Terra 2019 (mission status and imagery for the period 2019)
Terra mission status and imagery for the period 2019
Sensor Complement EOS References
• December 18, 2019: Twenty years of Terra in our lives. Twenty years ago, many of us connected to the internet listening to the tones of the dial-up modem. We stressed about how Y2K was going to impact our increasingly computer-dependent lives on New Year’s Eve, 2000. - But we survived Y2K and now we scroll through the internet silently on our phones. 1)
- There is no question that technology has changed. But, at the same time that our lives on Earth were being shaped by our access to technology, 705 kilometers above us, a satellite was changing how we understood our planet. Designed and built in the 1980s and 90s, NASA and Lockheed Martin engineers set out to build a satellite that could take simultaneous measurements of Earth’s atmosphere, land, and water. Its mission – to understand how Earth is changing and to identify the consequences for life on Earth.
- For 20 years, Terra, the flagship Earth observing satellite, has chronicled those changes. Season after season, Terra data continues to help us understand how the evolving systems of our planet affect our lives – and how we can use that data to benefit society.
• The following images represent five different views from the Terra satellite instruments of the difficult fire season in Australia in southern hemisphere spring. 2)
- Two decades after its launch, Terra has flown a distance equal to a trip to the planet Neptune. Along the way, it has collected some of the longest data records of different characteristics of our planet. The satellite is healthy and should continue to serve as a key tool for NASA’s studies of Earth.
• December 10, 2019: Most of the Antarctic continent is buried under the planet’s largest single mass of ice. But there are a few landmarks that stand out from the endless white, including a volcano that continuously emits gases and occasionally erupts. Mount Erebus is Earth’s southernmost active volcano. 3)
- The area was just days away from constant 24-hour sunlight when this image was acquired. The Sun angle was still low enough that morning to illuminate the volcano’s eastern slopes, while the volcano cast a mighty shadow to the west. That’s not hard to do, given that the volcano stands 3,794 meters above sea level—the second-tallest of more than 100 known Antarctic volcanoes.
- Erebus is the dominant feature of Ross Island, which juts out of the Ross Sea and the Ross Ice Shelf. Nearby research facilities—including the U.S. McMurdo Station just 35 km away—means the volcano has been accessible to and well-studied by researchers.
- Although not visible in this image (Figure 7), gases regularly rise from the lava lake on the volcano’s summit. On occasion, a large bubble of gas, or “gas slug,” rises up from within the volcano and triggers a Strombolian eruption. This eruption type can eject masses of molten rock up to 250 meters from the lake.
- Beyond the volcano and its shadow, sunlight illuminates vivid blue patches amid the white. These areas are clear of surface snow, exposing glacial ice. Nearby areas that appear smooth are the snow- and ice-topped waters of McMurdo Sound. The flat expanse is disrupted by the Erebus Ice Tongue—fast-flowing glacial ice that cuts into the sound like a knife.
• December 5, 2019: Chances are good that you have heard of the jet stream, a river of fast-moving air in the upper levels of the atmosphere. World War II pilots were among the first to notice jet stream winds, which play a key role in steering air masses and storms around the globe.
- Jet streaks—pockets of extremely fast winds embedded within the jet stream—are mentioned less often. Yet they are important to the formation of winter storms because they are associated with rising air, which can trigger clouds and precipitation.
- “The arc is a cirrus cloud associated with the jet streak. There was just enough moisture and upward motion to create localized cirrus clouds on the poleward side of the jet stream,” explained Emily Berndt, a Short-term Prediction Research and Transition Center (SPoRT) scientist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
- When the image was acquired, air was circulating around the entrance of the jet streak near Nebraska. As air enters a jet streak, it generally speeds up. In this case, warmer air was rising to the south of the cloud band, and cooler air was sinking north of it.
- Rising air tends to produce clouds: air cools as it rises, and cooler air can hold less moisture. This causes water vapor to condense into droplets or ice particles. “After the cirrus clouds formed, strong winds associated with the jet streak whisked them downstream, pulling them north and east,” noted SPoRT scientist Christopher Hain.
- The winter storm associated with this jet streak proved to be a significant one, blowing across the Midwest and New England and dropping more than 1 foot (0.3 meters) of snow in some areas.
• November 30, 2019: At first glance, the Daisenryo Kofun (alternately, the Daisen Kofun) looks like a forest on a hill. But underneath those trees lies a tomb so grand that it rivals the Taj Mahal and Egyptian pyramids. 4)
- Shaped like a keyhole, the burial site is surrounded by three moats and measures more than 300 meters (1,000 feet) wide and 450 meters (1,500 feet) long—twice as long as the base of the Great Pyramid. Supposedly built by about 2,000 men working daily for almost 16 years, the tomb is one of the largest in the world.
- The Daisenryo Kofun is one of about fifty burial sites still intact today in the city of Sakai, near Osaka, Japan. Each kofun (which means “ancient grave”) varies in size and takes different shapes—but most often keyholes, squares, or circles. Kofun were popular in Japan between the third and sixth century, which is referred to as the Kofun Period.
- The Daisenryo Kofun is the largest in Japan, but little is known about what lies inside. One glimpse came in 1872, when a severe storm damaged the site and revealed a treasure-trove of valuables from inside—helmets, glass bowls, and clay figures known as haniwa. Because kofun are considered sacred religious sites, further archaeological research was prohibited. Even today, no one is permitted to go beyond the bridge over the second moat.
- Kofun demonstrate a highly sophisticated funerary system, but also a represent the growth of social and economic hierarchies in a developing Japan. The flat, arable land needed to build a kofun was rare in mountainous Japan, and it was a commodity that only the extremely wealthy could afford. The Daisenryo Kofun is thought to hold Japanese Emperor Nintoku, but other kofun were built by non-royal, wealthy elites in Japan— a reflection of the country’s growing wealth in the era. Historians believe kofun are the first signs of a rigid social and economic structure emerging in Japan. Because of its historical significance, the Mozu-Furuichi Kofun Group is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
• November 6, 2019: A new NASA study shows that over the last 20 years, the atmosphere above the Amazon rainforest has been drying out, increasing the demand for water and leaving ecosystems vulnerable to fires and drought. It also shows that this increase in dryness is primarily the result of human activities. 5)
- Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, analyzed decades of ground and satellite data over the Amazon rainforest to track both how much moisture was in the atmosphere and how much moisture was needed to maintain the rainforest system.
- "We observed that in the last two decades, there has been a significant increase in dryness in the atmosphere as well as in the atmospheric demand for water above the rainforest," said JPL's Armineh Barkhordarian, lead author of the study. "In comparing this trend to data from models that estimate climate variability over thousands of years, we determined that the change in atmospheric aridity is well beyond what would be expected from natural climate variability."
- So if it's not natural, what's causing it? Barkhordarian said that elevated greenhouse gas levels are responsible for approximately half of the increased aridity. The rest is the result of ongoing human activity, most significantly, the burning of forests to clear land for agriculture and grazing. The combination of these activities is causing the Amazon's climate to warm.
- When a forest burns, it releases particles called aerosols into the atmosphere — among them, black carbon, commonly referred to as soot. While bright-colored or translucent aerosols reflect radiation, darker aerosols absorb it. When the black carbon absorbs heat from the sun, it causes the atmosphere to warm; it can also interfere with cloud formation and, consequently, rainfall.
Why It Matters
- The Amazon is the largest rainforest on Earth. When healthy, it absorbs billions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year through photosynthesis — the process plants use to convert CO2, energy and water into food. By removing CO2 from the atmosphere, the Amazon helps to keep temperatures down and regulate climate.
- But it's a delicate system that's highly sensitive to drying and warming trends.
- Trees and plants need water for photosynthesis and to cool themselves down when they get too warm. They pull in water from the soil through their roots and release water vapor through pores on their leaves into the atmosphere, where it cools the air and eventually rises to form clouds. The clouds produce rain that replenishes the water in the soil, allowing the cycle to continue. Rainforests generate as much as 80% of their own rain, especially during the dry season.
- But when this cycle is disrupted by an increase in dry air, for instance, a new cycle is set into motion — one with significant implications, particularly in the southeastern Amazon, where trees can experience more than four to five months of dry season.
- "It's a matter of supply and demand. With the increase in temperature and drying of the air above the trees, the trees need to transpire to cool themselves and to add more water vapor into the atmosphere. But the soil doesn't have extra water for the trees to pull in," said JPL's Sassan Saatchi, co-author of the study. "Our study shows that the demand is increasing, the supply is decreasing and if this continues, the forest may no longer be able to sustain itself."
- Scientists observed that the most significant and systematic drying of the atmosphere is in the southeast region, where the bulk of deforestation and agricultural expansion is happening. But they also found episodic drying in the northwest Amazon, an area that typically has no dry season. Normally always wet, the northwest has suffered severe droughts over the past two decades, a further indication of the entire forest's vulnerability to increasing temperatures and dry air.
- If this trend continues over the long term and the rainforest reaches the point where it can no longer function properly, many of the trees and the species that live within the rainforest ecosystem may not be able to survive. As the trees die, particularly the larger and older ones, they release CO2 into the atmosphere; and the fewer trees there are, the less CO2 the Amazon region would be able to absorb — meaning we'd essentially lose an important element of climate regulation.
- The study, "A Recent Systematic Increase in Vapor Pressure Deficit Over Tropical South America," was published in October in Scientific Reports. The science team used data from NASA's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument aboard the Terra satellite. 6)
• November 4, 2019: Thousands of acres damaged by the ongoing Kincade Fire in Northern California's Sonoma County are visible in this new image from the ASTER (Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer ) instrument aboard NASA's Terra satellite. The image was taken at 11:01 a.m. PST (2:01 p.m. EST) on Nov. 3, 2019. The burned area appears dark gray in ASTER's visible channels. Hotspots, where the fire is still smoldering, appear as yellow dots in ASTER's heat-sensing, thermal infrared channels. 7)
- After starting on Oct. 23, forcing residents to evacuate, the fire had burned 77,758 acres (31,467 hectar) and destroyed 372 structures by 3 November, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It is now over 80% contained.
- The town of Healdsburg is in the center of the image, which covers an area of about 24 by 25 miles (39 by 40 kilometers).
- ASTER is one of five Earth-observing instruments launched in December 1999 on NASA's Terra satellite. With its 14 spectral bands from the visible to the thermal infrared wavelength region and its high spatial resolution of 15 to 90 meters, ASTER images Earth to map and monitor the planet's changing surface. Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry built the instrument. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is responsible for the American portion of the joint U.S.-Japan science team that validates and calibrates the instrument and the data products associated with it.
• October 17, 2019: In a future with higher temperatures and other climate changes, Alaska’s boreal forests could look significantly different than they do now. According to a new study that is part of NASA’s ABoVE (Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment), the warmer, drier conditions of the future could lead to a net loss of plant life in some regions of Alaska, while also changing the ratio of species that grow in them. These vegetation changes caused by global climate change could, in turn, affect Arctic climate in complex ways. 8)
- Boreal forests of high northern latitudes contain conifers, such as the black and white spruce that dominate Alaskan forests, and deciduous trees, like aspen and birch. In a warmer future, the ratio of conifers to deciduous trees is likely to change, with aspen and birch trees increasing compared to black and white spruce.
- A research team led by Adrianna Foster of Northern Arizona University adapted and ran a computer model capable of making detailed simulations down to the level of individual trees. The scientists depicted the future landscape in a portion of eastern Alaska under two climate change scenarios: one in which greenhouse gas emissions are moderately reduced, and one in which they continue to increase at current rates.
- In both scenarios, the total biomass—the amount of plants and trees—decreased across the study area, though there were some different nuances by area. Cooler, wetter areas saw increases in biomass, as did areas at higher elevations. Areas that are already dry today saw biomass loss in the future, as trees competed for increasingly scarce moisture and nutrients. In some areas, more drought-tolerant species thrived up to a point, then died as soils became too dry.
