Archive for the ‘News Roundup’ Category

More images from the New England Storm

February 12th, 2013 by Mike Carlowicz

In digging for news on the nor’easter that whacked New England (and my house in southeastern Massachusetts), I happened upon several compelling images.

Marshall Shepherd, current president of the American Meteorological Society and director of the atmospheric science program at the University of Georgia, tweeted out this annotated version of a Terra MODIS satellite image of the storm aftermath:

It seems that the monumental snowfall highlighted some land features of New England, including its longest river, one of the largest manmade reservoirs in the United States (Quabbin), and the scar of a vicious tornado.

EarthSky published a map of snowfall totals compiled by the National Weather Service Hydrometeorological Prediction Center. About 35 to 40 million Americans live within that snowy bullseye.


Finally, our colleague Jeff Schmaltz on the LANCE/MODIS Rapid Response team noticed that while the skies cleared over New England and the Canadian Maritimes on February 10, cloud streets lined up offshore.

Cloud streets form when cold air moves over warmer waters, while a warmer air layer (or temperature inversion) rests over the top of both. Read more here from my fellow Earth Observatory writer Adam Voiland.

By the way, I am not buying into this idea of naming winter storms. I certainly won’t let it spoil my fondness for Nemo, both the movie and book characters. How do you feel about this idea of naming winter storms?


Keeping an Eye on the Fire at Siding Spring Observatory

February 7th, 2013 by Adam Voiland

Many wildfires burn unnoticed in remote forests and grasslands, far from major population centers. Satellites detect the majority of them, but in many cases, images of the fire from the ground are scarce.

Not so for an Australian bushfire  in January 2013 that passed through the campus of Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales. The world-class astronomy facility houses numerous powerful telescopes. They’re designed to peer out into space, but webcams on a few of the telescopes captured remarkable images of smoke billowing and flames blazing. See, for instance, the all-sky view from the MOPRA SkyCam shown above.

Other webcams around the observatory were also capturing images as the fire raged nearby. The video below, a time lapse of webcams compiled by Las Cumbres Observatory Education Director Edward Gomez, offers a remarkable perspective on the blaze. For more, on-the-ground coverage of the fire, see the Astropixie blog.

Our Top 10 Most Popular Images of 2012

January 4th, 2013 by Adam Voiland

Whether it was retreating ice, super storms, wildfires, or the simple changing of the seasons there was no shortage of fascinating, beautiful, and occasionally ominous imagery in 2012. Throughout the year, we published more than 600 images. Of those, the ten most popular (based on the number of page views) are below. Click on each image for more details and a full caption.  Plus, you can browse through our Image of the Day archives month by month in case you missed some and want to catch up.

1 — City Lights of the United States 2012
Updated for 2012, this map of lights across America has a least 10 times better resolution than previous maps.

2 — Nights Lights 2012, Flat Map
The lights of cities and villages trace the outlines of civilization in this global view.

3 — Where the Trees Are
The National Biomass and Carbon Dataset reveals the location and the carbon storage of forests in the United States.


4 — Signs of the U.S. Drought are Underground
Nearly two-thirds of the continental United States suffered some form of drought in the summer of 2012.


5 — More Ice Breaks off of Petermann Glacier
A new chunk of Petermann Glacier broke off in July 2012, two years after another large ice island was launched. In the same week, the surface of the Greenland ice sheet experienced unusually widespread melting and some flooding along rivers.

6 — Hurricane Sandy
Acquired October 29, 2012, this natural-color image shows Sandy shortly before landfall on the U.S. East Coast .

7 — Night Lights 2012: Black Marble

This animated globe shows the city lights of the world as they appeared to the new Suomi NPP satellite, which has at least 10 times better light-resolving power than previous night-viewing satellites.

8 — Historic Heat in North America Turns Winter to Summer
The winter and early spring of 2012 brought record-setting high temperatures over much of United States and Canada.

9 — A Changed Coastline in Jersey (aerial photo)

Hurricane Sandy cut a new channel and wiped out houses in the town of Mantoloking, New Jersey.

10 — Power Outages in Washington, DC

A potent line of thunderstorms knocked out power for millions of households in the U.S. Midwest and Mid Atlantic on June 29, 2012.

The following is a cross-post of a news release written by our colleagues Rob Gutro and Laura Betz in NASA public affairs and Suomi NPP outreach…

As Hurricane Sandy made a historic landfall on the New Jersey coast during the night of October 29, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on NASA/NOAA’s Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) satellite captured this nighttime view of the storm. This image, provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison, is a composite of several satellite passes over North America taken 18 hours before Sandy’s landfall.

