Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

June 12 2013


Video: Alien Invasion? No, It’s Just a Massive Supercell Storm

Video: Alien Invasion? No, It’s Just a Massive Supercell Storm
The stunning video above shows a mighty supercell thunderstorm captured by Phoenix-based photographer Mike Olbinski on June 3. Olbinski has been trying to capture one of these elusive squalls for four years. “It looked like some UFO or something spinning ...

June 05 2013


Video: Peeling Back the Ice of Antarctica

Video: Peeling Back the Ice of Antarctica
Check out the most detailed map of a continent never truly seen by human eyes: the de-iced surface of Antarctica. By peeling back the frozen ice sheet and studying the land beneath, researchers can get a better sense of how ...

May 15 2013


What It’s Like to Be the New Landsat Earth-Observing Satellite

Come fly with the new Landsat satellite as it records images over a 9,000-kilometer swath of Earth, and zoom in on any point along the way with a Gigapan version of the trip.

May 14 2013


Sensors Listen to Earth’s Murmurs and Translate Into Data

The rumble of volcanoes, the shock of a concussion, the action of waves. Connected sensors are translating it all into data.

April 15 2013


Scientists Map Swirling Ocean Eddies for Clues to Climate Change

Scientists Map Swirling Ocean Eddies for Clues to Climate Change
New data collected by mathematicians and oceanographers in the frigid waters of the Southern Ocean could dramatically improve climate models.

April 08 2013


Video: NASA’s Best Views of Earth From Space in 2012

Video: NASA’s Best Views of Earth From Space in 2012
This great collection of images of Earth from space come from several different satellites as well as the International Space Station. There are awesome shots of glaciers and sea ice, city lights at night and sand dunes. Some of the ...

March 22 2013


Southern Ocean May Be Losing Ability to Absorb Greenhouse Gas

Southern Ocean May Be Losing Ability to Absorb Greenhouse Gas
Signs indicate the Southern Ocean's capacity to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide has been decreasing over the past few decades.

March 18 2013


Climate Change Could Mean 7 Times as Many Hurricane Katrinas

Climate Change Could Mean 7 Times as Many Hurricane Katrinas
Batten down the hatches, East Coasters: A new study argues that for every one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees F) of global warming, the US Atlantic seaboard could see up to seven times as many Katrina-sized hurricanes.

August 28 2012


Hurricane Isaac Seen From Space Barreling Toward Gulf Coast

This image shows tropical storm Isaac as it headed toward the Gulf coast on Aug. 27. The storm passed the wind-speed threshold today, reaching 75 mph, and was declared a Category 1 hurricane by the National Hurricane Center at 12:20 p.m. EDT.

The hurricane is currently headed toward Louisiana, where residents are bracing for 7 to 14 inches of rainfall (up to 20 inches in some spots) and possible flooding. The NHC is warning that storm surges could combine with high tide to raise water levels up to 12 feet above ground in Mississippi and Louisiana. The storm is expected to make landfall tonight or early tomorrow morning.

In the image above, taken by NASA’s Aqua satellite, the outline of the Louisiana coast, and the Mississippi Delta can be seen in the path of the storm to the northwest. New Orleans sits just below Lake Pontchartrain, which is also faintly outlined (see right for detail). Florida’s outline lies to the west of the storm.

The Google Earth Blog explains how to track Isaac in Google Earth, and Google has launched a crisis response map for the storm.

Images: Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center.


August 22 2012


U.S. Drought Has Gotten So Bad, You Can See It From Space

Last year, the Mississippi River flooded. Major storms combined with melting snow brought the waterway more than 56 feet above river stage in May. The Army Corps of Engineers lifted the floodgates of the Morganza Spillway, deliberately inundating some 3,000 square miles of rural Louisiana to spare worse damage in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. In August of last year, NASA’s Landsat 5 satellite took a picture of the swollen river (above).

climate_desk_bugThis year it’s an entirely different story. At the end of last month, more than 60 percent of the lower 48 states were in drought, and the mighty Mississippi was running low. An 11-mile stretch of river has been closed on and off since August 11, and earlier this week nearly 100 boats lined up near Greenville, Mississippi, waiting to pass. Water levels near Memphis are ranging from 2.4 to 8.3 below river stage, compared with 11.7 feet above at this time last year. To make matters worse, the floods of last year deposited huge amounts of sediment on the river bed, reconfiguring the existing channels.

Again NASA was there to capture the view from space, this time with Landsat 7 (below).

