a recently-flipped iceberg, their undersides can come in spectacular shades of blue and green. The photograph was captured in Cierva Cove, Antarctica, by videographer Alex Cornell during a family vacation. “[It] had this arresting alien-green color to it,” Cornell said of the iceberg in an interview with Universe Today. “It looked a lot more like a parked spacecraft than a floating iceberg.”

When icebergs look white, it is because compressed snow at their surfaces contain large numbers of tiny air bubbles and other reflective particles that tend to reflect all wavelengths of visible light equally. When ice gets compressed—such as when it is trapped under water—the air bubbles and other reflective particles get squeezed out and washed away, leaving purer ice behind. When light encounters pure ice, it can penetrate deep into it rather than reflecting off the surface. As light moves through ice, longer wavelengths (red and yellow) tend to be absorbed most readily, leaving shorter-wavelength green and blue light to reflect back. This “leftover” blue and green light is what gives the undersides of icebergs their remarkable color.

As impressive as it is to see a close-up view, spotting blue ice is not that uncommon. In 2012, we published an aerial photograph with a striking patch of blue ice. Blue ice also shows up regularly in satellite imagery, such as this image acquired by the Advanced Land Imager on EO-1 in 2011.

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To learn more about the color of icebergs, check out these stories from WebExhibits, the National Snow & Ice Data Center, and Seed. PetaPixel has also published an interesting guest blog post in which Cornell explains how he produced and distributed the photographs from start to finish. You can find more shots of the flipped berg on his website and Instagram page.

Cornell’s images were not the only jaw-dropping iceberg photographs I noticed this week. On Tuesday, Antarctic Sun editor Peter Rejcek pointed out that the U.S. Antarctic Program had added several new iceberg photographs to their photo library. The images below show an overturned iceberg (with some penguins on top) that contains centuries of windblown sediments and minerals. It really is the stuff of dreams.

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Photograph by Ethan Norris, National Science Foundation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Photograph By: Ethan Norris, National Science Foundation

 

 

January Puzzler Answer: Arrecife Alacranes

February 5th, 2015 by Kathryn Hansen

puzzler_jan_2015

scorpionreef_oli_2014309

The January 2015 puzzler (top image) might look like bacteria in a petri dish—many guesses played off some variation of that theme. However, if you answered “coral reef,” you were on the right track.

Alexandre Mathieu was the fist to submit a comment to our Earth Matters blog suggesting that the image was a reef. There were also some good guesses on Facebook, such as this post (and poem!) from Clinton Rivers:

This looks like a coral reef
Like Great Barrier or perhaps Belize

A sign from space Of co-operation! 
Down below in the coral nation

Polyps grow and work together 
With a tiny algae called zooxanthellae

Their carbon capture is solar powered 
In warm waters you may see their towers 

Together they can build a home
Lots of them a reef or dome

An example for us fresh from the ocean 
To live on this earth in Symbiosis

The puzzler, however, proved too obscure for anyone to correctly identify the reef’s location. The puzzle image showed the middle portion of Arrecife Alacranes (bottom image)—a reef in the southern Gulf of Mexico, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Progresso, Mexico. Read the Image of the Day caption to learn more.

It’s rare for a puzzler to stump all of our savvy readers. That’s not our goal, but it’s a fine line between images that are too easy and too hard. Had we cropped the image to include any of the five small islands in the area, we would likely have been flooded with correct answers almost immediately! Tune in next month for a puzzler that will likely be a bit more identifiable.

January Puzzler

January 26th, 2015 by Kathryn Hansen

puzzler_jan_2015

Every month on Earth Matters, we offer a puzzling satellite image. The January 2015 puzzler is above. Your challenge is to use the comments section to tell us what part of the world we are looking at, when the image was acquired, what the image shows, and why the scene is interesting.

How to answer. Your answer can be a few words or several paragraphs. (Try to keep it shorter than 200 words). You might simply tell us what part of the world an image shows. Or you can dig deeper and explain what satellite and instrument produced the image, what spectral bands were used to create it, or what is compelling about some obscure speck in the far corner of an image. If you think something is interesting or noteworthy, tell us about it.