The storm was captured by a special “day-night band,” which detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared and uses filtering techniques to observe dim signals such as auroras, airglow, gas flares, city lights, fires and reflected moonlight. City lights in the south and mid-section of the United States are visible in the image.

William Straka, associate researcher at Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, explains that since there was a full moon there was the maximum illumination of the clouds.

“You can see that Sandy is pulling energy both from Canada as well as off in the eastern part of the Atlantic,” Straka said. “Typically forecasters use only the infrared bands at night to look at the structure of the storm. However, using images from the new day/night band sensor in addition to the thermal channels can provide a more complete and unique view of hurricanes at night.”

VIIRS is one of five instruments onboard Suomi NPP. The mission is the result of a partnership between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Department of Defense.

On Monday, Oct. 29, around 8 p.m. EDT, Hurricane Sandy made landfall 5 miles (10 km) south of Atlantic City, N.J., near 39 degrees 24 minutes north latitude and 74 degrees 30 minutes west longitude. At the time of landfall, Sandy’s maximum sustained winds were near 80 mph (130 kph) and it was moving to the west-northwest at 23 mph (37 kph). According to the National Hurricane Center, hurricane-force winds extended outward to 175 miles (280 km) from the center, and tropical-storm-force winds extended 485 miles (780 km). Sandy’s minimum central pressure at the time of landfall was 946 millibars or 27.93 inches.

Suomi NPP was launched on Oct. 28, 2011, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. One year later, the satellite has orbited Earth more than 5,000 times and returned images and data that provide critical weather and climate measurements of complex Earth systems. Suomi NPP observes nearly every location on Earth’s surface twice every 24 hours, once in daylight and once at night. NPP flies 512 miles (824 kilometers) above the surface in a polar orbit, circling the planet about 14 times a day. NPP sends its data once an orbit to the ground station in Svalbard, Norway, and continuously to local, direct-broadcast users.

For storm history, images, and video of Hurricane Sandy, please visit the following websites:

Earth Science Week 2012 at NASA

October 12th, 2012 by Michon Scott

October 14–20 is Earth Science Week. This annual celebration started in 1998, established by the American Geosciences Institute to help children, students, and the general public understand how geoscientists collect information about our planet.

In 2012, the theme is “Discovering Careers in the Earth Sciences” and involves activities by NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Park Service, and multiple professional associations. Online resources for Earth Science Week include tools for teachers, students, and the media. Highlights of Earth Science Week 2012 include National Fossil Day on October 17, Female Geoscientist Day on October 18, and Geologic Map Day on October 19.

From the Global Climate Change Earth Science Week Blog: Explorer Christy Hansen hugs the Russell glacier, part of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Image courtesy Christy Hansen, JPL

NASA plays an active role in the celebration, hosting activities and offering an ESW web site with a blog, an events page, a videos page, and explorer articles. These resources (including several in Spanish) introduce visitors to NASA’s Earth Explorers — scientists, engineers, educators, multimedia producers, and writers — who describe their work, their motivations for studying our planet, and the kinds of challenges they face on a daily basis.

The schedule of NASA-sponsored events includes:

– Tuesday, Oct. 16, 1-2 p.m. EDT — Twitter chat with polar scientist Thorsten Markus
— Tuesday, Oct. 16, 1-2 p.m. EDT — Univisión radio interview with scientists Erika Podest and Miguel Román (in Spanish)
— Wednesday, Oct. 17, 1-2 p.m. EDT — Google+ hangout with Operation IceBridge scientist Christy Hansen, on location near Antarctica
— Wednesday, Oct. 17, 4-5 p.m. EDT — Webinar with Aquarius engineers (in Spanish)
— Wednesday, Oct. 17, 6-7 p.m. EDT – Reddit interview with oceanographer Josh Willis
– Thursday, Oct. 18, noon-1 p.m. EDT — Twitter chat with atmospheric research scientist Erica Alston
In addition, on Oct. 18, the many contributions of women at NASA to Earth science will be highlighted on the Women@NASA Blog page:
Follow the #NASAESW hashtag to keep up on Earth Science Week news from NASA.

Quickening Water Cycle, Risat-1 Launches, and More

April 27th, 2012 by Adam Voiland

Study: Quickening Water Cycle Fueling Extreme Weather
There’s been no shortage of extreme weather in recent years, from flooding in Australia to record-breaking temperatures in North America to wildfires in Russia. A new study published in Science argues that at least some of the blame should go to global warming for accelerating the water cycle. By measuring changes in the salinity of the ocean’s surface, the authors conclude that the water cycle has sped up by 4 percent over the last half century. The research is based on data from ships and a network of floating Argo sensors, not satellite data. However, NASA’s newly-launched Aquarius satellite will likely provide better global salinity estimates in the coming years. In other extreme weather news, a new poll found that two-thirds of Americans believe global warming is exacerbating severe weather and a new video (above) from the Yale Forum on Climate Change tackles the subject as well.

