"Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed not just to ourselves, but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring." - Carl Sagan
What if all the ice melted?
The ocean holds most of Earth’s water. After that, it’s ice. 5.7 million cubic miles of the stuff.
What if, thanks to natural and man-made climate change, it all melted? What if, by burning enough deep-Earth carbon (dead dinosaurs, prehistoric plants, or as we call it… fossil fuels) we raised Earth’s average temperature to around 80˚ F?
Thanks to National Geographic we know: This is is what 216 feet (66 meters) of sea level change looks like.
The coldest place on earth
What is the coldest place on Earth? Scientists say it’s a place so cold that ordinary mercury or alcohol thermometers won’t work there. If you were there, every breath would be painful, your clothing would crackle every time you moved, and if you threw hot water into the air, it would fall to the ground as tiny shards of ice. At this place, the new record of minus 136 F (minus 93.2 C) was set on Aug. 10, 2010. Researchers analyzed data from several satellite instruments and found the coldest place on Earth in the past 32 years is … a high ridge in Antarctica between Dome Argus and Dome Fuji, two summits on the ice sheet known as the East Antarctic Plateau. Temperatures in several hollows were found to dip to the new record.
“We had a suspicion this Antarctic ridge was likely to be extremely cold,” said Ted Scambos, from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. “With the launch of Landsat 8, we finally had a sensor capable of really investigating this area in more detail.”
This beats out the previous low of minus 128.6 F (minus 89.2 C), set in 1983 at the Russian Vostok Research Station in East Antarctica. The coldest permanently inhabited place on Earth is northeastern Siberia, where temperatures in the towns of Verkhoyansk and Oimekon dropped to a bone-chilling 90 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (minus 67.8 C) in 1892 and 1933, respectively.
Scambos and his team made the discovery while analyzing the most detailed global surface temperature maps to date, developed with data from remote sensing satellites. The new findings were reported at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.
Image credit: Ted Scambos, National Snow and Ice Data Center
El Paso and Juarez as seen from orbit
One of the crew aboard the International Space Station took this vertical photograph of parts of Texas and New Mexico and the Mexican border area including El Paso and Juarez.
Image credit: Astronaut photograph ISS038-E-002727
Dune movement around Aorounga
The Aorounga impact structure in northern Chad is 12.6 kilometers (7.8 miles) in diameter, large enough to display a central peak and more than one concentric ring. This eroded remnant of a crater in Africa’s Sahara Desert is estimated to be less than 345 million years. Astronauts have photographed it several times over the years, most recently in 2009 and in 2011. But it’s not the crater itself that caught our eyes this time. It is the sandy landscape around it.
Image credit: Astronaut photograph ISS034-E-70070
Taylor Valley, Antarctica
While flying over Antarctica aboard a P-3 aircraft in November 2013, Operation IceBridge project scientist Michael Studinger took this photograph of Taylor Valley, one of Antarctica’s unique dry valleys. Home to Taylor Glacier, striking rock outcrops, and Blood Falls, the valley is one of the most remote and geologically exotic places in the world.
While ice and snow covers most of Antarctica, Taylor Valley and the other dry valleys are conspicuously bare. Inland mountains—the Transantarctic Range—force moisture out of the air as it passes over, leaving the valley in a precipitation shadow. The lack of precipitation leaves dramatic sequences of exposed rock. In the photograph, the tan bands are sandstone layers from the Beacon Supergroup, a series of sedimentary rock layers formed at the bottom of a shallow sea between 250 million and 400 million years ago. Throughout that period, Earth’s southern continents were locked into the supercontinent Gondwana.
The dark band of rock that divides the sandstone is dolerite (sometimes called diabase), a volcanic rock that forms underground. The distinctive dolerite intrusion—or sill—is a remnant of a massive volcanic plumbing system that produced major eruptions about 180 million years ago. The eruptions likely helped tear Gondwana apart.
