Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Mammatus Clouds over Oklahoma

May 24th, 2013 by Adam Voiland


Earth Observatory reader Warren Bonesteel sent us this shot of mammatus clouds over Duncan, Oklahoma, on May 20, 2013.  They were taken at about 7:00 p.m. CST, a few minutes after a large supercell storm passed. The same storm system spawned a violent tornado that devastated the nearby city of Moore. While most clouds form in rising air and have flat bottoms, mammatus clouds have pouch-like protrusions caused by sinking air that hang on their undersides.

Mammatus clouds can only form if the sinking air is cooler than the air around it. The sinking air must also have high water or ice content.  Though they are often associated with thunderstorms, the clouds are harmless and usually form in pockets of turbulent air after the worst of a storm has passed. They are not an indicator that a tornado is about to hit. You can learn more about mammatus clouds from  Astronomy Picture of the Day, Earth Science Picture of the Day, AccuWeather, CBC News, EarthSky, and UCAR.

Did you have other dramatic shots of this storm system that you would like to share? Please send them to I’ll add the best of what we receive to this post.



The photo below was taken on Sunday May 19, 2013, by Darren Purcell.  It was taken in advance of the storm that hit Norman, Oklahoma.


GOES-13 is Down

May 23rd, 2013 by Adam Voiland


On May 22, 2013, GOES-East, a key weather satellite that observes the eastern part of the United States stopped working normally. After initial efforts to revive the satellite failed, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) engineers have put the satellite in storage mode for troubleshooting.

Losing one of the two geostationary weather satellites that National Weather Service meteorologists rely upon could have serious consequences at any time, but that is especially true with the 2013 hurricane season just around the corner. Fortunately, NOAA had planned ahead. The agency always keeps a “spare” satellite in orbit, ready to spring into action when problems arise. On May 23, the spare satelliteGOES 14was active and had started to acquire images.

When GOES-East experienced a similar technical problem in September 2012, we published the image above showing the field of view of all three weather satellites. GOES-15, which has served as GOES-West since December 2011, is on the left and orbits at 135 degrees west longitude; GOES-14, the spare, is in the middle and resides at 105 degrees west. GOES-13, the malfunctioning satellite that has served as GOES-East since April 2010, is on the right and sits at 75 degrees west. The top row of images shows visible images acquired by the three satellites on September 15, 2012. The lower row shows the field of view of each satellite.

You can follow daily status updates on the health of GOES-13 by checking here and here. The latest GOES imagery is available here.

My 15 Favorite Commander Hadfield Photos

May 14th, 2013 by Adam Voiland

“Who’d have thought that five months away from the planet would make you feel closer to people,” mused Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield a few days before his return trip back to Earth. Along with two crew members, the commander of International Space Station Expedition 35 landed safely in Kazakhstan on May 13, 2013, via a Russian Soyuz space capsule.

What a tour it has been. After 2,336 orbits, 62 million miles traveled, Hadfield returns as a rock star of sorts. His recording of a cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” quickly went viral this week (6 million+ views and counting). But it’s not just his skill with a guitar that has attracted attention. More than anything else, it has been Hadfield’s mastery of the cameraand Twitterthat has catapulted him to fame.

Hadfield isn’t the first astronaut to tweet from space. Mike Massimino did that in 2009. But the abundance and quality of Hadfield’s tweets has set a new standard. He spent several hours per day taking photographs from the Cupola, and with the help of his son Evan (back on Earth) posted the best of them to his feed.

The photos they shared didn’t seem to be raw. One of the Hadfields must have been tweaking the brightness and contrast of the images to make them pop. When paired with snappy, heartfelt captions, the photos proved irresistible. Hadfield’s online followers skyrocketed from about 20,000 when he went into space to more than 900,000 when he returned.  Many of his images were retweeted thousands of times.

To celebrate the safe return of Expedition 35, I’ve posted fifteen of my favorites below. Thank you, Commander Hadfield, for the remarkable tour.  And welcome home.

BKKlQW6CYAAmILu.jpg_largeTo some this may look like a sunset. But it’s a new dawn.

BBaVLu3CAAAkpnE.jpg_largeAustralia. Jackson Pollock would have been even further inspired by seeing the Outback from orbit.

BGPUPVlCcAEzhbh.jpg_large  The Richat Structure. A giant gazing eye upon the Earth.

BFHNvgbCcAAEyOF.jpg_largeWhen I look at thunderstorms from above, I see faces. What do you see in the clouds?

BHm4u6oCEAILfJ5.jpg_largeI have no idea what this Brazilian outcrop looks like on the ground, but from orbit, it’s a brain.

BJxccf-CQAA-p36.jpg_largeSame land, different politics. The US – Mexican border, seen from space.

BKFmjafCIAAWQYz.jpg_largeSpaceships glowing blue in the dawn as we leave Florida headed across the Atlantic.

BFWax4ICYAEgMEt.jpg_largeCrazed patchwork of farms in Central Asia, a monochromatic 3D hallucination in the snow.

BHMUeeiCEAAJHox.jpg_largeMorning jet traffic over San Francisco.

BJnof82CYAEoaDC.jpg_largeOur Sun is immensely, unfathomably powerful.

BHvoL-4CUAEVSeH.jpg_largeWarm brown textures of the Patagonian Andes.

Seven billion hearts, but I can see only one. #ValentineFromSpace

BJIsY4ACUAAfrtq.jpg_largeDubai, the Palm Island like a trilobite in the night.

BJVHCWCCIAAGwAD.jpg_largeShadow play of cloud and mountain at sunset.

BJN2y7kCEAE3KV5.jpg_largeThe Moon ushering in the dawn over the Southeastern United States.

Meet GROVER: NASA’s Rover in Greenland

May 10th, 2013 by María-José Viñas & Adam Voiland


Not all of NASA’s rovers are headed to Mars. A new Earth science rover nicknamed GROVER started roaming Greenland’s ice sheet this week. The autonomous, solar-operated robot carries a ground-penetrating radar that will be used to examine how snow is accumulating on the Greenland ice pack. Its findings could help scientists understand how the massive ice sheet gains and loses ice.

The GROVER team, led by Goddard Space Flight Center glaciologist Lora Koenig, arrived in Summit Camp, the highest spot in Greenland, on May 6, 2013. After loading and testing the rover’s radar and fixing a minor communications glitch, tests began on the ice on May 8, in spite of winds that blew up to 23 miles (37 kilometers) per hour and temperatures that were as low as -22 degrees Fahrenheit (-30 degrees Celsius).

The tank-like GROVER prototype stands six feet (two meters) tall, including its solar panels. It weighs about 800 pounds and traverses the ice on two repurposed snowmobile tracks. The robot is powered entirely by solar energy, so it can operate in pristine polar environments without adding to air pollution. The panels are mounted in an inverted V, allowing them to collect energy from the sun and sunlight reflected off the ice sheet.

You can track GROVER’s progress by following @NASA_Ice. Read more about GROVER from Climate Central, CBS News, and Discovery News.

Longshot Captures the First Tournament Earth

April 8th, 2013 by Mike Carlowicz

Tournament: Earth 2013 has come to a stunning end. A newcomer to the landscape—a volcano that wasn’t even above the water’s surface at the beginning of 2012—literally came out of nowhere to win our first-ever tournament. The #7 seeded El Hierro submarine eruption from the “events” bracket captured the overall crown.

In a true Cinderella story, the underwater volcano proceeded to knock off four higher seeds before meeting another #7 seed—the crack in the Pine Island Glacier—in the final. The matchup was not even close, as El Hierro romped with 91 percent of the votes.


Perhaps sensing its impending victory, El Hierro began stirring in late March 2013. According to Erik Klemetti’s “Eruptions” volcanology blog, earthquake swarms beneath the island suggested that magma was on the move. Perhaps a volcano will soon be popping some lava champagne to celebrate the win.

Here is a walk through the opponents that El Hierro tossed aside on it’s month-long romp through earthly fame:

ROUND 1: Overnight View of Hurricane Sandy (#2 seed, events bracket)



ROUND 2: GOES View of Hurricane Sandy (#3 seed, events bracket)



ROUND 3: New Volcanic Island in the Red Sea (#5 seed, events bracket)



ROUND 4: Night Lights 2012 – Flat Map (#2 seed, Earth at night bracket)



ROUND 5: Flying Through a Crack in the Ice (#7 seed, data bracket)




Google+ Hangout: Sea Level Rise

April 2nd, 2013 by Adam Voiland

How much and how fast will sea level rise in the coming decades? What makes sea level rise hard to predict? Who will be affected? NASA scientists and guests discussed this and much more in a Google+ Hangout on April 2, 2013. You can watch an archived version of the hangout below.

Hangout participants included:
Josh Willis, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Sophie Nowicki, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Mike Watkins, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Virginia Burkett, U.S. Geological Survey
Andrew Revkin, Pace University & New York Times Dot Earth blogger

Plus, here’s some background reading on sea level rise.
+NOAA: Sea Level Trends
+NASA Climate Indicator: Sea Level
+Jet Propulsion Laboratory: Sea Level Viewer
+NASA News: What Goes Down Must Come Up
+Earth Observatory: Regional Patterns of Sea Level Change 1993-2007
+Climate Central: Surging Seas
+National Geographic: Sea Level Rise
+New York Times: Sea Level and the Limits of the Bathtub Analogy
+Los Angeles Times: Most in U.S. Concerned about Sea Level Rise, Poll Finds

Matters of Scale, and Why They Matter

March 25th, 2013 by Jesse Allen

Recently, we published a data visualization showing tropospheric NO2 over the Indian Ocean. The effort got us to thinking about how we try to present data in a way that’s easy to interpret while staying true to the science.

The visualization below of satellite measurements of NO2 in the atmosphere revealed the location of shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean. Ships tend to pass consistently along the same paths — through the Red Sea, across the Arabian Sea, across the southern end of the Bay of Bengal, through the Malacca Straits — to major ports in eastern Asia. On any given day, the exhaust fumes from a few ships do not provide a dramatic signal. But by making a long-term average (2005 through 2012) of data, the small day-to-day fluctuations add up to a discernible signal.

Global NO2 (2005-2012)
Global NO2 palette


One of the other things we did in building this visualization was to mask the land surfaces with light grey, in order to emphasize the NO2 over the oceans. But what happens if we take off that gray blanket over the land masses?

Global NO2 (with land mask removed)
Global NO2 palette

Oh my! Pretty much anywhere there are people, there’s a saturated pool of NO2. All of Europe looks like a putrid mass of polluted air, as does eastern China, the cities of the Middle East, the Himalayan regions of India and Pakistan. In fact, pretty much anywhere there are significant human populations, there is NO2 running right off the scale! You can still see the ship tracks, but it’s the deep, over-saturated brown-orange that grabs your attention.

If you want to show concentrations over land, you need a breath of fresh air, like this:

Global NO2 (no land mask; scaled 0 - 20E15 molecules/cm^2)
Global NO2 palette (0 - 20E15 molecules/cm^2)

This is a better way to show NO2 emissions over land.  Distinct signals show up around industrialized cities in Europe, the Middle East, and southern Asia, as well as fire emissions in equatorial Africa. Eastern China is still a saturated mess, as are some of the major industrial areas elsewhere in China. Heavy industrialization and an increase in automobiles for transportation has resulted in levels of atmospheric pollution in China not seen since the 1940s to 60s in the U.S. and Europe.

But this third map scarcely shows the NO2 emissions over the sea, and the ship track signals are hardly discernible, even though we are still using the same exact set of data in all three visualizations. So what is going on?

Look carefully at the color palette, or scale bar, below each map describing how different colors reflect different concentrations of NO2. The high end of the scale has been changed; in fact, it has been multiplied by a factor of ten in the last version. When compared to land-based sources of pollution, ship tracks are quite faint. As much as ships contribute to NO2 pollution, they can’t compare to land-based sources.

That makes sense, if you think about it. If a single ship emitted the same amount of NO2 each day as a small coal-fired power plant, you would expect the signals to match. But the ship is not sitting still; it is moving back and forth across thousands of miles of open ocean and its emissions are thinned out over long distances and time. It is only when there are  hundreds of similar ships traveling along the same route that the signal begins to build; and even then, the emissions are still spread across a vast area in a way that land-based sources are not.

So for our story on ship tracks, we made the visualization with tight limits on the NOconcentration in order to bring out the signal from the noise. Had we not masked out the land sources, the ship tracks would have been  lost.


Tournament Earth: Only 8 Remain

March 18th, 2013 by Adam Voiland

How is your bracket looking now after Round 2 of Tournament Earth?

