31 Jul 2014

A typhoon seen from space and sliced down the middle

During the past few weeks, there have been a number of typhoons across the Asia Pacific region, bringing heavy rain, damaging winds and flooding to the Philippines, China, Taiwan and Japan.

As these beasts roam the oceans of our planet, they are monitored from way up high by satellites that capture them from space.

Most of the time, the images that you seen on the TV or online are a simple birds-eye view of the storms from space.

However, satellites now have an array of equipment on-board, allowing storms not only to be viewed from space, but sliced down the middle, with a side on profile view. On the 5 July, Nasa’s Aqua satellite captured a natural colour view of Typhoon Neoguri over the Pacific Ocean – shown in the top part of the image below.

Beneath the photographic part of the image, you can see what looks like a graph with various shades of blue stretching from left to right.


This is actually information from Nasa’s CloudSat satellite that also flew over the typhoon and used a radar to acquire a vertical profile of the storm clouds.

The radar works by measuring the level of reflectivity from the clouds and raindrops on earth. So, the greater the depth of cloud, the stronger the radar beam is reflected back into space, registering a higher level of reflectivity.

Nasa has cleverly lined up the photographic image to the radar reflectivity, so that a comparison can be made between how the typhoon looks from space and the structure of the cloud from a side on view.

If you look closely, you can see that the greatest levels of reflectivity (dark blue) correspond to the brightest, whitest, fiercest clouds in the photographic image.

Around the centre of the typhoon, clouds stretch from the surface to around 10 miles up in the sky, some 3.7 miles above the height at which commercial aircraft fly.

Clouds of this height contain the vast amounts of energy that drive these vicious storms, delivering damaging winds, torrential rain and lightning.

As satellites become more and more powerful, the level of information that we can gather about what is happening on our planet will continue to increase.

You can find more images of earth from space here. I also tweet about them on Twitter – @liamdutton

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