Hypnotizing Monochromatic Animated GIFs, Carl Burton

NYC-based artist Carl Burton atmospheric animated GIFs exist in a category of their own. Working primarily with Cinema 4D, Photoshop, and After Effects, Burton spends days at a time perfecting these enigmatic animations that blur the lines between surreal and science fiction.

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A 14-frame clip showing the atmosphere of Jupiter as viewed from the NASA probe Cassini. Taken over a span of 24 Jupiter rotations between October 31 and November 9, 2000, this clip shows various patterns of motion across the planet. The Great Red Spot rotates counterclockwise, and the uneven distribution of its high haze is obvious. To the east (right) of the Red Spot, oval storms, like ball bearings, roll over and pass each other. East-west bands adjacent to each other move at different rates. Strings of small storms rotate around northern-hemisphere ovals. The large grayish-blue “hot spots” at the northern edge of the white Equatorial Zone change over time as they proceed eastward across the planet. Ovals in the north rotate counter to those in the south. Small, very bright features appear quickly and randomly in turbulent regions, possibly lightning storms. The smallest visible features at the equator are about 600 km (370 miles) across.

Animation: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

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This is an absolutely unbelievable demonstration of the behavior of different layers in Earth’s atmosphere. Look how the distant clouds move so different from the near clouds.

“Global temperatures have continued to rise, making 2016 the hottest year on the historical record and the third consecutive record-breaking year, scientists say. Of the 17 hottest years ever recorded, 16 have now occurred since 2000.”

Read more from the NYTimes, here. 

“When I look up at the night sky, and I know that yes, we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts, is that the universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I feel big” 

-Neil deGrasse Tyson

Image Credit: NASA, JSC, ESRS


Don’t miss the meteor that explodes into a cloud of dust towards the end of this clip.

Despite its proximity, Venus remains largely mysterious, thanks to its cloudy atmosphere and incredible harsh conditions. A recent study using data from the Japanese satellite Akatsuki revealed an enormous bow-shaped wave in the Venusian atmosphere. The wave appeared at an altitude of about 65 km and stretched more than 10,000 km long, across both the northern and southern hemispheres. Although surface winds on Venus are believed to be small due to its incredibly slow rotation, winds higher in the atmosphere are much faster – so it was strange to observe this wave sitting essentially stationary for five days of observation. 

When the scientists mapped the location of wave relative to the surface, they found it was sitting over the Aphrodite Terra highlands, suggesting that this structure is a gravity wave generated by winds interacting with the topography. Similar, albeit smaller, gravity waves are often observed on Earth near mountains. The finding raises questions about our understanding of Venusian atmospheric dynamics and exactly how disturbances from surface winds could create enormous structures so high in the atmosphere. (Image credit: T. Fukuhara et al.; h/t to SciShow Space)

Layers in the atmosphere

Light and air make for strange mixtures sometimes, with a great variety of beautiful optical effects produced in consequence. The reddened colour of this sunset is due to the greater amount of air that the light has to pass through to reach the ground at the grazing angle of dusk, as opposed to the right angle of noontime. Particles of dust and aerosols absorb, diffract and scatter most of the higher energy green to blue wavelengths, while the lower powered red to orange hues pass through while the shorter light paths of midday scatter all wavelengths but blue.

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Computational fluid dynamics and supercomputing are increasingly powerful tools for tracking and understanding the complex dynamics of our planet. The videos above and below are NASA visualizations of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere over the course of a full year. They are constructed by taking real-world measurements of atmospheric conditions and carbon emissions and feeding them into a computational model that simulates the physics of our planet’s oceans and atmosphere. The result is a visualization of where and how carbon dioxide moves around our planet.

There are distinctive patterns that emerge in a visualization like this. Because the Northern Hemisphere contains more landmass and more countries emitting carbon, it contains the highest concentrations of carbon dioxide, but winds move those emissions far from their source. As seasons change and plants begin photosynthesizing in the Northern Hemisphere, concentrations of carbon dioxide decrease as plants take it up. When the seasons change again, that carbon is re-released.

