This volcano just erupted after nearly a century of silence. Astronauts captured the breathtaking scene from 254 miles above. ~ The Washington Post

The Raikoke volcano erupts June 22. (NASA)

June 26 at 3:24 PM

Watching a volcano erupt would be cool. But having a front-row seat 254 miles above the volcano? That would be a view.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station captured the breathtaking scene Saturday showing the vigorous eruption of the Raikoke volcano.

Raikoke is an uninhabited island along the Kuril chain, a necklace of narrow strip islands draped 500 miles from northern Japan to northeast Russia. Formerly owned by Japan, the volcanic island — which occupies an area less than two square miles — is under the control of Russia, and has been since World War II.

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I Spy, Via Spy Satellite: Melting Himalayan Glaciers ~ NPR

The world’s glaciers are melting faster than before, but it still takes decades to see changes that are happening at a glacial pace.

To look back in time, researchers are turning to a once-secret source: spy satellite imagery from the 1970s and 1980s, now declassified. “The actual imagery is freely available for download on the USGS website, and people can use it,” says Josh Maurer, a doctoral student at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Maurer is the lead author of a study using satellite imagery to show that in the past 20 years, Himalayan glaciers melted twice as fast as they did in the 1980s and ’90s. The work was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

The spy satellite images come from KH-9 Hexagon military satellites, launched during the Cold War to help the U.S. peer over the Iron Curtain, says Summer Rupper, a co-author of the study. Each satellite was about the size of a school bus and carried miles of film. Packaged in buckets equipped with parachutes, the film was later ejected into the upper atmosphere and plucked out of the air over the Pacific Ocean by Air Force pilots. Most Hexagon images were declassified in 2011 as a continuation of a 1995 executive order by President Bill Clinton to release spy satellite footage that was “scientifically or environmentally useful.”

Maurer’s study compares the spy satellite images, mostly from the mid-1970s, with more recent images taken by ASTER, an instrument attached to a NASA satellite that was developed jointly by the U.S. and Japan and launched in 1999.

There’s a history of researchers using declassified surveillance images. Some scientistshave used spy satellite data to study Arctic ice cover, Antarctic streams, meteor trajectories and smaller-scale glacier studies. Maurer says his team figured out an efficient way to turn satellite images into 3D elevation models over a large region.

“What we’re able to do using spy satellites is to cross the entire Himalayan range, [and measure] hundreds of glaciers of all different types and sizes, over a much longer period of time,” says Rupper, an associate professor of geography at the University of Utah.

The Himalayan mountain range, home to Mount Everest, holds tens of thousands of glaciers. The study authors looked at 650 of them, across a 1,240-mile swath. They found that, on average, the Himalayan glaciers lost 10 inches of ice per year from 1975 to 2000. As average global temperatures increased, the average loss rate doubled to a loss of 20 inches of ice per year from 2000 to 2016.

Glaciologist Etienne Berthier of the French national research agency CNRS, who was not affiliated with the research, said via email that the fact that the study used the same method of analysis across the Himalayas, “[made] their conclusion of doubling of mass loss rate very convincing.”

The Himalayas contain many different types of glaciers — such as those covered in debris or located near bodies of water — in many different environments. The researchers were surprised to find that the rate of melt was consistent across all the glaciers they studied. “In the east, the precipitation in the Himalayas occurs in the middle of the summertime [driven by monsoon winds], whereas in the west, most of the snow comes [in the winter] along a westerly storm track,” Rupper says. “So you actually have two very different settings for these glaciers. Yet, from east to west, we’re seeing a relatively uniform change in mass.”

That the Himalayan glaciers are melting faster signals unpredictability in coming years. Those glaciers supply fresh water to mountain communities and feed rivers that billions of people in South Asia rely on.

Sonam Futi Sherpa, a doctoral student at Arizona State University, co-authored a paper on how glaciers in the Everest region change with precipitation and storms. She says: “It’s important to have long-term monitoring, not just in Nepal,” where she’s from, “but in Bhutan, Tibet, other places” for two main reasons: figuring out future water availability and anticipating possibly catastrophic events such as floods and landslides.

Deborah Balk of the City University of New York, who formerly served on a National Research Council panel on Himalayan glaciers and climate change, said via email that “understanding glacial ice loss is very important, particularly in South Asia where the consequences of climate change are already unfolding” — consequences such as extreme heat in India, sea-level rise and salinization in Bangladesh, and regional flooding.

Over the next 80 years, according to a 2019 study of the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, up to two-thirds of the Himalayan glaciers are projected to melt because of climate change.

A view of Changri Nup, a typical debris-covered glacier in the Everest region, highlights the glacier’s complex surface characteristics, including patches of rock debris and exposed ice cliffs.

Josh Maurer

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Rising Temperatures Ravage the Himalayas, Rapidly Shrinking Its Glaciers ~ NYT

The Khumbu glacier sits between Mt. Everest and the Lhotse-Nuptse ridge. The glacier is receding and pools of water are now a common scene along the length of itCredit Heath Holden/Getty Images

Climate change is “eating” the glaciers of the Himalayas, posing a grave threat to hundreds of millions of people who live downstream, a study based on 40 years of satellite data has shown.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, concluded that the glaciers have lost a foot and a half of ice every year since 2000, melting at a far faster pace than in the previous 25-year period. In recent years, the glaciers have lost about eight billion tons of water a year. The study’s authors described it as equivalent to the amount of water held by 3.2 million Olympic-size swimming pools.

The study adds to a growing and grim body of work that points to the dangers of global warming for the Himalayas, which are considered the water towers of Asia and an insurance policy against drought.

In February, a report produced by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development warned that the Himalayas could lose up to a third of their ice by the end of the century, even if the world can fulfill its most ambitious goal of keeping global average temperatures from rising only 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels.

That goal, which scientists have identified as vital to avert catastrophic heat waves and other extreme weather events, is nowhere close to being met. Average global temperatures have risen by one degree already in the last 150 years. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to climb. And scientists estimate that we are on track to raise the average global temperature between 3 to 5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

Another study, published in May in Nature, found that Himalayan glaciers are melting faster in summer than they are being replenished by snow in winter. In the warm seasons, meltwater from the mountains feeds rivers that provide drinking water and irrigation for crops.

The retreat of glaciers is one of the most glaring consequences of rising global temperatures. Around the world, vanishing glaciers will mean less water for people, livestock and crops.

Bald Eagle Caught Elegantly … Swimming?

Yes, bald eagles are really good at swimming, a fact some of us learned this week from a viral video published by New Hampshire TV station WMUR.

In it, a bald eagle’s white head bobs rhythmically through the water. Occasionally a wing can be seen as the bird does an avian equivalent of the butterfly stroke. It moves quickly and gracefully through the water, covering a considerable distance before it reaches the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee. It calmly strides onto land, shaking the water from its feathers before it strikes a watchful, picturesque pose.

The video was shot by Tyler Blake, who spotted the display early in the morning before he headed to his construction job.

“I ran down to the docks and I saw an eagle flapping in the water,” Blake told WMUR. “I’m, like, ‘Wow!’ I wasn’t sure if it was hurt or something.”

That’s because bald eagles are open-water foragers, catching fish straight out of rivers and lakes. Typically, they will spot a fish on the surface of the water and divebomb down, talons outstretched. Watson says usually, they snatch the fish off the surface while keeping their feathers relatively dry, then fly back up into the air with a tasty meal.

But sometimes, that hunting maneuver gets a little more complicated.

“It may have gone as planned, they just got a bigger fish and said, ‘I’m going to stick with this, I can make it to shore and so it’s a good deal,’ ” Watson says. Or, the bird might have missed the fish and ended up in the water.

Either way, the eagle needs to start swimming, because “their feathers get soaked and they can’t fly away,” Watson says. “Throughout the years I’ve seen them swim a lot of times and usually it’s because they fly out and attempt to catch a fish in the water and maybe get waterlogged.”

This one doesn’t appear to have a fish, though, probably meaning that it either missed or released the fish. And even though an eagle swimming is not necessarily a sign of distress because the birds are capable swimmers, Watson says there have been cases of eagles drowning.

“It takes a lot of energy to swim in the water,” he says. “It’s a natural flying motion … just more difficult to do that in the water.”

Eagles have strong chest muscles from flying. Just as with the butterfly stroke, Watson says, “they actually use the wingtips and push down in the water with their wings.”

This isn’t the first time a bald eagle has been caught on video swimming. Here’s a video posted on YouTube of an eagle swimming in Alaska in 2011 that shows another angle of the bird’s powerful movements:

Temperatures leap 40 degrees above normal as the Arctic Ocean and Greenland ice sheet see record June melting ~ The Washington Post

And it may be messing with our weather.


Steffen Olsen, an Arctic researcher with the Danish Meteorological Institute, and dogs set out to retrieve oceanographic moorings and a weather station over meltwater topping sea ice in northwest Greenland on Thursday. (Steffen Olsen)
June 14 at 12:52 PM

Ice is melting in unprecedented ways as summer approaches in the Arctic. In recent days, observations have revealed a record-challenging melt event over the Greenland ice sheet, while the extent of ice over the Arctic Ocean has never been this low in mid-June during the age of weather satellites.

Greenland saw temperatures soar up to 40 degrees above normal Wednesday, while open water exists in places north of Alaska where it seldom, if ever, has in recent times.

