An Astronaut and a Gentleman

January 10th, 2017 by Mike Carlowicz

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At the time of his death on December 23, 2016, Piers Sellers was the deputy director of the Sciences and Exploration Directorate and the acting director of the Earth science division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. But he was a lot more than that to his colleagues and to the world. NASA science writer Patrick Lynch (and occasional Earth Observatory contributor) had the unenviable task of trying to capture the essence of Sellers:

“As an astronaut, he helped build the International Space Station. As a manager, he helped lead hundreds of scientists. And as a public figure he was an inspiration to many for his optimistic take on humanity’s ability to confront Earth’s changing climate. But his most lasting contributions will be in the field where he began his career: science.”

Piers came to NASA Goddard from Britain in 1982 as a research meteorologist and climate scientist. His focus was the interaction between the biosphere — the living, breathing plant-life of Earth — and the atmosphere. He helped develop models and wrote several papers that are still widely cited in the field. But he also had another lifelong dream: to become an astronaut. He applied to the astronaut training program in the 1990s, and worked through rigorous screening and training to go into space. He flew to the International Space Station in 2002, 2006, and 2010, participating in six spacewalks and helping with assembly of the station. Upon retiring from the astronaut corps, he came back to Goddard and resumed his place as a leader in Earth science, while also promoting conversations and collaborations with researchers studying planetary science and hunting for life beyond our solar system.

I did not have the chance to get to know Piers well. He was someone I mostly watched from afar and our interactions were sporadic, though always interesting, dignified, and thoughtful. I came to know him mostly through his words — to the media and to my fellow scientific and communications staff of NASA Goddard — and in the ways he inspired people. The more I read, the more I wish I had been able to spend more time with him.

 

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In January 2016, one year ago this week, he wrote a poignant op-ed in The New York Times. The words were a compelling prelude to his final year with us.

I’m a climate scientist who has just been told I have Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. This diagnosis puts me in an interesting position. I’ve spent much of my professional life thinking about the science of climate change, which is best viewed through a multi-decadal lens. At some level I was sure that, even at my present age of 60, I would live to see the most critical part of the problem, and its possible solutions, play out in my lifetime. Now that my personal horizon has been steeply foreshortened, I was forced to decide how to spend my remaining time. Was continuing to think about climate change worth the bother?

You should read the full text of “Cancer and Climate Change” for its insight and inspiration.

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In the summer of 2016, Sellers wrote another compelling piece, this time in The New Yorker. In “Space, Climate Change, and the Real Meaning of Theory,” he took on a very sensitive and fundamental facet of science: the accumulation of evidence and observation that leads to truth. Here is my favorite passage:

When we talk about why the climate has changed, and what the future climate is likely to be, scientists use analyses and predictions that rest heavily on results from computer models, which in turn rest on layers and layers of theory. And there’s the rub—a lot of the confusion about what is known and unknown about the changing climate can be traced to people’s understanding of the role of theory in science.

Fundamentally, a theory in science is not just a whim or an opinion; it is a logical construct of how we think something works, generally agreed upon by scientists and always in agreement with the available observations. A good example is Isaac Newton’s theory of gravitation, which says that every physical object in the universe exerts a gravity force field around itself, with the strength of that field depending on its mass. The theory—one simple equation—does a superb job of explaining our observations of how planets orbit around the sun, and was more than good enough to make the calculations we needed to send spacecraft to the moon and elsewhere. Einstein improved on Newton’s theory when it comes to large-scale astronomical phenomena, but, for everyday engineering use, Newton’s physics works perfectly well, even though it is more than three hundred years old.

…Engineering theory, based on Newton’s work, is so accepted and reliable that we can get it right the first time, almost every time. The theory of aerodynamics is another perfect example: the Boeing 747 jumbo-jet prototype flew the first time it took to the air—that’s confidence for you. So every time you get on a commercial aircraft, you are entrusting your life to a set of equations, albeit supported by a lot of experimental observations. A jetliner is just aluminum wrapped around a theory.

The full text is here.

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On camera, it is easy to pick up the energy, humor, and dignity of the man. In the past year, he was a frequent interview subject for the television and radio media. He also made an appearance in Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary Before the Flood. Some of us think Piers stole the show.

