In November 2023, the monster iceberg A23e finally dislodged from the seafloor after being grounded and stuck there for 40 years. A series of recent satellite images show that the mighty iceberg is now heading away from Antarctic waters, seeking fame and fortune in the high seas. A23a measures 4,000 sq kilometers in area and is over 280 meters thick, and is currently the world’s largest iceberg. Its first path will follow the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, heading towards South America.
Tiny Elephant Island, an ice-covered, mountainous island off the coast of Antarctica seen in the image above, has an area of only 215 sq km.
Planet Earth is full of some truly awe-inspiring spectacles, but few are as intriguing as a sprite, which are officially known as a Transient Luminous Event (TLE) and consist of large-scale electric discharges that shoot upwards while occurring above the cloud tops in the Earth’s mesosphere at approximate altitudes of 50-90 km (31-56 mi). In October 2023, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut, Dr. Andreas Mogensen, who is currently onboard the International Space Station (ISS) as Commander of the Expedition 70 mission, took an incredible image of a red sprite with the Davis camera as part of the Thor-Davis experiment and his Huginn mission.
In 1986, a gigantic iceberg separated from the Fichner-Ronne ice shelf in West Antarctica. It was so big that it became grounded, stuck to the seafloor, and remained in position for 40 years. Finally, it has now been pushed off the seafloor and has begun drifting in the Weddell Sea to a region in the South Atlantic called Iceberg Alley. Designated A23a, this monster berg measures 4000 sq km (1,500 square miles) and is about 400 meters (1,300 feet) thick – the world’s largest.
On July 28th, the European Space Agency commanded its long-working Aeolus wind profile mission to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. It did that and disintegrated into pieces over Antarctica. Of course, satellites do this often. But, Aeolus was different. It maneuvered its way into a safe re-entry profile, a first-of-its kind activity designed to avoid populated regions on Earth.
This summer has seen a violent outbreak of forest fires across Canada and North America. According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center (CIFFC), there were 911 active fires across the country on July 13th, nearly 600 of which were characterized as “out-of-control.” More than half of these active fires are taking place in the provinces of British Columbia, driven by a combination of unusual heat, dry lightning, and drought. The situation is becoming increasingly common thanks to rising global temperatures, diminished rainfall, changing weather patterns, and other related effects of Climate Change.
Monitoring forest fires and other meteorological phenomena is an important task for which Earth Observation missions like NASA’s Aqua satellite were created. On July 12th, with six weeks left in the Canadian fire season, Aqua captured images of some of the largest fires over British Columbia using its Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument. The image above shows some of the biggest “hot spots” in the province, which produced dense plumes of smoke blowing eastward through the Rocky Mountains and into Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
California residents will be glad to know their reservoirs are nearly full again after years of drought. New satellite photos show the levels of Shasta Lake, California’s largest reservoir, going from 31% capacity last November to nearly 100% in May 2023. The reservoir was filled with heavy rains and a significant mountain snowpack that melted into the nearby rivers.
This is the highest levels this lake has seen in over four years, following years of persistent and extreme drought in the US southwest. Scientists are working on ways to recharge ground reservoirs with any excess water, to minimize the effect of the next inevitable drought.
Earth is a favorite target for the cameras and astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). This week, NASA shared an amazing picture of the Himalayan mountain range as seen from space. This jagged set of mountains stretches out across Asia above the Indian subcontinent and is home to Mount Everest, the tallest mountain on Earth. It’s centered in the image.
NASA’s Apollo program most notably explored the Moon. But it also helped us study the Earth as well, as it provided some of the first high-resolution images of our whole planet, like the famous “Blue Marble” photo taken by the Apollo 17 astronauts.
However, these full-Earth photos revealed a mystery. Scientists expected that Earth’s two hemispheres, the north and south, would have different albedos, a difference in the amount of light they reflect. This is because Earth’s northern and southern hemispheres of Earth are quite different from each other. The southern hemisphere is mostly covered with dark oceans, while the northern hemisphere contains vast land areas that are much brighter than the oceans
Yet, when observing Earth from space, the two hemispheres appear equally bright.
This symmetry in brightness has been a puzzle for over 50 years. But now, a new study shows that the albedos are roughly the same because of the increased clouds and storms in the southern hemisphere.
A citizen science initiative called Globe at Night has some sobering news for humanity. Our artificial light is drowning out the night sky for more and more people. And it’s happening more rapidly than thought.
In 2013, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) had reached four-hundred parts per million (ppm) for the first time since the Pliocene Era (ca. three million years ago). According to the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), “excess carbon dioxide” in our atmosphere will result in a global average temperature increase of between 1.5 and 2 °C (2.7 and 3.6 °F) by 2030. This will significantly affect ecological systems worldwide, including species extinction, droughts, wildfires, extreme weather, and crop failures.
Aside from curbing emissions, these changes call for mitigation and adaptation strategies and climate monitoring. This is the purpose of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) 2 and 3 missions, twin satellites that make space-based observations of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere to understand the characteristics of climate change better. Using the world’s fifth-largest coal-fired power plant as a test case, a team of researchers used data from OCO 2 and 3 to detect and track changes in CO2 and quantify the emissions produced below.