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Earth Matters

Up Close with the Plume in the Strait of Georgia

January 12th, 2015 by Kathryn Hansen

Last week, an Earth Observatory Image of the Day featured a sediment plume from the Fraser River where it enters the Strait of Georgia. That photograph was taken by an astronaut on the International Space Station on September 6, 2014. After we posted the image on Facebook, researcher Ed Wiebe responded by sharing some close-up views of the plume.


The photo above was taken by Kevin Bartlett of Ocean Networks Canada on May 4, 2013, from the deck of the Canadian Coast Guard research ship John P. Tully during an expedition in the Strait. According to Bartlett, the photo was taken during operations with a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), so the location would have been over the central or east node of the VENUS undersea network.

front between Fraser River water and Straight of Georgia water

Wiebe, who works at the University of Victoria, shot the second photo from the deck of a ferry in May 2007. According to Wiebe’s Facebook post: “The spring flood brings very intense loading of the surface water with sharp boundaries. The ferry between Vancouver Island and Vancouver crosses this boundary, providing a great opportunity to observe the river outflow floating on top of the saline water in the Strait of Georgia.”

Thanks to Ed and Kevin for sharing these terrific images!

Out of the Fog

February 25th, 2014 by Adam Voiland


Most years, the Swiss Air Force hosts an air show in the fall that sends planes roaring over the Axalp-Ebenfluh firing range near Brienz, Switzerland. Spectators often congregate at the Axalp, a resort area on a terrace that overlooks Brienz from an elevation of about 1,500 meters (4,900 feet). While waiting for the 2013 show on October 13, 2013, Luca Brüderlin captured this image of a cable car emerging from a layer of fog along a rock wall. Brüderlin was one of twelve winners of a precipitation-themed photography contest sponsored by the Global Precipitation Mission (GPM), a new Earth-observing satellite that is scheduled to launch from Tanegashima Space Center in Japan this week. The lower image was collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite. It shows the clouds and fog in the area from above on the same day that Brüderlin took his photograph.


See more of the winning photographs at

Follow GPM’s launch blog at

Reader Pics: Blooms in the Water

February 5th, 2014 by Mike Carlowicz

Last week we shared an image of an 800-kilometer long bloom of marine protists off the coast of Brazil. In satellite imagery, the bloom appeared navy to black in color, even though the species—Myrionecta rubraappears red when viewed close-up. The blooms tend to occur just below the water surface, so much red light that the protists reflect gets absorbed before it returns to the satellite. Here’s a look at the January bloom from a boat in the South Atlantic.

Brazil bloom closeup 1

The photos were taken in the late afternoon on January 22, 2014. The boat was positioned at roughly 24° 08′ South and 45° 07′ West. The water temperature was 29°Celsius (84°Fahrenheit) and the depth was 70 meters (230 feet).


Brazil bloom closeup 2

Thanks to Julio Cardoso, a boater and amateur scientist from Brazil who shared the photos with us. Thanks are due as well to Dr. Aurea Maria Ciotti of the Universidade de São Paulo, who helped us identify the species and the nature of the bloom.

As of February 5, 2014, the bloom appeared to be subsiding, though clouds and haze made it difficult to see clearly from satellites. You can continue to monitor the area by clicking here.

Reader Pics: Sundogs

February 3rd, 2014 by Adam Voiland


Halos have a long and rich history in religious art, usually symbolizing the presence of someone or something divine.  In the physical sciences, the beautiful displays of light are a sign of something more ordinarythe presence of hexagonal, plate-shaped ice crystals that make up cirrus clouds.  As gravity pulls the ice crystals downward, their faces become horizontal with the ground and they function as dispersive prisms, breaking sunlight into separate colors and leaving rainbow-like ice crystal halos in the sky.

Sundogs are one of the most common types of ice halo. They occur when light rays enter the side of an ice crystal and leave through another side inclined about 60 degrees to the first. (See Atmospheric Optics for a good diagram that illustrates the process.) Sundogs are most easily seen when the Sun is low in the sky; the halos occurring on either side of it at about 22 degrees. The part of a sundog closest to the Sun always forms a layer of red, while greens and blues form beyond that. Sundogs are visible all over the world and at any time of year, regardless of the temperature at the surface. For more imagery of sundogs and other optical phenomena (such as sun pillarscircumhorizonatal arcs, and parhelic circles), it’s worth checking out the archives of Earth Science Picture of the Day.

In the last few weeks, we’ve had a number of readers send us their photographs of sundogs.  The image above was taken by Nina Garcia Jones; the image below comes from Isa DeSil. Thanks for sending the photos our way. To the rest of our readers: keep your interesting photos of atmospheric, meteorological, or geological phenomena coming. We’ll occasionally post the best images on this blog, and we’ll do what we can to help explain the science behind them.