These visualizations underscore the fact that these carbon emissions impact everyone on our planet–nature does not recognize political borders–and so we share a joint responsibility in whatever actions we take. (Video credit: NASA Goddard; h/t to Chris for the second vid)


No really, it is.

This photo shows an enchanting pink Sun adorning a speck of green on its upper rim near (you guessed it) Sparta, Greece. The green rim is a result of atmospheric dispersion which can produce separate images of each spectrum colour and result in what is referred to a ‘mock green flash’. The flash appears in the uppermost rim of the Sun as it rises. The flash is caused by a thermal inversion; cool air overlain by warmer air. When the Sun is close to the horizon, the light at the bottom of the Sun is refracted more noticeably than is the top portion due to the denser atmosphere. As a result, if we are lucky, we see a slight distinction between the colors red/yellow (long wavelength) and green (shorter wavelength).


Photo courtesy of P. Nikolakakos


Climate change may prevent volcanoes from cooling the planet

New UBC research shows that climate change may impede the cooling effect of volcanic eruptions.

When an eruption is powerful enough, volcanoes spew sulfur gasses high into the atmosphere, reaching a layer called the stratosphere, about 10 to 15 kilometres above the Earth’s surface. Here, gasses react with water to form aerosol particles that linger in the stratosphere for one or two years, reflecting sunlight and heat from the sun, and cooling the planet. On average, there are anywhere from three to five eruptions that reach the stratosphere every year.

Previous research has shown that as the planet warms, the lower layers of the atmosphere will expand, making it much harder for the gasses to reach the stratosphere. At lower levels, in the troposphere, the gasses quickly get turned into aerosols and clouds and precipitate back down to earth as rain or snow.

“Volcanic eruptions tend to counteract global warming but as the planet heats up and our atmosphere changes, we’ve found that fewer eruptions will be able to reflect the sun’s radiation,” said Thomas Aubry, a PhD student studying climate and volcanoes. “It will be harder for the volcanic gasses to reach high enough into atmosphere to help cool the planet.”

Aubry notes that while the planet continues to warm, scientists have observed a slight decline in the rate of global warming over the last 10 to 15 years. Previous studies have shown that this is partially caused by the number of large eruptions over the last decade that have sent sulfur gasses high up into the stratosphere.

For this study, Aubry, who is a PhD student in professor Mark Jellinek’s lab in the department of earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences, used models of volcanic eruptions and global climate to calculate the impact on gasses released from volcanic eruptions.

According to climate model projections and global warming, Aubry and his co-authors found the amount of volcanic sulfur gasses in the stratosphere will decrease anywhere from two to twelve per cent in the next 100 years. Longer term, they predict anywhere from 12 to 25 per cent less sulfur gas in the stratosphere by the 22nd and 23rd centuries. They say the range is large because it is difficult to predict future eruptions and future greenhouse gas emissions.

To determine the precise impact on the Earth’s surface temperature in the future will require further study. It also raises interesting questions about Earth’s history.

“Understanding this positive feedback loop has provocative implications for understanding climate variability in Earth’s past,” said Jellinek. “In particular, this mechanism may have contributed to Earth’s entry into a long period of global glaciation around 700 million years ago, a theory known as the Snowball Earth hypothesis.”

This study was published today in the journal Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmosphere: http://onlinelibrary.​wiley.​com/​doi/​10.​1002/​2016JD025405/​full. This research was funded UBC, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Swiss National Science Foundation.


Comic by the Plainspoken Scientist blog: http://blogs.​agu.​org/​sciencecommunication/​2016/​11/​16/​drawn-geoscience-cartoons-volcanoes/​

Blog by GeoSpace: http://blogs.​agu.​org/​geospace/​2016/​11/​16/​global-warming-reduce-volcanic-cooling-effects-climate/​

‘Do you believe in climate change?’ Ask my radiation teacher today (we are all PhD/Master student) while looking at me intensely. 'Well I didn’t know it was a religion’ I answered him. He smiled 'I see you are well informed’.
—  WTF?!