Welcome to the Earth-observing Club, Risat-1
On April 26, India’s space agency successfully launched Risat-1, an Earth-observing satellite carrying a synthetic aperture radar system. Though it’s been called a spy satellite, Risat-1 will more likely be used to monitor the health of forests and agriculture and to predict natural disasters, according to Space Daily. Risat’s radar is capable of collecting images in all weather conditions and can “see” through tropical clouds and rain showers; it can also image the Earth at night. India currently has 11 Earth-observing satellites in orbit. The Canadian RADARSAT SAR, Europe’s Envisat (which recently went AWOL), and the Space Shuttle have flown similar instruments in the past.

Helmets for Severe Weather Week?

Around this time last year, fierce storms barreled through the central and southern United States, spawning more than 300 tornadoes that took hundreds of lives. This year, tornadoes have already killed 63 people (more than 100 tornadoes ripped through several Plains states just a few weeks ago), but tornado season hasn’t even hit its peak yet. Due to a lack of data, it’s up for debate whether climate change is fueling such outbreaks. Regardless of the cause, NOAA and FEMA are sponsoring the first ever severe weather preparedness week in an effort to limit the death toll of future storms. Meanwhile, NPR ran an interesting story that questions why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people use their hands rather than helmets to protect their heads during twisters.

Study Suggests Chinese Dam and Earthquake are Linked
A disastrous 7.9 earthquake struck Wenchuan, China, in 2008, killing 80,000 thousand people. Ever since, many scientists have wondered whether the quake may have been triggered by the construction of nearby Zipingpu Dam, which put 900 million tons of water on top of the fault that was at the epicenter of the quake.  Some scientists believe the pressure from the reservoir could have pushed water into the fault, lubricating and weakening it enough to cause it to slip. Though the topic remains controversial, a new article in Science reviews new evidence that suggests the dam and earthquake were linked.

Nepal Gets a New Tool for Monitoring Wildfires
In the last few days, hundreds of fires have burned across the southern belt of the  Hindu-Kush Himalayan region. The MODIS instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this view of the burning on April 24. Should you be interested in monitoring Nepalese wildfires, the International Center Integrated Mountain Development just released a pilot version of a new monitoring system based on MODIS data. Go here to check it out.

Next Stop: The Arctic Circle
Operation IceBridge, NASA’s multi-year mission that maps polar ice, has passed the mid-point of its current mission to the Arctic.  You can visit this page for more details and follow along on the IceBridge blog.

Note: Click on the images for larger views and crediting information.

Global Warming and Whipsaw Weather

Perhaps you’ve noticed that we’ve had a record-shattering heat wave across much of North America in recent months, whereas Europe and Asia have experienced an unusually cold winter. That’s to be expected according to a new report on extreme weather published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report points out that it’s “very likely” that we’ve seen an overall increase in both cold and warm days (and nights) since 1950 due to global warming. Another recent study, published in Nature Climate Change, came to a similar conclusion, noting that the evidence for global warming as the cause of increases in heat waves and precipitation extremes is particularly robust.

Raise Your Glass to Water
March 22nd was World Water Day. Where is the world’s water? You’ve likely heard that  oceans hold 97 percent of it. That’s true, but the numbers get even more interesting when you start to consider some of the less voluminous places where water resides. As this story noted, swamps hold four times as much water as the world’s rivers (0.0008 percent versus 0.0002 percent); and the atmosphere holds more than both (0.001 percent). Want to learn about the blue stuff? A new 30-second animation based on data from the GRACE satellites is on display at Times Square through April 22nd. And though Gothamist suspects it may actually be a Van Gogh painting, NASA’s Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio has a new visualization (below) of the ocean’s surface currents that’s going viral.

What’s Causing Lake Poyang to Dry?
Poyang Lake in China has seen better days. Once China’s largest lake, it shrunk to just a fraction of its usual size this winter. Scientists are working to understand exactly what’s causing the decline in water levels, but an ongoing drought has surely played a role. The Three Gorges Dam, which is upriver, has likely contributed to the drawdown as well. Remote Sensing of the Environment recently published a study of data from the MODIS instrument that documents the dramatic fluctuation in lake levels between 2000 and 2010. The authors conclude Poyang Lake covered 3,163 square kilometers (1,220 square miles) in August of 2010, but only 714 kilometers (275 square miles) in October of 2010. (In recent months, the size of the lake has dipped to less than 200 square kilometers (77 square miles.) Overall, the scientists found the size of the lake has declined by about 30 square kilometers (12 square miles) a year.

