Best of the Archives: Oh, Sandy

October 30th, 2013 by Mike Carlowicz

One year ago today, citizens of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and much of the northeastern United States woke up to flooded avenues and homes, wind-ravaged neighborhoods, blackouts, and ripped up trees, coastlines, and lives. In the dark, early hours of October 30, 2012, the VIIRS instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite caught this glimpse of the monster storm named Sandy, a hurricane that collided with two other weather fronts and merged into one of the most destructive storms in recorded American history.

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Our gallery of Sandy images conveys an abstract, distant sense of the event. In satellite images, the eye is drawn to the awesome and beautiful cloud forms; to the potent, organized march across the skies; to  the incredible scale of the storm. But the shoreline of my New Jersey childhood was nearly wiped clean, and a satellite can’t really show that. It’s not until you get down to the street level  such as the aerial photo below  that the human cost comes into better focus.

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The odds said Sandy shouldn’t happen; it was too late in the season, and too far north for a hurricane. But the odds of such storms seem to be changing as the world grows warmer and the weather grows a bit less predictable. Read our feature story on how storms may become less frequent but more destructive.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has some good insights on anticipating and preparing for a future where extreme storms like Sandy could become more likely and more devastating. It should be required reading if you live near the coast.

October Puzzler

October 28th, 2013 by Adam Voiland

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Each month, Earth Observatory offers up a puzzling satellite image here on Earth Matters. The October 2013 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, 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 300 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 for being the first to respond or for digging up the most interesting kernels of information. 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. Please include your preferred name or alias with your comment. If you work for 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, please sit on your hands for at least a few days to give others a chance to play.

Releasing Comments. Savvy readers have solved a number of earlier puzzlers after only a few minutes or hours. To give more people a chance to play, we’re going to wait between 24-48 hours before posting the answers we’ve received in the comment thread this time.

 

Best of the Archives: Mud Trails from Fishing Trawlers

October 24th, 2013 by Adam Voiland

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Fourteen years ago, the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus on Landsat 7 acquired these images of mud trails off the coast of Louisiana. They were caused by bottom trawling in the Gulf of Mexico, a fishing technique that involves dragging large nets across the sea floor.

Bottom trawling is an efficient way to scoop up shrimp and squid, but that’s not all that ends up in the nets. As our earlier caption explained: “In addition to harvesting intended species, many trawls indiscriminately capture non-target species, like sea turtles, which are discarded. Trawling crushes or destroys the seafloor habitat that feeds and shelters marine life; the nets literally scrape the mud off the ocean bottom. As the mud resettles, it can smother surviving bottom-dwelling creatures.”

Some things have changed and some things have stayed the same since this image was acquired in 1999. In 2006, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration prohibited bottom trawling off of most of the Pacific Coast of the United States. Other countriesincluding Norway, Canada, Australia, and New Zealandhave also taken steps to discourage the practice. Yet in many parts of the world, including the U.S. Gulf Coast, the practice persists. You can read more about bottom trawling in the Gulf of Mexico from Sky Truth, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, and Science Daily.

Bottom trawling isn’t the only type of fishing visible from space. Read our new feature about the city of light that appears off the coast of southern Argentina.

While most of NASA went dark during the government shutdown, life went on at the International Space Station. Throughout October, astronauts Karen Nyberg, Mike Hopkins, and Luca Parmitano sent a steady stream of tweets back to Earth. The most eye-popping of the bunch came from Hopkins, who tweeted this on October 10, 2013: “Saw something launch into space today. Not sure what it was, but the cloud it left behind was pretty amazing.”

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It turns out it was a Russian missile launch, according to bloggers at the Russian Nuclear Forces Project. The group noted: “The Strategic Rocket Forces carried out a successful test launch of a Topol/SS-25 missile on October 10, 2013. The missile was launched at 17:39 MSK (13:39 UTC) from Kapustin Yar to the Sary Shagan test site in Kazakhstan. According to a representative of the Rocket Forces, the test was used to confirm characteristics of the Topol missile, to test the systems of the Sary Shagan test site, and ‘to test new combat payload for intercontinental ballistic missiles.’ ”

Hopkins’ colleague, European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano, also captured the remarkable shot below, which shows the missile’s contrail being yanked back and forth by winds at different levels of the atmosphere.  Discovery News, University Today, and Fox News have more coverage.

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Shutdown Notice

October 1st, 2013 by Adam Voiland

We’re sorry, but we will not be posting updates to this blog during the government shutdown. Also, all public NASA activities and events are cancelled or postponed until further notice. Rest assured that we will be back as soon as possible! We hope that you will stick with us and we promise more great imagery when we return. Please note that we will not be moderating or posting comments until the shutdown is over.

See you on the other side,

Kevin, Mike, Adam, Holli, Jesse, Rob, and Paul
The Earth Observatory Team

Key Science Points from the 2013 IPCC Report

September 27th, 2013 by Adam Voiland

These key science points were published on September 27, 2013, as “headline statements” by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as part of the organization’s fifth assessment report. Background links provided by Earth Observatory.

+Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased. Read more about global warming.

+Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years. See maps showing global temperature trends.

+Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence). It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0−700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010, and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971. Read more about Earth’s energy budget.

+Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence). Read more about Arctic and Antarctic sea ice.

+The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence). Over the period 1901–2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m. Read more about sea level rise.

+The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification. Read more about the greenhouse effect.

+Total radiative forcing is positive, and has led to an uptake of energy by the climate system. The largest contribution to total radiative forcing is caused by the increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1750. Read more about radiative forcing.

+Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system. Read more about the human fingerprint on the climate system.

+Climate models have improved since the AR4. Models reproduce observed continental-scale surface temperature patterns and trends over many decades, including the more rapid warming since the mid-20th century and the cooling immediately following large volcanic eruptions (very high confidence). Read more about climate models.

+Observational and model studies of temperature change, climate feedbacks and changes in the Earth’s energy budget together provide confidence in the magnitude of global warming in response to past and future forcing. Read more about Earth’s energy budget.

+Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. This evidence for human influence has grown since AR4. It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. Read more about the human influence on climate.

+Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. Read more about greenhouse gases. 

+Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 for all RCP scenarios except RCP2.6. It is likely to exceed 2°C for RCP6.0 and RCP8.5, and more likely than not to exceed 2°C for RCP4.5. Read more about global surface temperatures.

+Warming will continue beyond 2100 under all RCP scenarios except RCP2.6. Warming will continue to exhibit interannual-to-decadal variability and will not be regionally uniform. Read more about the NASA GISS tempearture record.

+Changes in the global water cycle in response to the warming over the 21st century will not be uniform. The contrast in precipitation between wet and dry regions and between wet and dry seasons will increase, although there may be regional exceptions. Read more about the water cycle.

+The global ocean will continue to warm during the 21st century. Heat will penetrate from the surface to the deep ocean and affect ocean circulation. Read more about how oceans absorb heat.

+It is very likely that the Arctic sea ice cover will continue to shrink and thin and that Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover will decrease during the 21st century as global mean surface temperature rises. Global glacier volume will further decrease. Read more about sea ice.

+Global mean sea level will continue to rise during the 21st century. Under all RCP scenarios the rate of sea level rise will very likely exceed that observed during 1971–2010 due to increased ocean warming and increased loss of mass from glaciers and ice sheets. Read more about sea surface temperature.

+Climate change will affect carbon cycle processes in a way that will exacerbate the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere (high confidence). Further uptake of carbon by the ocean will increase ocean acidification. Read more about the ocean’s carbon balance.

+Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2. Read more about carbon dioxide.

A View Inside Super Typhoon Usagi

September 23rd, 2013 by Adam Voiland

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As category 4 Super Typhoon Usagi churned toward Taiwan on September 19, 2013, a satellite orbiting hundreds of miles above used a radar instrument to map the storm’s inner structure. The instrument on the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) observed two tall complexes of rain clouds called hot towers in the inner eyewall, a sign that Usagi was a well-organized storm and strengthening.