- “Deciduous trees can tolerate drought a little better than spruce trees can. They also grow faster,” said Foster, the study’s lead author. “So with fires increasing and the climate getting drier, the landscape becomes better suited to the deciduous species that can move in and outcompete the spruce, which is slower-growing and stressed by drought.”
- Boreal forest fires are expected to become more frequent and severe in a warmer, drier climate, and these fires also will play an important role in the proportion of which tree species grow. “Deciduous species can more easily regenerate on exposed soil,” Foster explained. “So when we have these combinations of more drying, more severe fires, and more exposed soil, the deciduous species will be able to colonize very quickly. Under past conditions, they would then be replaced by conifers. But under climate change, the conifers may die off, leaving a deciduous forest.”
- Changing the number of deciduous forests in Alaska’s boreal region could have complex effects on the climate. Deciduous trees lose their leaves for part of the year, allowing more sunlight to reflect off the land surface during colder, snowier periods. This can help lower air temperatures. Thawing permafrost and increased precipitation in some areas will release more water into the soil, allowing increased growth in some cooler areas, especially of black spruce.
- But that melting permafrost will also release carbon into the atmosphere, acting as a positive feedback that contributes to warming. The loss of trees to fire or stress will mean biomass is lost and more carbon is put back into or left in the atmosphere. “Most of the carbon that is locked up in the boreal zone is in the soils,” she said. “So when we have the shift from boggy, black spruce forest to drier, deciduous forest, we are releasing a lot of carbon into the atmosphere from the soils.”
- As the species and climate change, these processes could feed back into the climate in complex ways. “It’s not a linear relationship,” Foster noted. “We have all these interacting factors, and some are counteracting each other. It’s really an uncertain future.”
• October 8, 2019: The team behind one of NASA’s most productive Earth-observing satellite missions and a leading scientist who has studied the impact of humans on global land cover changes have been honored with the 2019 William T. Pecora Award for achievement in Earth remote sensing. 9)
- The awards were presented 7 October at the 21st William T. Pecora Memorial Remote Sensing Symposium and the 38th International Symposium on Remote Sensing of Environment in Baltimore, Md.
- The annual award is sponsored by NASA and the Department of the Interior's U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). First presented in 1974, the Pecora Award recognizes outstanding contributions of individuals and groups toward the understanding of the Earth through remote sensing. The award honors the memory of William T. Pecora, former USGS Director and Interior Under-Secretary.
- NASA’s Terra team was recognized with the 2019 group award for significant contributions in all areas of Earth science, with scientific impacts and a legacy that make it one of the most successful missions in NASA’s long line of Earth Observing System satellites. The Terra satellite was launched in 1999 and continues to provide a wide range of global environmental observations.
- The team developed innovative techniques to characterize the environmental status and health of our planet. The Terra satellite and its products have appeared regularly in news coverage of tropical storms, natural disasters, snowstorms, and air quality reports.
- Terra data have been used by multiple federal agencies for volcanic ash monitoring, weather forecasting, forest fire monitoring, carbon management, and global crop assessment. The Terra team has shown ingenuity and perseverance in developing new calibration methods to increase data quality, ultimately leading to a cohesive long-term record of many environmental quantities with unprecedented accuracy.
- Terra has provided a suite of observations that have greatly improved scientists’ understanding of the Earth-atmosphere system. The mission is arguably one of the most successful Earth-sensing satellites ever deployed. More than 19,000 publications using Terra data products have been produced, and the rate of publication has been increasing steadily over the years, demonstrating increased usage of Terra data products by the scientific community.
- The 2019 individual award was presented to Thomas R. Loveland for his outstanding contributions to the field of Earth science as a leading USGS scientist and chief scientist at the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center. Loveland has devoted his career to understanding how the Earth’s surface is changing through mapping and monitoring land cover and land use, which has resulted in groundbreaking global land cover research.
- Loveland’s work has paid particular attention to the impact of human activities on land cover. He has been involved in capacity building nationally and internationally, for example, through the Famine Early Warning Systems Network in Africa, which saves human lives by directing response to areas impacted by famine and informing preparation for future famine.
- Loveland has led the development of innovative monitoring programs, produced exciting new land cover and land use change products. He has steered efforts to improve the Landsat satellite missions, ensuring that the data are freely available to the entire community. He led the IGBP (International Geosphere-Biosphere Program) global land cover effort, which brought to fruition the first truly global effort to map land cover with remote sensing.
- Loveland has been a leader in the development of multiple operational programs for land cover mapping and monitoring in the United States. From 2006 to 2016, he served as co-lead for the NASA/USGS Landsat Science Team, where his innovative and visionary ideas advanced land-imaging science and future Landsat mission planning.
- For six decades, NASA has used the vantage point of space to understand and explore our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. NASA’s observations of Earth’s complex natural environment are critical to understanding how our planet’s natural resources and climate are changing now and could change in the future.
• September 25, 2019: A few tropical cyclones spin into the northwestern reaches of the Arabian Sea each, and some bring damaging winds and rain into the Arabian Peninsula. That was the case on September 24, 2019, when Tropical Cyclone Hikaa made landfall over Oman. 10)
- After encountering the coast of Oman and the dry air over the peninsula, the storm continued moving westward and weakened. Forecasters predicted heavy rainfall in some coastal areas, and officials advised people to stay away from low-lying areas. They also warned that rough seas could be dangerous for fishing boats.
- Of all tropical cyclones that occur around the planet each year, only 7 percent are in the North Indian Ocean. They infrequently brush the Arabian Peninsula, and the region can go years without a storm. That said, 2018 brought more storms than usual, with three significant cyclones—Sagar, Mekunu, and Luban—bringing damaging wind and rain to Yemen and Oman. Cyclones tend to occur here in spring and autumn, so the final count for 2019 remains to be seen.
• September 18, 2019: The past few fire seasons in Indonesia have been pretty quiet, but a profusion of fire in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, and Sumatra in September 2019 has once again blanketed the region in a pall of thick, noxious smoke. Many schools have closed and several airports have canceled, diverted, or delayed flights in recent weeks as smoke lingered over the two islands, according to news reports. 11)
- Fires are a common occurrence in Kalimantan in September and October because farmers burn off agricultural and logging debris to clear the way for crops and livestock. In Kalimantan, the intent is often to prepare the land for new plantings of oil palm and acacia pulp.
- GEOS FP, like other weather and climate models, uses mathematical equations that represent physical processes to calculate what is happening in the atmosphere. The model calculates the position and concentration of organic carbon plumes every five minutes. The model ingests new aerosol data at three hour intervals, new meteorological data at six hour intervals, and new fire data on a daily basis.
- Peat maps available through the Center for International Forestry Research’s Borneo Atlas indicate that many of the fires were burning in or near areas with underlain with peat—a mixture of partly decayed plant material formed in wetlands. Peat fires tend to be difficult to extinguish, often smoldering under the surface for months until wet season rains arrive.
- Peat fires release large amounts of gases and particles, including carbon dioxide, methane, and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Carbon dioxide and methane are potent greenhouse gases that warm the climate. PM2.5 is a mix of fine particulates known for having negative health effects.
- PM2.5—including types of aerosols called organic carbon and black carbon—are thought to be especially harmful because the particles are small enough to enter the lungs and bloodstream. Health research links exposure to black carbon to respiratory diseases, heart problems, and premature deaths. Evidence increasingly points to the toxicity of organic aerosols as well, though the health effects are less studied than some other particle types.
- As he has done in past fire seasons, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies scientist Robert Field has been tracking the progression of the fire season in Indonesia. “They are really in the thick of another major event now. It is reminiscent of 2015, though buildup of smoke started a few weeks later this year because of rains in mid-August,” said Field, who is working on a project to better understand how various meteorological variables affect the likelihood that of vegetation burning. As part of that effort, he is also working on a NASA applied sciences project to integrate more satellite-based precipitation measurements into a fire danger monitoring system used by the Indonesian Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysical Agency.
- “The fire counts from MODIS and VIIRS satellites have not been quite as high as they were in 2015 because of the late start, but the day-to-day increases in activity are now comparable to 2015,” said Field. “However, it is worth keeping in mind that many of these fires are burning underground or in areas with such thick smoke that satellites can’t detect them.”
- During two past big fires years in Indonesia—1997 and 2015—El Nino conditions caused droughts that were major factors in exacerbating the fires. In 2019, El Nino conditions were neutral, but an oscillation of sea surface temperatures called the Indian Ocean Dipole appears to be responsible for the dry conditions this year, explained Field.
• September 9, 2019: The Serengeti is the site of the largest unaltered animal migration in the world. Around 1.5 million wildebeest—translating to “wild cattle” in Afrikaans—travel around the Serengeti plains for about seven months every year in search of pasture and water. The migration is considered one of the natural wonders of the world, attracting hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. 12)
- The journey of the wildebeest begins at the southern tip of the Serengeti plains in a region of Tanzania called Ndutu. The area is known for its short grass, which is rich in nutrients. From December to March, the majority of wildebeest congregate in Ndutu for food. Each February, wildebeest mothers give birth to thousands of calves here within a four- to six-week period—around 8,000 calves per day.
- Ndutu lies in the northern section of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The Ngorongoro landscape originated some 20 million years ago when the eastern side of Africa started to crack and rift. The rifting allowed for Earth's crust to thin and for molten materials to pile up and form volcanoes. Today, the Ngorongoro area includes a volcanic caldera. The ash left behind by the ancient volcanoes makes the soil here fertile for crops (outside of the conservation area) and for the savanna grasslands that feed so many animals.
- The Serengeti ecosystem—determined by the area covered by the migration—extends from the Maswa Game Reserve (Tanzania) to the south, to the Grumeti and Ikorongo Game Reserves (Tanzania) in the east, to Maasai Mara National Reserve in the north in Kenya, and to Loliondo Game Controlled Area (Tanzania) in the west. The Serengeti National Park is located in the center and covers around 15,000 km2 (5,800 square miles).
- When the drought arrives around April and May, the wildebeest leave Ndutu to begin a clockwise migration around the plains following the rains and the lush grasses they help sprout. The patterns have been repeating for at least a million years, according to the fossil record.
- Around May, the wildebeest first head for the long grass plains and woodland of the Serengeti’s western corridor, near Lake Victoria. By June or July, they arrive in the northern Serengeti plains, where they encounter arguably the hardest parts of their journey: the crocodile-infested Grumeti and Mara Rivers. The Grumeti lies adjacent to the Serengeti National Park, whereas the Mara is the only river that flows perennially through the park. The Mara River is also the major obstacle separating the wildebeest from the short, sweet grasses in Maasai Mara in Kenya. Many tourists visit from July to October for the chance to see thousands of wildebeest cross the river.
- By November of each year, the rainy season begins again in the southern Serengeti and the wildebeest return to Ndutu. In total, the wildebeest—along with hundreds of thousands of zebras, gazelles, and predators who join the journey—travel about 1,000 km.
- Since the migration is triggered by the dry season and rains, the exact timing and locations of the migration can vary from year to year. In 2019, the wildebeest were spotted crossing the Mara River earlier than usual as the dry season arrived early. Research suggests that variations in seasonal flooding and drought (due to climate change) may further alter when and where the wildebeest migrate.
• August 27, 2019: Every summer, vast expanses of the Canadian prairie in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba turn a bright shade of yellow. The reason: canola fields reaching peak bloom. 13)
- Canola, a cultivar of rapeseed, is a member of the Brassica family, which includes cabbages and mustards. After flowering, canola plants produce brown oil-rich seeds that are about the size of poppies. When ground up, these seeds yield an oil that is widely used for cooking and high-protein meal used in animal feed.
