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NASA Earth Observatory

NASA images, stories, and discoveries about climate and the environment.

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NASA Earth Observatory (@nasaearth) Instagram photos and videos

List of Instagram medias taken by NASA Earth Observatory (@nasaearth)

Malaspina Glacier

Glacier on the move! ❄️ . A NASA-led research team has recently developed a tool to help researchers investigate more than 30 years of ice velocity data from glaciers, a key variable for detecting how Earth’s ice (the cryosphere) is changing. . “Glaciers all have their own personalities, so a detailed study of a single glacier often doesn’t apply to a region as a whole,” said Alex Gardner, a glaciologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “To make progress on understanding sea level rise and adapting large-scale water resources, we need to know the fundamental characteristics of glacier flow that apply over entire regions.” . This animation of Malaspina Glacier was composed from a sequence of false-color images acquired between 1986 and 2003 by the Landsat 5 and 7 satellites. The moving ice appears in shades of blue. Brown lines are moraines—areas where soil, rock, and other debris have been scraped up by the glacier and deposited at its sides. This debris often gets trapped as internal ribbons of rock where two glaciers merge and become one at a confluence. . Glaciers in this area of Alaska periodically surge, meaning they lurch forward quickly for one to several years. Surging can happen whether a glacier is advancing or retreating. Throughout the animation Malaspina appears to be retreating, and the increased meltwater and retreating ice is causing the lake (bottom-right) to expand. The zigzag pattern of the debris is caused by changes in velocity of the ice. . Gardner and colleagues from the University of Alaska and University of Colorado have been working on an initiative known as the Inter-mission Time Series of Land Ice Velocity and Elevation, or ITS_LIVE. The core of the project is the comparison of images acquired with Landsat satellites over the past four decades. The researchers developed a highly efficient “feature tracking algorithm” in which high-performance computers track where the information contained within pixels has moved in the time spanned by two images. This is done millions of times between image pairs, resulting in a data set with many millions of estimated ice velocities. . Read more (link in bio): https://go.nasa.gov/2khSk0c

Abaco Islands

A Brown Bahamas . In the first week of September 2019, Hurricane Dorian left a path of destruction from the Caribbean to the Canadian Maritimes. Reaching category 5 strength for nearly two days and sustaining major hurricane status from August 30 to September 3, the storm devastated the northern Bahama Islands, strafed the southeast U.S. coast, and arrived in Nova Scotia as one of the five strongest hurricanes on record for that region. . The image provides a broad view of the devastation in the northern Bahamas, which were lashed for nearly 40 hours by the second strongest Atlantic hurricane in modern meteorological records. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite acquired this natural-color image of Great Abaco Island and Grand Bahama on September 7, 2019. The island landscape changed from green to brown. The reefs and shoals around the island also brightened due to sediments stirred up by the storm. . The widespread browning of Great Abaco and Grand Bahama could have several causes. Many trees were uprooted and destroyed by the storm, and some species of vegetation in the tropics have evolved to lose leaves and small branches in strong winds. The loss of leafy vegetation would give the satellite a view of more bare ground. Another possibility is that salt spray whipped up by the hurricane coated and desiccated some leaves while they were still on the trees. . Compare this image of the Bahamas before Hurricane Dorian swept through (link also in bio): go.nasa.gov/2ker6HY

Dorian Reaches South Carolina 🌀 After devastating the Bahamas and grazing Florida and Georgia, Hurricane Dorian rebounded and raked the coast of South Carolina with strong winds, heavy rains, and a storm surge. Wind, falling trees, and flooding damaged power infrastructure in coastal areas of the southeast U.S. . The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured this nighttime composite image as the storm approached the coast at 3:42 a.m. Eastern Time (07:42 UTC) on September 5, 2019. At the time, Dorian packed maximum sustained winds of 115 miles (185 kilometers) per hour and was moving north at 8 miles per hour. . The VIIRS sensor observed thick cloud bands circulating around Dorian’s large eye, the part of the storm with mostly calm weather and the lowest atmospheric pressure. Hurricane eyes average about 20 miles (32 kilometers); the National Hurricane Center reported Dorian’s eye had a diameter of 50 miles (80 kilometers) around the time this image was acquired. Thinner clouds—part of the storm’s higher-level outflow—extended well inland across Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. . The VIIRS image was captured by the sensor’s day-night band, which detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared and uses filtering techniques to observe signals such as gas flares, city lights, and reflected moonlight. Infrared observations from VIIRS were used to enhance the visibility of clouds. Optical MODIS satellite data was layered into the image to make it easier to distinguish between ocean and land surfaces. . It is not possible to identify the locations of power outages based on the VIIRS night light image alone. However, as of 2 p.m. on September 5, several utility companies and Poweroutages.us were reporting more than 240,000 outages in South Carolina. The hardest hit area was Charleston County, where companies were reporting more than 130,000 outages. . In the coming days, forecasters expect Dorian to move near or over the coast of North Carolina and then toward New England and Nova Scotia. . Read more (link in bio): go.nasa.gov/2jZA4IO