The dominant feature in the photograph—Taylor Glacier—is notable as well. Like other glaciers in the Dry Valleys, it is “cold-based,” meaning its bottom is frozen to the ground below. The rest of the world’s glaciers are “wet-based,” meaning they scrape over the bedrock, picking up and leaving obvious piles of debris (moraines) along their edges.
Cold-based glaciers flow more like putty, pushed forward by their own weight. Cold-based glaciers pick up minimal debris, cause little erosion, and leave only small moraines. They even look different from above. Instead of having surfaces full of crevasses, cold-based glaciers are comparatively flat and smooth.
At the lower right of the photograph, “Blood Falls” appears as a small, dark smudge. The name refers to the stain of red that coats part of the glacier and seeps down toward Lake Bonney in a pattern that makes it look like a blood-red waterfall. The red comes from microbes living within a pool of ancient seawater that has been trapped beneath Taylor Glacier for at least 1.5 million years. Due to the activity of the microbes, the seawater is enriched with ferrous hydroxide (an iron-containing salt), which quickly oxidizes and turns red as it seeps out of a crack in the glacier.
Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory images by Robert Simmon
"Check out the most detailed map of a continent never truly seen by human eyes: the de-iced surface of Antarctica. By virtually peeling back the frozen ice sheet and studying the land beneath, researchers can get a better sense of how the southern pole of our planet could react to climate change…"
Twin volcanic plumes – one ash, one gas – from Sicily’s Mt Etna. This image was acquired on 26 October 2013 by the Proba-V minisatellite.
Image credits: ESA/BELSPO
Climate change might stop the gulf stream and then we in Europe are pretty much doomed, tumbling into another ice age, right?!
It’s nice and cozy in Europe and we like it that way. It is common belief that the gulf stream is the main reason for this mild climate. However, research at Columbia University has shown that this common belief is actually a misconception without proof.
They used coupled models of the atmosphere and the ocean circulation with a representation of the earth’s relief. This lead to the conclusion that other factors than the thermohaline circulation (THC) contribute stronger to our climate. This isn’t bleeding edge research, it’s been around for 10 years, but did you know about that? I didn’t.
Read on if you’d like to know more, how the atmosphere actually changes our local climate: http://bit.ly/KRFP25
Or go to the source at Columbia University: http://bit.ly/KRFTiz
Air and Tenere natural reserves
The dark round domes of the Aïr Mountains rise out of the Sahara Desert, a chain of islands in a sea of sand. Geologically, the mountain massif in Niger is not that different from an island. It formed when magma flowed in to pre-existing cracks and caverns in the bedrock, a geologic formation called a dike. The bubble-shaped mounds are ring dikes, which formed when the ceiling of a magma chamber collapsed, leaving a circular crack that was later filled with magma. Through time and the constant movement of Earth’s crust, these magma intrusions have been lifted and moved together, an isolated piece of geology different from its surroundings. The mountains are now 2,000 meters (7,000 feet) tall.
These images show both the unique geology of the ring dikes and the relative isolation of the formation. The Operational Land Imager on the Landsat 8 satellite acquired the top image on May 26, 2013. Cracks cross the rock formation, a product of weathering and faulting. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite acquired the lower image on May 25, 2013. This view provides wider context, showing how different the mountains are from their surroundings.
The Aïr Mountain Range is an ecological island too, supporting life naturally found in the African Sahel while being surrounded by the shifting sand dunes of the Sahara Desert. A wide variety of habitats—including dunes, stony deserts, cliff valleys and canyons, plateaus, and water holes—host 40 species of mammals, 165 species of birds, 18 species of reptiles, and 1 species of amphibian. The area provides prime habitat for three desert antelope species: the Dorcus gazelle, the Slender-horned gazelle, and the critically endangered Addax. In fact, part of the region is a sanctuary for the world’s largest population of wild Addax.
Image credit & copyright: NASA Earth Observatory images by Robert Simmon and Jesse Allen, using Landsat data from the USGS Earth Explorer and the LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC