15 Jan 2014

Our planet from space – January 2014

As we go about our daily lives, it’s easy to forget that the planet upon which we all live is constantly changing.

Earthquakes give birth to new islands and what goes on in the atmosphere leaves a scar on the ground below – just to mention a few.

One of the great things about the powerful satellites that orbit earth is that they allow us to constantly monitor how our planet is changing.

Nasa’s Earth Observatory has a stunning collection of images and I thought I pull a few of them together and explain what they show.

Lake Erie ice cover

The polar vortex not only gripped the headlines last week, but also gripped the US and Canada with intense cold that hasn’t been seen in decades.

The severe cold led to Lake Erie – one of the Great Lakes – to be around 90 per cent ice covered, reported to be the most extensive in about 20 years.

The image below shows the extent of the ice cover clearly on the 9 January. Since this image was taken, the ice cover has reduced to around 62 per cent on 14 January, due to temperatures returning to normal or above.


Tropical Cyclone Ian

The image below shows Tropical Cyclone Ian skirting just to the east of Fiji on 9 January. It had steady winds of 98mph – equivalent to a category two hurricane.

It’s a well-defined storm, having the classic eye at its centre, swirls of cloud extending outwards and bands of shower clouds at its periphery.


Cloud streets off east coast of US

The image below taken on 7 January shows neat lines of cumulus clouds running from north west to south east off the east coast of the US.

They are formed when cold air over the land blows offshore over the warmer water which then heats the air from below, causing it to rise and condense and form cumulus clouds.

These clouds form in the direction in which the wind is blowing and get bigger further out to sea as the air rises further, allowing the clouds to develop more.


Smoke plume over Pacific Ocean

Early in January, a fire that was intended to clear out logging debris in south west Oregon got out of control, charring more than 280 hectares of land.

The fire sent a huge plume of smoke into the air which was picked up by the wind and blown around 200 miles offshore over the Pacific Ocean, shown by the image below from 5 January.


Mount Etna lava flows

The image below is actually from 13 December 2013, but it was so striking that I had to include it.

Mount Etna has regular bursts of activity and the snow covered peak enhances the view of a fresh lava flow that has run down the south eastern side of the volcano. Puffs of gas are also visible above the crater.


You can find more pictures from Nasa’s Earth Observatory here and I also post images on Twitter – @liamdutton

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