Grand Bahama Island

A Devastating Stall by Hurricane Dorian 🌀 A nightmare scenario unfolded. The second strongest Atlantic hurricane in modern meteorological records stalled over Grand Bahama, the northernmost of the Bahama Islands. Late on September 1 and early on September 2, Dorian was moving at just a few miles per hour and blowing maximum sustained winds as high as 185 miles (295 kilometers) per hour. Dorian was “stationary,” the National Hurricane Center reported. For an extraordinary 40 consecutive hours, the storm hovered over the small island, lashing it with extreme rain, waves, and wind. 💨 When Dorian finally began drifting north, it left a wake of catastrophic damage in the Bahamas. Preliminary assessments indicated that nearly 70 percent of homes were underwater at some point. The Red Cross reported roughly 13,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged. 🏘️ The visualization above, a combination of rainfall accumulation and wind speed data, highlights Dorian's remarkable behavior. Notice how rainfall rates rose sharply as the storm slowed down on September 2-3, 2019. By September 4, satellites estimated that an extraordinary 60 inches (150 centimeters) of rain fell over parts of Grand Bahama. 💧 The chances that a storm will stall seem to be rising for hurricanes in the North Atlantic. Research shows that storms have been moving slower and stalling more over the past seven decades. Of the 66 storms that stalled in the North Atlantic basin between 1944 and 2017, nearly two-thirds did so within the past 25 years. 📈 After swamping the Bahamas, Dorian has moved north and now appears poised to move along the coasts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. While forecasters think the eye of the storm will stay offshore, it will still produce dangerous storm surge, wind, and rainfall in all of these states. 🌎 Read more (link in bio): go.nasa.gov/2krZfnH

Regina, Saskatchewan

The answer to our August puzzler is out! The image was...drum roll, please...Canadian Canola Fields! 🧩 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. 🎍 The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image (third picture) of yellow-tinged fields stretching across the three provinces on July 22, 2019. A day later, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired a more-detailed view of canola (first and second picture) in bloom near Regina, Saskatchewan. 🛰️ 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. 💵 Read more (link in the bio): go.nasa.gov/2ZqhZHn

Uptick in Amazon Fire Activity . With the fire season in the Amazon approaching its midpoint, scientists using NASA satellites to track fire activity have confirmed an increase in the number and intensity of fires in the Brazilian Amazon in 2019, making it the most active fire year in that region since 2010. . Fire activity in the Amazon varies considerably from year-to-year and month-to-month, driven by changes in economic conditions and climate. August 2019 stands out because it has brought a noticeable increase in large, intense, and persistent fires burning along major roads in the central Brazilian Amazon, explained Douglas Morton at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. While drought has played a large role in exacerbating fires in the past, the timing and location of fire detections early in the 2019 dry season are more consistent with land clearing than with regional drought. . At this point in the fire season, MODIS active fire detections in 2019 are higher across the Brazilian Amazon than in any year since 2010. The state of Amazonas is on track for record fire activity in 2019. . The map (first picture) shows active fire detections in Brazil as observed by Terra and Aqua MODIS between August 15-22, 2019. The locations of the fires, shown in orange, have been overlain on nighttime imagery acquired by VIIRS. In these data, cities and towns appear white; forested areas appear black; and tropical savannas and woodland (known in Brazil as Cerrado) appear gray. Note that fire detections in the Brazilian states of Pará and Amazonas are concentrated in bands along the highways BR-163 and BR-230. . The second natural-color image shows fires burning in the vicinity of Novo Progresso in the Brazilian state of Pará on August 19, 2019 by Terra MODIS. The town is located along BR-163, a straight north-south highway that connects farmers in the southern Amazon with an ocean-going port on the Amazon river in Santarém. Pasture and croplands are clustered around the highway in ordered, rectangular plots. To the west of the highway, winding roads connect a series of small-scale mines that extend deep into the rainforest. . Read more (link in bio): go.nasa.gov/2Zn50Xc

The August puzzler is out! What is this? 🧩 Every month on Earth Matters, we offer a puzzling satellite image. Your challenge is to use the comments section to tell us what we are looking at, where it is, and why it is interesting. ⁉️ How to answer. You can use a few words or several paragraphs. You might simply tell us the location. Or you can dig deeper and explain what satellite and instrument produced the image, what spectral bands were used to create it, or what is compelling about some obscure feature in the image. If you think something is interesting or noteworthy, tell us about it. 🤔 We'll release the answer in around 48 hours. Happy guessing! . Full details here (and in bio): go.nasa.gov/33Ra2cO

Lake Erie

Eerie Blooms in Lake Erie In July 2019, a severe bloom of blue-green algae began spreading across the western half of Lake Erie. The dominant organism—a Microcystis cyanobacteria—produces the toxin microcystin, which can cause liver damage, numbness, dizziness, and vomiting. On July 29, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported unsafe toxin concentrations in Lake Erie and have since advised people (and their pets) to stay away from areas where scum is forming on the water surface. 🙅‍♀️ This image shows the bloom on July 30, 2019, as observed by the Operational Land Imager on the Landsat 8 satellite. Green patches show where the bloom was most dense and where toxicity levels were unsafe for recreational activities. Around the time of this image, the bloom covered about 300 square miles of Lake Erie’s surface, according to news reports; by August 13, the algae had spread across 620 square miles. While blooms in Lake Erie are a regular occurrence in the summer, NOAA researchers forecasted that 2019 could bring some of the most abundant blooms in recent years. ☣️ Bloom conditions this year were influenced by calm winds and rainfall. Calm winds in July allowed algal toxins to accumulate at the surface (instead of being dispersed). Strong winds in August have since mixed some surface algae to deeper depths. Heavy rains carry excess nutrients (often fertilizer) from farms into the lake. However, such nutrient runoff may have been less than anticipated this year because heavy spring rains and flooding prevented many farmers from planting crops. ☔ The public can stay informed about harmful algal blooms using a new mobile app that sends alerts when harmful algal bloom may be forming. The app relies on satellite observations of changes in the color of the water. 🛰️ Learn more here (link in bio): go.nasa.gov/2P6MZYu

South Sulawesi

Sunrise, sunrise 🎶 Looks like mornin' in your eyes 🎵 . The International Space Station was crossing over the equator when an astronaut looked east and took this photograph just after sunrise. The strip of land outlined by morning sunglint is the northern peninsula of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. . The darker areas in the lower portion of the photo mark the edge of the day-night line, also known as the terminator. 🤖 . Indonesia sits in a notoriously cloudy region of the globe. In the image foreground, clouds cast long shadows as the Sun’s rays strike at a low angle. Toward the horizon, clouds cast shorter shadows where the Sun is already higher in the sky. . Scientists who work with astronaut photos are well-practiced at identifying places on Earth through the perspective of an astronaut looking out from the ISS. However, consistently cloudy regions are more difficult to recognize. Sunglint helps by highlighting coastlines that are often obscured by clouds and aerosols. Yet those same clouds may have been exactly what inspired the astronaut to capture this scene. . Link here and in bio: https://go.nasa.gov/2YClgCZ

Selfoss, Iceland

Iceland's Raging Rivers 🌊 In Iceland, a country rich with compelling geologic phenomena, volcanoes and ice caps abound. Even the country’s rivers are connected to the landscape of fire and ice. . Two rivers are visible in these images of southwest Iceland, acquired on June 6, 2019, by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8. The images show the rivers in the summer season when they are ice-free (in winter they are prone to flooding from ice jams). . The first picture shows the Þjórsá River, which is both Iceland’s longest (230 kilometers) and its second-largest by volume. In this view, we see the river where it meets the Atlantic Ocean at the island’s south side. . Before entering the ocean the river becomes braided, as channels of water flow around small, temporary islands of coarse sediment. The dark areas near the river’s mouth are wet volcanic sand. Where the water enters the ocean, the stark contrast in color is again due to two water types that do not mix well: in this case, glacial water and seawater of differing temperatures and densities. . The second image is The Ölfusá River is not Iceland’s longest river, measuring only 25 kilometers from its headwaters to the ocean. Yet it moves an average of 423 cubic meters of water per second—more than any other river in the country. . As the river flows by the town of Selfoss, you can see threads of light blue water amid darker areas. Spring water and glacial water feed this part of the river and, given their differences in temperature and density, do not mix well. Dark areas indicate fairly translucent spring water (known as “black rivers” in Iceland). Light blue areas are glacial water, which take on an opaque appearance due to sediments (“glacial flour”) suspended in the water. . The striking red patch on the river’s eastern shore is dissolved ferrous iron, also known as bog iron. According to Emmanel Pagneux of the University of Iceland, the bog iron reaches the Ölfusá River via ditches that were once built to drain wetlands and convert them into pastures. . Read more (link in bio): go.nasa.gov/2YLLvlG

An Eagle Takes Off for Home 🌚🌏 When the Apollo 11 astronauts left the surface of the Moon on July 21, 1969, they brought home samples of solar wind particles, lunar rocks and dirt, and a big helping of perspective. 🚀 This photo shows the Eagle lunar module as it carried Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to a rendezvous with the Columbiacommand and service modules after a 22-hour stay on the Moon. Shot by Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, the image was acquired just before docking at 21:34:00 Universal Time (5:34 p.m. U.S. Eastern Daylight Time) on July 21. Collins was looking west as Earth rose above the horizon. The dark-colored mare in the background is Smyth’s Sea (85° east longitude, 2° south latitude on the Moon). 📷 Only 24 people have seen Earth from the surface or orbit of the Moon. All of them were changed by it. While they were proud of and awed by the achievement of visiting another rock in the solar system, they also grew ever more fond of their precious home. In an interview for In the Shadow of the Moon, Michael Collins noted: “Oddly enough the overriding sensation I got looking at the Earth was: My God, that little thing is so fragile out there.” 🔭 Neil Armstrong was humbled when he considered his place in the universe. “It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” 🌌 Fifty years later, as we celebrate engineering and scientific achievement...as we honor bravery, ingenuity, and tenacity...as we look back and look ahead with a spirit of exploration...we also recall that there is no place quite like the home we have. 💛 Read more (link in the bio): go.nasa.gov/32J2UyX

Viewing Venus from the Space Station 🌌 Sunlight begins to spill over Earth’s horizon, the prelude to a new day over the Pacific Ocean. The limb presents a stark contrast between dawn on Earth and the blackness of space. Orbiting Earth approximately every 90 minutes, astronauts living and working on the International Space Station (ISS) see sixteen sunrises and sunsets every 24 hours. 🌅 The astronaut who took this photograph was also interested in a bright spot beyond Earth’s limb: our celestial neighbor, Venus. Note that the orientation of the image is presented as the astronaut observed it, with Earth on the upper right. 🌚 Besides the Moon, Venus is the brightest natural solar system body that can be observed in our night sky. Venus is visible near Earth’s horizon as the “evening star” (around sunset) for a few months; passes in front of the Sun (from our perspective), obscuring it from view for several weeks; becomes the “morning star” (around sunrise) for a few months; and then passes behind the Sun for a bit—a circuit that takes 19 months. 💫 From Earth’s surface, we are able to see Venus with our naked eyes even in areas of high ambient light (such as urban centers) if the weather conditions are clear. On the ISS, cosmic views are not affected by Earth’s atmospheric conditions or urban lighting. However, the station’s trajectory, attitude, and structures such as solar panels or visiting spacecraft can hinder a clear line of sight. 🛰️ In 2012, another astronaut onboard the Space Station took photos of the transit of Venus—when the planet crossed the face of the Sun from Earth’s perspective. Such rare transits can only be viewed from Earth twice a century. The next viewing opportunity will occur in 2117. 🌏 Read more (link in bio): https://go.nasa.gov/30yBgma

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