aqua satellite

NASA looks to solar eclipse to help understand Earth's energy system

It was midafternoon, but it was dark in an area in Boulder, Colorado on Aug. 3, 1998. A thick cloud appeared overhead and dimmed the land below for more than 30 minutes. Well-calibrated radiometers showed that there were very low levels of light reaching the ground, sufficiently low that researchers decided to simulate this interesting event with computer models. Now in 2017, inspired by the event in Boulder, NASA scientists will explore the moon’s eclipse of the sun to learn more about Earth’s energy system.

On Aug. 21, 2017, scientists are looking to this year’s total solar eclipse passing across America to improve our modeling capabilities of Earth’s energy. Guoyong Wen, a NASA scientist working for Morgan State University in Baltimore, is leading a team to gather data from the ground and satellites before, during and after the eclipse so they can simulate this year’s eclipse using an advanced computer model, called a 3-D radiative transfer model. If successful, Wen and his team will help develop new calculations that improve our estimates of the amount of solar energy reaching the ground, and our understanding of one of the key players in regulating Earth’s energy system, clouds.

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The 1 trillion tonne iceberg

Larsen C Ice Shelf rift finally breaks through

July 12, 2017 -

A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded – has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice, monitored by the Swansea University-led MIDAS project, finally completed its path through the ice.

The calving occurred sometime between Monday 10th July and Wednesday 12th July, when a 5,800 square km section of Larsen C finally broke away.

The final breakthrough was detected in data from NASA’s Aqua MODIS satellite instrument, which images in the thermal infrared at a resolution of 1km.

• The iceberg, which is likely to be named A68, weighs more than a trillion tonnes.

• Its volume is twice that of Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes.
The iceberg weighs more than a trillion tonnes (1,000,000,000,000 metric tonnes), but it was already floating before it calved away so has no immediate impact on sea level.

The calving of this iceberg leaves the Larsen C Ice Shelf reduced in area by more than 12%, and the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula changed forever.

The development of the rift over the last year was monitored using data from the European Space Agency Sentinel-1 satellites – part of the European Copernicus Space Component.

Sentinel-1 is a radar imaging system capable of acquiring images regardless of cloud cover, and throughout the current winter period of polar darkness.

The detachment of the iceberg was first revealed in a thermal infrared image from NASA’s MODIS instrument, which is also able to acquire data in the Antarctic winter when cloud cover permits.

Although the remaining ice shelf will continue naturally to regrow, Swansea researchers have previously shown that the new configuration is potentially less stable than it was prior to the rift.

There is a risk that Larsen C may eventually follow the example of its neighbour, Larsen B, which disintegrated in 2002 following a similar rift-induced calving event in 1995.

Professor Adrian Luckman of Swansea University, lead investigator of the MIDAS project, said: “We have been anticipating this event for months, and have been surprised how long it took for the rift to break through the final few kilometres of ice.

We will continue to monitor both the impact of this calving event on the Larsen C Ice Shelf, and the fate of this huge iceberg.

The iceberg is one of the largest recorded and its future progress is difficult to predict.

It may remain in one piece but is more likely to break into fragments. Some of the ice may remain in the area for decades, while parts of the iceberg may drift north into warmer waters.

The recent development in satellite systems such as Sentinel-1 and MODIS has vastly improved our ability to monitor events such as this.”

The Larsen C Ice Shelf, which has a thickness of between 200 and 600 metres, floats on the ocean at the edge of The Antarctic Peninsula, holding back the flow of glaciers that feed into it.

Researchers from the MIDAS Project have been monitoring the rift in Larsen C for many years, following the collapse of the Larsen A ice shelf in 1995 and the sudden break-up of the Larsen B shelf in 2002.

They reported rapid advances of the rift in January, May and June, which increased its length to over 200 km and left the iceberg hanging on by a thread of ice just 4.5 km (2.8 miles) wide.

The team monitored the earlier development of the rift using a technique called satellite radar interferometry (SRI) applied to ESA Sentinel-1 images.

While the rift is only visible in radar images when it is more than 50m wide, by combining pairs of images, SRI allows the impact of very small changes in ice shelf geometry to be detected, and the rift tip to be monitored precisely.

Dr Martin O'Leary, a Swansea University glaciologist and member of the MIDAS project team, said of the recent calving: “Although this is a natural event, and we’re not aware of any link to human-induced climate change, this puts the ice shelf in a very vulnerable position.

