Category: Geoscience

Watching the Planet Breath

Posted by – October 15, 2017

Based on data from the Orbiting Carbon Observatory – 2 (OCO-2), NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio has produced a remarkable animation of how carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is produced and absorbed over the course of a year – in essence, showing how the Earth breathes:

OCO-2 observations have been improving our understanding of CO2 sources and sinks since its launch in 2014. However, nothing lasts forever: OCO-2 was designed for a 2-year mission and will eventually fall out of orbit. NASA has proposed a highly economical solution of assembling its replacement, OCO-3, from spare parts and placing it on the International Space Station, but the administration’s current budget proposal includes no funds for OCO-3.


For the Umbraphiles

Posted by – March 12, 2016

NASA has released the view from space of the March 9 total solar eclipse, as recorded by the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite. The below animation shows the complete passage of the lunar shadow from one edge of the Earth to the other, from the Indian Ocean to the open waters and islands of the Pacific Ocean. DSCOVR is the Nation’s first operational satellite in deep space, hovering between the sun and Earth to provide advanced solar measurements and early warnings of potentially dangerous space weather events – a solar storm buoy in deep space.


Record Warmth in 2015

Posted by – January 31, 2016

AGU reports that NASA and NOAA independently assessed that the planet’s average surface temperature jumped to a new high in 2015, except for a cool spot in the North Atlantic. Based on about 6300 stations, ships and buoys, both agencies found the average global temperature had increased compared to 2014 – which had also been a record year. NASA found the average was 0.87°C higher than the average temperature over 1951 – 1980, where NOAA found a 0.90°C increase compared to the average over 1901 – 2000. The below image, courtesy of the Scientific Visualization Studio at Goddard Space Flight Center, shows the 2015 change from the longterm average temperature, with hottest areas on Earth in red and the coldest in blue.
Global average temperature 2015
Compliments to Cody Sullivan, AGU Intern, for the excellent article in EOS this past week!


Planning for Space Weather

Posted by – November 15, 2015

Capping off a year-long interagency collaboration, the White House has released the National Space Weather Action Plan to improve national resilience to the potentially devastating effects of major solar flares.

NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center provides a useful summary of current conditions and predictions, including a series of dashboards summarizing information targeted at specific user communities, such as Emergency Managers.

Thanks to AGU for the tip!


Unleashing Climate Data

Posted by – June 25, 2015

Freight tonnage by various modes of transportation, 2007

On June 17, the White House released over 90 data sets to help the transportation sector account for the impacts of climate change when examining and developing U.S. infrastructure. These include case studies, visualizations, tools and a compilation of key reports and websites from across the Federal government. One very well done example is above, a map of tonnage shipped by various modes of transportation, where the thickness of the lines varies by tonnage. Interesting to see how important the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers are for transport, and how much oil apparently is shipped via the Kinder Morgan Express from South Dakota to pipelines in Missouri and Illinois.

Thanks to AAAS for the tip!


Respect the Roundness

Posted by – January 30, 2013

NOAA and several commercial vendors have developed spherical displays of geoscience and mathematics that are both beautiful and thought provoking, allowing us to see phenomena like ocean currents, trade, climate, and geology evolving over time without the distortions of a 2-D projection. Examples in the video include (starting at 6:25) an animation of pollutants crossing the North Pole and (starting at 7:45) a depiction of continental drift from Pangea to present day. If you want to explore the datasets on your home computer, NOAA provides KML files for display using GoogleEarth.

Cheers to Dori for the tip!


Neolithic Water Wells

Posted by – December 30, 2012

Neolithic water wellsGerman archeologists have unearthed 7,000-year-old water wells in eastern Germany, revealing a treasure trove of information regarding early farming societies. The wells would have been hand-dug down to the watertable, then cased (lined) with interlocked timbers to keep the shafts from collapsing. The archeologists’ article in the journal PLuS ONE concludes that the craftsmanship used to construct the wells indicates “…the first farmers were also the first carpenters, contradicting the common belief that the invention of metal woodworking tools more than a thousand years later was imperative for complex timber constructions.” Not as deep as Woodingdean or as big as The Big Well, but pretty impressive for 7,000 years ago.

Thanks to the National Groundwater Association and for the tip!


Incredible: The Photopic Sky Survey

Posted by – October 17, 2012

Star field The Photopic Sky Survey is a highly detailed photographic map of the Earth’s sky created by Nick Risinger, who travelled around the globe to capture 37,440 exposures of the night sky and stitched them together into a single 5,000 megapixel photograph. You can download, scan, and zoom through this incredible image online courtesy of (click on the info “i” icon at bottom left of the display to reveal the annotations).

Even more amazing is the Sky Survey app ($2.99 for iPad/iPhone) based on Risinger’s map which orients the displayed star field to match your current latitude, longitude, time, and the iPad’s orientation. In essence, it turns your iOS device into a planisphere and it is nearly magical to use, as if your iOS device has opened a hole into the wall or ceiling – or floor – to reveal the stars:

Photographer and designer Nick Risinger recounts his year-long, 60,000 mile journey of creating the imagery behind the photopic map at Sky Survey.

Thanks to Max for the tip!


Extraterrestrial Plasma Blob Attacks

Posted by – January 22, 2012

Aurora Borealis above Chatanika, Alaska, January 22, 2012

Today, January 22, a blob of superhot particles ejected by the sun began glancing off the North Pole, kicking off a minor geomagnetic storm that is predicted to peak tomorrow. This space weather event has lit the Alaskan sky tonight and has given the newspapers something to write about besides the Presidential primaries, but is considered a minor G1 storm (may cause small fluctuations in power grids). Much more severe G5 storms (extreme, causing power grids and communications to fail) are possible and could be disastrous, causing extensive economic damage.

This damage occurs because the surge of charged particles – sort of a gust in the solar wind – shifts the earth’s magnetic field. The shifting magnetic field induces an electrical current to flow in any long wire or length of pipe. The resulting surge in electricity can overload powergrids, damage pipelines, and harm telecommunications equipment – which is why NOAA tracks geomagnetic storms just like it tracks hurricanes.

This particular coronal mass ejection (CME, a burst of superhot particles, or plasma, erupting from a sunspot) is occurring as the 11-year solar cycle approaches its maximum in 2013. While this increasing activity does increase the risk of geomagnetic storms and the attendant damage, it does have some benefits in addition to the Northern Lights: the charged particles increase the density of the upper atmosphere, dragging space debris out of orbit (see p4). To the delight of amateur radio operators, these particles also increase the reflectivity of the atmosphere, allowing high frequency radios to reach greater distances.

Add this to the list of reasons to get your Ham license this year,


No Laughing Matter

Posted by – September 25, 2011

Pie chart of terrestrial water resources (excludes water in the atmosphere)During my habitual Sunday morning info-surf, I ran across the following:

‘Groundwater is the Rodney Dangerfield of the hydrologic cycle; it gets no respect.’- M. Campana @ UN International Water Forum

Although I had to laugh, there is a serious side to every joke: groundwater comprises 99% of freshwater supplies available for human use and there are signs that critical groundwater supplies are being depleted world-wide.

No laughing matter.