When it Rains it Pours
Xin Lin
and Arthur Hou, scientists based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, recently published a study detailing seasonal and geographical variations in rainfall across the continental United States. By analyzing data from ground radars and rain gauges, they found that although heavy rain events (greater than 10 millimeters (0.4 inches) of rain per hour) only make up up 2.6 percent of total events, they represented 27 percent of the total volume that fell between 2002 and 2009.  Light rain events, in contrast, accounted for 65 percent of rain events and 15 percent of the total rain volume.

A Grandfather Speaks Up
James Hansen is sometimes called the grandfather of climate change science, but he also happens to be the grandfather of a pair of youngsters named Sophie and Conner. In the TED talk below, he explains how their birth helped spur him—a self-described “reticent midwestern scientist”—to speak out about the science he’d been studying for decades.


A Less Hardy Hardiness Map

The USDA has unveiled a new version of its plant hardiness map, which gardeners use to gauge which plants will survive in which climate zone. (Check your nearest seed packet.)  In the newest iteration, many zones have shifted northward because winters aren’t as cold as they were 22 years ago when the agency last updated the map — good news if you’re trying to grow, say, figs in Boston. On the new map, most parts of the United States are a half-zone warmer — about 5 degrees Fahrenheit (2.7 Celsius). Global warming surely underlies much of the change, but the USDA points out that more sophisticated mapping techniques, plus the inclusion of data from additional weather stations, has also affected the distribution of the zones.

Why the Arctic Ocean Isn’t Freshening
Rapid freshening on the North American side of the Arctic Ocean in recent decades has prompted speculation that rapid melting of sea ice might be causing a slowing of the “conveyor belt” that keeps water circulating through the world’s oceans. New research led by scientists at the University of Washington helps allay such fears. The researchers conclude that freshwater from the Eurasian part of the Arctic Ocean, which comes originally from rivers in Russia, has simply found a new route that brings more of it toward Canada. The cause for the new freshwater route: changes in winds associated with a weather pattern known as the Arctic Oscillation. In fact, the analysis of satellite and oceanographic data shows that overall salinity in the Arctic Ocean remained constant between 2005 and 2008; as the Canadian portion became fresher, the Eurasian portion grew saltier. The shifting path of the fresh water is shown in red in the animation below.

Temperature Ranking-palooza
There’s always a flurry of media activity in January when scientists at NASA, NOAA, and the UK Met Office tally up the year’s temperature measurements and rank how warm the past year was. This January was no exception. In NASA’s analysis, 2011 came in as the 9th warmest year on the modern meteorological record. However, the longer-term trends are what really matter. Look at the whole record – and here are a few interactive charts that are useful for doing that – and it’s clear that the last decade has been the hottest on record. Another remarkable stat: 9 of the 10 hottest years have occurred since 2000. For more details, the science team that manages NASA’s analysis has published a thorough temperature update here.

Image Gallery: Top Climate and Weather Events of 2011
As part of an annual review of Earth’s climate, scientists from NOAA and other institutions have compiled lists of the ten most significant climate and weather events of the past year.In making their recommendations, judges considered the scope, how unusual the event was, and how much human and economic damage it caused. For the United States, the spring rash of tornadoes in the Southeast, extreme drought in the South, a tornado in Missouri, and spring flooding of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers topped the list. For Earth as a whole, extreme drought in East Africa, flooding in Thailand and Eastern Australia, the persistence of La Nina, and Tropical Storm Washi all made the list.

A Climate Stopgap (That’s Good for Your Health)
Scanning the coverage of a study published recently in Science could leave you thinking scientists have come across a miracle cure for global warming, while simultaneously saving lives and boosting agricultural yields. The good news is that researchers have demonstrated how a set of simple control strategies for methane and black carbon – such as patching up gas pipelines or using existing technology to reduce vehicle emissions – could markedly slow the pace of climate change AND produce health and agricultural benefits. But the flip side is that such actions would provide only a short-term benefit. In the longer term, societies still have to tackle carbon dioxide emissions to get the climate back to a state of equilibrium.

Explore Ignite@AGU

If you get a kick out of TED talks — those rapid-fire, information-packed lectures that have turned many little-known academics into YouTube stars — it’s time you also check out Ignite. Whereas TED talks can be up to 18 minutes, Ignite allows speakers just five minutes and a maximum of 20 slides. Above, watch NASA Goddard’s Richard Kleidman use his five minutes at an Ignite event to explain why the world needs a more robust network of ground sensors for monitoring air pollution.