- According to the Canada Canola Association, Canadian farmers began to grow rapeseed during World War II to produce an inedible oil that was used as a lubricant in steam engines. In the decades following the war, Canadian plant breeders developed new varieties of rapeseed that had much lower levels of glucosinolates and erucic acids—undesirable substances that made rapeseed products taste bad or were thought to cause health problems. In 1978, the Western Canadian Oilseed Crushers trademarked these “double low” rapeseeds as canola (shorthand for Canadian oil, low acid).
- In recent decades, canola has become a cash crop for Canada, with much of the harvest getting exported. Since the mid-1980s, the footprint has spread significantly, with the total canola-growing area increasing by more than threefold, with particularly fast growth in Saskatchewan. The biggest importer of canola oil and meal is the United States, accounting for about 52 percent of oil exports and 69 percent of meal exports in 2018, according to the Canadian Canola Association.
• July 10, 2019: Scientists using NASA satellite observations have discovered the largest bloom of macroalgae in the world. In a paper published on July 5, 2019, in Science, researchers described new observations of the “Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt.” 14) 15)
- Led by researchers from the University of South Florida (USF) College of Marine Science, the team confirmed that the belt of brown macroalgae called Sargassum can grow so large that it blankets the surface of the tropical Atlantic Ocean from the west coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico. This happened in 2018 when more than 20 million tons of Sargassum—heavier than 200 fully loaded aircraft carriers—floated in surface waters and wreaked havoc on shorelines in the tropical Atlantic, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico.
- The scientists used environmental data and some direct ocean sampling to suggest that the belt forms seasonally in response to two key nutrient inputs. In the spring and summer, Amazon River discharge adds nutrients to the ocean, and those nutrients may have increased in recent years due to increased deforestation and fertilizer use. In the winter, upwelling off the West African coast delivers nutrients from deep waters to the ocean surface where the Sargassum grows. Based on numerical simulations, the scientists found that the bloom takes its shape in response to prevailing ocean currents.
- “The evidence for nutrient enrichment is preliminary and based on limited field data and other environmental data, and we need more research to confirm this hypothesis,” said USF scientist Chuanmin Hu, who led the study and has studied Sargassum using satellites since 2006. “On the other hand, based on the last 20 years of data, I can say that the belt is very likely to be a new normal.”
- Hu spearheaded the work with first author Mengqiu Wang, a postdoctoral scholar in his Optical Oceanography Lab at USF. The team included others from USF, Florida Atlantic University, and Georgia Institute of Technology. Key data for the study came from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites.
- In patchy doses in the open ocean, Sargassum contributes to ocean health by providing habitat for turtles, crabs, fish, and birds and by producing oxygen via photosynthesis. But too much of this seaweed makes it hard for certain marine species to move and breathe, especially when the mats crowd the coast. When Sargassum dies and sinks to the ocean bottom in large quantities, it can smother corals and seagrasses. On the beach, rotten Sargassum releases hydrogen sulfide gas and smells like rotten eggs.
- Before 2011, most of the pelagic Sargassum in the ocean was primarily found floating in patches around the Gulf of Mexico and Sargasso Sea. The Sargasso Sea is located on the western edge of the central Atlantic Ocean and named after its popular algal resident. Christopher Columbus first reported Sargassum in the 15th century, and many boaters are familiar with this seaweed.
- In 2011, Sargassum populations started to explode in places they hadn’t been before, and it arrived in vast amounts that suffocated shorelines and introduced a nuisance for local environments and economies. Some countries, such as Barbados, declared a national emergency in 2018 because of the toll this once-healthy seaweed took on tourism.
- “The ocean’s chemistry must have changed in order for the blooms to get so out of hand,” Hu said. Sargassum reproduces vegetatively, and it probably has several initiation zones around the Atlantic Ocean. It grows faster when nutrient conditions are favorable and when its internal clock ticks in favor of reproduction.
- Wang, Hu, and colleagues analyzed fertilizer consumption patterns in Brazil, Amazon deforestation rates, Amazon River discharge, and nitrogen and phosphorus measurements taken from parts of the Atlantic Ocean, among other ocean properties. While the data are preliminary, the pattern seems clear: the explosion in Sargassum correlates to increases in deforestation and fertilizer use, both of which have increased since 2010.
- The team identified key factors critical to bloom formation: a large seed population in the winter left over from a previous bloom; nutrient input from West Africa upwelling in winter; and nutrient input in the spring or summer from the Amazon River. In addition, Sargassum only grows well when salinity is normal and surface temperatures are normal or cooler. As noted in the images above, major blooms occurred in every year between 2011 and 2018 except 2013. No bloom occurred that year because the seed populations measured during winter of 2012 were unusually low, Wang said.
- “This is all ultimately related to climate change because it affects precipitation and ocean circulation and even human activities, but what we’ve shown is that these blooms do not occur because of increased water temperature,” Hu said. “They are probably here to stay.”
- “The scale of these blooms is truly enormous, making global satellite imagery a good tool for detecting and tracking their dynamics through time,” said Woody Turner, manager of NASA’s Ecological Forecasting Program.
• June 25, 2019: Unlike some of its perpetually active neighbors on the Kamchatka Peninsula, Raikoke Volcano on the Kuril Islands rarely erupts. The small, oval-shaped island most recently exploded in 1924 and in 1778. 16)
- The dormant period ended around 4:00 a.m. local time on June 22, 2019, when a vast plume of ash and volcanic gases shot up from its 700-meter-wide crater. Several satellites—as well as astronauts on the International Space Station—observed as a thick plume rose and then streamed east as it was pulled into the circulation of a storm in the North Pacific.
- On the morning of June 22, astronauts shot a photograph (Figure 28) of the volcanic plume rising in a narrow column and then spreading out in a part of the plume known as the umbrella region. That is the area where the density of the plume and the surrounding air equalize and the plume stops rising. The ring of clouds at the base of the column appears to be water vapor.
- “What a spectacular image. It reminds me of the classic Sarychev Peak astronaut photograph of an eruption in the Kuriles from about ten years ago,” said Simon Carn, a volcanologist at Michigan Tech. “The ring of white puffy clouds at the base of the column might be a sign of ambient air being drawn into the column and the condensation of water vapor. Or it could be a rising plume from interaction between magma and seawater because Raikoke is a small island and flows likely entered the water.”
- The image of Figure 30 of VIIRS on Suomi NPP shows the plume a few hours later. After an initial surge of activity that included several distinct explosive pulses, activity subsided and strong winds spread the ash across the Pacific.
- Since ash contains sharp fragments of rock and volcanic glass, it poses a serious hazard to aircraft. The Tokyo and Anchorage Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers have been tracking the plume closely and have issued several notes to aviators indicating that ash had reached an altitude of 13 kilometers. Meanwhile, data from the CALIPSO satellite indicate that parts of the plume may have reached 17 kilometers.
- In addition to tracking ash, satellite sensors can also track the movements of volcanic gases. In this case, Raikoke produced a concentrated plume of sulfur dioxide (SO2) that separated from the ash and swirled throughout the North Pacific as the plume interacted with the storm.
- “Radiosonde data from the region indicate a tropopause altitude of about 11 km, so altitudes of 13 to 17 km suggest that the eruption cloud is mostly in the stratosphere,” said Carn. “The persistence of large SO2 amounts over the last two days also indicates stratospheric injection.”
• June 11, 2019: Los Glaciares National Park in Patagonia gets its name from the plentiful glaciers flowing from the flanks of the Andes Mountains. Where some of the park’s most notable glaciers end, a series of colorful glacial lakes begin. 17)
- Most of these glaciers end in water, where their fronts can lose ice by melting and through calving icebergs. Numerous studies have focused on the glaciers on the west side of the southern icefield that dispense ice and meltwater to the Pacific Ocean. But the icefield is losing plenty of ice on its eastern side too, through glaciers that end in freshwater lakes.
- Lago Argentino and Lago Viedma are the two main freshwater lakes connected to Los Glaciares National Park (Figure 31). These lakes, as well as nearby Lago San Martin, are filled with so much fine sediment from the glaciers—also known as glacial flour—that they appear milky turquoise when viewed from space.
- Notice that Lago Viedma is much grayer than Lago Argentino and Lago San Martin. That’s because Lago Viedma receives sediment-rich-water directly from Viedma glacier—the second-largest in Patagonia. The meltwater pouring out near Upsala glacier is equally gray, but the color changes as the water flows through the fjord. Most of the sediment particles settle to the bottom before reaching the main body of Lago Argentina, which appears bluer.
- In recent years, scientists have identified ways in which these freshwater-calving glaciers differ from those that end in seawater. Teasing out those differences is important for understanding the various mechanisms responsible for melting and calving.
- Shin Sugiyama, a researcher at Hokkaido University, showed that the high sediment concentration in the freshwater lakes can affect the water’s thermal structure near the ice front. The sediment causes cold, turbid meltwater from the bottom of a submerged glacier to stay at depth. In contrast, cold meltwater from the bottom of a glacier submerged in seawater tends to rise and be replaced with warm water. That means that melting at a glacier’s front in a freshwater lake is probably limited compared to that of its western, seawater-terminating counterpart—at least at depth.
- Sugiyama pointed out that even among the freshwater lakes there could be differences in the ice-water interaction. “As suggested by the water colors, conditions are very different at each lake,” Sugiyama said. “I am curious how those glaciers ending in different lakes behave differently in the future.”
• June 6, 2019: As summer approaches and hours of sunlight increase in the northern hemisphere, the oceans come alive with blooms of phytoplankton. In early June 2019, a stunning bloom colored the waters off the coast of Norway. 18)
- Previous natural-color satellite images show signs of the milky blue-green color in this area starting in mid-May. Follow the coastline south, and you can see more colorful phytoplankton visible between areas of cloud cover. Even the waters of some fjords, including Sognefjord (Norway’s largest and deepest)—are abloom with E. huxleyi.
- E. huxleyi is harmless to fish and people. The same is not true, however, for the species Chrysochromulina leadbeateri. Although not visible in this image, high concentrations of Chrysochromulina were responsible for suffocating millions of farmed salmon in northern Norway. According to news reports, this type of phytoplankton is commonly found in the waters around Norway, but warm weather contributed to their rapid spread in May.
• June 4, 2019: Situated along the Nile River, the modern city of Luxor stands as a relic of one of the most venerated metropolises of ancient Egypt. Then known as Thebes, the city was the capital of ancient Egypt at two separate times and home to prominent temples, chapels, and towers. Although those structures have weathered over the centuries, the ruins still make Luxor one of the world’s greatest open air museums. 19)
- The legendary temples of Luxor attract tourists from around the world. The Luxor Temple (now with a fast-food restaurant next door—not a relic of ancient Egypt) lies at the modern city’s center. The temple served as “the place of the First Occasion” where the god Amun-Ra (to whom the city of Thebes was dedicated) experienced rebirth during the pharaoh’s annual coronation ceremony. Over time, the sandstone temple has eroded from contact with salty groundwater, so it is currently undergoing treatment.
- Another notable landmark is the Karnak Temple Complex, a collection of temples that were developed over more than 1,000 years. At its peak, Karnak was one of the largest religious complexes in the world, covering 80 hectares (200 acres). It is home to one of the most significant and largest religious building ever built—the Temple of Amun-Ra, where the god was believed to have lived on Earth with his wife and son (who also have temples in the complex). A row of human-headed sphinxes—known as the Avenue of Sphinxes—once lined the three-kilometer path from Karnak to the Luxor Temple.
- The Egyptians also created massive underground mausoleums to bury and honor their pharaohs in the area. On the west bank of the Nile River, near the hills, Egyptians built an inconspicuous vault called the “Valley of Kings,” where more than 60 tombs have been found. One of the most famous housed the boy King Tutankhamun (commonly known as King Tut). That tomb was found almost entirely preserved—the most intact tomb ever found.
• May 22, 2019: When satellites observe large dust plumes over Japan, the dust typically comes from vast deserts in Central Asia and arrives on westerly winds. However, on May 20, 2019, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Terra satellite acquired an image of a different type of dust event—a plume streaming from farmland near Shira and Kiyosato in northern Hokkaido. 20)
- The seasonal rhythms of farming likely contributed as well. Landsat satellite imagery suggests that many fields in the area had little green vegetation or may have been tilled recently, both of which would make it easier for gusty winds to pick up dust.
- Scientists who routinely monitor global dust storm activity say it is unusual for Japan to produce such a large dust plume. Though on average there are 20 teragrams (20 x 1012 grams, or 20 million tons) of dust in the air at any one time, most of it comes from large deserts in North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Only about 5 percent of global emissions come from middle and high-latitude areas.
• May 6, 2019: As soon as the snow melts in springtime, widespread fires typically emerge in far northeastern Russia. On 3 May 2019, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite acquired this false-color image of a large burn scar along the Amur River in Russia’s Khabarovsk region. The image was composed using visible and infrared light (bands 7-2-1), which makes it easier to distinguish burned areas. 21)
- The Amur River Valley is a mosaic of farmland, forests, shrubs, and grasslands. It is known for being a productive agricultural region, and most of these fires were probably triggered by farmers burning off old plant debris to prepare their fields for a new crop. Some of the fires may have begun on farmland, but then escaped control and grew larger as they moved into nearby wildlands.
- In order for scientists to classify a cloud as pyrocumulus, cloud top temperatures observed by satellites must be -40°C (-40°F) or cooler. According to University of Wisconsin meteorologist Scott Bachmeier, this cloud passed that threshold at 03:10 Universal Time, a few hours after the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired the natural-color shown image above. At that time, low-lying gray smoke streamed from an actively burning fire front as the beginning stages of the pyrocumulus cloud billowed up over the fire.
• May 02, 2019: With some areas that receive just a few millimeters of rain per year and some that see none at all, the Atacama Desert in northern Chile is one of the driest places in the world. When it does rain, the landscape can transform. 22)
- The desert extends along the western edge of the Andes Mountains, which produce an intense rain shadow effect. The desert also sits next to a cool ocean current that chills the air and limits how much moisture it can hold. And often a zone of persistent high pressure blocks storms from moving into the area.
- Still, water occasionally finds its way to the Atacama, as it did in January and February 2019. Storms, which are usually restricted to the highest parts of the Andes, dropped enough rain in the foothills to cause damaging floods in Arica, Tarapacá, and Antofagasta. The western slopes of the Andes were hit particularly hard, with several ground-based weather stations recording between 100 – 200 millimeters (4 – 8 inches) of rain. Between February 4 – 6, 2019, satellites measured more than 50 millimeters falling in wide bands near Calama and Camiña. According to news reports, several people died, hundreds of homes were destroyed, and thousands of people lost power due to the floods.
- However, the rush of water left its mark on this hyper-arid region in a positive way, too. By March 2019, land surfaces that are typically brown and barren were blanketed with wildflowers and other vegetation. While the wildflowers are not easily visible in natural-color imagery from satellites, several sensors make observations of infrared light that make the greenup more apparent.
- The map depicts the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), a measure of the health and greenness of vegetation based on how much red and near-infrared light it reflects. Healthy vegetation with lots of chlorophyll reflects more near-infrared light and less visible light.
- Wildflower blooms happen occasionally in the southern part of the Atacama Desert in winter. The last big event was in 2017. “This year is different and less studied because it is occurring in austral fall and farther north,” said René Garreaud, an Earth scientist at the Universidad de Chile. “It should be interesting to investigate the cause of last summer’s storms and see if the rain increases groundwater levels in the Pampa del Tamarugal.”
- A recent analysis of satellite NDVI observations collected between 1981 and 2015 identified 13 Atacama greening events, with most beginning in the winter and remaining until the following summer.
• April 22, 2019: Once the second-largest saltwater lake in the Middle East, Lake Urmia attracted birds and bathers to bask in its turquoise waters in northwest Iran. Then beginning in the 1970s, nearly three decades of drought and high water demands on the lake shriveled the basin, shrinking it by 80 percent. 23)
- Recent torrential rains have replenished the water levels of this aquatic gem once known as “the turquoise solitaire of Azerbaijan.” At its greatest extent, Lake Urmia once covered a surface area of 5,000 km2 (2,000 square miles).
- The fresh pulse of water came from intense rains during the fall of 2018 and spring 2019. In late March and early April 2019, 26 of Iran’s 31 provinces were affected by deadly flooding from the rain and the seasonal melting of snow cover in the mountains.
• April 9, 2019: Most people will never see Pine Island Glacier in person. Located near the base of the Antarctic Peninsula—the “thumb” of the continent—the glacier lies more than 2,600 km (1,600 miles) from the tip of South America. That’s shorter than a cross-country flight from New York to Los Angeles, but there are no runways on the glacier and no infrastructure. Only a handful of scientists have ever set foot on its ice. 24)
- While this outlet glacier is just one of many around the perimeter of Antarctica, data collected from the ground, air, and space confirm that Pine Island is worth extra attention. It is, along with neighboring Thwaites Glacier, one of the main pathways for ice entering the Amundsen Sea from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and one the fastest-retreating glaciers in Antarctica. Collectively, the region contains enough vulnerable ice to raise global sea level by 1.2 meters (4 feet).
- “The process of how a large outlet glacier like Pine Island ‘shrinks’ has some interesting twists,” said Bob Bindschadler, an emeritus NASA glaciologist who landed on Pine Island Glacier’s ice shelf in 2008.
- Decades of investigations have given scientists a better idea of the quirks of PIG’s behavior. For example, data collected during science flights in 2009 led researchers to discover a deep-water channel (Figure 42) that could funnel warm water to the glacier’s underbelly and melt it from below.
- Bindschadler explained that a shrinking outlet glacier is usually doing three things: thinning (mostly at the seaward edge), retreating, and accelerating. The acceleration stretches the glacier, causing the thinning and likely making the ice more prone to crevassing (cracking) “upstream.”
- Fractures near the seaward edge cause the ice to calve off as icebergs, a normal part of life for glaciers that extend over water. If icebergs calve off at a rate that matches the glacier’s acceleration, the ice front stays in the same place.
- But over the long term at Pine Island, you can see that the ice front has retreated inland, which means the calving rate has increased more than the glacier has accelerated. “This underlies our concern that retreating outlet glaciers can ‘shrink’ rapidly,” Bindschadler said.
• March 22, 2019: On Dec. 18, 2018, a large "fireball" - the term used for exceptionally bright meteors that are visible over a wide area - exploded about 16 miles (26 km) above the Bering Sea. The explosion unleashed an estimated 173 kilotons of energy, or more than 10 times the energy of the atomic bomb blast over Hiroshima during World War II. 25)
- Two NASA instruments aboard the Terra satellite captured images of the remnants of the large meteor. The image sequence shows views from five of nine cameras on the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument taken at 23:55 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time), a few minutes after the event. The shadow of the meteor's trail through Earth's atmosphere, cast on the cloud tops and elongated by the low sun angle, is to the northwest. The orange-tinted cloud that the fireball left behind by super-heating the air it passed through can be seen below and to the right the center of Figure 43.
- The fireball observed on 18 December 2018 was the most powerful meteor to be observed since 2013; however, given its altitude and the remote area over which it occurred, the object posed no threat to anyone on the ground. Fireball events are actually fairly common and are recorded in the NASA Center for Near Earth Object Studies database.
• March 12, 2019: Tropical Cyclone Idai is poised to move inland over East African countries that were already soaked by flooding rain from the same storm system earlier this month. 26)
- The storm system first developed as a tropical disturbance on March 3 and grew by March 5 into a tropical depression with winds measuring 30 knots. In the process, it dropped heavy rain on Mozambique and Malawi and spawned deadly floods. By March 11, the storm had tracked eastward into the warm channel between the coast of Africa and Madagascar, where it strengthened into an intense tropical cyclone.
- Now on a southwestward track, forecasts call for Idai to reach Mozambique by March 14-15, bringing a second round of wind and heavy rain to the region.
- “Several cyclones in the past have started over Mozambique and then moved over water and intensified into more organized systems, although this type of situation is not common,” said Corene Matayas, a researcher at University of Florida who has studied cyclones in this area. It is relatively common, however, to see cyclone tracks in the Mozambique Channel that meander and loop, due to weak steering currents.
- Cyclones that form in the channel tend to be weaker than those that form over the Southwest Indian Ocean, north and east of Madagascar. But Matayas points out that regardless of where a cyclone forms, some have reached their highest intensity within a day before landfall. Tropical Cyclone Eline in February 2000, for example, passed over Madagascar and the Mozambique Channel, and then quickly intensified just before landfall in Mozambique.
- “Keys to intensification are warm ocean waters to sufficient depth, the absence of strong winds in the upper troposphere, and being contained inside of a moist air mass,” Matayas said. “These conditions are all present right now.”
- Most tropical cyclone activity in the Southwest Indian basin occurs between October and May, with activity peaking in mid-January and again in mid-February to early March. Idai is the seventh intense tropical cyclone of the basin’s 2018-2019 season.
• March 4, 2019: Unseasonably warm temperatures swept across the United Kingdom and much of Europe in February 2019. The month started with snow and freezing temperatures in the United Kingdom, but provisional statistics from the UK Met Office indicate February 2019 was the second warmest February on record for the country. England, Scotland, and Wales all recorded their warmest meteorological winter days and hottest February days since record-keeping began in 1910. 27)
- Kew Gardens in London recorded 21.2° Celsius (70.1° Fahrenheit) on February 26, a new record for the warmest winter day in the United Kingdom. Scotland experienced its warmest winter day with 18.3°C (64.9°F) at Aboyne, Aberdeenshire, on February 21. Wales also broke its existing record, reaching 20.8°C (69.4°C) in Porthmadog, Gywnedd, on February 26.
- The high temperatures were the product of a large area of high pressure that stalled and trapped warm air over Europe. The clear, dry conditions allowed more sunshine to warm the ground. (February 2019 was the second sunniest on record for the United Kingdom as a whole.) The high-pressure system also drew in warm air from the North Atlantic near the Canary Islands.
Legend to Figure 46: The map depicts land surface temperatures (LSTs), not air temperatures. LSTs reflect how hot the surface of the Earth would feel to the touch and can sometimes be significantly hotter or cooler than air temperatures.
• February 28, 2019: The 2015-2016 El Niño event brought weather conditions that triggered regional disease outbreaks throughout the world, according to a new NASA study that is the first to comprehensively assess the public health impacts of the major climate event on a global scale. 28)
- El Niño is an irregularly recurring climate pattern characterized by warmer than usual ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, which creates a ripple effect of anticipated weather changes in far-spread regions of Earth. During the 2015-2016 event, changes in precipitation, land surface temperatures and vegetation created and facilitated conditions for transmission of diseases, resulting in an uptick in reported cases for plague and hantavirus in Colorado and New Mexico, cholera in Tanzania, and dengue fever in Brazil and Southeast Asia, among others.
- “The strength of this El Niño was among the top three of the last 50 years, and so the impact on weather and therefore diseases in these regions was especially pronounced,” said lead author Assaf Anyamba, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “By analyzing satellite data and modeling to track those climate anomalies, along with public health records, we were able to quantify that relationship.”
- The study utilized a number of climate datasets, among them land surface temperature and vegetation data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer aboard NASA’s Terra satellite, and NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration precipitation datasets. The study was published on 13 February 2019 in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. 29)
- Based on monthly outbreak data from 2002 to 2016 in Colorado and New Mexico, reported cases of plague were at their highest in 2015, while the number of hantavirus cases reached their peak in 2016. The cause of the uptick in both potentially fatal diseases was an El Niño-driven increase in rainfall and milder temperatures over the American Southwest, which spurred vegetative growth, providing more food for rodents that carry hantavirus. A resulting rodent population explosion put them in more frequent contact with humans, who contract the potentially fatal disease mostly through fecal or urine contamination. As their rodent hosts proliferated, so did plague-carrying fleas.
- A continent away, in East Africa’s Tanzania, the number of reported cases for cholera in 2015 and 2016 were the second and third highest, respectively, over an 18-year period from 2000 to 2017. Cholera is a potentially deadly bacterial infection of the small intestine that spreads through fecal contamination of food and water. Increased rainfall in East Africa during the El Niño allowed for sewage to contaminate local water sources, such as untreated drinking water. “Cholera doesn’t flush out of the system quickly,” Anyamba said, “so even though it was amplified in 2015-2016, it actually continued into 2017 and 2018. We’re talking about a long-tailed, lasting peak.”
- In Brazil and Southeast Asia, during the El Niño dengue fever proliferated. In Brazil the number of reported cases for the potentially deadly mosquito-borne disease in 2015 was the highest from 2000 to 2017. In Southeast Asia, namely Indonesia and Thailand, the number of reported cases, while relatively low for an El Niño year, was still higher than in neutral years. In both regions, the El Niño produced higher than normal land surface temperatures and therefore drier habitats, which drew mosquitoes into populated, urban areas containing the open water needed for laying eggs. As the air warmed, mosquitoes also grew hungrier and reached sexual maturity more quickly, resulting in an increase in mosquito bites.
- The strong relationship between El Niño events and disease outbreaks underscores the importance of existing seasonal forecasts, said Anyamba, who has been involved with such work for the past 20 years through funding from the U.S. Department of Defense. Countries where these outbreaks occur, along with the United Nations’ World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization, can utilize these early warning forecasts to take preventive measures to minimize the spread of disease. Based on the forecast, the U.S. Department of Defense does pre-deployment planning, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) takes measures to ensure the safety of imported goods.
- “Knowledge of the linkages between El Niño events and these important human and animal diseases generated by this study is critical to disease control and prevention, which will also mitigate globalization,” said co-author Kenneth Linthicum, USDA center director at an entomology laboratory in Gainesville, Florida. He noted these data were used in 2016 to avert a Rift Valley fever outbreak in East Africa. “By vaccinating livestock, they likely prevented thousands of human cases and animal deaths.”
- “This is a remarkable tool to help people prepare for impending disease events and take steps to prevent them,” said co-author William Karesh, executive vice president for New York City-based public health and environmental nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance. “Vaccinations for humans and livestock, pest control programs, removing excess stagnant water — those are some actions that countries can take to minimize the impacts. But for many countries, in particular the agriculture sectors in Africa and Asia, these climate-weather forecasts are a new tool for them, so it may take time and dedicated resources for these kinds of practices to become more utilized.”
- According to Anyamba, the major benefit of these seasonal forecasts is time. “A lot of diseases, particularly mosquito-borne epidemics, have a lag time of two to three months following these weather changes,” he said. “So seasonal forecasting is actually very good, and the fact that they are updated every month means we can track conditions in different locations and prepare accordingly. It has the power to save lives.”
• February 18, 2019: In Spanish, Sierra Nevada means “snowy mountain range.” During the past few months, the range has certainly lived up to its name. After a dry spell in December, a succession of storms in January and February 2019 blanketed the range. 30)
- In many areas, snow reports have been coming in feet not inches. Back-to-back storms in February dropped eleven feet (3 meters) of snow on Mammoth Mountain—enough to make it the snowiest ski resort in the United States. More than 37 feet (11 meters) have fallen at the resort since the beginning of winter, and meteorologists are forecasting that yet another storm will bring snow this week.
- Statistics complied by the California Department of Water Resources indicate that the mountain range had a snow water equivalent that was 130 percent of normal as of February 11, 2019. It was just 44 percent of normal on Thanksgiving 2018. Last season, on February 15, 2018, snow cover was at a mere 21 percent of normal.
- Some of the snow has come courtesy of atmospheric rivers, a type of storm system known for transporting narrow, low-level plumes of moisture across long ocean distances and dumping tremendous amounts of precipitation on land.
- The condition of Sierra Nevada snowpack has consequences that go well beyond ski season. Spring and summer melt from the Sierra Nevada plays a crucial role in recharging California’s reservoirs. Though conditions could change, California drought watchers are cautiously optimistic that the boost to the snowpack will insulate the state from drought this summer.
- The reservoirs are already in pretty good shape. Cal Water data show that most of the reservoirs are already more than half-full, and several have water levels that are above the historical average for the middle of February.
• February 12, 2019: The world is literally a greener place than it was twenty years ago, and data from NASA satellites has revealed a counterintuitive source for much of this new foliage. A new study shows that China and India—the world’s most populous countries—are leading the increase in greening on land. The effect comes mostly from ambitious tree-planting programs in China and intensive agriculture in both countries. 31)
- Ranga Myneni of Boston University and colleagues first detected the greening phenomenon in satellite data from the mid-1990s, but they did not know whether human activity was a chief cause. They then set out to track the total amount of Earth’s land area covered by vegetation and how it changed over time.
- The research team found that global green leaf area has increased by 5 percent since the early 2000s, an area equivalent to all of the Amazon rainforests. At least 25 percent of that gain came in China. Overall, one-third of Earth’s vegetated lands are greening, while 5 percent are growing browner. The study was published on February 11, 2019, in the journal Nature Sustainability. 32)
- “China and India account for one-third of the greening, but contain only 9 percent of the planet’s land area covered in vegetation,” said lead author Chi Chen of Boston University. “That is a surprising finding, considering the general notion of land degradation in populous countries from overexploitation.”
- This study was made possible thanks to a two-decade-long data record from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. An advantage of MODIS is the intensive coverage they provide in space and time: the sensors have captured up to four shots of nearly every place on Earth, every day, for the past 20 years.
- “This long-term data lets us dig deeper,” said Rama Nemani, a research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center and a co-author of the study. “When the greening of the Earth was first observed, we thought it was due to a warmer, wetter climate and fertilization from the added carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Now with the MODIS data, we see that humans are also contributing.”
- China’s outsized contribution to the global greening trend comes in large part from its programs to conserve and expand forests (about 42 percent of the greening contribution). These programs were developed in an effort to reduce the effects of soil erosion, air pollution, and climate change.
- Another 32 percent of the greening change in China, and 82 percent in India, comes from intensive cultivation of food crops. The land area used to grow crops in China and India has not changed much since the early 2000s. Yet both countries have greatly increased both their annual total green leaf area and their food production in order to feed their large populations. The agricultural greening was achieved through multiple cropping practices, whereby a field is replanted to produce another harvest several times a year. Production of grains, vegetables, fruits and more have increased by 35 to 40 percent since 2000.
- How the greening trend may change in the future depends on numerous factors. For example, increased food production in India is facilitated by groundwater irrigation. If the groundwater is depleted, this trend may change. The researchers also pointed out that the gain in greenness around the world does not necessarily offset the loss of natural vegetation in tropical regions such as Brazil and Indonesia. There are consequences for sustainability and biodiversity in those ecosystems beyond the simple greenness of the landscape.
- Nemani sees a positive message in the new findings. “Once people realize there is a problem, they tend to fix it,” he said. “In the 1970s and 80s in India and China, the situation around vegetation loss was not good. In the 1990s, people realized it, and today things have improved. Humans are incredibly resilient. That’s what we see in the satellite data.”
• February 6, 2019: For the ranchers and soybean farmers of northwestern Argentina, January 2019 was a remarkably wet month. 33)
- After several weeks of storms that dropped about five times more rain than usual, floods have inundated millions of hectares of farmland, forced thousands of people to evacuate, and even turned some unsuspecting cattle into swimmers. Some areas received a year’s worth of rain in the first two weeks of January, according to the Buenos Aires Times.
- The flooding has caused more than $2 billion in agricultural damage, according to one estimate. That makes it Argentina’s second-most-expensive flood on record.
• February 1, 2019: While much of North America is enduring exceptionally cold winter temperatures, Australia is coping with all-time record summer heat. 34)
- An unusual, prolonged period of heatwaves has been sweeping over Australia for most of the summer, including the country's hottest December on record. The intense heat has caused numerous deaths, power outages, and severe fires. The heatwaves started in late November when Queensland saw record-breaking temperatures on the north tropical and central coasts.
- Note that the map depicts LSTs (Land Surface Temperatures), not air temperatures. LSTs reflect how hot the surface of the Earth would feel to the touch and can sometimes be significantly hotter or cooler than air temperatures. (To learn more about land surface temperatures and air temperatures, read: Where is the Hottest Place on Earth?).
- The summer of 2018-19 has brought seven of the ten hottest days on record for Australia. The most potent heatwave so far occurred from January 11-18, when nationally averaged mean temperatures exceeded 40°C (104°F) for five days in a row. Nationally, January 15th ranked as the second-warmest day ever in Australia, falling 0.02°C short of the all-time record from January 2013. Adelaide recorded the hottest temperature for any Australian state capital in 80 years, reaching 46.4°C (116°F) on January 25.
- A few factors have contributed to the severe summer, starting with a dearth of strong weather fronts that would typically cool the country. In summer, sunlight heats the Australian landmass more quickly than the surrounding ocean. This difference in heating usually draws in moist air over northern Australia, which gradually brings about westerly winds that bring in cooler and rainy conditions with the monsoon.
- But this summer the rains didn't develop. Weather patterns in northern Australia were largely static, providing no significant weather systems to clear out the persistent hot air mass. The city of Darwin usually experiences the beginning of the monsoon in late December, but as of January 22, rainy patterns still had not set in. Western Australia also experienced sparse thunderstorms and no monsoonal activity in December. Northwesterly winds and various weather systems dragged hot air east and south across the Northern Territory, South Australia, western Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria.
- The increased temperatures are a continuation of a longer warming trend for Australia. Twenty of the warmest years on record have occurred in the past 22 years; the last four have been the hottest on record. Throughout 2018, maximum temperatures for each month were above the country’s average.
• January 30, 2019: Desperately cold weather is now gripping the Midwest and Northern Plains of the United States, as well as interior Canada. The culprit is a familiar one: the polar vortex. 35)
- A large area of low pressure and extremely cold air usually swirls over the Arctic, with strong counter-clockwise winds that trap the cold around the Pole. But disturbances in the jet stream and the intrusion of warmer mid-latitude air masses can disturb this polar vortex and make it unstable, sending Arctic air south into middle latitudes.
- That has been the case in late January 2019. Forecasters are predicting that air temperatures in parts of the continental United States will drop to their lowest levels since at least 1994, with the potential to break all-time record lows for January 30 and 31. With clear skies, steady winds, and snow cover on the ground, at least 90 million Americans could experience temperatures at or below zero degrees Fahrenheit (-18° Celsius), according to the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS).
- Figure 56 is not a traditional forecast, but a reanalysis of model input fixed in time—a representation of atmospheric conditions near dawn on January 29, 2019. Measurements of temperature, moisture, wind speeds and directions, and other conditions are compiled from NASA satellites and other sources, and then added to the model to closely simulate observed reality. Note how some portions of the Arctic are close to the freezing point—significantly warmer than usual for the dark of mid-winter—while masses of cooler air plunge toward the interior of North America.
- NWS meteorologists predicted that steady northwest winds (10 to 20 miles per hour) were likely to add to the misery, causing dangerous wind chills below -40°F (-40°C) in portions of 12 states. A wind chill of -20°F can cause frostbite in as little as 30 minutes, according to the weather service.
- Meteorologists at The Washington Post pointed out that temperatures on 31 January 2019, in the Midwestern U.S. will be likely colder than those on the North Slope of Alaska.
Sensor complement: (ASTER, CERES (2 units), MISR, MODIS, MOPITT)
MODIS, MISR, ASTER
Land cover and land use change
MODIS, MISR, ASTER
Land ice change
ASTER (Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer):
ASTER is a Japanese instrument sponsored by METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) and a cooperative project with NASA. The ASTER team leaders are Hiroji Tsu of ERSDAC (Japan) and Anne B. Kahle of JPL. ASTER management is provided by JAROS (Japan Resources Observation System Organization). ASTER was built by NEC, MELCO, Fujitsu, and Hitachi. A Joint US/Japan Science Team is responsible for instrument design, calibration, and validation. Previous instrument name: ITIR (Intermediate Thermal Infrared Radiometer).
Objective: Provision of high-resolution and multispectral imagery of the Earth's surface and clouds for a better understanding of the physical processes that affect climate change. Applications: studies of the surface energy balance (surface brightness temperature), plant evaporation, vegetation and soil characteristics, hydrologic cycle, volcanic processes, etc. 37) 38) 39) 40) 41) 42)
The ASTER instrument consists of three separate instrument subsystems; each subsystem operates in a different spectral region, has its own telescope(s), and is built by a different Japanese company. The subsystems are in the VNIR (Visible Near Infrared), SWIR (Shortwave Infrared) and TIR (Thermal Infrared) spectral regions. The VNIR and SWIR subsystems employ pushbroom imaging while the TIR subsystem performes whiskbroom imaging. ASTER is pointable in the cross-track direction such that any point on the globe may be observed at least once within 16 days in all 14 bands and once every 5 days in the VNIR bands. The absolute temperature accuracy is 3K in the 200-240 K range, 2K in the 240-270 K range, and 2 k in the 340-370 K range for TIR bands.
Total instrument mass=421 kg; power=463 W average, 646 W peak; data rate = 8.3 Mbit/s average and 89.2 Mbit/s peak; thermal control by 80 K Stirling cycle coolers, heaters, cold plate/capillary pumped loop, and radiators; pointing accuracy: for control = 1 km on ground (all axes), knowledge= 342 m on ground (per axis), stability=2 pixels for 60 seconds. shown in this figure.
Spectral bands in µm
0.52 - 0.60
1.600 - 1.700
8.125 - 8.475
0.63 - 0.69
2.145 - 2.185
8.475 - 8.825
0.76 - 0.86
2.185 - 2.225
8.925 - 9.275
0.76 - 0.86
2.235 - 2.285
10.25 - 10.95
2.295 - 2.365
10.95 - 11.65
2.360 - 2.430
±24º (±318 km)
±8.55º (116 km)
±8.55º (116 km)
Si (CCD of 5000 elements,
PtSi-Si Schottky barrier linear array, cooled to 80 K (Stirling cooler)
The cooling capacity of the SWIR cryocooler is a nominal value of 1.2 W at 70 K; the measured power consumption is 43.5 W, which satisfies the requirement that it be less than 55 W. The cooling capacity of the TIR cryocooler is a nominal value of 1.2 W at 70 K; the measured power consumption is 50 W, which satisfies the requirement that it be less than 55 W. 43)
The VNIR subsystem, built by NEC Corporation, is a reflecting-refracting improved Schmidt design. VNIR features two telescopes, one nadir-looking with a three-spectral-band detector, and the other backward-looking with a single-band detector. The backward-looking telescope provides a second view of the target area in band 3B for stereo observations. Cross-track pointing is accomplished by rotating the entire telescope assembly. Band separation is through a combination of dichroic elements and interference filters that allow all three bands to view the same ground area simultaneously. Calibration of the nadir-pointing detectors is performed with two halogen lamps.
TM on Landsat 4/5
Spectral Range (µm)
Spectral Range (µm)
0.45 - 0.52
0.52 - 0.60
0.52 - 0.60
1.60 - 1.70
2.145 - 2.185
1.55 - 1.75
2.08 - 2.35
8.125 - 8.475
10.4 - 12.5
The SWIR subsystem, built by MELCO (Mitsubishi Electric Company), uses a nadir-pointing aspheric refracting telescope. Cross-track pointing is accomplished by a pointing mirror. The size of the detector/filter combination requires a wide spacing of the detectors, causing in turn a parallax error of about 0.5 pixels per 900 m of elevation. This error is correctable if elevation data (DEM) are available. Two halogen lamps are used for calibration. The maximum data rate is 23 Mbit/s. 44)
The TIR subsystem employs a Newtonian catadioptric system with aspheric primary mirror and lenses for aberration correction. The telescope of the TIR subsystem is fixed to the platform, pointing and scanning is done with a single mirror. The line of sight can be pointed anywhere in the range ± 8.54º in the cross-track direction of nadir, allowing coverage of any point on Earth over the platform's 16 day repeat cycle. Each channel uses 10 mercury cadmium telluride (HgCdTe) detectors in a staggered array with optical bandpass filters over each detector element to define the spectral response. Each detector has its own pre- and post-amplifier for a total of 50. The detectors are being operated at 80 K using a mechanical split-cycle Stirling cooler. - In scanning mode, the mirror oscillates at about 7 Hz with data collection occurring over half the cycle. The scanning mirror is capable of rotating 180º from the nadir position to view an internal full-aperture reference surface, which can be heated to 340 K. 45)
Overview of some ASTER instrument characteristics:
• The Visible Near InfraRed (VNIR) telescope subsystem features a backward viewing band (next to a nadir viewing band) for high-resolution along-track stereoscopic observation (two-line VNIR imager)
• Provision of multispectral thermal infrared data of high spatial resolution (8 to 12 µm window region, globally)
• ASTER provides the highest spatial resolution surface spectral reflectance, temperature, and emissivity data within the Terra instrument suite
• The instrument provides the capability to schedule on-demand data acquisition requests
• The VNIR and SWIR subsystems employ pushbroom imaging while the TIR subsystem performes whiskbroom imaging
• ASTER provides band-to-band registration of the 14 spectral bands, not only within each subsystem, but also among the three subsystems. Accuracies of 0.2 pixels within each subsystem and 0.3 pixels among different subsystems are achieved.
CERES (Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System):
The CERES instrument of NASA/LaRC was built by Northrop Grumman (formerly TRW Space and Technology Group) of Redondo Beach, CA (PI: Bruce Wielicki). Objective: Long-term measurement of the Earth's radiation budget and atmospheric radiation from the top of the atmosphere to the surface; provision of an accurate and self-consistent cloud and radiation database (input to WCRP international programs like TOGA, WOCE, and GEWEX). Retrieval of cloud parameters in terms of measured areal coverage, altitude, liquid water content, and shortwave and longwave optical depths. Specific science objectives are: 46) 47) 48) 49)
• For climate change analysis, provide a continuation of the ERBE record of radiative fluxes at the top of the atmosphere (TOA), analyzed using the same algorithms that produced the ERBE data.
• Double the accuracy of estimates of radiative fluxes at TOA and the Earth's surface.
• Provide the first long-term global estimates of the radiative fluxes within the Earth's atmosphere.
• Provide cloud property estimates that are consistent with the radiative fluxes from surface to TOA.
The CERES instrument assembly (of ERBE heritage) consists of a pair of broadband scanning radiometers (two identical instruments), referred to as FM-1 (Flight Module-1) and FM-2; one instrument operates in the cross-track mode for complete spatial coverage from limb to limb; the other one operates in a rotating scan plane (biaxial scanning) mode to provide angular sampling. The cross-track radiometer measurements are a continuation of the ERBS mission. The biaxially scanning radiometer provides angular flux information to improve model accuracy. A single cross-track CERES instrument is flown on TRMM (Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission), while the dual-scanner instrument is flown on Terra (EOS/AM-1) and Aqua (EOS/PM-1).
The CERES instrument consists of three major subassemblies: 1) Cassegrain telescope, 2) baffle for stray light, and 3) detector assembly, consisting of an active and compensating element. Radiation enters the unit through the baffle, passes through the telescope and is imaged onto the IR detector. Uncooled infrared detection is employed.
Instrument parameters (2 identical scanners): total mass of 100 kg , power = 103 W (average, 2 instruments), data rate = 20 kbit/s, duty cycle = 100%, thermal control by heaters and radiators, pointing knowledge = 180 arcsec. The design life is six years. CERES measures longwave (LW) and shortwave (SW) infrared radiation using thermistor bolometers to determine the Earth's radiation budget. There are three spectral channels in each radiometer:
- VNIR+SWIR: 0.3 - 5.0 µm (also referred to as SW channel); measurement of reflected sunlight to an accuracy of 1%.
- Atmospheric window: 8.0 - 12.0 µm (also referred to as LW channel); measurement of Earth-emitted radiation, this includes coverage of water vapor
-Total channel radiance in the spectral range of 0.35 - 125 µm;. reflected or emitted infrared radiation of the Earth-atmosphere system, measurement accuracy of 0.3%.
Limb-to-limb scanning with a nadir IFOV (Instantaneous Field of View) of 14 mrad, FOV = ±78º cross-track, 360º azimuth. Spatial resolution = 10-20 km at nadir. Each channel consists of a precision thermistor-bolometer detector located in a Cassegrain telescope.
Instrument calibration: CERES is a very precisely calibrated radiometer. The instrument is measuring emitted and reflected radiative energy from the surface of the Earth and the atmosphere. A variety of independent methods used to verify calibration: 50)
• Internal calibration sources (blackbody, lamps)
• MAM (Mirror Attenuator Mosaic) solar diffuser plate. MAM is used to define in-orbit shifts or drifts in the sensor responses. The shortwave and total sensors are calibrated using the solar radiances reflected from the MAM's. Each MAM consists of baffle-solar diffuser plate systems, which guide incoming solar radiances into the instrument FOV of the shortwave and total sensor units.
• 3-channel deep convective cloud test
- Use night-time 8-12 µm window to predict longwave radiation (LW): cloud < 205K
- Total - SW = LW vs Window predicted LW in daytime for same clouds <205K temperatures
• 3-channel day/night tropical ocean test
• Instrument calibration:
- Rotate scan plane to align scanning instruments TRMM, Terra during orbital crossings (Haeffelin: reached 0.1% LW, window, 0.5% SW 95% configuration in 6 weeks of orbital crossings of Terra and TRMM)
- FM-1 and FM-2 instruments on Terra at nadir
Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE)
Northrop Grumman (formerly TRW)
NASA center responsible
LaRC (Langley Research Center)
Three channels in each radiometer
Total radiance (0.3 to 100 µm); Shortwave (0.3 to 5 µm); Window (8 to 12 µm)
Limb to limb
20 km at nadir
Instrument mass, duty cycle
50 kg/scanner, 100%
47 W (average) per scanner, 104 W (peak: biaxial mode) both scanners
Use of heaters and radiators
Thermal operating range
FOV (Field of View)
±78º cross-track, 360º azimuth
Instrument pointing requirements (3σ)
60 cm x 60 cm x 57.6 cm/unit
The international CERES Science Team includes scientists from NASA, NOAA, US universities, France (CNRS), and Belgium (RMIB).
Data: A key element in the success of CERES, beyond the development of an instrument, is the development of data analysis and interpretation techniques for producing radiation and cloud products that meet the scientific objectives of the project.
MISR (Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer):
The MISR instrument was designed and developed by NASA/JPL (PI: D. J. Diner). Objective: provision of multiple-angle continuous sunlight coverage of the Earth with high spatial resolution (multidirectional observations of each scene within a time scale of minutes). MISR uses nine CCD pushbroom cameras to observe the Earth at nine discrete viewing angles: one at nadir, plus eight other symmetrical views at 26.1º, 45.6º, 60.0º, and 70.5º forward and aft of nadir. Images at each angle are obtained in four spectral bands centered at 0.446, 0.558, 0.672, and 0.866 µm. Each of the 36 instrument data channels (i.e. four spectral bands for each of the nine cameras) is individually commandable to provide ground sampling of 275 m, 550 m, or 1100 m. The swath is 360 km; multi-angle coverage (repeat cycle) of the entire Earth in nine days at the equator, and in two days at higher latitudes. By design, MISR is an along-track nine-line camera system, offering multidirectional observations of each ground (or target) scene. 51) 52) 53) 54)
Swath offset angle
Effective focal length
Application: MISR provides global maps of planetary and surface albedo (brightness temperature), and aerosols and vegetation properties. Monitoring of global and regional trends in radiatively important optical properties (eg., opacity, single scattering albedo, and scattering phase function) of natural and anthropogenic aerosols.
MISR images are acquired in two observing modes: global and local. The global mode provides continuous planet-wide observations, with most channels operating at moderate resolution; some selected channels operate at the highest resolution for cloud screening and classification, image navigation, and stereo-photogrammetry. The local mode provides data at the highest resolution in all spectral bands and all cameras for selected 300 km x 300 km regions. In addition to data products providing radiometrically calibrated and geo-rectified images, global mode data will be used to generate two standard (level 2) science products: TOA (Top-of-Atmosphere)/Cloud Product and the Aerosol/Surface Product.
MISR on-orbit radiometric calibration is performed bi-monthly, using deployable white spectralon panels to reflect diffuse sunlight into the cameras, and a set of photodiodes to measure the reflected radiance. Additionally, vicarious calibrations using field and AirMISR data are done on six-month intervals. Geometric calibration of the cameras is done using ground control points.
Global coverage time
Every 9 days, with repeat coverage between 2-9 days depending on latitude
Cross-track swath width
360 km common overlap of all 9 cameras, FOV = ±60º along-track and ±15º cross-track.
Nine CCD cameras
Named An, Af, Aa, Bf, Ba, Cf, Ca, Df, and Da where fore, nadir, and aft viewing cameras have names ending with letters f, n, a respectively and four camera designs are named A, B, C, D with increasing viewing angle respectively
View angles at Earth surface
0º, 26.1º, 45.6º, 60.0º, and 70.5º
Four bands centered at 0.446, 0.558, 0.672, and 0.866 µm (blue, green, red, and NIR)
275 m, 550 m, or 1.1 km, selectable in-flight
CCDs, each camera with 4 independent line arrays (one per filter),1504 active pixels per line
3% at maximum signal
-5 ±0.1º C (cooled by thermo-electric cooler) of focal plane
Instrument mass, power
148 kg, 131 W peak and 83 W average
0.9 m x 0.9 m x 1.3 m
3.3 Mbit/s average, 9.0 Mbit/s peak
MODIS (Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer):
MODIS is a NASA/GSFC instrument; prime contractor is Raytheon SBRS, Goleta, CA, formerly Hughes SBRS (Science team leader: V. Salomonson); MODIS algorithm development by an international team of scientists from USA, UK, Australia, and France; there are four discipline groups: Atmosphere, Land, Oceans, and Calibration. 55) 56) 57) 58)
The instrument is flown on the Terra and Aqua satellites (prime instrument). Objective: to measure biological and physical processes on a global basis on time scales of 1 to 2 days. Specific science goals are:
• To determine surface temperature at 1 km resolution, day and night, with an absolute accuracy of 0.2 K for ocean and 1 K for land
• To obtain ocean color (ocean-leaving spectral radiance) from 415 to 653 nm
• To determine chlorophyll fluorescence within 50% at surface water concentrations of 0.5 mg per cubic meter of chlorophyll a
• To obtain chlorophyll a concentrations within 35%
• To obtain information on vegetation and land surface properties, land cover type, vegetation indices, and snow cover and snow reflectance
• To obtain cloud cover with 500 m resolution by day and 1000 m resolution at night
• To obtain cloud properties and aerosol properties
• To determine information on biomass burning
• To obtain global distribution of atmospheric stability and total precipitable water.
Opto-mechanical design (whiskbroom scanner)
10.6 Mbit/s (peak daytime), 6.1 Mbit/s (orbital average)
17.8 cm diameter off-axis, afocal (collimated) with intermediate field stop
250 m (bands 1-2)
1.0 m x 1.6 m x 1.0 m
Swath width, FOV
2330 km, 110º (1354 pixels in cross-track)
10 km (10 pixels in parallel along track)
MODIS is an optomechanical imaging spectroradiometer (whiskbroom type), consisting of a cross-track scan mirror (continuously rotating double-sided scan mirror assembly) and collecting optics, and a set of linear detector arrays with spectral interference filters located in four focal planes. To accommodate frequent infrared calibration (every 1.47 s), a 360º rotating paddle-mirror is centered within a scan cavity to provide the optical subsystem with sequential views of the five calibrators and the Earth.
The optical arrangement provides imagery in 36 discrete bands between 0.4 and 14.5 µm (21 bands within 0.4-3.0 µm range, 15 bands within 3-14.5 µm range). The spectral bands provide a spatial resolution of 250 m, 500 m, and at 1 km at nadir. MODIS heritage: AVHRR (POES), HIRS (POES), TM (Landsat), CZCS (Nimbus-7). In fact, the MODIS instrument is considered to be a next-generation AVHRR instrument, having 36 bands (AVHRR/3 has 6) and a spatial resolution of 250 m (AVHRR has 1 km).
A high-performance passive radiative cooler provides cooling to 83 K for the infrared bands on two HgCdTe FPAs (Focal Plane Assemblies). A new photodiode-silicon readout technology for the VNIR range provides unsurpassed quantum efficiency and low-noise readout with a very good dynamic range.
MODIS polarization sensitivity < 2% for the visible range out to 2.2 µm; the performance goal for SNR (Signal-to-Noise Ratio) and NEΔT (Noise-Equivalent Temperature Difference) values is 30-40% better than the required values in Table 8.; absolute irradiance accuracy of 5% for <3 µm and 1% for >3 µm; absolute temperature accuracy of 0.2 K for oceans and 1 K for land; daylight reflection and day/night emission spectral imaging; swath width of 2330 km at 110º FOV; scan rate = 20.3 rpm across track; instrument mass = 250 kg; duty cycle = 100%; power = 225 W (average); data rate = 6.2 Mbit/s (average), 10.6 Mbit/s (peak daytime), 3.2 Mbit/s (night); quantization = 12 bit. Instrument IFOV (spatial resolution) = 250 m (bands 1-2), =500 m (bands 3-7), = 1000 m (bands 8-36).
The observations are made at three spatial resolutions (nadir): 0.25 km for bands 1-2 with 40 detectors per band, 0.5 km for bands 3-7 with 20 detectors per band, and 1 km for bands 8-36 with 10 detectors per band. All the detectors, aligned in the along-track direction, are distributed on four focal plane assemblies (FPAs) according to their wavelengths: visible (VIS), near infrared (NIR), short- and mid-wave infrared (SMIR), and long-wave infrared (LWIR).
0.620 - 0.670
0.459 - 0.479
0.405 - 0.420
0.890 - 0.920
3.660 - 3.840
4.433 - 4.598
1.360 - 1.390
6.535 - 6.895
9.580 - 9.880
10.780 - 11.280
13.185 - 13.485
MODIS onboard calibration employs various techniques for comprehensive verification of spectral, radiometric and spatial measurements. They include: 59) 60) 61) 62)
• Spectroradiometric Calibration Assembly (SRCA)
- Spectral calibration of reflective channel channel bandpasses
- Verification of spectral band registration
- DC restoration on every scan using a direct view of space
- Lunar calibration via the space-view port as well as periodic rotations of the S/C to enable full scans across the moon through the active scan aperture
• Blackbody (BB) calibration of thermal bands on every scan (a v-groove blackbody)
• Solar Diffuser (SD) reference
• Solar Diffuser Stability Monitor (SDSM)
The spectral mode of the SRCA device consists of a light source, a grating monochromator, and a beam collimator. The light source is a SIS (Spectral Integration Sphere) with lamps distributed inside. By combining the use of the spectral filters mounted on the filter wheel assembly and the grating monochromator, the SRCA is capable of performing spectral characterizations of the RSB (Reflective Solar Bands) ranging from 0.41 to 2.2 µm. Its spectral calibration is referenced to the ground equipment (SpMA) with high accuracy.
The SD/SDSM system is used for the RSB calibration and BB for the TEB (Thermal Emissive Bands) calibration. The SRCA is primarily used for the sensor's spectral (RSB only) and spatial (TEB and RSB) characterization. The RSB calibration is reflectance based using a sensor’s view of diffusely reflected sunlight from a solar diffuser (SD) plate with a known bi-directional reflectance and distribution function (BRDF). Because of the solar exposure onto the SD plate, its reflectance properties slowly degrade on-orbit.
The Blackbody is located in front of and slightly above the Scan Mirror, which views the BB with every revolution. The BB assembly provides a full-aperture radiometric calibration source of the MWIR and LWIR bands to within 1 percent absolute accuracy. It provides known radiance levels and is also used in the DC restore operation (a space-view signal level provides the second level for all bands in the two-point calibration). In normal operation the BB is kept at the instrument’s ambient temperature (nominally 273 K), though it is possible to heat and control the BB to 315K. Twelve sensors below the assembly's surface monitor its temperature. Each sensor is calibrated to National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) traceable standards, and can determine the temperature of the assembly to within ± 0.1 K.
To maintain the calibration and data quality, a solar diffuser stability monitor (SDSM) is used in tandem with the SD to track its degradation or BRDF changes. The SDSM system has a small integration sphere (SIS) with a single input aperture and nine filtered detectors. Each filter has a narrow spectral bandpass so that the change in reflectance is effectively monitored at nine discrete wavelengths between 0.4 µm and 1.0 µm. A three-position fold mirror enables the detectors to view sequentially a dark scene, direct sunlight, and illumination from the SD (Solar Diffuser). The direct sunlight is attenuated via a two-percent transmitting screen to keep the radiance within the dynamic range of the SDSM’s detector/amplifier combination.
MODIS product overview: MODIS provides global coverage every 1 to 2 days. It provides specific global survey data, which includes the following (some standard data products):
• Cloud mask: at 250 m and 1 km resolution by day and at night
• Aerosol concentration and optical properties: at 5 km resolution over oceans and 10 km over land during the day
• Cloud properties: characterized by optical thickness, effective particle radius, cloud droplet phase, cloud-top altitude, cloud-top temperature
• Vegetation and land-surface cover, conditions, and productivity, defined as:
- Vegetation indices corrected for atmospheric effects, soil, polarization, and directional effects
- Surface reflectance
- Land-cover type with identification and detection of change
- Net primary productivity, leaf-area index, and intercepted photosynthetically active radiation
• Snow and sea-ice cover and reflectance
• Surface temperature with 1 km resolution, day and night, with absolute accuracy goals of 0.3-0.5ºC for oceans and 1ºC for land surfaces.
• Ocean color: defined as ocean-leaving spectral radiance within 5% from 415-653 nm, based on adequate atmospheric correction from NIR sensor channels
• Concentration of chlorophyll-a within 35% from 0.05 to 50 mg/m3 for case 1 waters
• Chlorophyll fluorescence within 50% at surface water concentrations of 0.5 mg/m3 of chlorophyll-a.
MOPITT (Measurement of Pollution in the Troposphere):
MOPITT is a Canadian sensor supported by CSA, built by COM DEV, Cambridge, Ontario (PI: J. R. Drummond, University of Toronto). The MOPITT instrument design is of MAPS (Measurements of Air Pollution from Space) heritage, flown on STS-2 (November 12.-14, 1981), then on STS-13 (October 5 -13, 1984), and then twice in 1994 (STS-59, STS-68). MOPITT is the first satellite sensor to use gas correlation spectroscopy (A technique to increase the sensitivity of the instrument to the gas of interest by separating out the regions of the spectrum where the gas has absorption lines and integrating the signal from just those regions. The specific wavelengths are located using a sample of the gas as a reference for the spectrum). By using correlation cells of differing pressures, some height resolution can be obtained. Thus MOPITT has multiple channels to provide height resolution, it also carries multiple channels to afford some redundancy. Definitions of acronyms in Table 9: LMC (Length Modulator Cell), PMC (Pressure Modulator Cell). 63) 64) 65) 66) 67) 68) 69) 70)
The CO profile measurements are made using upwelling thermal radiance in the 4.6 µm fundamental band. The troposphere is resolved into about four layers with approximately 3 km vertical resolution, 22 km horizontal resolution and 10% accuracy. Pressure Modulated Cells (PMCs) are used to view the upper layers whilst Length Modulated Cells (LMCs) are used for the lower troposphere measurements. By varying the cell pressures the modulators can be biased to view the different layers.
The MOPITT instrument contains four optical chains initiated by four scan mechanisms, which are split into eight independent channels. Each channel uses a technique known as correlation spectroscopy to perform the science measurements. This uses a sample of gas in the optical path. By performing synchronous demodulation of the detected infrared signal, the system functions as a complex filter, providing very good spectral resolution and good sensitivity by incorporating several molecular lines simultaneously.
Cell Pressure (kPa)
Center Wavelength (cm-1)
Spectral band constituent
The instrument measures emitted and reflected infrared radiance in the atmospheric column. Analysis of these data permit retrieval of tropospheric CO profiles and total column CH4. Objective: study of how these gases interact with the surface, ocean, and biomass systems (distribution, transport, sources and sinks). Measurements are performed on the principle of correlation spectroscopy utilizing both pressure-modulated and length-modulated gas cells, with detectors at 2.3, 2.4, and 4.7 µm. Vertical profile of CO (carbon monoxide) and total column of CH4 (methane) are to be measured; CO concentration in 4 km layers with an accuracy of 10%; CH4 column abundance accuracy is 1%.
Swath width = 616 km, spatial resolution = 22 x 22 km; instrument mass = 182 kg; power = 243 W; duty cycle = 100%; data rate = 25 kbit/s; thermal control by an 80 K Stirling cycle cooler, capillary-pumped cold plate and passive radiation; thermal operating range = 25º C (instrument) and 100 K (detectors).
MOPITT is designed as a scanning instrument. IFOV = 1.8º x 1.8º (22 km x 22 km at nadir). The instrument scan line consists of 29 pixels, each at 1.8º increments. The maximum scan angle is 26.1º off-axis which is equivalent to a swath width of 640 km. - MOPITT data products include gridded retrievals of CH4 with a horizontal resolution of 22 km and a precision of 1%. Gridded CO soundings are retrieved with 10% accuracy in three vertical layers between 0 and 15 km. Three-dimensional maps to model global tropospheric chemistry.
The instrument is self-calibrating in orbit and performs a zero measurement every 120 seconds and a reference measurement every 660 seconds. The instrument operation is practically autonomous, requiring very little commanding to keep it within the mission profile at all times. 71)
MOPITT operations: MOPITT has suffered two anomalies since launch. On May 7, 2001 one of the two Stirling cycle coolers, which are used to keep the detectors at about 80 K, failed. The cooler fault compromised half of the instrument. After the fault, only channels 5, 6, 7, and 8 are delivering useful data. On Aug. 4, 2001 chopper 3 failed. Fortunately, it stopped in the completely open state, which permits to continue to use the data by adjusting the data processing algorithm accordingly.
EOS (Earth Observing System)
EOS is the centerpiece of NASA's Earth Science Enterprise (ESE). It consists of a science component and a data system supporting a coordinated series of polar-orbiting and low inclination satellites for long-term global observations of the land surface, biosphere, solid Earth, atmosphere, and oceans. 72) 73) 74) 75)
Background: The EOS program is a NASA initiative of the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). Planning for EOS began in the early 1980s, and an AO (Announcement of Opportunity) for the selection of instruments and science teams was issued in 1988. Early in 1990 NASA announced the selection of 30 instruments to be developed for EOS. Major budget constraints imposed by the US Congress forced the EOS program into a restructuring process in the time frame of 1991-92. In addition a rescoping of the EOS program occurred in 1992 leading to just half of the 1990 budget allocation (the HIRIS sensor was eliminated). The instruments adopted as part of the restructured/rescoped EOS program were chosen to address the key scientific issues associated with global climate change. This action reduced the required instruments to 17 that needed to fly by the year 2002 (six were deferred and seven instruments were deselected from the original 30). Furthermore, a shift occurred in the conceptual design of the EOS satellite platforms from “large observatories” to intermediate and smaller spacecraft that may be launched by smaller and existing launch vehicles. The EOS program experienced a further rebaselining process in 1994, due to a budget reduction of about 9%. This resulted in the cancellation of the combined EOS Radar and Laser Altimeter Mission (but rephasing the latter as two separate missions), deferring the development of some sensors and spreading the launch of missions by increasing the basic re-flight periods of missions from 5 to 6 years, and flying some EOS instruments on missions of partner space agencies (NASDA, RKA, CNES, ESA) in a framework of international cooperation. The EOS program includes instruments provided by international partners (ASTER, MOPITT, HSB, OMI) as well as an instrument developed by a joint US/UK partnership (HIRDLS).
The overall goal of the EOS program is to determine the extent, causes, and regional consequences of global climate change. The following science and policy priorities are defined for EOS observations (established by the EOS investigators working group and in coordination with the national and international Earth science community):
• Water and Energy Cycles: Cloud formation, dissipation, and radiative properties which influence the response of the atmosphere to greenhouse forcing, large-scale hydrology, evaporation
• Oceans: Exchange of energy, water, and chemicals between the ocean and atmosphere, and between the upper layers of the ocean and the deep ocean (including sea ice and formation of bottom water)
• Chemistry of the Troposphere and Lower Stratosphere: Links to the hydrologic cycle and ecosystems, transformations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and interactions including climate change
• Land-Surface Hydrology and Ecosystem Processes: Improved estimates of runoff over the land surface and into the oceans. Sources and sinks of greenhouse gases. Exchange of moisture and energy between the land surface and the atmosphere. Changes in land cover
• Glaciers and Polar Ice Sheets: Predictions of sea level and global water balance
• Chemistry of the Middle and Upper Stratosphere: Chemical reactions, solar-atmosphere relations, and sources and sinks of radiatively important gases
• Solid Earth: Volcanoes and their role in climate change.
The original EOS mission elements (AM S/C series, PM S/C series, Chemistry S/C series) was redefined again in 1999. The EOS program space segment elements are now: Landsat-7, QuikSCAT, Terra, ACRIMSat, Aqua, Aura and ICESat.
Terra (EOS/AM-1) S/C
Aqua (EOS/PM-1 S/C)
Downlink center frequency
I/Q power ratio (nominal)
Operational duty cycle
Antenna coverage from nadir
Data protocol standard
Instrument data provided
MODIS, AIRS, AMSU-A, CERES, HSB, AMSR-E
EOS policy includes providing Direct Broadcast (DB) service to the user community; this applies to real-time MODIS data from the Terra spacecraft, as well as to the entire real-time data stream of the Aqua satellite. These data may be received by anyone with the appropriate receiving station, without charge. The broadcast data are transmitted in X-band. A 3 m antenna dish (minimum) should be sufficient for X-band data reception.
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3) ”Erebus Casts a Mighty Shadow,” NASA, Earth Observatory, Image of the Day for 10 December 2019, URL: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/145965/erebus-casts-a-mighty-shadow
4) ”A Burial Site Fit for an Emperor,” NASA Earth Observatory, Image of the Day for 30 November 2019, URL: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/145935/a-burial-site-fit-for-an-emperor
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8) ”Warmer, Drier Climate Could Transform Alaskan Forests,” NASA Earth Observatory, Image of the Day for 17 October 2019 (ASTER instrument on the Terra satellite), URL: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/145732/warmer-drier-climate-could-transform-alaskan-forests
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10) ”Cyclone Hikaa Hits Oman,” NASA Earth Observatory, Image of the Day for 25 September 2019, URL: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/145645/cyclone-hikaa-hits-oman?src=eoa-iotd
11) ”Smoke Blankets Borneo,” NASA Earth Observatory, 18 September 2019, URL: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/145614/smoke-blankets-borneo
12) ”Circling the Serengeti,” NASA Earth Observatory, 9 September 2019, URL: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/145568/circling-the-serengeti
13) ”Canadian Canola Fields,” NASA Earth Observatory,Image of the day for 27 August 2019, URL: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/145517/canadian-canola-fields?src=eoa-iotd
14) ”Scientists Discover the Biggest Seaweed Bloom in the World,” NASA Earth Observatory, 10 July 2019, URL: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/145281/
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16) ”Raikoke erupts,” NASA Earth Observatory, 25 June 2019, URL: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/145226/raikoke-erupts
17) ”Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina,” NASA Earth Observatory, 11 June 2019, URL: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/145156/los-glaciares-national-park-argentina?src=eoa-iotd
18) ”Beauty and a Burden in the Norwegian Sea,” NASA Earth Observatory, 6 June 2019, URL: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/145151/beauty-and-a-burden-in-the-norwegian-sea
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21) ”Spring Fires in Khabarovsk,” NASA Earth Observatory, 6 May 2019, URL: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/144998/spring-fires-in-khabarovsk?src=eoa-iotd
22) ”Atacama Greening,” NASA Earth Observatory, 2 May 2019, URL: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/topic/image-of-the-day
23) ”Reviving the Shriveled Lake Urmia,” NASA Earth Observatory, 22 April 2019, URL: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/144848/reviving-the-shriveled-lake-urmia
24) ”The Wide View of a Shrinking Glacier: Retreat at Pine Island,” NASA Earth Observatory, 9 April 2019, URL: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/pine-island?src=eoa-features
25) ”NASA Instruments Image Fireball over Bering Sea,” NASA/JPL News, 22 March 2019, URL: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2019-046
26) ”Tropical Cyclone Idai Aims at Mozambique,” NASA Earth Observatory, 12 March 2019, URL: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/144667/tropical-cyclone-idai-aims-at-mozambique?src=eoa-iotd
27) ”An Unusually Warm February in the United Kingdom,” NASA Earth Observatory, 4 March 2019, URL: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/144611/an-unusually-warm-february-in-the-united-kingdom
28) Samson Reiny, NASA's Earth Science News Team, Rob Garner, ”2015-2016 El Niño Triggered Disease Outbreaks Across Globe,” NASA Feature, 28 February 2019, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2019/2015-2016-el-nino-triggered-disease-outbreaks-across-globe
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31) ”China and India Lead the Way in Greening,” NASA Earth Observatory, Image of the day for 12 February 2019, URL: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/
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34) ”Blistering Summer in Australia,” NASA Earth Observatory, Image of the day for1 February 2019, URL: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/144498/blistering-summer-in-australia
35) ”Arctic Weather Plunges into North America,” NASA Earth Observatory, Image of the day for 30 January 2019, URL: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/144489/arctic-weather-plunges-into-north-america
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The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (email@example.com).
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