This is the furthest back that the ice front has been in recorded history. We’re going to be watching very carefully for signs that the rest of the shelf is becoming unstable.”

Professor Adrian Luckman of Swansea University added: “In the ensuing months and years, the ice shelf could either gradually regrow, or may suffer further calving events which may eventually lead to collapse - opinions in the scientific community are divided.

Our models say it will be less stable, but any future collapse remains years or decades away.”

Whilst this new iceberg will not immediately raise sea levels, if the shelf loses much more of its area, it could result in glaciers that flow off the land behind speeding up their passage towards the ocean.

This non-floating ice would have an eventual impact on sea levels, but only at a very modest rate.

TOP IMAGE….This is the rift in the Larsen C -0 aerial view. Credit: John Sonntag/NASA.

LOWER IMAGE….This is a map showing detachment of iceberg, based on data from NASA’s Aqua Modis satellite. July 12, 2017. Credit: MIDAS Project, Swansea University.

Space Alphabet !

(The info is under the  pics, but you can ignore them for the sake of beauty, for a moment.) 

A - Utah’s Green River doubling back on itsels a feature known as Bowknot Bend, taken from the International Space Station

B - the Arkansas River and the Holla Bend Wildlife Refuge. In the winter, it is common for the refuge to host 100,000 ducks and geese at once

C - an artificial island at the southern end of Bahrain Island. The beach sand on tropical islands is mostly made up of calcium carbonate from the shells and skeletons of marine organisms

D - the Enhanced Thematic Mapper on Landsat 7 acquired this image of Akimiski Island in James Bay

E - a phytoplankton bloom off the coast of New Zealand, taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite

F - the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired this false-colour image of valleys and snow-covered mountain ranges in southeastern Tibet. Firn is a granular type of snow often found on the surface of a glacier before it has been compressed into ice

G - Pinaki Island, a small atoll of the Tuamotu group in French Polynesia

H - rivers running through colourful ridges in southwestern Kyrgyzstan, taken by the Operational Land Imager on Landsat 8

I - the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image of the Andaman Islands, which form an archipelago in the Bay of Bengal between India, to the west. The thin, bright rings surrounding several of the islands are coral reefs that were lifted up by a massive earthquake near Sumatra in 2004

J - Trunk Reef near Townsville, Australia, taken by the Operational Land Imager

K - glaciers at the Sirmilik National Park Pond Inlet in Mittimatalik, Canada

L - the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite, captured this image of snow across the northeastern United States

M - the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured this image of glaciers in the Tian Shan mountains in northeastern Kyrgyzstan. The trail of brown sediment in the middle of the uppermost glacier is a medial moraine, a term glaciologists use to describe sediment that accumulates in the middle of merging glaciers

N - the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Terra satellite, captured this image of ship tracks over the Pacific. Ship emissions contain small particles that cause the clouds to form

O - the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on the Terra satellite, captured this image of Tenoumer meteorite crater in Mauritania. The meteorite struck Earth between 10,000 and 30,000 years ago

P - the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) sensor on the Terra satellite, captured this false-color image of the Mackenzie River Delta in Canada

Q - the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite, acquired this image of Lonar Crater in India. Shocked quartz minerals with an unusual structure that can only form under intense pressure, offering a clue that the lake was formed by a large meteorite

R - the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8, captured this image of Lago Menendez in Argentina

S - the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Terra satellite, acquired this image of clouds swirling over the Atlantic Ocean

T - the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8, captured this image of development along two roads in the United Arab Emirates

U - the Ikonos satellite captured this image of Gooseneck State Park in Utah

V - the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8, acquired this image of ash on the snow around Shiveluch- one of the largest and most active volcanoes on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula

W - the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite, captured this image of dust blowing over the Red Sea

X - the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite, captured this false-colour image of the northwest corner of Leidy Glacier in Greenland

Y - the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s. Terra satellite captured this false-colour image of the Ugab River in Namibia

Z - the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite, captured this image of wildfire smoke over Canada 

Earth Observatory has tracked down images resembling all 26 letters of the English alphabet using only NASA satellite imagery and astronaut photography. Science writer for the Nasa Earth Observatory, Adam Voiland, said: “A few years ago, while working on a story about wildfires, a V appeared to me in a satellite image of a smoke plume over Canada. That image made me wonder: could I track down all 26 letters of the English alphabet using only NASA satellite imagery and astronaut photography?” "With the help of readers and colleagues, I started to collect images of ephemeral features like clouds, phytoplankton blooms, and dust clouds that formed shapes reminiscent of letters. Some letters, like O and C, were easy to find. Others-A, B, and R-were maddeningly difficult. Note that the A above is cursive. And if you can find a better example of any letter (in NASA imagery), send us an email with the date, latitude, and longitude.“ 

Adam Voiland explains that when he finally tracked down all the letters and it was time write captions, he had just become a new dad & deep into a Dr. Seuss reading phase with my son. 

"The Seuss-inspired ABC gallery above is the result. To add some education to the fun.”

Three different typhoons were spinning over the western Pacific Ocean on August 7, 2006, when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired this image. 

NASA combined 13 years of satellite cloud observations to show the Earth’s ‘average cloudiness’.

Earth’s cloudy nature is unmistakable in this global cloud fraction map, based on data collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. While MODIS collects enough data to make a new global map of cloudiness every day, this version of the map shows an average of all of the satellite’s cloud observations between July 2002 and April 2015. Colors range from dark blue (no clouds) to light blue (some clouds) to white (frequent clouds).

Seeing El Niño…From Space

First, What is El Niño?

This irregularly occurring weather phenomenon is created through an abnormality in wind and ocean circulation. When it originates in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. El Niño has wide-reaching effects. In a global context, it affects rainfall, ocean productivity, atmospheric gases and winds across continents. At a local level, it influences water supplies, fishing industries and food sources.

What About This Year’s El Niño

This winter, weather patterns may be fairly different than what is typical — all because of unusually warm ocean water in the east equatorial Pacific, aka El Niño. California is expected to get more rain while Australia is expected to get less. Since this El Niño began last summer, the Pacific Ocean has already experienced an increase in tropical storms and a decrease in phytoplankton.

How Do We See El Niño?

Here are some of El Niño’s key impacts and how we study them from space:


El Niño often spurs a change in rainfall patterns that can lead to major flooding, landslides and droughts across the globe.

How We Study It: Our Global Precipitation Measurement mission (GPM), tracks precipitation worldwide and creates global precipitation maps updated every half-hour using data from a host of satellites. Scientists can then use the data to study changes in rain and snow patterns. This gives us a better understanding of Earth’s climate and weather systems.


El Niño also influences the formation of tropical storms. El Niño events are associated with fewer hurricanes in the Atlantic, but more hurricanes and typhoons in the Pacific.

How We Study It: We have a suite of instruments in space that can study various aspects of storms, such as rainfall activity, cloud heights, surface wind speed and ocean heat.

Ocean Ecology:

While El Niño affects land, it also impacts the marine food web, which can be seen in the color of the ocean. The hue of the water is influenced by the presence of tiny plants, sediments and colored dissolved organic material. During El Niño conditions, upwelling is suppressed and the deep, nutrient-rich waters aren’t able to reach the surface, causing less phytoplankton productivity. With less food, the fish population declines, severely affecting fishing industries.

How We Study It: Our satellites measure the color of the ocean to derive surface chlorophyll, a pigment in phytoplankton, and observe lower total chlorophyll amounts during El Niño events in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.


El Niño also influences ozone — a compound that plays an important role in the Earth system and human health. When El Niño occurs, there is a substantial change in the major east-west tropical circulation, causing a significant redistribution of atmospheric gases like ozone.

How We Study It: Our Aura satellite is used to measure ozone concentrations in the upper layer of the atmosphere. With more than a decade of Aura data, researchers are able to separate the response of ozone concentrations to an El Niño from its response to change sin human activity, such as manmade fires.


El Niño conditions shift patters of rainfall and fire across the tropics. During El Niño years, the number and intensity of fires increases, especially under drought conditions in regions accustomed to wet weather. These fires not only damage lands, but also emit greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming.

How We Study It: Our MODIS instruments on Aqua and Terra satellites provide a global picture of fire activity. MODIS was specifically designed to observe fires, allowing scientists to discern flaming from smoldering burns.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space:

Cloud streets and ice in the Davis straight.

This image was taken by NASA’s AQUA satellite in 2013. It shows cloud streets and winter sea ice in the Davis Straight, which connects the Atlantic Ocean with Baffin Bay, and separates Canada from Greenland. Cloud streets form when cold Arctic air passes over warmer ocean, causing condensation of the warmer marine air. When the winds pass over ice, no clouds result as the wind itself is very dry. It is the temperature difference with the sea that causes condensation. They align in the direction of the prevailing winds at the altitude where toe two airs meet.