Officials from the Army Corps of Engineers say that the low water levels — and attending barge traffic jams, closed ports, and closed river sections — will continue until October. The direct costs are staggering: NASA explains that a loss of just one inch of draft can require a ship to run with 17 tons less cargo. A major drought in 1988, one that set the record for water level at minus 10.7 feet, brought an estimated $1 billion in losses to the barge industry that year.

Of course the indirect costs — the lost revenue to the ports along the way, to the businesses whose shipments are delayed, not to mention the toll on the ecosystems that depend on water from the river — those costs are much, much greater.

Original story at The Atlantic.

via @pbump

August 09 2012


The Hidden Power of Whale Poop

A blue whale and its feces off La Jolla, California. Photo: Eddie Kisfaludy

The largest animals ever to have lived on Earth, blue whales are colossal in every respect — including, it must be said, the scatological. When a blue whale goes, it goes big.

This remarkable phenomenon was recently captured on camera by Eddie Kisfaludy, a marine biologist and oceanographic consultant. While conducting an aerial survey off the coast of southern California, he flew over a pod of 40 blue whales.

The waters were rich in krill, the tiny crustaceans on which blue whales feed, and their orange hue was brightly visible in a fecal plume he photographed. It’s hard to judge absolute distances from the photo, but in scale the deposit is nearly as long as a full-grown blue whale.

It may well be the world’s largest documented poop. It’s also an exclamation point to a line of research pursued in recent years by marine biologists who say whales are the ocean’s unappreciated gardeners, playing enormous roles in nutrient and carbon cycles. In short — or perhaps in long — their poop helps make the aquatic world go round.

“Whales and marine mammals can fertilize their surface waters,” said Joe Roman, a conservation biologist at the University of Vermont, when shown Kisfaludy’s picture. “This can result in more plankton, more fish, and more whales.”

In 2010, after sampling the scat of humpback whales in the Gulf of Maine, Roman and Harvard zoologist James McCarthy proposed what they called the “whale pump”: A mechanism describing how whales feeding at depth carry nitrogen to warm, energy-rich surface waters, discharging it in “flocculent fecal plumes.”

Flocculent is a lovely word for a loose aggregation of particles, fluffy or woolly in nature. It’s also why whale poop floats. Most previous research on oceanic carbon and nitrogen flows fixated on their downward drift, but the whale pump represented a flow in the opposite direction, a way for surface waters to continually be recharged, stimulating the growth of plankton and everything that eats them.

A schematic of the “whale pump.” Image: Roman & McCarthy/PLoS One

Before commercial whaling, calculated Roman and McCarthy, the whale pump distributed three times more nitrogen across the Gulf of Maine than entered it from atmospheric sources. Even today, with whale populations at a fraction of historical levels, they added more nitrogen than all rivers and streams running into the Gulf combined.

Perhaps that’s why sea life in the Gulf of Maine was once so abundant, and the benefits wouldn’t have ended there.

As aquatic plants and animals grow, and in particular as plankton grows, they absorb carbon, then bury it on the seafloor when they die. That’s the rationale behind iron fertilization, a geoengineering technique that some researchers think could counteract global warming.

From this perspective, whales aren’t just gardeners, but geoengineers as well. Marine biologist Trish Lavery of Australia’s Flinders University calculated that defecation by the Southern Ocean’s sperm whales ultimately sequesters some 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide every year — roughly the amount emitted by 400 coal-fired power plants, and more than twice as much CO2 as the whales emitted by breathing. They’re a carbon sink.

An open and important question, said University of Maine marine biologist Andrew Pershing, is how whale abundance alters ecosystems. Their effects could be enormous, especially when conceived in historical terms: Once there were more than 200,000 blue whales in the Antarctic Ocean alone, whereas today there are perhaps 8,000 in the whole world. Whatever they once provided has largely been lost, and restoring their populations might bring it back.

“Although other air-breathing vertebrates, such as seabirds and seals, can also pump nutrients to the surface, none are as large, or as abundant, as baleen whales were before the age of commercial whaling,” said Roman. Blue whales’ feces “must have a large impact on their ecosystems.”

Asked what he thought when seeing Kisfaludy’s photograph, Roman said, “I wish we had a net on hand to gather the poop.”

Said Pershing, “I’m glad I don’t have to pick that up.”

August 06 2012


This Is What the Olympics Looks Like From Space

July 31 2012


The Secret of Shrimp-Tailed Ice

By Emily Underwood, ScienceNOW

In 2009, glaciologist Evgeny Podolskiy was on vacation, climbing Japan’s Mount Zao volcano, when he stumbled on something he’d never seen: soft, feathery fronds of frost called shrimp tails. He left the mountain with photographs and a question: What weather conditions produced the strange formations? Now, with the help of a powerful climate model, he and a team of international scientists have reconstructed how the tails formed. The discovery is a potential boon for wind energy companies building high-altitude transmission lines and windmills.

