Saharan Dust in Western Europe

Map showing dust plumes from Africa spreading across Europe
NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens

A dust plume from the Sahara, driven by an atmospheric river, blew across western Europe this week, and friends from Spain to Germany experienced it. NASA Earth Observatory has satellite imagery of the plume, plus maps (above) showing “a model of the dust plumes blowing across North Africa and into Europe on March 14 and 15. The model was generated by the Goddard Earth Observing System Model, Version 5 (GEOS-5), a global atmospheric model that uses mathematical equations to represent physical processes. Measurements of physical properties like temperature, moisture, and wind speeds and directions are routinely folded into the model to keep the simulation as close to observed reality as possible.”

Looking for Lightning, Finding Meteors

Map of bolides detected from space by the Geostationary Lightning Mapper
NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens

It turns out that the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) aboard the GOES-16 and GOES-17 earth observing satellites can do more than just detect lightning—it can also detect bolides, or very bright meteors, thanks to a new automatic detection algorithm. NASA Earth Observatory: “The map above shows the distribution of more than 3,000 bolides detected by the GLMs aboard GOES-16 and GOES-17 between July 2017 and January 2022. Blue points are bolides detected by GOES-16; pink points were detected by GOES-17. The lone pink point over the Atlantic Ocean was detected by GOES-17 during its commissioning phase before it was moved into its operational orbit over the West Coast.” (Bolides in the middle of the map are detected by both, and as you can see there’s a bit of parallax.)

Mapping Methane Emissions

World map of methane emissions from fossil fuel exploitation
Methane emissions from oil, gas, and coal exploitation in the Global Fuel Exploitation Inventory (GFEI) version 1 in 2016 (Mg/y/km2)

NASA Earth Observatory:

Funded by NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System, scientists recently built a new series of maps detailing the geography of methane emissions from fossil fuel production. Using publicly available data reported in 2016, the research team plotted fuel exploitation emissions—or “fugitive emissions” as the UNFCCC calls them—that arise before the fuels are ever consumed. The maps delineate where these emissions occur based on the locations of coal mines, oil and gas wells, pipelines, refineries, and fuel storage and transportation infrastructure. The maps were recently published at NASA’s Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center (GES DISC). (Note that 2016 was the most recent year with complete UN emissions data available at the time of this study.)

First Images from Landsat 9 Released

Landsat 9 image of the Kimberly region of Western Australia
The first image from Landsat 9, taken on 31 October 2021, is of the Kimberly region of Western Australia. (NASA/USGS)

The latest of the Landsat satellites, Landsat 9, launched on September 27. Similar to Landsat 8 with slight equipment upgrades, it will replace Landsat 7 when it is fully operational next year. Right now it’s going through its 100-day check-out, after which NASA will hand it over to the USGS. As part of that check-out, its first images were recently released. [NASA Earth Observatory]

VERITAS Mission to Map Venus Later This Decade

Artist's concept of the VERITAS mission to Venus (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Artist’s concept of the VERITAS mission (NASA/JPL-Caltech).

VERITAS is one of two missions to Venus announced by NASA last week. Expected to launch between 2028 and 2030, VERITAS will produce an improved map of the Venusian surface with its two instruments: synthetic aperture radar to generate a high-resolution 3D topographic map, and a spectral emissions mapper to map rock types. News coverage: CNN, Global News, Slate, The Verge. Background from NASA; analysis from the Planetary Society.

A Mars Map Roundup

Nathaniel Green's map of MarsNational Geographic looks at the rivalry between two early cartographers of Mars who based their maps on observations made during Mars’s “Great Opposition” in 1877: Nathaniel Green, whose Mars “was a delicately shaded world with landforms that gradually rose from vast plains and features that blended into one another” (pictured here) and Giovanni Schiaparelli, whose Mars had more detail—including those famous canals—but was less accurate.

A new study maps the possible locations of subsurface water-ice reservoirs, vital for any crewed missions. [Sky & Telescope]

Kenneth Field’s virtual globe of Mars follows in the footsteps of his 2016 map.

Interactive maps showing the locations and paths of the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers. [Maps Mania]

Mapping the California Heat Wave

NASA Earth Observatory: California Heatwave 2020
NASA Earth Observatory (Joshua Stevens)

NASA Earth Observatory: “The map above shows air temperatures across the United States on September 6, 2020, when much of the Southwest roasted in a dramatic heatwave. The map was derived from the Goddard Earth Observing System (GEOS) model and represents temperatures at 2 meters (about 6.5 feet) above the ground. The darkest red areas are where the model shows temperatures surpassing 113°F (45°C).” Heat waves in southern California have become “more frequent, intense, and longer-lasting,” the article goes on to say.

More on the Western U.S. Wildfires

NASA Earth Observatory

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.

Marena Brinkhurst of Mapbox has a comprehensive list of open data sources relating to the wildfires, smoke, and air quality.

Mark Altaweel at GIS Lounge looks at how GIS is being used to map wildfires, smoke and air pollution.

Previously: California Wildfires, 2020 Edition.

Drought Affects One-Third of the United States

A Third of the U.S. Faces Drought (NASA Earth Observatory)
NASA Earth Observatory

One-third of the United States is currently affected by at least moderate levels of drought, NASA Earth Observatory reports.

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.

Mapping the Amazon Fires

Let’s start with the current situation map from Brazil’s own space agency, the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espacias (INPE), which I’m surprised is still online. In July Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, accused the widely respected agency of lying about the scale of deforestation in the Amazon; INPE’s chief, Ricardo Galvão, was forced out earlier this month after defending the agency. After that, INPE said that fires were up 84 percent over the same period last year. (The ESA, for its part, tracked nearly four times as many fires in August as they did last year.)

Other raw data sources include the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), fire activity data from which can be viewed here; and MODIS data from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. For a live feed of MODIS data on the Amazon fires, see the MODIS Wildfire Dashboard.

NASA

Meanwhile, NASA’s Earth Observatory posted MODIS imagery of several Amazon fires, and had this curious statement that seemed to minimize the scale of the problem: “As of August 16, 2019, an analysis of NASA satellite data indicated that total fire activity across the Amazon basin this year has been close to the average in comparison to the past 15 years. […] Though activity appears to be above average in the states of Amazonas and Rondônia, it has so far appeared below average in Mato Grosso and Pará, according to estimates from the Global Fire Emissions Database, a research project that compiles and analyzes NASA data.”

A subsequent NASA Earth Observatory post seems to contradict the one I mentioned earlier, pointing to “a noticeable increase in large, intense, and persistent fires burning along major roads in the central Brazilian Amazon” which “are more consistent with land clearing than with regional drought” and noted fire detections “higher across the Brazilian Amazon” since 2010.

Contextualizing the amount of fires seems to be a recurring theme in the reporting: the number of fires are up sharply over last year, but close to the average when taking a longer view. It’s helped a lot of bad and insincere actors make it harder to get to the heart of what’s going on over there. They can’t, after all, deny the satellite imagery or the remote sensing: we can see the fires. We can detect the emissions of smoke, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide (1, 2, 3). We can map them. And those maps can help us understand what’s going on.

On the NGO front, InfoAmazonia has produced the above map comparing fires over the last 24 hours with historical fire data. (They have other maps on this subject as well.)

Note, too, the reference above to burning along major roads. Tim Wallace crunches MODIS date from 2012 onward and teases out some patterns in the fires.

The New York Times

And the New York Times, where Tim used to work, has a map correlating the position of the current Amazon fires along the edges of past deforestation. The Times also has maps showing maps on a month-by-month basis and comparing August 2019 with the August average over the past decade.

[CityLab, Maps Mania]

Map of UV Exposure in the United States

NASA Earth Observatory (Joshua Stevens)

NASA Earth Observatory:

The NASA Applied Sciences Program has partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create the first publicly available map of ultraviolet (UV) radiation for all counties in the contiguous United States. The dataset, which spans 2005-2015, is available on the CDC’s National Environmental Public Health Tracking network, which delivers information and data about health issues related to environmental factors. Public health officials, city planners, or individuals concerned about Sun exposure can learn how much ultraviolet radiation is falling over each county each month, which is an important step in helping reduce skin cancer risks.

The animated map above shows the monthly average UV dose in 2015.

Mapping Ground Displacement from the California Earthquakes

NASA/JPL-Caltech

This interferogram shows the ground displacement caused by last week’s earthquakes in southern California. Produced by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, it’s based on synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images from JAXA’s ALOS-2 satellite taken both before (16 April 2018) and after (8 July 2019) the earthquakes. Each colour cycle represents 12 centimetres (4.8 inches) of ground displacement.

Lunar Cartography During the Age of Apollo

Writing for Crosscut, Tom Reese memorializes his father, who worked as a cartographer and engineer for NASA’s Aeronautical Chart and Information Center during the Apollo program. Harlan Reese left behind a collection of maps, photos and charts in his garage which, Tom says, still contains “mesmerizing detail and mystery”:

One box has odds and ends of early lunar photography, some of the prints overlain with Dad’s hand-drawn compass points, landing site X’s and handwritten notations. The images were made through large telescopes on Earth, by the Surveyors and Rangers and Lunar Orbiters and early Apollos flying around and over the most promising landing sites. You can also see those smudged fingerprints that likely belong to Dad, mixed with those of many others who used magnifiers and X-Acto knives to carefully slice apart select sections of crater fields. Some small globs of cracked glue remain where they dripped during the process of pasting together the cut pieces to form mosaics of the unexplored landscape.

Some small indentations probably show how the prints were positioned in viewing devices like the extremely precise optical comparator, which helped human eyes interpret the length of shadows inside craters for the first time. These results were coordinated with data about altitude and lunar daylight to provide the most precise terrain measurements possible. Careful airbrushing would smooth over and fill in terra incognita with educated guessing. Finally, this data would be transformed into the precisely printed maps and charts that would help lunar lander pilots to, among other things, second-guess in real time the navigation decisions made by computers of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Below, a Target of Opprtunity Flight Chart for the Apollo 11 mission:

Apollo 11 Target of Opportunity Flight Chart

The Polar Vortex, Visualized

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.

California Wildfire Roundup

San Francisco Chronicle (screenshot)

The San Francisco Chronicle’s 2018 California Fire Tracker is an interactive map of ongoing and contained wildfires—notably, at this moment, the Camp and Woolsey fires. It includes fire perimeter and air quality data. (Note: it’s glitchy on desktop Safari.)

Two Esri maps: a general wildfire map and a map of smoke from wildfires [Maps Mania]. Add to that a map of field damage reports in the area hit by the Camp Fire [Maps Mania].

NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has produced a map of the damage from the Camp Fire based on satellite radar images. NASA Earth Observatory has maps and animations showing the impact of the Camp Fire on air quality and satellite images of the Woolsey Fire burn scar.

NOAA

The New York Times has a map tracking air quality in California. Smoke from the fires has reached the east coast: an outcome predicted by atmospheric models (see above map).

This interactive map from NBC News that superimposes the Camp Fire on any location to help people outside California get a sense of how big these fires are. [Maps Mania]