Image credit: Nasa.


what are days for? to put between the endless nights?: earth, photographed by nasa’s terra & aqua satellites, 26th november 2015.

what do you remember about this day? will you remember about it in a week? a month? a year?

maybe today will just be the day i shaved my legs because i was going out dancing the next night. if i get the job, maybe it’ll be the day i heard i was getting an interview i didn’t expect. i think probably i’ll remember it as the day a friend took the time to ask what was going on with me and try to help.

if there’s anything you’d like to say about today, my ask box is always open.

image credit: nasa/modis. selection & treatment: ageofdestruction. title: laurie anderson.

and by the way, here’s my theory of punctuation:
instead of a period at the end of each sentence 
there should be a tiny clock
that shows you how long it took you
to write that sentence.

Spiral of plankton

While the northern latitudes are bathed in the dull colors and light of mid-winter, the waters of the southern hemisphere are alive with mid-summer blooms. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired this natural-color satellite image of a plankton bloom as it appeared at 1:05 p.m. local time on December 30, 2013. The eddy is centered at roughly 40° South latitude and 120° East longitude, about 600 kilometers off the coast of Australia in the southeastern Indian Ocean.

Like land-based plants, phytoplankton require sunlight, water, and nutrients to grow. Sunlight is now abundant in the far southern latitudes, so nutrients are the limiting variable to phytoplankton growth. Open waters of the ocean can appear relatively barren compared to the nutrient-rich waters near the world’s coasts. In the case of the bloom above, the nutrients may have been supplied by the churning action of ocean currents.

As the close-up image shows, an eddy is outlined by a milky green phytoplankton bloom. Eddies are masses of water that typically spin off of larger currents and rotate in whirlpool-like fashion. They can stretch for hundreds of kilometers and last for months. As these water masses stir the ocean, they can draw nutrients up from the deep, fertilizing the surface waters to create blooms in the open ocean. Other times, they carry in nutrients spun off of other currents.

It is possible that the mesoscale eddy and plankton bloom shown above are related to the “great southern coccolithophore belt” (or the “great calcite belt.”) In late southern spring and summer (roughly November to March), satellite instruments detect an abundance of particulate inorganic carbon (PIC) in waters at high latitudes. The PIC is often due to calcium carbonate, which makes up the plate-like shells of microscopic plankton known as coccolithophores. The calcium carbonate gives the water a chalky aquamarine hue.

Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using data from the Land Atmosphere Near real-time Capability for EOS (LANCE)

Pine Island Glacier

This MODIS image taken by NASA’s Aqua satellite on Nov. 10, 2013, shows an iceberg that was part of the Pine Island Glacier and is now separating from the Antarctica continent.  What appears to be a connection point on the top left portion of the iceberg is actually ice debris floating in the water.

The original rift that formed the iceberg was first observed in October 2011 but as the disconnection was not complete, the “birth” of the iceberg had not yet happened. It is believed the physical separation took place on or about July 10, 2013, however the iceberg persisted in the region, adjacent to the front of the glacier.

The iceberg is estimated to be 21 miles by 12 miles (35 km by 20 km) in size, roughly the size of Singapore. A team of scientists from Sheffield and Southampton universities will track it and try to predict its path using satellite data.

Image credit: NASA

Snow-covered desert

Snow-covered deserts are rare, but that’s exactly what the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite observed as it passed over the Taklimakan Desert in western China on Jan. 2, 2013. Snow has covered much of the desert since a storm blew through the area on Dec. 26.

The Taklimakan is one of the world’s largest—and hottest—sandy deserts. Water flowing into the Tarim Basin has no outlet, so over the years, sediments have steadily accumulated. In parts of the desert, sand can pile up to 300 meters (roughly 1,000 feet) high. The mountains that enclose the sea of sand—the Tien Shan in the north and the Kunlun Shan in the south—were also covered with what appeared to be a significantly thicker layer of snow in January 2013.

Image Credit: NASA/Aqua


A Look at the U.S. Cold Snap from NASA Infrared Imagery

This animation of AIRS imagery from NASA’s Aqua satellite from Dec. 1 to 11 shows the movement of cold air over the U.S. Cooler temperatures appear in darker blue and warmer temperatures in dark orange. On Dec. 7, cold Arctic air descended into the Plains states and reached Colorado, Kansas and Missouri. That cold air shifted east on Dec. 9 into the Ohio Valley and New England. Credit: NASA JPL, Ed Olsen