16 Jul 2012

Our planet from space – the sequel

A month ago I wrote a blog showing off some of the stunning images of our planet that had been captured from space by satellites orbiting the earth.

The surface of our planet is constantly changing as is the state of the atmosphere wrapped around it and satellites play a crucial part in monitoring these changes day by day.

I thought I’d share with you some of the more recent images that have become available and a little bit of background information about them.

Fontenelle fire

On 27 June a crew member aboard the International Space Station captured this image of smoke from the Fontenelle fire in Wyoming. The fire burned 25,000 acres of land and the plumes of smoke can be clearly seen from 240 miles above earth.

Icebergs off western Greenland

An ice sheet covers almost the entire surface of Greenland – around 650,000 square miles. If this ice was to melt away completely, global sea level would rise by around seven metres.

As the ice sheet meets the ocean, chunks of ice break off to form icebergs which then drift out to sea. This image shows the icebergs as bright white speckles littered over the ocean, gradually becoming smaller as they move further away from land.

Hurricane Daniel

Early in July, two hurricanes formed at the same time over the eastern Pacific Ocean. This image shows one of them, hurricane Daniel, located over the ocean around 1,100 miles south west of Baja California.

The eye of the storm is clearly visible as well as the wall of cloud surrounding it. There are also bands of cloud spiralling outwards from the storm which would have given heavy showers and thunderstorms some distance from its centre.

When this picture was taken, it was estimated that the storm had sustained winds of 105mph with stronger guests.

Washington DC power outages

On 29 June a fast-moving line of thunderstorms known as a Derecho brought heavy rain and winds in excess of 60mph across the eastern US. It killed 22 people and caused 4.3 million homes to lose power for days.

The images below shows the amount of light shining from the Washington DC area before and after the storms moved through. Notice how the bottom image shows less light than the top images due to the power outages – especially to the north and west of the city.

Flooding in north east India

Early in July floods and landslides hit north east India killing dozens of people and washing away thousands of homes. Roads and bridges were also badly damaged and topple power lines left thousands without electricity.

Of the two images below taken two weeks apart, the top image shows the path of the Brahmaputra River and its tributaries flowing normally. However the bottom image shows how the river area has expanded and spilled onto surrounding land causing severe flooding.

This collection of images demonstrates the important role satellites have in monitoring our planet. As sets of eyes in the sky, they allow us to very quickly get a sense of what’s happened when natural disasters strike.

Images courtesy of NASA and NOAA

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