It was late April when Podolskiy began his hike up Mount Zao, joined by his family and cryospheric scientist Osamu Abe of the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention in Shinjo, Japan. By then, the famous rime accretions called “snow monsters,” which form on Mount Zao’s trees and draw thousands of tourists every winter had melted, and cherry trees were blooming at the bottom of the mountain. “We had no expectation to see anything icy,” says Podolskiy. But as they neared the top, they saw strange feathers of ice attached to boulders and the walls of a shrine near the emerald-green lake in the volcano’s crater.

Abe explained to the group that the feathers were called Ebi no shippo, or “shrimp tails,” and that they form when tiny water droplets in the clouds over the volcano’s dome collide with obstacles such as rocks or buildings. Although the water droplets are below freezing temperature, they do not form crystals until the instant they hit an object. When millions of droplets accumulate on surfaces that have a roughly 25° slant, the shrimp tails grow in discrete feathers. Similar “lobster tails” have been studied on the wings of aircraft, says Podolskiy, but to his knowledge no one had determined the weather conditions that cause the tails to form on the ground.

After taking a few photographs, Podolskiy went back to his home institution, Nagoya University in Japan, where he was finishing his Ph.D. “I forgot about the shrimp tails for a while,” he says. A year later, however, he attended a talk by Bjørn Egil Nygaard, an atmospheric scientist at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute in Oslo, who had used a meteorological model called the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model to study the icing of structures such as telecommunication towers and ski lifts in Europe. It occurred to Podolskiy that this model might solve the mystery of the shrimp tails’ origin, but there was a problem: He wasn’t a modeler. Undaunted, he began teaching himself the necessary physics and recruited ice modeling experts to help him solve the puzzle.

To figure out what the weather was like on Mount Zao when the shrimp tails formed, the team made use of the WRF model’s ability to deduce past storm patterns by analyzing hour-to-hour historical meteorological measurements taken all over the world. According to the model, the shrimp tails formed as a result of two cold, windy periods, each lasting several days. Temperatures dipped to -6.3°C, and winds gusted to nearly 26 meters per second. The model suggested that the amount of liquid water in the clouds over the volcano was several times higher than used in lab studies of similar tails, which could help scientists predict future icing events.

Next, the team took the atmospheric conditions simulated by the WRF model and entered them into an ice-accretion model commonly used to predict how much frost will accumulate on manmade structures. When they ran the model to include a low wind angle, it predicted shrimp tails that matched the length of those on Mount Zao within centimeters. They reported their results last month in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Greg Thompson, the atmospheric scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, who helped develop the WRF model, says the study is convincing. “The results are solid—they took care of any arguments against them.” Hugh Morrison, a NCAR climate modeler who also helped develop WRF, says he was surprised by how closely the wind and temperature measurements produced by the model aligned with those taken at the ski station. “That’s a pretty robust result.”

To Thompson, the take-home point of the study is that models are getting better all the time. Twenty years ago, he says, it would have been “a joke” to try to reproduce storm conditions in a certain place on a specific day with a global climate model. But today, state-of-the-art climate models such as WRF can recreate certain atmospheric phenomena with impressive accuracy. In climate science, he says, “modeling has been a bright spot.”

Alain Heimo, a physicist who studies icing on energy infrastructure, describes the results of the study as “really impressive.” Expanding renewable energy sources such as wind power, he says, will require building more windmills and transmission lines in mountainous regions where icing is a major concern. Studies like Podolskiy’s, he says, show that the “skill of modeling icing is increasing constantly.”

This story provided by ScienceNOW, the daily online news service of the journal Science.

Image: Evgeny Podolskiy & Osamu Abe


U.S. Drought and Climate Change: Science Points to Link

Dessicated farmland east of Denver, Colorado. Photo: Lance Cheung, USDA/Flickr

The drought that’s turned most of the United States into a dessicated hotbox may be a symptom of climate change, a brutal blowback from carbon pollution.

Climate scientists, who prefer to speak in terms of probabilities and trends rather than single events, are reluctant to point fingers at any one cause — but signs point to human influence making a natural dry spell unnaturally severe.

“In any single event, it’s hard to really know if you’re just seeing a natural variation or climate change,” cautioned climatologist Chris Funk of the University of California, Santa Barbara. With that caveat, Funk said when asked if human activity exacerbated the drought, “Tentatively, the answer is yes. To some extent, it is.”