The rising costs of natural hazards

November 25th, 2011 by Michon Scott

Some of the world’s largest companies suffered multimillion-dollar losses from flooding or drought in the past year, according to a November 16 report from The Guardian. Citing a study from the Carbon Disclosure Project, The Guardian stated that although too much or too little water can affect the profits of large companies, many of those companies remain unprepared for problems likely to arise in the future.

Natural hazards cause widespread losses in dollars and lives, but Mother Nature does not deserve all the blame. Growing human populations and increasingly expensive infrastructure have also contributed to the losses. In short, more people have more stuff for Nature to damage or destroy. For more background, see the Earth Observatory feature The Rising Cost of Natural Hazards.

When Music and Climate Change Meet
During a recent event that highlighted the intersection of art and science, NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt offered an intriguing pitch (see 5:15 in the video above) for a climate change symphony that would use music to tell the story of Earth’s long and varied geologic history. “There are trends in the tides of the planet that come from the changes in the continents, the wobbles in the Earth’s orbit,” he said, emphasizing Earth’s many rhythms, crescendos, and cataclysms that lend themselves to music. Schmidt’s comment came during a panel discussion that included former New York Times reporter Andy Revkin and EPA climatologist Irene Nielson, and followed a unique  Antarctica-inspired performance from a string quartet arranged by Paul Miller (aka DJ Spooky). Schmidt isn’t alone in thinking along these lines. NPR recently interviewed composer Andre Gribou about creating musical scores for films shown on spherical visualization system called Science on a Sphere. A new SOS film – called Loop – came out this week.

It’s Official: 2011 Sea Ice Second Lowest on Record
A few weeks ago, the National Snow and Ice Data Center offered an initial assessment of Arctic sea ice that showed that the minimum extent for the year was the second lowest on record. Since then, NASA scientists have dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s and confirmed the finding. Joey Comiso, a NASA sea ice expert, said the continued pattern of low sea ice extents fits into the large-scale decline that has unfolded over the past three decades. “The sea ice is not only declining, the pace of the decline is becoming more drastic,” Comiso pointed out. “The older, thicker ice is declining faster than the rest, making for a more vulnerable perennial ice cover.”

So That’s What Happened to UARS
An old stalwart of NASA’s Earth-observing fleet, the six-ton Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), came tumbling through the atmosphere in an uncontrolled reentry in late-September that generated a slew of headlines about the risks of being struck by falling space junk. Those risks, of course, are minuscule (about 1 in 21 trillion) and the handful of satellite pieces that did survive reentry ended up falling harmlessly into a remote area of the South Pacific in the general vicinity of Christmas Island. After its launch in 1991, UARS played a critical role in parsing out how chlorofluorocarbons, chemicals that used to be used widely as refrigerants, deplete  ozone. UARS is gone, but for NASA the study of ozone goes on. Later this month, a new ozone-monitoring instrument called Ozone Mapper Profile Suite (OMPS) will launch as part of the NPOESS Preparatory Project.

Texas Drought Overstays Its Welcome
If you’re from Texas, you know this already. But for those who aren’t: the state has been embroiled in an extended heat wave and drought that has left large portions of the state on fire and caused billions of dollars in losses for farmers. If that’s not gloomy enough for you, climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon of the University of Texas warned that the situation isn’t likely to improve anytime soon. The drought could easily persist until 2012.  The problem? The establishment of a new La Niña in the central Pacific Ocean, a phenomenon characterized by cooler ocean temperatures that leads to wetter than normal conditions in the Pacific Northwest and drier conditions in the Southwest.

Dramatic Arctic Ozone Loss
In April, the World Meteorological Organization announced that scientists had observed significant thinning of the ozone layer over the Arctic. That news turned heads because it’s the ozone layer over Antarctica that’s most prone to ozone loss. Recently, a research team associated with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory offered a more comprehensive assessment of the unusual spring thinning in the Arctic  based on data collected by the Aura and CALIPSO satellites, balloon instruments, and atmospheric models. The bottom line: the upper atmosphere of the Arctic grew so cold this winter that ozone loss was severe enough that scientists say what amounts to a “hole” (five times the size of California) formed over the region and persisted for more than a month. Is climate change to blame?  Sort of, but not exactly. Manmade chlorofluorocarbons drive ozone depletion (not the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide), but scientists say that global warming has likely exacerbated ozone loss because it cools the upper part of the atmosphere even as it warms the lower part. Confused? The Capital Weather Gang has a post that delves into the details.