NASA Earth Observatory has had several stories on the western U.S. wildfires, gathered here. This story summarizes the situation; satellite images of the smoke generated by the fires can be seen here, here and here.
The map above shows conditions in the continental U.S. as of August 11, 2020, as reported by the U.S. Drought Monitor program, a partnership of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the University of Nebraska—Lincoln. The map depicts drought intensity in progressive shades of orange to red and is based on measurements of climate, soil, and water conditions from more than 350 federal, state, and local observers around the country. NASA provides experimental measurements and models to this drought monitoring effort.
According to the Drought Monitor, more than 93 percent of the land area in Utah, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico is in some level of drought; 69 percent of Utah is in severe drought, as is 61 percent of Colorado. More than three-fourths of Oregon, Arizona, and Wyoming are also in drought. The effects of “severe” drought include stunted and browning crops, limited pasture yields, dust storms, reduced well water levels, and an increase in the number and severity of wildfires. Most of those areas had no sign of drought in the mid-summer of 2019.
NASA Earth Observatory maps the bitterly cold temperatures resulting from cold air pushed southwards by an unstable polar vortex. The maps and animations are by Earth Observatory’s lead cartographer, Joshua Stevens. On Twitter he posted a companion visualization showing what’s happening on the other side of the planet, where a searing heat wave is blistering Australia.
Landsat observations have charted the erosion of the banks of the ever-changing Padma River, a major distributary of the Ganges in Bangladesh. This is vividly shown in this animation produced by NASA Earth Observatory, which “shows 14 false-color images of the Padma river between 1988 and 2018 taken by the Landsat 5 and 8 satellites. All of the images include a combination of shortwave infrared, near infrared, and visible light to highlight differences between land and water.” More on the erosion of the Padma River here.
NASA Earth Observatory: “The map above depicts changes in water storage on Earth—on the surface, underground, and locked in ice and snow—between 2002 and 2016. Shades of green represent areas where freshwater levels have increased, while browns depict areas where they have been depleted. Data were collected by the GRACE mission, which precisely measured the distance between twin spacecraft as they responded to changes in Earth’s gravity field. In sensing the subtle movements of mass around the planet, the satellites could decipher monthly variations in terrestrial water storage.” The GRACE observations form the basis of a study published this month in Nature on changes in global fresh water availability. More at the JPL’s GRACE-FO project page. [Benjamin Hennig]
Global sea level rise has been accelerating in recent decades, according to a new study based on 25 years of NASA and European satellite data. This acceleration has been driven mainly by increased ice melting in Greenland and Antarctica, and it has the potential to double the total sea level rise projected by 2100[. …]
The rate of sea level rise has risen from about 2.5 millimeters (0.1 inch) per year in the 1990s to about 3.4 millimeters (0.13 inches) per year today. These increases have been measured by satellite altimeters since 1992, including the TOPEX/Poseidon, Jason-1, Jason-2, and Jason-3 missions, which have been jointly managed by NASA, France’s Centre national d’etudes spatiales (CNES), the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The maps on this page depict the changes in sea level observed by those satellites between 1992 and 2014.
Cape Town is running out of drinking water, a crisis dramatically depicted by NASA Earth Observatory maps that show the depletion of the city’s reservoirs. The animated gif above, for example, “shows how dramatically Theewaterskloof [Cape Town’s largest reservoir] has been depleted between January 2014 and January 2018. The extent of the reservoir is shown with blue; non-water areas have been masked with gray in order to make it easier to distinguish how the reservoir has changed. Theewaterskloof was near full capacity in 2014. During the preceding year, the weather station at Cape Town airport tallied 682 millimeters (27 inches) of rain (515 mm is normal), making it one of the wettest years in decades. However, rains faltered in 2015, with just 325 mm falling. The next year, with 221 mm, was even worse. In 2017, the station recorded just 157 mm of rain.”
At All Over the Map, Betsy Mason posts 11 Ways to See How Climate Change Is Imperilling the Arctic, a collection of maps and infographics depicting several different indicators of global warming, including sea ice extent, atmospheric temperatures, growing season, polar bear populations, as well as projected shipping routes for an ice-free Arctic Ocean.
Meanwhile, NASA Earth Observatory points—while it still can—to a study mapping the extent of existing and potential thermokarst (thawed permafrost) landscapes. On the Earth Observatory maps (see North America, above), “[t]he different colors reflect the types of landscapes—wetlands, lakes, hillslopes, etc.—where thermokarst is likely to be found today and where it is most likely to form in the future.”
NASA Earth Observatory: “In November, the sea ice extent averaged 9.08 million square kilometers (3.52 million square miles)—the lowest November extent in the satellite record. The yellow line shows the median extent from 1981 to 2010, and gives an idea of how conditions this November strayed from the norm.” Also shows sea ice extent for previous years dating back to 1978. Hudson Bay was icebound in November not that long ago.
Scientists have been tracking seasonal freeze-thaw patterns for 30 years. This map, produced from data collected by NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite, “shows the freeze-thaw status of areas north of 45 degrees latitude on March 5, 2015, as spring approached. Frozen land is blue; thawed land is pink. The measurement is possible because frozen water forms crystalline structures that can be detected by satellites.” NASA Earth Observatory.
Hotter than usual? Yes. This map shows how much land surface temperatures during the week of June 17-24, 2012 have been above or below the average for 2000-2011. Now this map measures something very specific: land surface temperatures (LSTs) aren’t the same as air temperatures: “LSTs indicate how hot the surface of the Earth would feel to the touch. From a satellite vantage point, the ‘surface’ includes a number of materials that capture and retain heat, such as desert sand, the dark roof of a building, or the pavement of a road. As a result, daytime land surface temperatures are usually higher than air temperatures.” Via Bad Astronomy.