Public sentiment has already linked the drought, which has turned much of the Great Plains and Midwest into disaster areas, wrecking crops and driving food prices dangerously upwards, to unnatural climate fluctuation. Belief in climate change is now at an all-time U.S. high, and while explaining the causes of any large weather pattern is always difficult, enough is known about climate to make some educated guesses.

Funk’s specialty is the dynamics of sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean and western Pacific Ocean. Over the last century, and in particular the last two decades, these rose by an average of 1.25 degrees Fahrenheit. Ocean temperature trends can be tricky to interpret, but there’s little scientific disagreement about Indian Ocean warming: It’s almost certainly man-made, a result of greenhouse gases trapping heat in Earth’s atmosphere.

'When these patterns do materialize, they're materializing in a warming climate.'
The consequences are significant. Heated air holds extra water, supercharging monsoon systems and producing events like 2010′s Pakistan floods. Water vapor is also a greenhouse gas itself, trapping heat and creating a feedback loop of local warming.

When the western Pacific is especially warm and the central Pacific is especially cool — the latter a natural, cyclically occurring condition known as La Niña, which has prevailed since 2010 — the temperature gradient causes changes in atmospheric circulation.

Dry air is pushed westward toward the Horn of Africa, which in 2011 experienced a massive drought. There also seems to be an eastward ripple effect, interacting with other weather patterns to produce drought conditions in mid-latitude regions.

La Niña generally produces dry spells in southern North America, but adding a warm-to-cool Pacific gradient generates what some scientists call “the perfect ocean for drought,” spreading it far and wide. This occurred between 1998 and 2002, when a similar warm-to-cool Pacific gradient existed and drought struck the United States and mid-latitude regions worldwide. Another, lesser gradient occurred in 2007 and 2008, just before another U.S. drought.

The latest warm-to-cool gradient occurred in 2010 and 2011. Martin Hoerling, a research meteorologist at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory who coined the “perfect ocean for drought” term, said it may well help explain the current disaster.

“The 2011 drought in Texas was part of the La Niña effect, and we’ve carried it on here,” he said. “When background conditions in the tropical Atlantic and Indian Ocean are warm, it leads to the worst of all possible worlds for droughts in the mid-latitudes. I can’t confirm that’s been driving the conditions we’ve been seeing, but it’s an useful first guess.”

Drought severity in the U.S. as of July 24, 2012. Image: Richard Heim, NOAA/NESDIS/NCDC

If that dynamic is at work, then fossil fuel pollution is implicated. “Some part of it is related to extra water vapor that wouldn’t be there” if not for human greenhouse gas emissions, Funk said. “If we didn’t have all that extra anthropogenic water vapor, the western Pacific would be cooler, and the gradient wouldn’t be as great.”

Bin Guan, a drought specialist at the California Institute of Technology, struck a cautionary note on early interpretations. “Drought development is a long, complicated process,” he said. “Its response to greenhouse gases is more complicated than temperature alone because it’s a combination of temperature, precipitation, evaporation, soil moisture, and other conditions.”

Whether the current drought’s severity is linked to greenhouse gas pollution is “difficult to say with certainty,” Guan said. “It could be a combination of both natural forces and human impact, but we can’t be sure, at least for now.”

Also fueling the drought was the exception warmth of the past winter and spring, which by drying U.S. soils reduced the amount of moisture entering regional weather systems through evaporation. The extent to which that reflects climate change is unknown, as is the provenance of a high-low pressure system now sitting off the U.S. west coast that funnels warm, dry air from approaching storm systems, said Hoerling.

Those factors may prove unrelated to human activity, but represent the type of patterns with which climate change interacts, ultimately producing a world that — regardless of this drought’s origin — is expected to become a much hotter, drier place. “We’re not creating weather patterns we’ve never experienced before,” Hoerling said. “But when these patterns do materialize from time to time, through the vagaries of weather, they’re materializing in a warming climate.”

Anticipated annual precipitation levels in 2050 as modeled for moderate greenhouse gas emission levels. (Actual emission levels are on a more severe trajectory.) Dark red, or a value of minus-4, represents extreme drought. Image: National Center for Atmospheric Research

July 26 2012


Watch the American Landscape Change as Seen From Space


Grand Canyon-Sized Rift Found Under Antarctic Ice

By Duncan Geere, Wired UK

The British Antarctic Survey has announced the discovery of a mile-deep rift valley under the ice of West Antarctica.

The snow-filled basin was found under the Ferrigno Ice Stream — a region that has only been visited once previously, leading the BAS to describe it as “remote even by Antarctic standards.”

Wired U.K.
However, this region is losing ice faster than any other part of Antarctica, with some glaciers receding by more than a metre a year. It’s thought that the shape of the basin and the warming sea could be contributing to the rapid melting of this part of the continent.