The prize. We can’t offer prize money, but, we can promise you credit and glory (well, maybe just credit). Roughly one week after a puzzler image appears on this blog, we will post an annotated and captioned version as our Image of the Day. In the credits, we’ll acknowledge the person who was first to correctly ID the image. We’ll also recognize people who offer the most interesting tidbits of information about the geological, meteorological, or human processes that have played a role in molding the landscape. Please include your preferred name or alias with your comment. If you work for or attend an institution that you want us to recognize, please mention that as well.

Recent winners. If you’ve won the puzzler in the last few months or work in geospatial imaging, please sit on your hands for at least a  day to give others a chance to play.

Releasing Comments. Savvy readers have solved some of our puzzlers after only a few minutes or hours. To give more people a chance to play, we may wait between 24-48 hours before posting the answers we receive in the comment thread.

Good luck!

Why So Many Global Temperature Records?

January 21st, 2015 by Adam Voiland

annual_temperature_anomalies_2014

If you follow Earth and climate science closely, you may have noticed that the media is abuzz every December and January with stories about how the past year ranked in terms of global temperatures. Was this the hottest year on record? In fact, it was. The Japanese Meteorological Agency released data on January 5, 2015, that showed 2014 was the warmest year on its record. NASA and NOAA made a similar announcement on January 16. The UK Met Office, which maintains the fourth major global temperature record, ranked 2014 as tied with 2010 for being the hottest year on record on January 26.

Astute readers then ask a deeper question: why do different institutions come up with slightly different numbers for the same planet? Although all four science institutions have strong similarities in how they track and analyze temperatures, there are subtle differences. As shown in the chart above, the NASA record tends to run slightly higher than the Japanese record, while the Met Office and NOAA records are usually in the middle.

There are good reasons for these differences, small as they are. Getting an accurate measurement of air temperature across the entire planet is not simple. Ideally, scientists would like to have thousands of standardized weather stations spaced evenly all around Earth’s surface. The trouble is that while there are plenty of weather stations on land, there are some pretty big gaps over the oceans, the polar regions, and even parts of Africa and South America.

The four research groups mentioned above deal with those gaps in slightly different ways. The Japanese group leaves areas without plenty of temperature stations out of their analysis, so its analysis covers about 85 percent of the globe. The Met Office makes similar choices, meaning its record covers about 86 percent of Earth’s surface. NOAA takes a different approach to the gaps, using nearby stations to interpolate temperatures in some areas that lack stations, giving the NOAA analysis 93 percent coverage of the globe. The group at NASA interpolates even more aggressively—areas with gaps are interpolated from the nearest station up to 1,200 kilometers away—and offers 99 percent coverage.

See the chart below to get a sense of where the gaps are in the various records. Areas not included in the analysis are shown in gray. JMA is Japan Meteorological Agency data, GISTEMP is the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies data, HadCrut4 is the Met Office data, UAH is a satellite-based record maintained by the University of Alabama Huntsville (more on that below), NCDC is the NOAA data, and NCEP/NCAR is a reanalysis of weather model data from the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

If you’re a real data hound, you may have heard about other institutions that maintain global temperature records. In the last few years, a group at UC Berkeley — a group that was initially skeptical of the findings of the other groups — developed yet another approach that involved using data from even more temperature stations (37,000 stations as opposed to the 5,000-7,000 used by the other groups). For 2014, the Berkeley group came to the same conclusion: the past year was the warmest year on record, though their analysis has 2014 in a virtual tie with 2005 and 2010.

Rather than coming up with a way to fill the gaps, a few other groups have tried using a completely different approach. A group from the University of Alabama-Huntsville maintains a record of temperatures based on microwave sounders on satellites. The satellite-based record dates back 36 years, and the University of Alabama group has ranked 2014 as the third warmest on that record, though only by a very small margin. Another research group from Remote Sensing Systems maintains a similar record based on microwave sounders on satellites, although there are a few differences in the way the Remote Sensing Systems and University of Alabama teams handle gaps in the record and correct for differences between sensors. Remote Sensing Systems has 2014 as the 6th warmest on its record.

But let’s get back to the original question: why are there so many temperature records? One of the hallmarks of good science is that observations should be independently confirmed by separate research groups using separate methods when possible. And in the case of global temperatures, that’s exactly what is happening. Despite some differences in the year-to-year rankings, the trends observed by all the groups are roughly the same. They all show warming. They all find the most recent decade to be warmer than previous decades.

You may observe some hand-wringing and contrarian arguments about how one group’s ranking is slightly different than another and about how scientists cannot agree on the “hottest year” or the temperature trend. Before you get caught up in that, know this: the difference between the hottest and the second hottest or the 10th hottest and 11th hottest year on any of these records is vanishingly small. The more carefully you look at graph at the top of this page, the more you’ll start to appreciate that the individual ranking of a given year hardly even matters. It’s the longer term trends that matter. And, as you can see in that chart, all of the records are in remarkably good agreement.

That said, if you are still interested in the minutia of how these these data sets are compiled and analyzed, as well as how they compare to one other, wade through the links below. Some of the sites will even explain how you can access the data and calculate the trends yourself.

+ UCAR’s Global Temperature Data Sets Overview and Comparison page.

+ NASA GISS’s GISTEMP and FAQ page.

+ NOAA’s Global Temperature Analysis page.

+ Met Office’s Hadley Center Temperature page.

+ Japan Meteorological Agency’s Global Average Surface Temperature Anomalies page.

+ University of Alabama Huntsville Temperature page.

+Remote Sensing Systems Climate Analysis, Upper Air Temperature, and The Recent Slowing in the Rise of Global Temperatures pages.

+ Berkley Earth’s Data Overview page.

+ Moyhu’s list of climate data portals.

+ Skeptical Science’s Comparing All the Temperature Records, The Japan Meteorological Agency Temperature Records, Satellite Measurements of the Warming in the Troposphere, GISTEMP: Cool or Uncool, and Temperature Trend Calculator posts.

+ Tamino’s comparing Temperature Data Sets post.

+NOAA/NASA 2014 Warmest Year on Record powerpoint.

+James Hansen’s Global Temperature in 2014 and 2015 update posted on his Columbia University page.

+The Carbon Brief’s How Do Scientists Measure Global Temperature?

+Yale’s A Deeper Look: 2014’s Warming Record and the Continued Trend Upwards post.

2014 Temperatures From A Regional Perspective

January 16th, 2015 by Adam Voiland

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NASA and NOAA announced today that 2014 brought the warmest global temperatures in the modern instrumental record. But what did the year look like on a more regional scale?

According to the Met Office, the United Kingdom experienced it warmest year since 1659. Despite the record-breaking temperatures, however, no month was extremely warm. Instead, each month (with the exception of August) was consistently warm. The UK was not alone. Eighteen other countries in Europe experienced their hottest year on record, according to Vox.

The contiguous United States, meanwhile, only experienced the 34th warmest year since 1895, according to a NOAA analysis. The Midwest and the Mississippi Valley were particularly cool, while unusually warm conditions gripped the West. California, for instance, went through its hottest year on record. Meanwhile, temperatures in Alaska were unusually warm; in Anchorage, temperatures never dropped below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. 

James Hansen, a retired NASA scientist, underscored this point in an update on his Columbia University website: “Residents of the eastern two-thirds of the United States and Canada might be surprised that 2014 was the warmest year, as they happened to reside in an area with the largest negative temperature anomaly on the planet, except for a region in Antarctica.”

According to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, 2014 was the third warmest year on record in that country. “Much of Australia experienced temperatures very much above average in 2014, with mean temperatures 0.91°C above the long-term average,” said the bureau’s assistant director of climate information services.

The map at the top of this page depicts global temperature anomalies in 2014. It does not show absolute temperatures, but instead shows how much warmer or cooler the Earth was compared to a baseline average from 1951 to 1980.  Areas that experienced unusually warm temperatures are shown in red; unusually cool temperatures are shown in blue.