Gulf Oil Leak: Day 62 Update


Here’s the latest satellite image of the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil keeps spreading towards the northeast, and appears as a maze of silvery-gray ribbons in this image from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. The MODIS team said that the spot of black just north of the location of the oil well may be smoke; reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say that oil and gas continue to be captured and burned as part of the emergency response efforts.

The MODIS team is putting out about two satellite images of the region a day, which can be seen at this link.

Below is a video from reporter David Hammer from the Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans, Louisiana, who is covering the BP oil spill, explaining the latest developments as of June 21,2010. Apologies for the 15 second ad at the beginning, but Hammer provides a good overview of what has been happening.

Oil spill video: Times-Picayune reporter update

Latest Satellite Views of Oil Leak, Plus Dramatic Video of Where the Oil May End Up


56 days into the the still-leaking Deepwater Horizon oil well spill in the Gulf of Mexico, satellite views are becoming a daily viewing habit. This latest image, taken on June 12, 2010 shows the oil particularly visible across the northern Gulf of Mexico when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image at 1:55 p.m. CDT. Oil appears to have reached beaches and barrier islands in Alabama and the western Panhandle of Florida. The problem for wildlife, and particularly birds, is that from above, the water does not look different. And when they dive in for prey, the get soaked with oil. Estimates are that between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels a day are gushing from the damaged well. On June 3rd, BP lowered a containment cap onto a cut pipe to catch some of the flow. This cap, says the company, is now collecting more than 10,000 barrels of oil a day, ferrying it up to a tanker on the surface. But no one can be absolutely sure of the estimates.

As the oil is coming ashore along the gulf coast, everyone wonders how far the oil will travel. Researchers National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) have completed a detailed computer modeling study that indicates the oil might soon extend along thousands of miles of the Atlantic coast and open ocean as early as this summer. The video of their results, captured in a series of dramatic animations, below, has caused quite a stir.

The results seem fairly dramatic, but Dr. Synte Peacock, an oceanographer at NCAR said in an interview in on that the simulations used a dye, and not oil. A dye would travel to the Atlantic Ocean, but oil would behave differently.

However, her team still thinks it’s very likely that oil will get into the Atlantic.

If it does, she said, people shouldn’t expect oil to coat Atlantic beaches and wildlife. That’s because, over the months it would take to travel there – if it does travel there – some oil will evaporate, be eaten by microbes, and become diluted in sea water.

Dr. Peacock added that in all the possible scenarios and simulations that were tested, oil from the oil spill traveled outside of the Gulf within 6 months. But she added that it’s still unclear if or how the oil will affect beaches on the Atlantic Coast. That eventual outcome is partially dependent on local weather around the time the oil reaches a beach.

NASA Earth Observatory image created by Jesse Allen, using data provided courtesy of NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team.

This satellite image from the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite shows a false color image of on June 10, 2010, where parts of the oil slick are nearing the Mississippi Delta. Vegetation appears red and water appears in shades of blue and white.

Sources: NASA Earth Observatory, EarthSky

More Up-Close Images of Eyjafjallajokull Volcano and Its Effect on Life in Iceland


Astronomer Snaevarr Gudmundsson from Iceland, who shared his incredible close-up images of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano with Universe Today back in April, has made another trek out to visit the region near the volcano. “Under the ash clouds the world takes strange turn,” he wrote in an email. “It is hard for residents to live in the neighborhood under these circumstances. When wind turns the ash clouds over their home village it gets unbearable to stay outside. It is absolutely essential to keep mask and goggles on to prevent sore throat and eyes filled with fine grained ash. The fine grained ash fills up every pore and penetrates into houses through every weakness, like joints around doors and windows, even though it is very well sealed. As you see where the bus is near the grill house at Vik (see below) a bad ash storm was making otherwise normal life awful.”

See more of Gudmundsson’s images of the Iceland volcano and how it is affecting life in Iceland.

View of volcanic ash spewing from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano. Image courtesy of and copyright Snaevarr Gudmundsson.

'A bad ash storm was making otherwise normal life awful.' Image courtesy of and copyright Snaevarr Gudmundsson.
Volcanic ash spewing from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano. Image courtesy of and copyright Snaevarr Gudmundsson.

Gudmundsson said that some images show the grass is green and one might assume everything is ok. “But the vegetation is growing through the ash layer which is up to 15 cm thick,” he said. When looking down into it the green color fades into grey ash with the grass sticking through.”