To find out more, a team of researchers dragged an ice-penetrating radar behind a skidoo across more than 2,400km of the vast continent, greater than the distance between London and Athens.

“What we found is that lying beneath the ice there is a large valley, parts of which are approximately a mile deeper than the surrounding landscape,” said Robert Bingham, a glaciologist working in the University of Aberdeen’s School of Geosciences and lead author of a study reported in Nature, in a press release. “If you stripped away all of the ice here today, you’d see a feature every bit as dramatic as the huge rift valleys you see in Africa and in size as significant as the Grand Canyon.”

He added, “This is at odds with the flat ice surface that we were driving across — without these measurements we would never have known that it was there. What’s particularly important is that this spectacular valley aligns perfectly with the recordings of ice-surface lowering and ice loss that we have witnessed with satellite observations over this area for the last twenty years.”

The work was funded by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council and is part of the British Antarctic Survey’s Icesheets Programme, which examines the role of ice sheets in the Earth system, and the processes that control ice-sheet change.

Image: Radar image of the Ferrigno Ice Stream bed’s depth. (Bingham et al./Nature)

Source: Wired.co.uk

July 25 2012


40 Years of Massive City Growth as Seen From Space

July 24 2012


Earth as Art: 5 Most Popular Landsat Satellite Images

The first Landsat satellite was launched on July 23, 1972. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Landsat mission, the public was given the difficult task of choosing the best of the more than 120 images in the Earth as Art collection. The top five selections, based on more than 14,000 votes, are featured here in descending order (above: first place).

Your challenge is to select just one of these incredible images for your computer desktop.


Phytoplankton in the Baltic Sea

In the style of Van Gogh's painting "Starry Night," massive congregations of greenish phytoplankton swirl in the dark water around Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea. Population explosions, or blooms, of phytoplankton, like the one shown here, occur when deep currents bring nutrients up to sunlit surface waters, fueling the growth and reproduction of these tiny plants. This image was acquired by Landsat 7 on July 13, 2005.

Image and caption: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/USGS.

<< Previous | Next >>

July 23 2012


Landsat’s Most Historically Significant Images of Earth From Space

About the Landsat Program: NASA and the U.S. Department of the Interior through the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) jointly manage Landsat, and the USGS preserves a 40-year archive of Landsat images that is freely available over the Internet. The next Landsat satellite, now known as the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) and later to be called Landsat 8, is scheduled for launch in 2013.

February 08 2012


Asia and Americas on Course for Arctic Collision

It’ll be a geological showdown for the ages, with North America, South America, Europe and Asia colliding head-on over the North Pole to create a supercontinent called Amasia.

Unfortunately, nobody we know will be around to watch the collision, which won’t happen for another 50 million years or more. But it’s still fun to imagine.

“The snapshot that is the present is smack-dab in the middle of what we call the supercontinent cycles,” said geologist Ross Mitchell of Yale University, lead author of a Feb. 8 Nature prediction of supercontinental trajectories. “We’re part of something larger, both in the past and into the future.”

Mitchell’s group isn’t the first to say that Amasia will form, but geologists differ on where exactly this will happen.

Some think that supercontinents break up, drift apart, and gather again in the same place. They say Amasia will swallow the Atlantic and center itself over present-day Africa, at the heart of Pangea, the last supercontinent, which broke up 250 million years ago.

Other geologists believe supercontinents break up, drift apart, and gather again on the other side of Earth. This would place Amasia somewhere between Hawaii and Fiji, and swallow the Pacific.

Mitchell’s group, however, places Amasia in the Arctic. Their conclusion is based on records of Earth’s magnetic field as contained in rocks dating back 800 million years to Rodinia, the supercontinent that preceded Pangea.

According to their interpretation, the geomagnetic record only makes sense if supercontinents rotate on their axes at a 90 degree angle, which would send Amasia into an unexpected polar location.

Given that their data spans 800 million years yet contains only 2 examples of supercontinental rotation, this will be a hard hypothesis to test. Whether or not it holds up, however, the research should illuminate a question even more fundamental than where supercontinents will gather.

“One of the larger questions in research is, ‘Why does a supercontinent even break apart?’” said Mitchell.


Image: At left, the current arrangement of the continents; at right, their proposed arrangement in 100 million years. (Mitchell et al./Nature) Video: The last 500 million years of Earth’s continental drift. (Mitchell et al./Nature)

Citation: “Supercontinent cycles and the calculation of absolute palaeolongitude in deep time.” By Ross N. Mitchell, Taylor M. Kilian & David A. D. Evans. Nature, Vol. 482, No. 7384, 9 February 2012.

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!