NASA GRACE Satellite Mapping

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❝ Scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center generate groundwater and soil moisture drought indicators each week. They are based on terrestrial water storage observations derived from GRACE satellite data and integrated with other observations, using a sophisticated numerical model of land surface water and energy processes.

❝ The drought indicators describe current wet or dry conditions, expressed as a percentile showing the probability of occurrence within the period of record from 1948 to the present, with lower values (warm colors) meaning dryer than normal, and higher values (blues) meaning wetter than normal. These are provided as both images and binary data files.

Important stuff even if you don’t earn your living from the land. That ain’t a large number of folks as the percentage of US population. Their products are significant even in a global economy.

Sooner or later, everything in these maps is going to affect your life.


Photos of a hurricane on Saturn from the Cassini Spacecraft

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has survived an unprecedented trip between Saturn and its rings, and has amazing pictures to show for it.

Flight controllers regained contact with Cassini on Thursday, a day after it became the first craft to cross this hazardous region. The rings are made up of countless icy particles, any of which could have smacked Cassini. The spacecraft’s big dish antenna served as a shield as it hurtled through the narrow gap, temporarily cutting off communications….

Twenty-one more crossings are planned — about one a week — before Cassini’s fatal plunge in mid-September. The next one is Tuesday (2nd May). Some of those passages will bring Cassini even closer to the planet as well as the innermost D ring. The gap between the rings and the top of Saturn’s atmosphere is between 1,200 and 1,500 miles across (1,900 to 2,400 kilometers).

Watch for it. Stay in touch with NASA.

Latest NASA Night Lights Maps

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NASA scientists are releasing new global maps of Earth at night, providing the clearest yet composite view of the patterns of human settlement across our planet.

Satellite images of Earth at night — often referred to as “night lights” — have been a gee-whiz curiosity for the public and a tool for fundamental research for nearly 25 years. They have provided a broad, beautiful picture, showing how humans have shaped the planet and lit up the darkness. Produced every decade or so, such maps have spawned hundreds of pop-culture uses and dozens of economic, social science and environmental research projects…

In the years since the 2011 launch of the NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite, Román and colleagues have been analyzing night lights data and developing new software and algorithms to make night lights imagery clearer, more accurate and readily available. They are now on the verge of providing daily, high-definition views of Earth at night, and are targeting the release of such data to the science community later this year.

Wow. Worth looking forward to.

NASA’s Juno Probe Just Sent Us Photos of Jupiter Unlike Anything Before

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Juno Swirls

Roughly the size of a basketball court, NASA’s Juno probe departed in 2011, hurtled through space for five years and finally made itself comfortable in Jupiter’s orbit in July 2016.

Now, at about 415 million miles from Earth, it has made its fifth close flyby of the Gas Giant and the images it sent home are breathtaking

So far, they’ve discovered what Jupiter’s poles look like for the first time and are continuing to study the swirling clouds and storms covering the planet’s atmosphere (it’s thought they might be linked to complicated currents from the planet’s moon, Io)…

Traveling 129,000 miles per hour, Juno itself will never get closer than 2,700 miles from the cloud tops. Though that seems far, the data from the probe has already allowed scientists to rewrite what they thought they knew about giant planets and, possibly, the origins of our entire solar system.

No space travel available for cranky old geeks like me; so, photos like these are the next best thing. That and the creative minds of folks making movies with great CGI, nowadays.

Earth three-peats hottest year record

❝ Earth sizzled to a third-straight record hot year in 2016, with scientists mostly blaming man-made global warming with help from a natural El Nino that’s now gone.

Two U.S. agencies and international weather groups reported Wednesday that last year was the warmest on record. They measure global temperatures in slightly different ways, and came up with a range of increases, from minuscule to what top American climate scientists described as substantial.

They’re “all singing the same song even if they are hitting different notes along the way. The pattern is very clear,” said Deke Arndt of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration…

“This is clearly a record,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies. “We are now no longer only looking at something that only scientists can see, but is apparent to people in our daily lives.”

❝ Temperature records go back to 1880. This is the fifth time in a dozen years that the globe has set a new annual heat record. Records have been set in 2016, 2015, 2014, 2010 and 2005…

Schmidt said his calculations show most of the record heat was from heat-trapping gases from the burning of oil, coal and gas. Only about 12 percent was due to El Nino, which is a periodic warming of parts of the Pacific that change weather globally, he said. Arndt put the El Nino factor closer to a quarter or a third…

❝ The effects are more than just records, but actually hurt people and the environment, said Oklahoma University meteorology professor Jason Furtado. They’re “harmful on several levels, including human welfare, ecology, economics, and even geopolitics,” he said.

I’ll second that emotion.

Lunar farside

Click to enlargeNASA/GSFC/ASU/Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

Tidally locked in synchronous rotation, the Moon always presents its familiar nearside to denizens of planet Earth. From lunar orbit, the Moon’s farside can become familiar, though. In fact this sharp picture, a mosaic from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s wide angle camera, is centered on the lunar farside. Part of a global mosaic of over 15,000 images acquired between November 2009 and February 2011, the highest resolution version shows features at a scale of 100 meters per pixel.

Surprisingly, the rough and battered surface of the farside looks very different from the nearside covered with smooth dark lunar maria. The likely explanation is that the farside crust is thicker, making it harder for molten material from the interior to flow to the surface and form the smooth maria.

Thanks, UrsaRodinia

The oldest, thickest Arctic sea ice is melting away – shrinking the expanse of sea ice

❝ Arctic sea ice, the vast sheath of frozen seawater floating on the Arctic Ocean and its neighboring seas, has been hit with a double whammy over the past decades: as its extent shrunk, the oldest and thickest ice has either thinned or melted away, leaving the sea ice cap more vulnerable to the warming ocean and atmosphere…

❝ Direct measurements of sea ice thickness are sporadic and incomplete across the Arctic, so scientists have developed estimates of sea ice age and tracked their evolution from 1984 to the present. Now, a new NASA visualization of the age of Arctic sea ice shows how sea ice has been growing and shrinking, spinning, melting in place and drifting out of the Arctic for the past three decades.

“Ice age is a good analog for ice thickness because basically, as ice gets older it gets thicker,” Walt Meier said. “This is due to the ice generally growing more in the winter than it melts in the summer.”

❝ The new animation shows two main bursts of thick ice loss: the first one, starting in 1989 and lasting a few years, was due to a switch in the Arctic Oscillation, an atmospheric circulation pattern, which shrunk the Beaufort Gyre and enhanced the Transpolar Drift Stream, flushing more sea ice than usual out of the Arctic. The second peak in ice loss started in the mid-2000s…

“We’ve lost most of the older ice: In the 1980s, multiyear ice made up 20 percent of the sea ice cover. Now it’s only about 3 percent,” Meier said. “The older ice was like the insurance policy of the Arctic sea ice pack: as we lose it, the likelihood for a largely ice-free summer in the Arctic increases.”

Science, knowledge, marches on inevitably. Hopefully, our understanding keeps pace. That understanding comes with an imperative to aid increasing knowledge in supplanting older, sometimes spurious understanding.

NASA finds August 2016 tied July 2016 for hottest month ever recorded

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❝ August 2016 was the warmest August in 136 years of modern record-keeping, according to a monthly analysis of global temperatures by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies…

❝ Although the seasonal temperature cycle typically peaks in July, August 2016 wound up tied with July 2016 for the warmest month ever recorded…

“Monthly rankings, which vary by only a few hundredths of a degree, are inherently fragile,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt. “We stress that the long-term trends are the most important for understanding the ongoing changes that are affecting our planet.”

The record warm August continued a streak of 11 consecutive months dating back to October 2015 that have set new monthly high-temperature records.

❝ The monthly analysis by the GISS team is assembled from publicly available data acquired by about 6,300 meteorological stations around the world, ship- and buoy-based instruments measuring sea surface temperature, and Antarctic research stations. The modern global temperature record begins around 1880 because previous observations didn’t cover enough of the planet.

Nothing like having a clear idea of how human beings are screwing up the planet.

Well, actually a small number of human beings. Like 1%.

A strange thing happened in the stratosphere — and no one knows (yet) what’s going on

Republican meteorology

“The quasi-biennial oscillation is the stratosphere’s Old Faithful,” said Paul Newman, Chief Scientist for Earth Sciences at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center…“If Old Faithful stopped for a day, you’d begin to wonder about what was happening under the ground.”

❝ Winds in the tropical stratosphere, an atmospheric layer that extends from about 10 to 30 miles above Earth’s surface, circulate the planet in alternating easterly and westerly directions over roughly a two-year period. Westerly winds develop at the top of the stratosphere, and gradually descend to the bottom, about 10 miles above the surface while at the same time being replaced by a layer of easterly winds above them. In turn, the easterlies descend and are replaced by westerlies.

This pattern repeats every 28 months. In the 1960s scientists coined it the “quasi-biennial oscillation.” The record of these measurements, made by weather balloons released in the tropics at various points around the globe, dates to 1953.

The pattern never changed — until late 2015. As the year came to a close, winds from the west neared the end of their typical descent. The regular pattern held that weaker easterly winds would soon replace them. But then the westerlies appeared to move upwards and block the downward movement of the easterlies. This new pattern held for nearly half a year, and by July 2016 the old regime seemed to resume.

❝ The quasi-biennial oscillation has a wide influence on stratospheric conditions. The amount of ozone at the equator changes by 10 percent between the peaks of the easterly and westerly phases, while the oscillation also has an impact on levels of polar ozone depletion.

❝ With this disruption now documented, Newman and colleagues are currently focused on studying both its causes and potential implications. They have two hypotheses for what could have triggered it — the particularly strong El Niño in 2015-16 or the long-term trend of rising global temperatures. Newman said the scientists are conducting further research now to figure out if the event was a “black swan,” a once-in-a-generation event, or a “canary in the coal mine,” a shift with unforeseen circumstances, caused by climate change.

Of course, if it’s the latter, you can be certain the usual pimps for the fossil fuel industry will line up to deny [a] that anything really happened and [b] if it happened it’s not important.