But I am most fond of this simple video, posted last month to YouTube. It’s a conversation between Piers and Compton Tucker, one of his best friends, his next-door neighbor, and a fellow NASA scientist. So many people have stilted and distant impressions about scientists, and Hollywood caricatures don’t help. I like this video because it shows bright people having fun, being human, and savoring life, learning, and friendship.

Other interviews worth watching or listening to:

WBEZ Chicago — The Thin Blue Ribbon

HBO Vice News – A New Hope

CNN On GPS: An astronaut on his final mission

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At the conclusion of his January 2016 piece in The New York Times, Piers offers a thought that inspires us to keep up the good work.

As for me, I’ve no complaints. I’m very grateful for the experiences I’ve had on this planet. As an astronaut I spacewalked 220 miles above the Earth. Floating alongside the International Space Station, I watched hurricanes cartwheel across oceans, the Amazon snake its way to the sea through a brilliant green carpet of forest, and gigantic nighttime thunderstorms flash and flare for hundreds of miles along the Equator. From this God’s-eye-view, I saw how fragile and infinitely precious the Earth is. I’m hopeful for its future. 

And so, I’m going to work tomorrow.

piers-profile

 

NASA Profile – Piers Sellers: A Legacy of Science

NASA Statement – NASA Administrator Remembers Scientist, Astronaut Piers Sellers

Flickr: Piers Sellers

The Washington PostPiers Sellers, climate scientist turned astronaut, dies at 61

 

 

 

 

January Puzzler

January 4th, 2017 by Adam Voiland

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Every month on Earth Matters, we offer a puzzling satellite image. The January 2017 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 or a trip to Mars, 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. After we post the answer, we will acknowledge the person who was first to correctly ID the image at the bottom of this blog post. We may also recognize certain readers 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!

Editor’s Note: Congratulations to Brian Kennelly, James Varghese, Stephanie Wurdinger, and Max Packs for being some of the first readers to solve the puzzler on Earth Matters and Facebook. See a labeled version of the January puzzler with a more detailed discussion of Cerro Verde mine here.

Let It Snow: Winter 2016

December 23rd, 2016 by Pola Lem

Eighty five years ago today, Wilson Alwyn Bentley died of pneumonia. It was December 23, 1931, and outside his home in Jericho, Vermont, the sky was ripe for snow. His final diary entry read: “Cold north wind afternoon. Snow Flying.” It was the sort of weather he had lived for.

Bentley began to observe snow at 15 years old, when his mother bought him a microscope. It consumed his days, he later recalled:

When the other boys of my age were playing with popguns and sling-shots, I was absorbed in studying things under this microscope: drops of water, tiny fragments of stone, a feather dropped from a bird’s wing, a delicately veined petal from some flower. But always, from the very beginning, it was snowflakes that fascinated me most. The farm folks, up in this north country, dread the winter; but I was supremely happy.

Over the subsequent decades, Bentley photographed more than 5,000 snowflakes, and created the first photomicrograph of an ice crystal, combining a microscope and an accordion-shaped bellows camera. A professor of natural history who became known as “the snowflake man,” he demonstrated what is now a common adage: no two snowflakes are alike.

Snowflake photos by Wilson Bentley circa 1902. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Photos: Snowflakes circa 1902 by Wilson Bentley. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The snow Bentley observed at a microscopic scale, satellites now see at the size of whole continents. The subject matter that fascinated him still provides fodder for heaps of scientific papers today.

December 2016 has brought a flurry of Bentley-esuqe weather to the U.S. East Coast, including snow and biting winds. But long before winter kicked into full gear in cities like Washington and New York, it painted landscapes around the world white. From Japan to Kazakhstan, NASA satellites observed snow from space. So if you’re dreaming of a white Christmas or waiting for the gingerbread cookies to bake, here are several images—some we previously published, and others that are quite fresh.