Ash on the ground. Image courtesy of and copyright Snaevarr Gudmundsson.
Lava flow and ash. Image courtesy of and copyright Snaevarr Gudmundsson.
Unusual clouds surround the Eyjafjallajokull volcano on a sunny day in Iceland. Image courtesy of and copyright Snaevarr Gudmundsson.
Eyjafjallajokull volcano in May 2010. Image courtesy of and copyright Snaevarr Gudmundsson.
Region near the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in May 2010. Image courtesy of and copyright Snaevarr Gudmundsson.
Going near the volcano requires protective gear and masks. Image courtesy of and copyright Snaevarr Gudmundsson.
This image was taken in 2005. Compare to the image below. Image courtesy of and copyright Snaevarr Gudmundsson.

These two photographs provide an idea of sediment disposal down into a the lagoon. “As I told you, it filled up the lagoon (believed to be 30 – 40 m deep before the eruption) in matter of two days by debris floods in the beginning of the eruption,” said Gudmundsson. “If you compare the two images from 2005 and now in May 2010 (not taken by same place) you can see how high the sediment plain reaches up to the glacier. Take note of the prominent gully and how high up it is . Indeed sediment has now buried the lower part of it so it will be curious to see what happens to the glacier in the future.”

The same area in May 2010. Image courtesy of and copyright Snaevarr Gudmundsson.

Thanks once again to Snaevarr Gudmundsson for sharing his images and insight of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano and how it is affecting life in Iceland.

Listen to a podcast on 365 Days of Astronomy of Snaevarr Gudmundsson interviewed by Col Maybury from radio station 2NUR in Australia, talking about the volcano.

Volcano Cam Now Available

Via the Bad Astronomer, there is now a live video feed of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland. It comes in two flavors: regular (visible) and infrared, so you can see a thermal version of the feed as well. It’s not an embeddable feed, so here’s the link. I’ve been watching it for awhile, and so far, there have always been people visible in the field of view, too. Scroll down on the page, and there’s also a map that shows the location of the camera relative to the volcano.

Above is the latest satellite imagery of Eyjafjallajökull, the Iceland volcano, taken on May 12, 2010, taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. It shows the plume reaching a height of 4 to 5 kilometers (13,000-17,000 feet), even going above the clouds. The plume has switched directions from yesterday’s image, where the plume was blowing south and slightly southest; now it is blowing more easterly.

According to the Iceland Meteorological Office and the Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland, the eruption had changed little from previous days and showed no signs of stopping.

Sources: NASA Earth Observatory, About Miles

Latest Satellite Images of Eyjafjallajokull, the Volcano that Keeps on Giving


Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull Volcano continues to spew out a thick plume of ash. Seen here on May 11, 2010, the ash was streaming almost directly south, visibly extending at least 860 kilometers (530 miles) from Eyjafjallajökull. According to the NASA’s Earth Observatory website and the London Volcanic Ash Advisory Center, the ash reached altitudes of 14,000 to 17,000 feet (4,300 to 5,200 meters). CNN reported that some Spanish and Moroccan airports were closed at the time. On May 10th, the Icelandic Met Office reported continuous ash fall south of the volcano, with as depths reaching 2-3 millimeters (roughly 0.1 inches). “Presently there are no indications that the eruption is about to end,” the Met Office said yesterday.

Astronomer Snaevarr Gudmundsson from Iceland who shared his amazing close-up images of the volcano a few weeks ago, sent an update on how Iceland is coping with continued eruption.

“By now ash has covered all surface snow and ice so the mountains looks quite different from the photographs what I mailed to you,” he said. “The eruption is affecting people in a small village southeast of Eyjafjallajokull, named Vik. There it is stopping normal life of people. They are leaving their homes and elementary school is forced to shut down, only because of the fine grained ash. But the people are not in a threat of anything serious like pyroclastic flow or poisoned gases.”

Gudmundsson said he would be venturing out for the next few days to try and take more images of the volcano, and will send us another update soon.

Here is another satellite image, of the Iceland volcano taken by Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite on May 10, 2010.

The Eyajafjallajokull volcano on May 10, 2010. NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC.

Source: NASA Earth Observatory

Shock Waves, Volcanic Bombs From Eyjafjallajokull

The volcano in Iceland keeps producing eye-popping effects. Now that the ash isn’t spewing quite so dramatically,the mouth of the volcano itself is visible. Here’s close-up aerial footage of the crater at Eyjafjallajokull, with glowing red lava and shockwaves of the eruptions in the ash cloud. Incredible.

If you haven’t yet seen images taken by Astronomer Snaevarr Gudmundsson from Iceland, he was just a few kilometers away from the volcano last Saturday, at the height of the action — including lighting in the plume. So check them out.

There are many other great images on across the webs — take a look at The Daily Mail website of the eruption with a unique backdrop of a stunning aurora, or these on Discovery News.

Incredible Images of Iceland Volcano from Just a Few Kilometers Away


Astronomer Snaevarr Gudmundsson from Iceland was able to travel to within just a few kilometers from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, and shared his incredible close-up images with Universe Today. “I stayed near the volcano from about 16:00 hours to 22:00 hours on Saturday and watched its impressive eruption,” Gudmundsson said in an email to me. “Amazing event, awesome explosions of 1200 °C hot magma reaching ice and water. I shot more than 550 images during these hours of continuous enjoyment. Sounds ridiculous but its ever changing appearance was never boring.”

The massive plume put on an impressive display – from lightning forming within the plume to an incredible amount of spewing ash. On one of following pictures you can see helicopter for size comparison of the plume

The massive plume of Eyjafjallajokull volcano dwarfs a helicopter flying nearby (upper left). Image courtesy of and copyright Snaevarr Gudmundsson.

Gudmundsson said he and other photographers were a safe distance from the eruption, but were a few kilometers away. “Nearby was a small river and its prominent sound prevented us from hearing much in the eruption itself except a loud roar from thunders from time to time,” he said. “During daylight we even glimpsed some lightning but at dusk (the photo is taken at about 22:00 in the evening) they were easily spotted especially during active periods of explosions.”

The plume of Eyjafjallajokull volcano on April 17, 2010. Image courtesy of and copyright Snaevarr Gudmundsson.

I asked if there was any smell associated with the Iceland volcano and Gudmundsson said there was a bit of sulphuric smell in the air even though they were in a location where the wind was blowing towards the volcano. “The ash went to the other side of the volcano, as you can suggest, making life miserable for farmers and households below, but the rest of it climbed to higher altitude and from there to Europe.”

“From the foot of the volcano to the prominent top, seen in front of the tephra cloud (seen on some of the photos) the overall height is about 1300 -1400 m,” Gudmundsson said. “When the eruption began a huge flood went down beneath the obvious glacier to the left from the crater. And if you look closely on the photo showing the foot hills under the mountain a lot of icebergs can be seen on the flood plain. Under that same glacier was a rather deep lagoon (can’t been seen but sat between the two high moraines on either side of it, in front of the glacier) but sediment from the eruption filled it up in only two days at most! That is unbelievable. I have climbed this glacier many times but to approach it one usually must traverse the moraine, around the lagoon to reach the ice. But suddenly it is gone.”

Another view of Eyjafjallajokull volcano on April 17, 2010. Image courtesy of and copyright Snaevarr Gudmundsson.

Gudmundsson said the flood paths can be seen below the glacier as a narrow gorges carved into rather soft volcanic sediment.

Some of the latest reports from Iceland say that in some areas the volcanic fallout has been significant, clogging car engines, turning grass grey and reducing visibility to just a few meters.

The police say driving conditions can be very difficult in these places, but the area affected is remote with only a few hundred people, most of them living in isolated homes and many of them farmers. They have been advised to stay inside with the windows and doors shut and if they do venture out to wear goggles and a mask.

The staff of Landhelgisgæslan (Icelandic Coastal Patrol) captured this radar image of the craters in Eyjafjallajökull on Friday. There are three main openings and each one is 200-500m in diameter.

Radar image of the volcano, taken by the Icelandic Coastal Patrol.

Our very special thanks to Snaevarr Gudmundsson for sharing his images and experiences of seeing the volcano “up close and personal.” Also thanks to Col Maybury of radio station 2NUR in Newcastle, Australia for connecting me with Snaevarr (yes my connection to Iceland came through Australia!) and also thanks to erlinger on Twitter for help with Icelandic translations of news reports.

Other sources:, BBC

Here are some more Iceland pictures.

Spectacular Footage, Satellite Images of Eyjafjallajokull Volcano in Iceland

A volcano under a glacier in Iceland erupted Wednesday, melting ice, shooting smoke and steam into the air and forcing hundreds of people to leave their homes. The resulting ash plume has also halted air traffic over much of Europe. Scientists said the eruption under the ice cap was 10 to 20 times more powerful than an eruption from the that happened from the Eyjafjallajokullin Volcano late last month. “This is a very much more violent eruption because it’s interacting with ice and water,” said Andy Russell, an expert in glacial flooding at the University of Newcastle in northern England, in an article on the CBC website. The dramatic footage in the video here was released today, April 15, and satellite images, below, show how far the ash plume has traveled.


The iceland volcano sent a plume of ash and steam across the North Atlantic prompting airspace closures in the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, and Scandinavia, which then had a ripple effect, disrupting flights to and from other countries as well. Authorities could not say how long the airspace closure would last, and the ash’s spread threatened to force closures of additional airspace over the coming days.

NASA's EO-1 Satellite took this image on April 1, 2010. NASA image by Robert Simmon, using ALI data from the EO-1 team

This natural-color satellite image shows the area of the eruption on April 1, when a new vent opened up. The image was acquired by the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) aboard NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite.

The volcano, about 120 kilometres east of Reykjavik, erupted March 20 after almost 200 years of silence.

Watch an animation from ESA of how the plume traveled.

Pall Einarsson, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland, said magma was melting a hole in the thick ice covering the volcano’s crater, sending water coursing down the glacier, and causing widespread flooding.

Iceland’s main coastal ring road was closed near the volcano, and workers smashed a hole in the highway in a bid to give the rushing water a clear route to the coast and prevent a major bridge from being swept away.

Sources: CBC, NASA Earth Observatory, ESA

Satellite Images of Chile Earthquake


Haze lingered over the metropolitan area of Santiago, Chile, following a magnitude 8.8 earth quake on February 27, 2010. In an image from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite at 14:25 UTC, black smoke hung over the northern part of the city, while light-colored haze (perhaps pollution and/or dust) covered the southern part of the city and filled a canyon that cuts eastward into the mountains. Below, in an image acquired on February 23, shows the city and surroundings under clear-sky conditions.

The region around Santiago, Chile on Feb. 23, 2010, before the quake. Credit: NASA

Below, a map of topography and water depth of the west coast of South America, which is a subduction zone, where the Nazca Plate is plowing under the South America Plate at an average rate of 80 millimeters (3 inches) per year. Their collision gives rise to the spectacular Andes Mountains as well as to devastating earthquakes. Lighter colors indicate higher elevation on land and shallower depth in the water. Quake locations and magnitudes are indicated by black circles. The topography is based on radar data collected during the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, which flew onboard Space Shuttle Endeavour in mid-February 2002.

A map showing topography, water depth and earthquake magnitudes. Credit: NASA

See our earlier article of the images taken by ISS astronauts of the region shortly after the earthquake.

Sources: NASA Earth Observatory

Chilean Earthquake May Have Shortened the Length of a Day on Earth


Yikes! Just how big was the magnitude 8.8 earth quake in Chile? One scientist says the shaking may have affected the entire planet by shifting Earth on its axis. This possibly may have shortened the length of a day on Earth by about 1.26 microseconds. Using a complex model JPL research scientist Richard Gross computed how Earth’s rotation should have changed as a result of the Feb. 27, 2010 quake. If his figures are correct, the quake should have moved Earth’s figure axis (the axis about which Earth’s mass is balanced) by 2.7 milliarcseconds (about 8 centimeters, or 3 inches).

Earth’s figure axis is not the same as its north-south axis; they are offset by about 10 meters (about 33 feet). By comparison, Gross said the same model estimated the 2004 magnitude 9.1 Sumatran earthquake should have shortened the length of day by 6.8 microseconds and shifted Earth’s axis by 2.32 milliarcseconds (about 7 centimeters, or 2.76 inches).

Gross said that even though the Chilean earthquake is much smaller than the Sumatran quake, it is predicted to have changed the position of the figure axis by a bit more for two reasons. First, unlike the 2004 Sumatran earthquake, which was located near the equator, the 2010 Chilean earthquake was located in Earth’s mid-latitudes, which makes it more effective in shifting Earth’s figure axis.

Second, the fault responsible for the 2010 Chiliean earthquake dips into Earth at a slightly steeper angle than does the fault responsible for the 2004 Sumatran earthquake. This makes the Chile fault more effective in moving Earth’s mass vertically and hence more effective in shifting Earth’s figure axis.

Gross said the Chile predictions will likely change as data on the quake are further refined.

Source: JPL