Tropical cyclone “heat engines” extract heat from the ocean’s surface through evaporation and convert a portion of that energy into destructive winds that circle under the eyewall of the storm. All tropical cyclones have heat engines, but several features detected by TRMM suggested that Usagi’s was running particularly efficiently. Radars almost always see eyewalls in strong tropical cyclones, for instance, but they are rarely as symmetrical as Usagi’s is in the visualization shown above. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center researcher Owen Kelley produced the visualization based on TRMM data from the Precipitation Measurement Missions science team at NASA and from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

In the 3D portion of the image, heavy precipitation is shown in dark red. Light precipitation is gray, green, yellow or light red, with the color reflecting how high the storm has lofted the rain production (higher than 8.5 kilometers is green; above 11.5 kilometers is yellow; and higher than 14 kilometers is red). Note that the underlying image, which shows the temperature of cloud tops, uses a different color scale.  In it, cool cloud tops are pink and white, medium temperature cloud tops are gray and blue, and warm cloud tops are dark gray and black.

Even the heavy precipitation at the base of the eyewall is fairly symmetric, which is somewhat unusual according to Kelley. Tropical cyclone eyewalls that are this symmetric are called “annular,” and they have a tendency to maintain their intensity for longer periods than tropical cyclones with more lopsided eyewalls. At two locations in the inner eyewall, updrafts were strong enough to produce hot towersfeatures that are associated with strengthening cyclones.  A few hours after TRMM collected the data visualized here, Usagi intensified briefly into a category 5 storm, the highest category on the scale. 

Read this Earth Observatory feature and blog post to learn more about how the late Joanne Simpson pioneered the study of hot towers. The video below, produced by NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio, offers another view of how hot towers work.

September Puzzler Answer: Chara Sands

September 20th, 2013 by Adam Voiland

Congratulations to Felix Bossert for being the quickest to solve the September puzzler. The answer is the Chara Sands.  See the Image of the Day that published on September 21, 2013, for a second image and details about the area. Also congratulations to Robert Emberson for providing interesting details about the geologic history of the dunes.

It only took Bossert a few hours to get the answerimpressive because we hadn’t even promoted the puzzler through our email newsletter, Facebook page, or Twitter feed. I can’t say I’m surprised because Felix is a veteran of the geology puzzler Where on Google Earth (WOGE).  Give WOGE a try, but make sure know the rules and be prepared to host the next WOGE if you win.)

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September Puzzler

September 16th, 2013 by Adam Voiland

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Each month, Earth Observatory offers up a puzzling satellite image here on Earth Matters. The September 2013 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, 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 300 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 for being the first to respond or for digging up the most interesting kernels of information. 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. Please include your preferred name or alias with your comment. If you work for 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, please sit on your hands for at least a few days to give others a chance to play.

Have a Question about Climate Science? #askclimate

September 13th, 2013 by Adam Voiland

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Note: See the comment thread for an archive of questions and answers related to this event.

Do you have questions about how NASA measures, models, and visualizes our changing climate?

Here’s your chance to ask them directly. Earth Observatory is hosting a climate Q & A with NASA scientists at 2 pm EDT on Wednesday, September 18. Gavin Schmidt and Benjamin Cookboth climate specialists from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York Citywill be answering questions live via the @NASA_EO Twitter feed. Earth Observatory artists and writers will also be available to answer your questions about how we visualize and communicate climate data.

There’s no such thing as a dumb question. Climate change science can be confusing, complex, and controversial. Our goal is to help you cut through the noise and find out what the science actually says. Need inspiration as you think about your questions? Here are some of the more common questions we’ve received over the years.  You can also read through some of our stories about key climate change topics including: warming, aerosols, extreme storms, the water cycle, and the carbon cycle.

Start sending your questions now by posting a comment in the thread below or by sending a tweet tagged #askclimate.

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