Image: NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Image: NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

December 19: ‘Gateway to the Desert’ Gets First Snow in 37 Years

Snow fell in the town of Ain Sefra for the first time in nearly four decades this December. Satellites show a thin, white veil covering the orange sand dunes of the northern Sahara. The Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) on the Landsat 7 satellite captured this natural-color image of snow on December 19, 2016. On the ground, Photographer Karim Bouchetata captured the snow before it melted.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens using VIIRS day-night band data from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership.

Image: NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens using VIIRS day-night band data from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership.

December 14: The Great Lakes Don a White Cloak

An Arctic air mass brought more snow to communities around the Great Lakes on December 14, 2016. The lake-effect snow comes on the heels of an earlier accumulation that piled up to several feet of snow in some areas, according to reports. Officials issued weather warnings and advisories from northeast Ohio to upstate New York.

Image: NASA Earth Observatory/Jeff Schmaltz, using MODIS data from LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.

Image: NASA Earth Observatory/Jeff Schmaltz, using MODIS data from LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.

December 2: Snow and ash above Katmai

A plume of volcanic ash hangs over the Gulf of Alaska in this natural-color image. The plume is not the product of an active volcano; it contains re-suspended ash from the 1912 eruption of Novarupta, according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

Photographs: Astronaut photography from the Expedition 48 crew.

Photograph: Astronaut photography from the Expedition 48 crew.

November 27: Snow 2.0

The white hills sprawling in every direction look like mounds built by snow plows, or massive hills of sugar. In fact, they’re the world’s largest gypsum dune field: the White Sands National Monument, located in southern New Mexico.

During the last Ice Age, melting snow and ice from the San Andres Mountains (west of the dunes) and the Sacramento Mountains (to the east) eroded minerals from the hillsides and carried them downhill to the basin below. As the climate warmed and the water evaporated, the basin remained full of selenite (the crystalline form of gypsum) and created the Alkali Flats. Over time, winds broke the crystals into sand grains, which built up into the dunes.

Image: NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens, using MODIS data from LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.

Image: NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens, using MODIS data from LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.

November 25: Rare November snow in Tokyo

On November 24, 2016, Tokyo received its first November snowfall in more than half a century. The snow fell in and around the Japanese capital, coating the metropolitan area.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this natural-color image the same day. Central Tokyo is gray-brown in color, suggesting less accumulation or faster melting. Urban centers tend to shed snow faster than surrounding countryside because they are often hotter, a result of the urban heat island effect.

Image: NASA Earth Observatory/Pola Lem, using MODIS data from LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.

Image: NASA Earth Observatory/Pola Lem, using MODIS data from LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.

November 20: White hills appear amid green in England

Snow arrived in parts of northern England before a satellite took this image on November 20. According to reports, the same storm brought high winds and lashing rain farther south, in Kent and Sussex.

Image: NASA Earth Observatory/Pola Lem, using MODIS data from LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.

Image: NASA Earth Observatory/Pola Lem, using MODIS data from LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.

November 17: White Kazakhstan

Broad swaths of Kazakhstan turned white before this Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) image was taken on November 17, 2016. Parts of the country saw temperatures dipping well below freezing, with extreme wind chills. That’s not a surprise for locals; the country’s capital, Astana, often experiences frigid days in winter months.

Holuhraun’s 2015 flow appears dark against the Icelandic snowscape. Image: NASA Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen, using EO-1 ALI data provided courtesy of the NASA EO-1 team.

Image: NASA Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen, using EO-1 ALI data provided courtesy of the NASA EO-1 team.

November 5: Snow meets lava in Iceland

More than a year after the latest eruption at Iceland’s Holuhraun lava field, the newly-formed lava may still be toasty underneath. Although the basaltic rock formed a hard crust, according to volcanologists, the flow is probably still hot enough to prevent snow from building up atop it.

“You’re not going to freeze the lava flow,” said Erik Klemetti, a volcanologist at Denison University and author of the Eruptions blog at Wired magazine. “You need to wait for the soil to freeze to get snow to accumulate in temperate latitudes.”

Mullen, Nebraska, sees an average of 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) of snow each October, according to U.S. climate data. On October 6, the area received roughly 2 inches (5 centimeters) of snow, according to the National Weather Service. Image: NASA/Jeff Schmaltz.

Image: NASA/Jeff Schmaltz.

October 7: Early snow blankets Nebraska

Snow dusted parts of Nebraska on October 6, 2016. This natural-color image, acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite, shows a white blanket covering about 40 square miles (more than 100 square kilometers). Photos taken by highway cameras showed snow falling along parts of U.S. Route 83 on the afternoon of October 6.

 

Image: NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens.

Image: NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens. Data courtesy of Hakkarainen, J., Ialongo, I., and Tamminen, J.

 

A reader recently wrote to ask us about our November 17 article: “Satellite Detects Human Contribution to Atmospheric CO2.”

“Hello, I read on the site that CO2 concentrations are higher in some areas and lower in others. Is the reason for this that the higher zones are near CO2 sources such as heavily populated areas? I always thought gas spread evenly in a container.”

We asked Janne Hakkarainen, a researcher at the Finnish Meteorological Institute and co-author of the study that used OCO-2 data to make satellite-based maps of human emissions of carbon dioxide. Launched in July 2014, NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) was designed to give scientists comprehensive, global measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Hakkarainen wrote: “Carbon dioxide is indeed well mixed in the atmosphere. This means that if we look at the CO2 concentrations globally, the value is about 400 ppm everywhere.” (That’s 400 parts per million.)

Findings from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warn about the consequences of rising CO2 concentrations: “Any CO2 stabilisation target above 450 ppm is associated with a significant probability of triggering a large-scale climatic event.”

“In our recent research paper, we developed a methodology to derive regional CO2 anomalies, which means that we remove from individual CO2 values the regional CO2 median,” wrote Hakkarainen. “When these anomalies are averaged over time, the map highlights the CO2 signal that is not yet mixed and still close to the emission source. The idea is to average out the ‘CO2 weather’ or ‘transport,’ illustrated nicely in this NASA computer simulation (below).”

Another reader asked: “Can someone explain the high CO2 content over the Idaho panhandle and the large area at sea off the Oregon-California border.”

“The Idaho Panhandle anomalies could be related to biogenic sources or fire emissions,” wrote Hakkarainen. For example, NOAA’s CarbonTracker system showed positive fluxes (not including fossil fuel emissions) in that area in 2014.

Launched in July 2014, NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) was designed to give scientists comprehensive, global measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Image: NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens.

Image: NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens. Data courtesy of Hakkarainen, J., Ialongo, I., and Tamminen, J.

 

What on Earth is an Anaglyph?

November 21st, 2016 by Abbey Nastan, MISR team at JPL

The science team behind the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) on NASA’s Terra satellite frequently publishes special images called stereo anaglyphs. For example, you might have seen our recent series of anaglyphs celebrating the centennial of the National Park Service. But what exactly is an anaglyph, and how is one made from MISR data?

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All methods of viewing images in three dimensions rely on the fact that our two eyes see things at slightly different angles; this is what gives us depth perception. As a simple demonstration, hold a finger at a short distance from your face, and close one eye at a time. You will notice that your finger appears to be in a different place with each eye. The horizontal distance between the two versions of your finger is called the parallax. Your brain interprets the amount of parallax to tell you how far away your finger is from your face—the greater the parallax, the closer your finger!

However, your brain can also be tricked into thinking that a perfectly flat picture is actually a three-dimensional object by presenting each eye with a slightly different version of the picture. The first 3D viewing technology was the stereoscope, originally invented by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1838. The stereoscope takes two images viewed from slightly different angles and mounts them next to each other. The photos are viewed using fixed lenses that fool the brain into thinking that it is looking at one picture. Stereoscopes worked well, but their major drawback was that they could only be used by one person at a time.

In 1858, Joseph D’Almeida, a French physics professor, invented a method of showing stereoscopic images to many people at once using a lantern projector equipped with red and blue filters. The viewers wore red and blue goggles. Later, Louis Du Haron adapted this technique to allow anaglyphs to be printed and viewed on paper. In 1889, William Freise-Green created the first anaglyphic motion picture. These early 3D movies were nicknamed “plastigrams” and were very popular by the 1920s.

At the most basic level, anaglyphs work by superimposing images taken from two angles.  The two images are printed in different colors, usually red and cyan. The viewer needs glasses with lenses in the same colors. The lenses are needed to filter out the unwanted image for each eye. So, if the image for the right eye is printed in red, the image can be seen through the cyan lens placed over the right eye, but not through the red lens over the left eye, and vice versa. The brain, seeing two different pictures through each eye, interprets this as a three-dimensional scene.

 

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The reason why the MISR instrument can be used to make anaglyphs is because it has nine cameras, each fixed to point at a different angle. Therefore, as MISR passes over a particular feature on Earth, it captures nine images spanning a range of 140 degrees (diagram above). Any two of these images can be combined to make an anaglyph. The greater the angular difference between the images, the greater the resulting 3D effect; however, if the angular difference is too great, the brain will be unable to interpret the image.

Anaglyphs made with MISR must be rotated so that the north-south direction is roughly horizontal. Though this is inconvenient — we are used to viewing the Earth with north at the top — it is necessary because Terra flies from north to south, and MISR’s cameras are aligned to take images along that track. Therefore, the angular difference between the images is in the north-south direction. Since our eyes are arranged horizontally, the angular difference between the anaglyph images must be horizontal as well.

You can see this by comparing two versions of an anaglyph of Denali, Alaska (below). In the version with north upwards (left), the 3D effect does not work. But when the image is rotated so that north is to the left, suddenly the mountains pop out.

denali_anaglyph_pair_annotated

Anaglyphs are useful for science because they allow us to intuitively understand the three-dimensional structure of things like hurricanes and smoke plumes. For example, examine the three-panel image of Typhoon Nepartak below. (All three images have been rotated so north is to the left).

nepartak_w_anaglyph_annotated

In the top, single-angle image, the eye of the storm appears to be quite deep due to the shadows, but otherwise it is difficult to determine how high the clouds are. Compare this to the middle image, which shows the results from MISR’s cloud top height product; it uses a computer algorithm to compare the data from multiple cameras and determine the geometry of the clouds. Now we can tell that clouds in the central part of the storm are very high (except for the eye), while the spiral cloud bands are slightly lower and there are very low clouds between the arms. However, understanding this data set requires us to interpret the color key and have at least a rudimentary idea of how 16 kilometers compares to 4 kilometers.

Now put on your red-blue glasses* and look at the anaglyph in the third image. All of the features are immediately understood by our brains. While it takes a few minutes (or paragraphs) of explanation to introduce a first-time viewer to MISR datasets, the red-blue glasses make it possible to enjoy the same experience with a simple image. This is why anaglyphs make great tools for scientists as well as for sharing unique views of Earth’s features with the public.

Editor’s note: If you don’t have a pair of red-blue glasses, this page lists companies that sell them. Or if you can find some red and blue plastic wrap, you can make your own. The instructions are here.

 

November 2016 Puzzler

November 15th, 2016 by Adam Voiland

november_puzzler

Every month on Earth Matters, we offer a puzzling satellite image. The November 2016 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 or a trip to Mars, 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. After we post the answer, we will acknowledge the person who was first to correctly ID the image at the bottom of this blog post. We may also recognize certain readers 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!

Editor’s Note: Congratulations to James Varghese, David, and John Dierks for being some of the first readers to solve the puzzler on Earth Matters and Facebook. See a labeled version of the November puzzler with a more detailed discussion of El Jorf and the qanats here.

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Photo by Adam Voiland. Taken from Rodeo Beach in Marin County, California, in the evening on December 14, 2015.

If you have ever stood on a beach before sunset and gawked at a gleaming line of light extending toward the horizon, you have seen a glitter path.

What causes this spectacular optical phenomenon? Glitter paths are made up of many bright points of light reflecting off tiny ripples, waves, and undulations on the water surface and back at a sensor (for instance, a camera or human eye). Together, these points of light make up areas of sunglint. The appearance of glitter paths on water varies depending on the height of the Sun above the horizon, the height of the surface waves, and the position of the observer.

For instance, if the Sun had been directly overhead and above perfectly calm water, I would have seen a circular reflection that looked much like the Sun in the sky. However, when I took this photograph from Rodeo Beach near sunset in December 2015, the reflection appeared as a long elliptical line of light because the Sun was quite low in the sky. Note how much the roughness of the water surface affected the glitter path. Near the shore, where waves had just broken and the water surface was filled with foam, the glitter path was significantly wider than it was in the smoother waters farther off shore.

sunglint

NASA image acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Terra satellite on the morning of June 22, 2015.

Sunglint is visible from space as well. In the satellite image of California above, which the Terra satellite captured on the morning of June 22, 2015, notice the line of light running over the Pacific Ocean. This line of sunglint traces the track of Terra’s orbit. If the ocean surface had been completely smooth, a sequence of perfect reflections of the Sun would have appeared in a line along the track of the satellite’s orbit. In reality, ocean surfaces are chaotic and often in motion due to the constant churn of waves and winds. As a result, light reflecting off the surface was scattered in many directions. This left the blurred, washed out line of light along the satellite’s orbital track that you see here instead.

You can learn more about sunglint and glitter paths from stories by Darryn Schneider, Atmospheric Optics, Joseph Shaw, Richard Fleet, NASA Earth Observatory, and Earth Science Picture of the Day.

Editor’s Note: Ground to Space is a recurring series of posts on NASA Earth Observatory’s Earth Matters blog that pairs ground photography and satellite imagery of the same feature or phenomenon. If you have a photograph that you think would be a good candidate, please email Adam Voiland.

Kigali: A Huge Step Forward for Climate

October 27th, 2016 by Kathryn Hansen

View of the dais during the High-Level Segment Ministerial Round Table ‘Towards an Agreement on the HFC Amendment under the Montreal Protocol – Part 2: Ensuring Benefits for All.’ October 14, 2016 (day 6). Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth

The Antarctic ozone hole in 2016 was not exactly remarkable. But each year, we publish an annual update because, when strung together over time, the series shows the unparalleled success of the Montreal Protocol in stabilizing the atmosphere.

Now the scientists and negotiators behind the Protocol are taking on a new problem: the climate warming effects of chemicals that were supposed to be better for the ozone layer. NASA scientist Paul Newman attended the Montreal Protocol’s international meeting this October in Kigali, Rwanda, and he sat down with us to explain the new agreement, why it’s unique, and what it was like to participate in the meeting. Here are some of the main takeaways:

  • The Montreal Protocol is not just about ozone depleting substances; it’s also about their replacements.

“The Montreal Protocol is written so that we can control ozone-depleting substances and their replacements. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were initially replaced with hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and then hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), making HFCs the so-called “grandchildren” of the Montreal Protocol.

HFCs very weakly affect the ozone layer. But the problem is that they are powerful greenhouse gases. One can of this keyboard cleaner [an aerosol can with HFC-134a] is equivalent to 1,360 cans of carbon dioxide. HCFs are much more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, and that’s true of many HFCs, not just HFC-134a. And their use—particularly in refrigeration and air conditioning—has been going up fast.

It has been projected that by 2100, the effect of HFCs on temperature could be as high as 0.5 Kelvin (0.5 degrees Celsius, or 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit) if we did nothing. Because of the amendment, that number will be closer to 0.06 Kelvin (0.06 degrees Celsius, or 0.11 degrees Fahrenheit).

The point of the of Kigali amendment was to control these greenhouse gases because they are a replacement for CFCs. They are adding to the climate problem, so the world’s nations wanted to do something about it. The Montreal Protocol has evolved from strictly an ozone treaty, to an ozone and climate treaty.”

NASA scientist Paul Newman (right) on October 10, 2016 (day 2). Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth

  • The amendment looks into the future because the accumulation and removal of HFCs in the atmosphere takes a while.

“HFCs go through a series of steps before they can begin accumulating in the atmosphere. The first is production, in which factories make tanks of the gas (like a brewery making big vats of beer). The next step is consumption, when HFCs are added to things like refrigerators and air conditioners (to follow the beer analogy, that’s when the brewer puts the beer in a bottle or keg). Finally, HFCs are emitted when people use those things (pop the cork on the bottle or tap the keg).

The important point is that there is a time lag. Consumption of HFCs are projected to peak in the late 2020s, but emissions don’t peak until about 2035. Once in the atmosphere, HFCs last a long time before being destroyed by chemical reactions. For example, If I vent my can of 134a, 5 percent of it will still be in the atmosphere after 42 years. So they continue to accumulate and peak in the atmosphere by the mid 2050s.”

Delegates during the morning plenary on October 11, 2016 (day 3). Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth

  • Montreal Protocol meetings can be exhausting …

“Montreal Protocol meetings don’t have a schedule; they have an agenda. That means that we have a list of topics and we work until they are all addressed. For example, we worked all day Friday (October 14, 2016) but didn’t finish, so we reconvened Saturday at 1 a.m. and finished the amendment at 7 a.m. I was up for 27 straight hours, tired and hungry.”

… but uniquely effective.

“This agreement is a huge step forward because it is essentially the first real climate mitigation treaty that has bite to it. It has strict obligations for bringing down HFCs, and is forcing scientists and engineers to look for alternatives.

The Montreal Protocol is also technically the perfect mechanism for dealing with these issues. The technology people, economics people, science people, chemical manufacturers—they have all worked through the Montreal Protocol and are fully capable of dealing with refrigerants like HFCs and their alternatives.

The agreement wouldn’t go forward without a pretty good idea about what those replacements might be. Hydrofluoroolefins, for example, have a really tiny climate impact and only 10-day lifetimes and are already being used in some applications. The Montreal Protocol is pro-engineering, pro-technology, and very different than any other treaty. We can solve our environmental problems—that is the power of a technological society.”

October 2016 Puzzler

October 24th, 2016 by Pola Lem

october_puzzler_2016

Every month on Earth Matters, we offer a puzzling satellite image. The October 2016 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 or a trip to Mars, 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 (and also on this blog), we will acknowledge the person who was first to correctly ID the image. We may also recognize certain readers 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!

Editor’s Note: Congratulations to Peter Gunnarsson, and James Varghese for being some of the first readers to solve the puzzler on Facebook. Congratulations to Vera Maria for being the first to weigh in with the answer on Earth Matters. See a labeled version of the October puzzler here.

September 2016 was Warmest on Record by Narrow Margin

October 18th, 2016 by Michael Cabbage & Leslie McCarthy

September 2016 was the warmest September in 136 years of modern record-keeping, according to a monthly analysis of global temperatures by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York.

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NASA Earth Observatory chart by Joshua Stevens, based on data from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

September 2016’s temperature was a razor-thin 0.004 degrees Celsius warmer than the previous warmest September in 2014. The margin is so narrow those two months are in a statistical tie. Last month was 0.91 degrees Celsius warmer than the mean September temperature from 1951-1980.

The record-warm September means 11 of the past 12 consecutive months dating back to October 2015 have set new monthly high-temperature records. Updates to the input data have meant that June 2016, previously reported to have been the warmest June on record, is, in GISS’s updated analysis, the third warmest June behind 2015 and 1998 after receiving additional temperature readings from Antarctica. The late reports lowered the June 2016 anomaly by 0.05 degrees Celsius to 0.75.

“Monthly rankings are sensitive to updates in the record, and our latest update to mid-winter readings from the South Pole has changed the ranking for June,” said GISS director Gavin Schmidt. “We continue to stress that while monthly rankings are newsworthy, they are not nearly as important as long-term trends.”

The monthly analysis by the GISS team is assembled from publicly available data acquired by about 6,300 meteorological stations around the world, ship- and buoy-based instruments measuring sea surface temperature, and Antarctic research stations. The modern global temperature record begins around 1880 because previous observations didn’t cover enough of the planet. Monthly analyses are updated when additional data become available, and the results are subject to change.

Related Links
+ For more information on NASA GISS’s monthly temperature analysis, visit: data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp.

+ For more information about how the GISS analysis compares to other global analysis of global temperatures, visit:
http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/blogs/earthmatters/2015/01/21/why-so-many-global-temperature-records/

+ To learn more about climate change and global warming, visit:
http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/GlobalWarming/