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Earth Matters

December Puzzler Answer: The Gulf Stream

December 23rd, 2013 by Adam Voiland

Every month we offer a puzzling satellite image here on Earth Matters. Every month someone seems to figure it out quickly. So in December 2013, we threw down the gauntlet.

For the first time, we put a false-color imagethis swirl of purple and pinkinto play. A week later, we have received many thoughtful responses but no one came up with the answer. The puzzler this month was a swatch of the Gulf Stream as seen in the infrared by the Thermal Infrared Sensor on Landsat 8.

A number of you came pretty close. Kevin Acosta was one of the first to speculate that we were looking at ocean currents, though he guessed it was the Benguela and Agulhas currents south of South Africa. Eric pointed out it was a false-color image of heat, but he was focused on the Great Lakes as opposed to ocean currents.

I was impressed by the sheer diversity of ideas that flowed in. I’ve included a few of the more creative responses below.

“Looks like part of a red algae bloom or ‘red tide’ on the oceans surface. Can be very beautiful, but can also be deadly when seafood gathered from an algae site is consumed.”  M. Lowe, Earth Matters

“Looking at the gas cloud produced after an eruption using thermal imagery probably underwater hence the blue at top of picture. Recent off Japanese coast.”  Duane Elliott, Facebook.

“Looks similar to nickel tailings in Sudbury, Ontario, much like the images shot by Edward Burtynsky. Improper chemical waste is an on-going environmental issue, which definitely needs more exposure.” Brittney Hopson, Facebook.

“Enhanced satellite imagery of a desert area, showing buried aquifer formations which are potential water supplies, GPR perhaps.”  John Munsey, Facebook.

“To me it looks like it is hot lava with the gases swirling with smoke…Iceland…or Hawaii?  Alison Renee Heller, Facebook.

Thanks to all of you for puzzling away with us in 2013. We had a lot of fun looking at satellite imagery, and we hope you did as well. (Missed one of our 2013 puzzlers? We’ve tagged them here.) Looking forward, the puzzler will be back and even more puzzling in 2014. We’ll see you then.


Las imágenes de satélite son como los mapas: están llenas de información útil e interesante, siempre y cuando tengas una clave. Éstas nos pueden mostrar cuánto ha cambiado una ciudad, cuán bien están creciendo nuestros cultivos, dónde arde un fuego o cuando se acerca una tormenta. Para revelar la riqueza de información en una imagen de satélite haz lo siguiente:

1. Busca una escala
2. Busca patrones, formas y texturas
3. Define los colores (incluyendo las sombras)
4. Encuentra el norte
5. Considera tu conocimiento previo

Estos consejos provienen de escritores y visualizadores de NASA Earth Observatory que los utilizan diariamente para interpretar imágenes de satélite. Te ayudarán a orientarte lo suficiente para extraer información valiosa de imágenes de satélite.

Leer más en español.

Este artículo originalmente fue publicado en inglés en NASA Earth Observatory. Traducción al español de Laura Delgado López, IGES.

December Puzzler

December 16th, 2013 by Mike Carlowicz


Every month we offer a puzzling satellite image here on Earth Matters. Every month someone seems to figure it out quickly. We are feeling like it is time to throw down some gauntlets.

The December 2013 puzzler is above. Your challenge is to use the comments section to tell us what the image shows, 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 200 words). You might simply tell us what part of the world an image shows. Or you can dig deeper and explain what satellite and instrument produced the image, what spectral bands were used to create it, or what is compelling about some obscure speck in the far corner of an image. If you think something is interesting or noteworthy, tell us about it.

The prize. We can’t offer prize money, but, we can promise you credit and glory (well, maybe just credit). Roughly one week after a puzzler image appears on this blog, we will post an annotated and captioned version as our Image of the Day. In the credits, we’ll acknowledge the person who was first to correctly ID the image. We’ll also recognize people who offer the most interesting tidbits of information. 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 or work in geospatial imaging, please sit on your hands for at least a few days to give others a chance to play.

Releasing Comments. Savvy readers have solved many of our 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 receive in the comment thread.

Fall AGU, Tornado Intensity, and More

December 13th, 2013 by Adam Voiland


It’s that Time of Year
Monarch butterflies congregate in central Mexico every winter. Sandhill cranes stop  at a small section of the Platte River in Nebraska every spring. And earth and planetary scientists congregate in San Francisco each December.

More than ten thousand people converged on Moscone Center this week for the the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, a hectic five-day event full of lectures, poster presentations, networking lunches, press conferences, and plenty of coffee and beer. For updates from the meeting, check out Dave Petley at the Landslide blog, Will Morgan at Polluting the Internet, the Barometer Podcast, Real Climate, and Journeys of Dr. G from Laura Guretin.

Tracking Tornado Intensity
Are tornadoes getting stronger?  It’s a complicated and controversial topic among meteorologists, but Florida State University’s James Elsner thinks the answer is probably yes (with an emphasis on probably). Elsner came to that conclusion after analyzing the damage caused by every tornado to hit between 1994 and 2006. “If I were a betting man, I’d say tornadoes are getting stronger,” he noted  during a talk the American Geophysical Union meeting this week. But when asked directly at a press conference whether they were, he resorted to caveats, according to Scientific American. “I’m not doing this [work] to establish the future intensity of tornadoes,” he explained, but to establish a method that someday could indeed determine if the storms are becoming more powerful. For more on the muddled topic of tornado intensity trends, see this detailed post from DotEarth’s Andrew Revkin.

Arctic Cyclones Galore

Remember that strong Arctic storm that whirled near the north pole back in the summer of 2012? A new analysis shows that there are more of them than we thought—40 percent more. From 2000 to 2010, about 1,900 cyclones churned across the top of the world each year, leaving warm water and air in their wakesand melting sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. “We now know there were more cyclones than previously thought, simply because we’ve gotten better at detecting them,” one of the authors explained. “We can’t yet tell if the number of cyclones is increasing or decreasing, because that would take a multidecade view.” Read the press release.

Data Visualization AMA
If you missed the Reddit Ask Me Anything with Earth Observatory art director Robert Simmon, you can find the transcript here.

From Facebook
We post items every day to facebook (and not everything that goes onto Facebook makes it onto our site).  One of the highlights this week was a spectacular montage of astronaut photography put together by film student David Peterson. Look for Don Pettit’s head peering out from the cupola at the end end of the video. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself watching it again. And again. And again.

[youtube GOAEIMx39-w]