It’s “another series of extreme events consistent with the long-term trend of a warming, changing Arctic,” said Zachary Labe, a climate researcher at the University of California at Irvine.

And the abnormal warmth and melting of ice in the Arctic may be messing with our weather.

Greenland ice sheet


Melt extent on the Greenland Ice Sheet between April and October. The recent melt event (indicated by the blue line) appears to be the greatest on record in mid-June. (National Snow and Ice Data Center)

Data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center show that the Greenland ice sheet appears to have witnessed its biggest melt event so early in the season on record this week (although a few other years showed similar mid-June melting).

“The melting is big and early,” said Jason Box, an ice climatologist at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland.


Extent of Greenland ice sheet melting on June 12. (National Snow and Ice Data Center)

Box explained that temperatures over the western Greenland ice sheet have been abnormally high while snow has been well below normal.

Marco Tedesco, an ice researcher at Columbia University, added that it has been unusually warm in east and central Greenland, as well. “This has triggered widespread melting that has reached about 45 percent of the ice sheet,” he wrote in an email.

Normally, melting this widespread over the ice sheet doesn’t occur until midsummer, if even then.

A simulation from the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasting suggested that temperatures over Greenland may have peaked at around 40 degrees above normal on Wednesday.


European model simulation of temperature difference from normal over Greenland on Wednesday. (WeatherBell.com)

A big dome of high pressure has positioned itself over Greenland, resulting in sunny skies and mild temperatures, which have enabled melting. An automated weather station at the top of Greenland’s ice sheet topped freezing on June 12, a very rare event, which last occurred in July 2012.

View image on Twitter

William Colgan, Ph.D.@GlacierBytes

The @NOAA automatic weather station at Summit, Greenland, suggests air temperature flickered above 0°C at 19:30 LST June 12. 🤔https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/dv/site/sum/met.html 

2012 is the notorious year in which the Greenland ice sheet witnessed the most melting on record. Those monitoring the ice sheet say melting in 2019 could rival it.

Weather in the coming months will determine how much more the ice sheet melts and whether 2019 is a record-setter. If high pressure holds in place, “we should break a new record,” tweeted Xavier Fettweis, a climatologist at the University of Liège in Belgium.

But scientists studying the region know that Greenland’s weather is highly variable and can change rapidly.

Mike MacFerrin, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado, put it this way in a tweet: “2019 has been… anomalous… so far, but also quite variable. It’s early and weather is weather, so keep your eyes peeled. …”

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Dallas is swallowed by a massive ‘rain bomb’

DFG4HXAMDA633PVX45S6SROBDA.jpg
Heavy rains and storms left parts of Louisiana underwater due to severe flooding June 6.

June 9, 2017

I feel like we need a sound effect for this one. Would it sound like a whoosh? Maybe a crashing wave?

It’s not every day you see a textbook microburst like this one caught on camera, but Toddy Jack managed to get this insane photo on Sunday afternoon. At the time, Dallas was getting drenched with heavy rain as this nearly stationary storm sat over the area. Then it finally and literallyunloaded all of its precipitation in a giant “rain bomb” — right over downtown.

A microburst is a sudden but powerful area of sinking air, associated with the downdraft area of a thunderstorm. While microbursts are typically small, and 2.5 miles in diameter or smaller, they can do incredible damage. Microbursts can have wind speeds in excess of 100 mph, and have been known to do so much harm that the destruction left behind can be mistaken for tornado damage.

A microburst occurs when a thunderstorm simply can no longer “hold” its precipitation. Think of it as being like a brown paper grocery bag. When the bottom of the bag can no longer support the weight of the groceries within, it breaks and all your apples, oranges, etc. fall and spread out all over the floor. Microbursts behave the same way.

When an updraft is strong, it can hold and suspend large amounts of rain droplets as well as hail within the cloud. When the updraft weakens, as is especially typical with a vertically stacked summertime storm, it can no longer hold that rain and hail within. Eventually, the updraft collapses, and all the precipitation crashes to the ground and spreads out in all directions.

While microbursts can do extreme damage to buildings and landscapes such as forests and croplands, they are especially dangerous for aircraft. It is impossible to predict when and exactly where a microburst may occur during a thunderstorm, which makes planes that are either taking off and especially landing (times when the planes are closest to the ground) susceptible if caught in one of these powerful downdrafts. Unfortunately, several fatal airline crashes in history can be attributed to microbursts.

There are actually two types of microbursts: wet and dry. Wet microbursts are most common in the Southeast during the summer months, while dry microbursts are more common over the West. The storm over Dallas on Monday was a wet microburst, as seen by the dark rain curtain spilling out of the cloud.

Microbursts are also known for the visual feature called “rain foots” (think Elf Shoes) that occur when the rain and/or dust hits the ground, then curls back upward as it spreads out horizontally on each side.

 

Adrift in the Arctic

 

UTQIAGVIK, Alaska — The scientists walk across a frozen Arctic Ocean, dark specks in a sea of white. Pale clouds loom low over the bundled figures. The wind sends ice crystals skidding and swirling around them, erasing their footprints.

Behind a large ice ridge, the group shelters from the subzero cold and 25 mph gusts to set up their experiment. They are learning to map an area’s topography by shooting lasers across the ice and snow. But even their machines seem disoriented by the whiteout conditions: The lasers bounce off whirling snowflakes before striking their targets.

It’s yet another problem they must solve before the fall, when these scientists and several hundred others will launch the largest Arctic research expedition in history: a 12-month, $134 million, 17-nation effort to document climate change in the fastest-warming part of the globe.

Home base will be a massive German icebreaker, though the ship will spend only a few weeks under its own power. After reaching a remote part of the Siberian Arctic, the crew will cut the engine and wait for water to freeze around the vessel, entrapping it.

Then the ship — and everyone on it — will be adrift, at the mercy of the ice.

A break forms in the Arctic Ocean ice beyond Utqiagvik, Alaska, near the northernmost point in the United States.

 

 

What the scientists discover during their year in the frozen north will help them forecast the future of the entire planet. As Arctic ice vanishes, many scientists expect the steady stream of air that pushes weather across the Northern Hemisphere to wobble, producing periods of punishing cold, brutal heat waves and disastrous floods.

That’s already happening. The polar vortex that gripped the Midwest this winter, the fires in California and lingering hurricanes like Sandy and Florence are all thought to be domino effects of this instability. Unless humans take drastic action, Earth is on track to exceed the threshold for dangerous warming in a little over a decade, the UN has said. These scientists are racing against the changing planet to understand what’s happening — and what is yet to come.

Struggling on the sea ice off Alaska during their training this April, they get a taste of how tough the task will be. They are steeling themselves for what awaits at the pole: profound isolation and protracted darkness, laborious experiments, cold that can plunge to 45 degrees below zero. There are countless ways the Arctic might thwart and threaten them at every turn.

“But if we can do this right,” says Melinda Webster, a sea ice expert at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, “it’s going to give us a huge leap forward in our understanding of Earth and how it’s changing.”

Shoulders scrunched, beards of frost forming on their balaclavas, she and her colleagues continue to collect what information they can. They have no choice but to keep going, Webster says. The world attempts an expedition of this size, expense and risk only “once in a generation.”

And hers might be the last generation that can.

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A Software Upgrade (After 40 Years) Aims to Improve U.S. Weather Forecasts ~ NYT

A view of Hurricane Sandy along the East Coast of the United States, looking south, in 2012. Credit Norman Kuring/Ocean Color Web/NASA

 

Aiming to reduce errors like the one it made in 2012, when it wrongly forecast the track of Hurricane Sandy into the New York area, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Wednesday introduced a major upgrade to the software at the heart of its weather prediction capability.

Using huge amounts of computing power, the software, known as the Global Forecast System, or G.F.S., models the physics of global weather, taking data from satellites and sensors to produce predictions of conditions in coming hours and days. Meteorologists around the world rely on it for making forecasts.

NOAA said the upgrade to the core of the system — the first in four decades — should help improve predictions of severe weather, including winter storms and hurricanes and other tropical storms.

The G.F.S. model had come under criticism in recent years, with researchers and meteorologists saying it was less accurate than similar models from other governments and institutions — most notably one produced by the European Center for Medium-Range Forecasts, which, along with G.F.S., is the most widely used worldwide.

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To critics, the deficiencies in the G.F.S. model were especially apparent during Sandy, which inundated the New York area in 2012, causing 44 deaths and $19 billion in damage in New York City alone. Early on as the storm, which was then a hurricane, moved northward, the European model accurately forecast how it would intensify, shift westward and strike the coast. For days, the G.F.S. model forecast that Sandy would head harmlessly out to sea.

Brian Gross, director of NOAA’s Environmental Modeling Center, said in a teleconference that the G.F.S. upgrade had been tested for a year, running models based on data from past warm and cold seasons and comparing the results with what occurred in the real world.

“We are confident the upgrade will provide an overall improvement,” Dr. Gross said. Specifically, he added, it should help produce more accurate forecasts of temperature and the amount of rain and snow.

Among other improvements, he said, the new model should more accurately reflect changes that occur between daytime and nighttime. As for hurricanes, he said, the upgrade should help improve forecasts both of a storm’s track and its intensity.

The upgrade is part of a series of improvements that were undertaken after Sandy. In addition to improving the software, more computing power was added. The European model also had the advantage of vastly greater number-crunching capacity.

Trump administration signals support for uranium mining that could touch Grand Canyon ~ The Hill