Cinderella Baja was finally taken out by the Black Marble, but two other high seeds remain: “Crack in the Ice” and “El Hierro.” If you want to dissect what went wrong (or right) with your picks last week, look below to see how the voting played out. In the data section, we saw the PIG Ice Crack blow out the North American heat wave image, which garnered just 22 percent of the vote. Voyager’s view of Earth also went down hard, earning just 37 percent of the vote against the solar flare.

Don’t forget to vote in the third round. Some key matchups to watch: #1 ranked City Lights of the United States is squaring off against #2 ranked Night Lights 2012. And in the true color section, the Black Marble faces the toughest competition it has seen yet from the solar flare image. Voting closes at 4pm Eastern Time on March 22.

The Black Marble (57%) vs. Baja California (43%)blackmarbletvsbaja

Solar Flares (63 %) vs. Voyager Far from Home (37 %)

El Hierro (57%) vs. GOES Hurricane Sandy (43%)


Hurricane Isaac (35%) vs. New Volcanic Island (65%)


City Lights United States (66%) vs. Lights of London (34% )

City Lights Nile (47%) vs. Flat Map Night Lights (53%)

PIG Ice Crack (78%) vs. North American Heat Wave (22%)


Tree Map (48%) vs. Antarctic Sea Ice (52%)


Australia’s Angry Summer

March 6th, 2013 by Michon Scott

Australia is no stranger to fires, floods, drought, and heat. But a new report from the Australian Climate Commission not only points out that fire hazards and extreme weather events are worsening, it links them to a warming climate.

The report focuses on what it calls the “Angry Summer” of 2012/2013. The 90-day period included 123 broken records for maximum temperatures, heat waves, floods, and daily rainfall amounts. “The summer of 2012/2013 was Australia’s hottest summer since records began in 1910,” the report stated. The Angry Summer brought the highest area-averaged maximum temperature in Australia: 40.30°C (104.54°F). The summer also brought the longest stretch of high temperatures: for seven straight days (January 2–8), the average daily maximum temperature for the entire continent exceeded 39°C (102.2°F). This broke the previous record of four straight days above 39°C.



The report also made a starker point: “There have only been 21 days in 102 years where the average maximum temperature across Australia has exceeded 39°C; eight of these days happened this summer.”

High temperatures exacerbate fire danger, and the Australian summer of 2012/2013 brought major bushfires in New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania. Based on air temperature, humidity, drought, and wind speed, Australia’s forest fire danger index has historically used a scale from 1 to 100 to gauge the danger of bushfires. Starting in 2009, the index added a new fire danger rating above 100, termed “catastrophic,” reflecting a new fire-danger regime.

While some parts of Australia were on fire, other parts were under water. The Climate Commission discussed heavy rainfall, including torrential rains from cyclone Oswald that flooded parts of the Queensland coast in January 2013. The report stated that parts of the east coast broke rainfall records for the entire month in just the seven days of the storm. The report linked recent extreme rainfall events in eastern Australia to higher sea surface temperatures, which increase atmospheric water vapor and lead to greater precipitation.

From The Angry Summer, adapted from IPCC 2007.

From The Angry Summer, adapted from IPCC 2007.

The Climate Commission pointed out that Australia’s average temperature has increased by 0.9°C (1.6°F) since 1910, and went on to say that, while that temperature increase might seem small, “When the average temperature shifts, the temperatures at the hot and cold ends (tails) of the temperature range shift too. A small increase in the average temperature creates a much greater likelihood of very hot weather and a much lower likelihood of very cold weather.”

See the full report at

Other Views of Storm Destruction on Cape Cod

February 26th, 2013 by Mike Carlowicz

Our image of the day on February 26 provided a satellite view of how a nor’easter can stir up the New England coast and its waters. Here are a few other views from the storm they called Nemo…


A aerial photo from Kelsey-Kennard Airview shows the new breach in South Beach, just off the town of Chatham, Massachusetts.

WCVB television in Boston surveyed the destruction in the Cape Cod National Seashore. Click here to view.

Beach dunes, parking lots, boardwalks, stairways — along with waterfront homes — took a beating from the storm the media called “Nemo.” This YouTube video shows the wreckage at Coast Guard Beach, in Sandwich, and other points on Cape Cod, Massachusetts:

In Truro, the ocean breached the dunes and sent water into the Pamet River: