Suomi NPP 2018-2011
• November 21, 2018: From sunset to sunrise, brilliant auroras—also known as the Northern Lights—provided a dazzling light show for Alaskans on 5 November 2018. Seven days later, they appeared again over Alaska and Canada. Those dancing lights were also visible from space. 1)
Figure 1: This image shows the aurora over Alaska very early on 5 November 2018. The light was so bright that it illuminated the terrain below. The aurora likely appeared brighter that night because it occurred two days before a new moon, meaning the sky was darker than at other times in the lunar cycle (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Joshua Stevens, using VIIRS day-night band data from the Suomi NPP, story by Kasha Patel)
Figure 2: The image shows the aurora over eastern Canada on 12 November 2018. Satellite imagery and ground reports indicate the aurora was also visible from Alaska, Norway, and Scotland around that time (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Joshua Stevens, using VIIRS day-night band data from the Suomi NPP, story by Kasha Patel)
- Both images were acquired by the VIIRS instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite. VIIRS has “day-night band” (observing mode) that detects city lights and other nighttime signals such as auroras, airglow, and reflected moonlight. In these images, the sensor detected the visible light emissions that occurred when energetic particles rained down from Earth’s magnetosphere and into the gases of the upper atmosphere.
- These auroras come at a time known as solar minimum, a relatively calm period of activity on the Sun that occurs every 11 years or so. During this time, the Sun experiences fewer sunspots and solar flares—phenomena that can lead to auroras.
- During a solar minimum, however, auroras are more often caused by coronal holes. These regions of open-ended magnetic fields allow relatively fast streams of solar particles to escape the Sun. This high-speed stream can energize our space environment, shaking Earth’s magnetic bubble enough to trigger auroral displays.
- Both auroras were caused by high-speed streams, though from different coronal holes. The coronal hole that sparked the 5 November aurora was particularly notable because it has been persistent for months, said Mike Cook, space weather forecaster lead at Apogee Engineering and team member of the citizen science project Aurorasaurus. This coronal hole first appeared in August 2018, and it has sent high-speed streams toward Earth and caused at least four fairly strong geomagnetic storms around Earth. NASA satellites are currently observing the Sun and Earth to see what may be in store when this coronal hole and others turn toward Earth again.
• November 02, 2018: Hazy skies have become an autumn tradition of sorts for the residents of several states in northern India. Each October and November, usually around the time of Diwali celebrations, a pall of smoke hangs over large swaths of the Indo-Gangetic Plain. 2)
- While industrial pollution contributes to the haze, most of it comes from crop-burning—especially in the states of Punjab and Haryana, where rice and wheat are widely grown. Burning typically peaks during the first week of November, a time when many farmers set fire to leftover rice stalks and straw after harvest, a practice known as stubble or paddy burning.
- Stubble burning is a relatively new phenomenon in northern India. Historically, farmers harvested and plowed fields manually, tilling plant debris back into the soil. When mechanized harvesting (using combines) started to become popular in the 1980s, burning became common because the machines leave stalks that are several inches tall. Burning is considered the quickest and cheapest way to clear the debris and prepare for the wheat crop.
- This year, Earth-observing satellites began to detect significant numbers of fires in early October near the town of Amritsar. By the end of the month, large numbers of fires burned across much of the states of Punjab and Haryana. The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured a natural-color image on the afternoon of October 31, 2018. The map (second image) shows the locations of fires detected by VIIRS during a 48-hour period from October 30 to November 1.
Figure 3: VIIRS image of northern India acquired on 31 October 2018 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Joshua Stevens, using VIIRS data from Suomi NPP)
Figure 4: VIIRS image of northern India acquired on 01 November 2018 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Joshua Stevens, using VIIRS data from Suomi NPP and the Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS). Story by Adam Voiland)
- Despite efforts to curb the practice, crop burning is growing more common with each passing year. NASA’s Aqua satellite found a roughly 300 percent increase in the number of fires in the Indo-Gangetic Plain between 2003 and 2017, according to an analysis authored by Sudipta Sarkar, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
- “It is easy to come up with regulations on paper, but you have to remember that many of these farms are relatively small-scale operations,” said Sarkar. “Without cheap, easy alternatives, there is little incentive for farmers to stop burning.”
- While smoke from the fires has the most direct consequences in northern India, Sarkar and colleagues found that harmful particles and gases regularly traveled several hundred miles from the source, sometimes affecting central and southern India.
- More widespread availability and use of farm equipment that removes the stalks and shreds the debris could eventually reduce farmers’ reliance on burning. But in the short term, people and other cities downwind ought to be prepared for more smoke.
- “The fire counts are rising, and so are particulate matter (PM2.5) levels in New Delhi,” said Hiren Jethva, a Universities Space Research Association scientist based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. He tracks the burning with several satellite sensors each year, and he recently noted: “The peak this year is expected to be between October 31 and November 6. Be prepared and take a good care of yourself, northern India.”
• October 29, 2018: Of the thousands of thermal anomalies that VIIRS detects each night, the vast majority are caused by fires. “But obviously a fire isn’t burning in the middle of the ocean,” said Patricia Oliva, a scientist at Universidad Mayor (Santiago de Chile) who helped develop a fire detection algorithm for VIIRS when she was at the University of Maryland. Natural gas flares also trigger thermal anomalies, but they are only found in shallow waters near the coast. Volcanic activity can light up the satellite as well, but there are no volcanoes anywhere near this area. 3)
- “It is almost certainly SAMA,” Oliva said, using an acronym for the South Atlantic Magnetic Anomaly. This weakness in Earth’s magnetic field, centered over South America and the South Atlantic, allows one of Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts—zones of energetic particles trapped by the magnetic field—to dip closer to the atmosphere. As a result, much of South America and part of the South Atlantic Ocean get an extra dose of radiation.
- While the atmosphere blocks most high-energy particles, and they do not cause problems at the surface, there are enough of them in the space close to Earth to cause issues for the electronics systems of spacecraft. The International Space Station has extra shielding because of SAMA, and the Hubble Space Telescope powers down its science instruments when it passes through the region.
Figure 5: High-energy particles from the South Atlantic Magnetic Anomaly occasionally trick satellite sensors. On July 14, 2017, VIIRS on the Suomi NPP satellite captured this night image of the South Atlantic. The red dot several hundred kilometers off the coast of Brazil is a thermal anomaly—an area of Earth’s surface flagged by the satellite as being unusually warm (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Lauren Dauphin, using VIIRS day-night band data from the Suomi NPP mission, story by Adam Voiland)
- In the case of VIIRS, there are enough energetic particles zipping around in the atmosphere around South America that the highly-sensitive radiometer detects some of them. In fact, the team developing the VIIRS active fire data product was surprised at how often the particles showed up as fires when they first began to process the data.
- “Each night, the sensor was detecting several dozen thermal anomalies over the Atlantic Ocean in places that didn’t make sense,” said Wilfrid Schroeder, the principal investigator for the VIIRS active fire product. The scientists were aware of this type of anomaly because researchers working with NASA’s MODIS sensor and the European Space Agency’s Advanced Along Track Scanning Radiometer (ATSR) satellite had encountered it. But the VIIRS team did not anticipate picking up on so many spurious fire signals.
- Their response was to build a series of filters into their active fire algorithm and remove false signals in this region. Suspicious thermal anomalies that are especially weak, over the ocean, and short-lived—all signs that they were caused by SAMA instead of a real fire—get removed by the algorithm.
- But occasionally a stray SAMA pixel still slips through the filters. “We see probably one or two of these spurious fire detections a night, but remember that is in comparison to the thousands of real thermal anomalies satellite detects each night,” said Schroeder. “False fires detections are quite rare.”
- “In developing an algorithm like this for a global data product, we had to find a balance. If we are too aggressive with our filtering, there is a risk that we will remove real fires from the data record,” said Oliva. “I don’t think people realize that most satellite data products go through a whole battery of calibration and validation tests to address issues like this.”
• October 6, 2018: No, this is not an image of a jellyfish (Figure 6) drifting in the ocean’s twilight zone. It is a satellite image of a cloud hovering over Earth’s surface at night. The peculiar shape is the product of an outflow boundary associated with a decaying thunderstorm over Mali. 4)
- Thunderstorms often develop on hot days as warm air rises and the moisture condenses into towering cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds with downpours and lighting at their centers. The falling rain cools the air and creates a downdraft that spreads outward in a circular fashion once it reaches the ground—much like pancake batter spreads out after being poured onto a griddle.
- The outflow boundary, sometimes called a gust front, is the leading edge of a spreading pool of cool air near a thunderstorm. Outflow boundaries can persist for many hours after a thunderstorm, and they can travel hundreds of kilometers from where they formed.
- “In this case, the fact that the outflow boundary is only present on one side of the storm is a result of wind shear in the environment,” explained Joseph Munchak, a research meteorologist based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. (Wind shear arises from differences in wind speed or direction with height.) “The arc-shape line of clouds is caused by less dense air being lifted up and over the boundary.”
- Gust fronts sometimes carry ominous-looking shelf and roll clouds that signal the arrival of stormy weather. In dusty areas, they can stir up walls of dust known as haboobs. Outflow boundaries can even sweep up enough flying insects, birds, and other debris that the collection of creatures and debris shows up on weather radar. The choppy winds in outflow boundaries can pose serious problems for aircraft trying to take off or land.
Figure 6: The peculiar curved shape of this cloud over Mali is the product of a phenomenon associated with thunderstorms. The image was acquired by the “day-night band” (DNB) on VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on Suomi NPP early on 27 September 2018. The DNB sensor detects dim light signals such as auroras, airglow, and city lights (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Joshua Stevens, using VIIRS day-night band data from the Suomi NPP mission, story by Adam Voiland)
• September 16, 2018: In the early hours of September 15, 2018, Super Typhoon Mangkhut (Ompong) blew into Cagayan Province near the northern tip of Luzon, one of the most populated of the Philippine islands. Local reports described wind speeds of 205 km/hr. The storm stretched nearly 900 km across, with an eye 50 km wide. It is the strongest tropical cyclone in any ocean basin so far this year. 5)
- Luzon is a major corn and rice-growing region of the Philippines, and it is nearly time for the harvest. News agencies reported than at least 4 million people were in the path of the storm, and thousands were evacuated from coastal lowlands before Mangkhut arrived. Forecasters from PAGASA were predicting storm surges up to 6 meters and exceptional rainfall.
- On September 14, 2018, VIIRS ( Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on the Suomi NPP satellite acquired a natural-color image of Mangkhut just after midday. At 8 p.m. Philippine Standard Time (12:00 Universal Time) on September 14, the U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center reported that the storm still had sustained winds of 145 knots (165 miles/270 km per hour), with gusts to 175 knots. Maximum significant wave heights were 12 meters.
Figure 7: The super typhoon made landfall on the northernmost island in the Philippine archipelago. VIIRS acquired this image on 14 September 2018 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Lauren Dauphin, using VIIRS data from Suomi NPP, story by Mike Carlowicz)
Figure 8: This false-color image of VIIRS, acquired on 14 September, shows infrared signals known as brightness temperature. This is useful for distinguishing cooler (dark) cloud tops from the warmer (whiter) clouds and water surfaces below (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Lauren Dauphin, using VIIRS data from Suomi NPP, story by Mike Carlowicz)
• September 12, 2018: Most of us are familiar with heat waves on land, but in a warming world, heat waves are starting to become common in the ocean, too. One basin in particular, the normally cool Gulf of Maine in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, has seen several heat waves in recent years and has spent most of 2018 with unusually warm water temperatures. 6)
- On August 8, 2018, scientists using satellite data and sea-based sensors measured the second warmest sea surface temperatures ever observed in the Gulf of Maine. Average water temperatures reached 20.52º Celsius (68.93º Fahrenheit) that day, just 0.03°C (0.05°F) below the record set in 2012.
- The heatwave of 2018 fits with a much longer trend in the region, which is among the fastest-warming parts of the global ocean. In the past three decades, the Gulf of Maine has warmed by 0.06°C (0.11°F) per year, three times faster than the global average. Over the past 15 years, the basin has warmed at seven times the global average. The Gulf has warmed faster than 99 percent of the global ocean.
Figure 9: This map as well as Figure 10 show sea surface temperature anomalies as compiled by NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch, which blend observations from the Suomi NPP, MTSAT, Meteosat, and GOES satellites and from computer models. Shades of red and blue indicate how much water temperatures were above or below the long-term average for the region. This map shows conditions on August 8, the near-record setting day, while the map below shows conditions across the entire month of August 2018 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, images by Lauren Dauphin, and sea surface temperature data from Coral Reef Watch. Story by Michael Carlowicz)
Figure 10: The heatwave of 2018 fits with a much longer trend in the region, which is among the fastest-warming parts of the global ocean. In the past three decades, the Gulf of Maine has warmed by 0.06°C (0.11°F) per year, three times faster than the global average. Over the past 15 years, the basin has warmed at seven times the global average. The Gulf has warmed faster than 99 percent of the global ocean (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, images by Lauren Dauphin, and sea surface temperature data from Coral Reef Watch. Story by Michael Carlowicz)
- “We’ve set 10 daily temperature records this summer, after setting 18 this winter,” said Andrew Pershing, chief scientist of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI). “We’ve had to add new colors to our temperature illustrations to reflect just how warm the Gulf of Maine has been this year.”
- In recent years, oceanographers have come to define marine heatwaves as periods when water temperature rise above the 90th percentile (of average temperatures) for more than five days. In 2018, the Gulf of Maine has spent more than 180 days above the 90th percentile.
- The Gulf of Maine stretches from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia, and it is key intersection between cold water masses from the Arctic and warm water masses from the Gulf Stream. The warming trend in this basin likely has two main causes. First is the overall warming of the global ocean as air temperatures and greenhouse gas concentrations rise. Second is the melting of ice in Greenland and the Arctic Ocean, which provides pulses of fresh water that can alter ocean circulation patterns in the region.
- “We are seeing a major shift in the circulation in the North Atlantic, likely related to a weakening Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC),” said Pershing. “One of the side effects of a weaker AMOC is that the Gulf Stream shifts northward and the cold current flowing into the Gulf of Maine gets weaker. This means we get more warmer water pushing into the Gulf.”
- “Climate change is likely contributing to the circulation changes through melting in Greenland and Arctic,” he added, “as well as making long-stretches of warm weather more likely.”
- The warming waters are already affecting marine species in the area, according to several news media and scientist accounts. Herring populations (based on fishing catches) seem to be down this year, and researchers and fishermen are seeing more species usually found in warmer waters, such as butterfish and squid. The populations of copepods, a key food source for endangered Northern Right Whales, also seem to be moving with the changing conditions. And puffins have had to adapt in feeding their chicks this year, as the newly common butterfish are too large for hatchlings to swallow.
• August 24, 2018: During one day in August, tropical cyclones, dust storms, and fires spread tiny particles throughout the atmosphere. Take a deep breath. Even if the air looks clear, it is nearly certain that you will inhale millions of solid particles and liquid droplets. These ubiquitous specks of matter are known as aerosols, and they can be found in the air over oceans, deserts, mountains, forests, ice and every ecosystem in between. 7)
- If you have ever watched smoke billowing from a wildfire, ash erupting from a volcano or dust blowing in the wind, you have seen aerosols. Satellites like NASA's Earth-observing satellites, Terra, Aqua, Aura and Suomi NPP, “see” them as well, though they offer a completely different perspective from hundreds of kilometers above Earth’s surface. A version of a NASA model called the Goddard Earth Observing System Forward Processing (GEOS FP) offers a similarly expansive view of the mishmash of particles that dance and swirl through the atmosphere.
- The visualization of Figure 11 highlights GEOS FP model output for aerosols on August 23, 2018. On that day, huge plumes of smoke drifted over North America and Africa, three different tropical cyclones churned in the Pacific Ocean, and large clouds of dust blew over deserts in Africa and Asia. The storms are visible within giant swirls of sea salt aerosol (blue), which winds loft into the air as part of sea spray. Black carbon particles (red) are among the particles emitted by fires; vehicle and factory emissions are another common source. Particles the model classified as dust are shown in purple. The visualization includes a layer of night light data collected by the day-night band of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on Suomi NPP that shows the locations of towns and cities.
Figure 11: The aerosol in this visualization is not a direct representation of satellite data. The GEOS FP model, like all weather and climate models, used mathematical equations that represent physical processes to calculate what was happening in the atmosphere on August 23. Measurements of physical properties, like temperature, moisture, aerosols, and winds, are routinely folded into the model to better simulate real-world conditions (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Joshua Stevens, using GEOS data from the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office at NASA GSFC. Story by Adam Voiland)
Legend to Figure 11: Some of the events that appear in the visualization were causing pretty serious problems on the ground. On August 23, Hawaiians braced for torrential rains and potentially serious floods and mudslides as Hurricane Lane approached. Meanwhile, twin tropical cyclones—Soulik and Cimaron—(Figure 12) were on the verge of lashing South Korea and Japan. The smoke plume over central Africa is a seasonal occurrence and mainly the product of farmers lighting numerous small fires to maintain crop and grazing lands. Most of the smoke over North America came from large wildfires burning in Canada and the United States.
Figure 12: The GEOS FP model for aerosols of the Asia region on 23 August 2018 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Joshua Stevens, using GEOS data from the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office at NASA GSFC. Story by Adam Voiland)
• August 8, 2018: California has seen a range of natural extremes this summer, from heat waves to wildfires. The state can now add to the list record-warm ocean temperatures. On August 1, 2018, researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography observed water temperatures of 25.9 degrees Celsius (78.6 degrees Fahrenheit) along the coast at La Jolla, exceeding the previous record of 25.8°C (78.4°F) set in 1931. 8)
- The warm water stretched far beyond La Jolla. The map of Figure 13 shows sea surface temperature anomalies on August 2, 2018, as compiled by NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch, which blends observations from the Suomi NPP, MTSAT, Meteosat, and GOES satellites and computer models. Mapping the temperature anomaly allows you to see how much the surface layer was above or below the long-term average temperature for this time of year. The warmest sea surface temperatures (red) extend from Point Conception to the Baja California coast. According to Bill Patzert, retired NASA climatologist, temperatures along this part of the coastline were 5-10°F above normal.
- “The primary driver of these warm ocean temperatures is the persistence of continental atmospheric high pressure that has dominated western weather,” Patzert said. He explained that normally, high pressure over the eastern Pacific Ocean drives winds from the north along the California coast. These winds push coastal surface waters offshore, allowing cool waters from below to “upwell” to the surface and keep coastal California cool.
Figure 13: A layer of exceptionally warm surface water extended from Point Conception to the Baja California coast as recorded on 2 Aug. 2018 as compiled by NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Lauren Dauphin, and sea surface temperature data from Coral Reef Watch. Story by Kathryn Hansen)
- This summer, however, a dome of high pressure over the continental west has dominated, causing coastal winds to blow from the south. This pattern has sustained a cap of warm ocean waters from San Diego to Santa Barbara, preventing cool water from rising up.
- Warm water for beachgoers and for nearshore ecosystems is not the only consequence of the high-pressure system. “This pattern is also driving the month-long heat wave suffocating California and it is a major cause of the explosion of Western wildfires,” Patzert said. “The continuing Western drought, July heat waves, explosive fire season, and balmy ocean temperatures are all related.”
• July 30, 2018: A persistent heatwave has been lingering over parts of Europe, setting record high temperatures and turning typically green landscapes to brown. 9)
- The image of Figure 14 show browning in north-central Europe on July 24, 2018. For comparison, the image of Figure 15 shows the same area one year ago. Both images were acquired by the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on the Suomi NPP satellite.
- Peter Gibson, a postdoctoral researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, examined how global temperatures have varied in June over the past 50 years, using historical temperature data from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The data showed a steep, persistent warming trend over the decades, and extreme heatwaves are more common.
- “If the globe continues to warm, it’s clear we will continue to see events like this increasing in frequency, severity, and duration,” said Gibson, who recently published a study linking global temperatures to regional heatwaves. “We found that parts of Europe and North America could experience an extra 10 to 15 heatwave days per degree of global warming beyond what we have seen already.”
- Gibson said this particular heatwave has been boosted by an unusual positioning and persistence of the jet stream. Since May, the jet stream has been stationed unusually far north, particularly over Europe, and in a wavy pattern like the uppercase Greek letter omega. The upper level wind pattern has trapped an area of high pressure over the United Kingdom that has mostly been windless, cloudless, and very hot.
- “Scientists are still working out the details of how climate change might be influencing the jet stream. But we already know the background state of the climate has warmed by about 1°C, indicating some human influence on this event,” said Gibson.
Figure 14: VIIRS image of north-central Europe on 24 July 2018 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Lauren Dauphin, using VIIRS data from Suomi NPP from LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response. Story by Kasha Patel)
Figure 15: VIIRS image of north-central Europe on 19 July 2017 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Lauren Dauphin, using VIIRS data from Suomi NPP from LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response. Story by Kasha Patel)
- According to the European Space Agency, these regions turned brown in just a month, during which several countries experienced record high temperatures and low precipitation. Much of Germany has experienced drought conditions since May. The United Kingdom experienced its driest first half of summer (June 1 to July 16) on record.
- The image pair of Figures 16 and 17 shows the burned landscape of the United Kingdom and northwestern Europe as of 15 July 2018, compared with 17 July 2017. Both images were acquired by the MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) on NASA’s Terra satellite.
Figure 16: MODIS image of the landscape of the United Kingdom and northwestern Europe as of 15 July 15 2018 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Lauren Dauphin, using MODIS data from LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response. Story by Kasha Patel)
Figure 17: MODIS image of the landscape of the United Kingdom and northwestern Europe as of 17 July 2017 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Lauren Dauphin, using MODIS data from LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response. Story by Kasha Patel)
• June 19, 2018: As weather grows hot and the winds pick up in late spring, dust storms start to blow across India. The most intense dust storms usually occur just before monsoon season. But this year has been worse than usual. 10)
- “Every year in April, May, and June, we see dust loading,” said Hiren Jethva, who studies aerosols with the Universities Space Research Association at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. “This year’s dust season, including this most recent event, has been unusual in terms of the intensity.”
- In May 2018, India experienced a period of extreme weather, including intense dust and lightning storms. A new burst of storms from June 12-15 over New Delhi led to severe pollution, causing citizens to suffer through poor breathing conditions.
Figure 18: A dust storm originated in the western state of Rajasthan on June 12, 2018, as high winds kicked up dust from the Thar desert. Over the next few days, the dust traveled across north-central India. This image was acquired on June 14 by the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on the Suomi NPP satellite. The dust was trapped between mountain ranges and appears in the shape of upside down “v” on the image (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using VIIRS data from the Suomi NPP satellite)
- Jethva expected the dust to continue moving southeast toward the Bay of Bengal, but instead it stayed concentrated over the northern plain for another day because the south-moving dust was met by strong winds blowing northwest from the Bay of Bengal. Air quality around New Delhi was at its worst on June 15, 2018.
- Along with the strong southwesterly winds lifting dust into the air, one reason for the intense dust storm is that the first spell of monsoon rain has been delayed in northern India this year. Normally, the rains help dampen and remove dust, cleansing the air. The India Meteorological Department is forecasting light showers in New Delhi, which may alleviate the air pollution.
Figure 19: This graph, acquired between 2-17 June 2018, shows air quality conditions (particulate matter and ground-level ozone) over New Delhi as reported by the U.S. Embassy and Consulates' air quality monitors. Hazardous levels of air quality are classified with measurement values of from 301 to 500. New Delhi’s air quality index on June 15th was around 518. The local government advised people to stay inside and deployed fire brigades to sprinkle water across the city (air quality data from AirNow (2018))
• June 8, 2018: In global satellite observations of sulfur dioxide (SO2), several sources of the polluting gas stand out. Dozens of volcanoes spit out plumes of it during explosive and effusive eruptions; the gas also seeps more or less continuously from dozens of other volcanoes that are not actively erupting in a process scientists call passive degassing. And nearly 300 coal-fired powered plants, dozens of gas and oil sites, and more than 50 smelting facilities emit streams of sulfur dioxide large enough to be detected from space. 11)
- But of all the manmade (anthropogenic) sources, one location really sticks out: Norilsk. This industrial city of 175,000 people in northern Siberia has several mines that tap into one of the largest nickel, copper, platinum, and palladium deposits on Earth. And all of the smelting—the extraction of usable metal from ore by grinding it up and melting it—that happens there has made it into one of the largest sources of sulfur dioxide detectable by satellites.
- OMPS (Ozone Mapping Profiler Suite) on the Suomi NPP satellite acquired the data for the map (Figure 20) of sulfur dioxide concentrations around the city on July 12, 2017. The map shows the gas observed in the boundary layer, the lowest part of the atmosphere. Emissions on this day were typical for a June summer day, maxing out at roughly 4 Dobson Units.
Figure 20: Map of the SO2 polluted Norilsk region in northern Siberia acquired with OMPS on the Suomi NPP satellite on 12 July 2017 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Joshua Stevens, using OMPS data from the Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center (GES DISC), Story by Adam Voiland)
- Several teams of scientists have scrutinized Norilsk’s sulfur dioxide cloud because it is so extreme. “It is almost double the size of the next largest anthropogenic source,” said Chris McLinden, an atmospheric scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada. “In fact, Norlisk’s emissions are more comparable to the passive degassing that happens at some of the most active effusive volcanoes. Between 2005 and 2017, only one volcano—Ambrym in Vanuata—emitted more sulfur dioxide through passive degassing than Norilsk.”
- Several research teams have quantified the sulfur dioxide emissions from Norilsk. One recent study based on OMI (Ozone Monitoring Instrument) data put the number between 1700 and 2300 metric kilotons (kT) per year. A separate estimate based on aircraft measurements tallied 1000 kT per year.
Figure 21: The natural-color image of OLI on Landsat-8, acquired on 12 July 2017, browning vegetation around the city is visible northwest and southeast of the city. A bright pollution plume rich with sulfur dioxide drifted from a large smelting facility southwest of the city. The red color of the water of the tailings pond likely relates to nearby mining or smelting activities (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the USGS, Story by Adam Voiland)
- Whatever the number, none of the scientists who study Norilsk doubt that it is a lot of sulfur dioxide. Several researchers have documented widespread degradation of the forests surrounding Norilsk because of regular exposure to high levels of the gas. Sulfur dioxide causes the pores on leaves (stomata) to open up too much, resulting in the loss of water. Over time, leaves become bleached or discolored, and trees or other plants can become stunted or die as they struggle to generate energy through photosynthesis.
- Sulfur dioxide emissions have been intense at Norilsk for decades. The city began producing nickel and other metals in the 1940s. Satellites have closely monitored its sulfur dioxide emissions since the Aura satellite was launched in 2004. Since then, emissions from Norilsk have not changed much, even as other major smelting sites in Peru and Kazakhstan saw significant declines in sulfur dioxide thanks to modernization projects.
- There are signs that the days of large sulfur dioxide clouds hanging over the city may be numbered. Mine operators have described an ambitious plan to modernize equipment and potentially reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 75 percent by 2023.
• June 5, 2018: Fuego in Guatemala is one of Central America’s most active volcanoes. For years, the towering Volcán de Fuego has puffed continuously, punctuated by occasional episodes of explosive activity, big ash plumes, lava flows, and avalanche-like debris slides known as pyroclastic flows. 12)
- Just before noon on June 3, 2018, the volcano produced an explosive eruption that sent ash billowing thousands of meters into the air. A deadly mixture of ash, rock fragments, and hot gases rushed down ravines and stream channels on the sides of the volcano. Since these pyroclastic flows often move at speeds of greater than 80 km/hr, they easily topple trees, homes, or anything else in their path. According to news reports, more than two dozen people were killed. As a precautionary measure, thousands of other people have been evacuated.
- In addition to ash, the plume contains gaseous components invisible to the human eye, including sulfur dioxide (SO2). The gas can affect human health—irritating the nose and throat when breathed in—and reacts with water vapor to produce acid rain. Sulfur dioxide also can react in the atmosphere to form aerosol particles, which can contribute to outbreaks of haze and sometimes cool the climate.
- Satellite sensors such as AIRS (Atmospheric Infrared Sounder) on the Aqua satellite and OMPS (Ozone Mapping Profiler Suite) on Suomi NPP make frequent observations of sulfur dioxide. The map (Figure 23) shows concentrations of sulfur dioxide in the middle troposphere at an altitude of 8 km as detected by OMPS on June 3.
- Upon seeing data collected by AIRS several hours after the eruption that showed high levels of sulfur dioxide in the upper troposphere, Michigan Tech vulcanologist Simon Carn tweeted that this appeared to be the “highest sulfur dioxide loading measured in a Fuego eruption in the satellite era.”
Figure 22: VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on Suomi NPP acquired this image of the ash plume at 1 p.m. local time (19:00 UTC) on June 3, 2018, after the ash (brown) had punched through a deck of clouds. A report from the Washington Volcanic Ash Advisory Center estimated the plume’s maximum height at 15 km. Imagery from a geostationary satellite showed winds blowing the plume to the east. The eruption deposited ash on several communities surrounding the volcano, including Guatemala City, which is 70 km to the east (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Joshua Stevens, using VIIRS data from the Suomi NPP, story by Adam Voiland)
Figure 23: The map shows concentrations of sulfur dioxide in the middle troposphere at an altitude of 8 km as detected by OMPS on Suomi NPP on June 3. The OMPS data is from the Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center (GES DISC), image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Joshua Stevens, story by Adam Voiland
• May 25, 2018: India has been hit by a streak of unusually intense thunderstorms, dust storms, and lightning so far in 2018. The events collapsed homes, destroyed crops, and claimed the lives of over a hundred people with even more casualties, calling for assistance by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 13)
- In late April, the state of Andhra Pradesh in southeastern India was struck by about 40,000 lightning bolts in 13 hours—more than the number of strikes that occurred in the entire month of May 2017 — striking people and livestock.
- On May 2, 2018, a cluster of strong thunderstorms, accompanied by strong winds and lightning, swept through the Rajasthan region in the north, knocking over large structures and harming those in the way. The potent thunderstorms whipped up one of the deadliest dust storms in decades.
- One week later, the same region was hit by more deadly thunderstorms that brought lightning, 110 km/hour winds, and violent dust storms.
Figure 24: This map shows aerosols, including dust, over northern India on May 14, 2018, around the time of the second dust storm. The aerosol measurements were recorded by OMPS (Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite) on the Suomi NPP satellite. The dust is naturally blocked from moving north by the Himalayan mountain range. In addition to causing accidents and poor air quality, dust aerosols can influence the amount of heat transmitted to Earth‘s surface by either scattering or absorbing incoming sunlight (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Joshua Stevens, using OMPS data from NASA's NPP Ozone Science Team, story by Kasha Patel)
- In recent years, extreme weather events such as heat waves, thunderstorms, and floods have been increasing in India, according to Ajay Singh, a climate change researcher with the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. “Overall, the impact of global warming on the climate of India is clearly visible in the form of increased frequency and intensity of most of the extreme weather events,” said Singh.
- Even with the increasing trend, the intensity of events so far this year is anomalous, said Singh. The unusual thunder and dust storms could have a combination of causes, including extra moisture from a cyclonic circulation over West Bengal colliding with destructive dusty winds. High temperatures in the area also made the atmosphere unstable, fueling thunderstorms and heavy winds.
- The unusually high number of lightning strikes was caused by cold winds from the Arabian Sea colliding with warmer winds from northern India, leading to the formation of more clouds than usual. The spike in lightning this April was abnormal, but India has long been prone to lightning strikes, which are believed to cause more fatalities than any other natural hazard in the country.
- Researchers are interested to learn how the spring 2018 lightning burst in India fits in with longer term trends. Some years can be highly active without signaling a trend, said Dan Cecil, a scientist at NASA Marshall. For instance, a region near Andhra Pradesh had almost double the normal lightning flash rates in 2010, yet 2011 was almost exactly normal. The following years alternated between being slightly below normal and slightly above normal, according to satellite data.
Figure 25: This map shows the annual average number of lightning flashes in India from 1998–2013. The visualization was made from data acquired by the LIS (Lightning Imaging Sensor) on NASA’s TRMM (Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission) satellite and compiled by the GHRC (Global Hydrology Resource Center). Southeastern India usually experiences increased lightning activity before a monsoon season, as heating and weather patterns become unstable and changeable (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Joshua Stevens, using lightning climatology data from GHRC Lightning & Atmospheric Electricity Research, story by Kasha Patel)
- During the last week of April, the lava lake at Halema‘uma‘u Overlook crater overflowed several times and then began to drain rapidly after the crater floor partially collapsed. Soon after, a swarm of earthquakes spread across Kilauea’s East Rift Zone as magma moved underground. On May 3, 2018, several new fissures cracked open the land surface in the Leilani Estates subdivision, leaking gases and spewing fountains of lava. As of May 7, 2018, slow-moving lava flows had consumed 35 homes in that community of 1,500 people.
- In addition to seismic activity and deformation of the land surface, another sign of volcanic activity is increased emission of sulfur dioxide (SO2), a toxic gas that occurs naturally in magma. When magma is deep underground, the gas remains dissolved because of the high pressure. However, pressure diminishes as magma rises toward the surface, and gas comes out of solution, or exsolves, forming bubbles in the liquid magma.
- “The process is similar to what happens when a bottle of soda is opened,” explained Ashley Davies, a volcanologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The bubbles of sulfur dioxide and other volatiles, including water and carbon dioxide, begin to rise through the liquid magma and concentrate in the magma closest to the surface, so the first lava to erupt is often the most volatile-rich. There’s usually an increase in sulfur dioxide output right before lava reaches the surface, as the gas escapes from the ascending magma.”
- Sensors onboard the Ozone Mapping Profiler Suite (OMPS) sensor on the Suomi NPP satellite have begun to detect signs of activity at Kilauea. The series of images above shows elevated concentrations of sulfur dioxide on May 5, a few days after the new fissures opened up. The second chart (below) underscores the significant natural variability in sulfur dioxide emissions as observed by OMPS over Hawaii between January and May 2018.
Figure 26: The growth of SO2 emissions during the volcanic activity on Kilauea, acquired with OMPS in the period April 30 - May 5, 2018 (NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using OMPS data from the Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center (GES DISC). Story by Adam Voiland, with information from Simon Carn (Michigan Tech), Nickolay Krotkov (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), Ashley Davies (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory), Janine Krippner (Concord University), and Jean-Paul Vernier (NASA Langley Research Center).
- “Interpreting the satellite SO2 data for events like this is complicated because there are multiple SO2 sources that combine to form the volcanic sulfur dioxide plume. The Kilauea volcano has several sources of sulfur dioxide degassing: the summit caldera (a significant source since 2008); the Pu’u ‘O’o vent on the East Rift Zone; and now the new eruption site in Leilani Estates,” said Simon Carn, a volcanologist at Michigan Tech. “It can be very hard to distinguish individual ‘plumes’ from these sulfur dioxide sources with the spatial resolution that we have from OMPS, but we are seeing what seems to be an overall increase that coincides with the latest activity.”
- Another satellite-based sensor—ASTER (Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer) on NASA’s Terra satellite—observed SO2 emissions on May 6, 2018. When ASTER passed over Hawaii, the largest source of SO2 appeared to be coming from Kilauea’s summit crater, but there was also a sizable plume streaming southwest from the fissures in Leilani Estates. So far, trade winds have pushed the toxic gas offshore, but Hilo and other communities northwest of Leilani Estates could see air quality deteriorate if the trade winds weaken.
Figure 27: Sulfur Dioxyde at Kilauea (Dobson units), acquired in the period January 1 - May 5, 2018 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory)
• April 24, 2018: We know the Sun is the source and driver of so many things in our earthly days: providing light and heat that energize our plants, our solar panels, and our weather, among other things. But its influence stretches over the horizon into our nights, as well. As our nearest star, the Sun bathes Earth in a steady stream of energetic particles, magnetic fields, and radiation that can stimulate our atmosphere and light up the night sky. The most famous and beautiful example is the aurora borealis, or northern lights. 15)
- In the image of Figure 28, the sensor detected the visible light emissions that occurred as energetic particles from Earth’s magnetosphere rained down into the oxygen and nitrogen gases of the upper atmosphere. Around April 19, the Sun spewed a potent stream of particles and electromagnetic energy—a strong blast of solar wind—that arrived at Earth a few days later and stirred up our magnetic field. The interaction between these solar emissions and our magnetic field causes the particles already trapped around the planet to be accelerated down toward the atmosphere. The collisions make the auroral light.
- Scientists recently discovered a new type of atmospheric light emission related to auroras and known as strong thermal emission velocity enhancements. STEVE is a thin purple ribbon of light that can appear in the presence of an aurora, although it was not reported during the April 21 event. You can participate in a citizen-science project to track auroras and help find new observations of STEVE through Aurorasaurus.
Figure 28: At 2:46 a.m. Central Daylight Time (07:46 Universal Time) on April 21, 2018, VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on the Suomi NPP satellite acquired this image of the aurora borealis over North America. The nighttime image was made possible through VIIRS “day-night band,” which detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared and uses filtering techniques to observe signals such as airglow, auroras, wildfires, city lights, and reflected moonlight (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Joshua Stevens, using VIIRS day-night band data from the Suomi National NPP, story by Mike Carlowicz)
• April 7, 2018: As is often the case in the spring, satellites detected dozens of fires burning in Russia’s far eastern Amur province in late-March 2018. Fires usually flare up around the time that the winter snow cover melts. 16)
- The fires were initially quite small. Most of them were probably lit by people, mainly to burn dried grasses and old crop debris from fields. People in the area routinely light fires in the spring to fertilize the soil, maintain pasturelands, and prevent forest encroachment.
- Many of the fires near the Amur and Zeya rivers spread rapidly over the following week. By April, several were raging out of control—in some cases burning through forests. Dahurian larch dominates forests in Amur, though deciduous trees such as birch and aspen are also common.
- Hundreds of firefighters are working in the region, according to news reports. However, the fires are proving difficult to control and have spread about 20,000 hectares (80 square miles) per day. On April 5, authorities reported extinguishing 15 fires, but 23 new fires emerged on the same day.
Figure 29: VIIRS on the Suomi NPP satellite captured this natural-color image of smoke streaming from several fires on April 4, 2018. Recently charred areas appear black. Rivers, still ice-covered, are white (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, images by Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response. Story by Adam Voiland)
• March 27, 2018: Sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland, Kaliningrad is a small piece of Russia—about half the size of Rhode Island—on the Baltic Sea. Once claimed by Prussia, Kaliningrad was annexed by the Soviet Union during World War II and has since remained under Russian control. 17)
- As this natural-color satellite image shows, the borders of Kaliningrad reveal themselves in an unexpected way—fire activity. The VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite acquired this natural-color image(Figure 30) on March 18, 2018. In the image of Figure 31, areas with red outlines show where the thermal band on VIIRS detected warm surface temperatures associated with fires. This image has been darkened to make the hot spots more visible. Use the image comparison to see the differences.
- This pattern—with many more fires burning in Kaliningrad than in neighboring Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus—is common in the spring, usually in March through mid-May. There are several reasons for the disparity, explained Alexander Prishchepov, a University of Copenhagen geographer who studies this region. “While intentionally lighting fires is illegal in all of these countries, enforcement of the law is much weaker in Russia,” he said. “Also important is that Kaliningrad farmers abandoned fields at a much higher rate than their neighbors after the Soviet Union collapsed.”
- Using Landsat satellite imagery collected over decades, Prishchepov and colleagues calculated that about half of Kaliningrad’s fields were abandoned after 1991. In contrast, adjacent counties in Poland and Lithuania had abandonment rates of less than 20 percent.
- When farmland gets abandoned in temperate Europe, it turns into grassy meadows and, eventually, forest. In Kaliningrad, fields that were once used to grow cereal, fodder crops, and vegetables in large collective farms are now used less intensively as pastureland or hay fields. Many owners of grasslands find that burning the prior year’s growth is a cheap and easy way to clear away old grass, fertilize the soil, and prevent forests from encroaching.
- However, it is unlikely that all of these fires are related to farming or the management of grasslands. By reviewing satellite data of fire locations over the years, Prishchepov and his colleagues have noticed that fires regularly burn quite close to towns, roads, and airports, suggesting that some of these fires could be ignited by stray sparks from cigarettes and vehicles.
- This is not the only burning season in Kaliningrad. A second burning season usually flares up in July and continues through October. During the fall burning period, most of the fires are started by farmers trying to get rid of crop debris left over after harvest, particularly straw.
Figure 30: VIIRS on Suomi NPP acquired this natural-color image on March 18, 2018 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory images by Jeff Schmaltz, using VIIRS data from LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response , Story by Adam Voiland)
Figure 31: In this darkened image, the VIIRS thermal band detected warm surface temperatures associated with fires [image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Jeff Schmaltz, using VIIRS data from LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response. Story by Adam Voiland, with information from Jessica McCarty (Miami University), Alexander Prishchepov (University of Copenhagen), and Svetlana Turubanova (University of Maryland)]
• March 1, 2018: Every January through March, vast numbers of small fires spring up across the countryside in Southeast Asia. Those months usually bring cool, dry weather—perfect conditions for burning. 18)
- VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured data (Figure 32) showing the locations of hundreds of fires burning in Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar (Burma) on February 3, 2018. Each red dot on the map depicts one fire detection from the VIIRS 750-meter active fire data product. (Note that there is also a 375-meter active fire data product that detects more fires, but the 750-meter product is the basis for this useful mapping tool.)
- On that day, there were significantly more fires in Cambodia than in neighboring countries. VIIRS detected 1,868 hot spots in Cambodia, 185 in Laos, 77 in Myanmar, 217 in Thailand, and 114 in Vietnam. The large number of fires in Cambodia were the most VIIRS has observed on a single day in 2018. The pattern is consistent with recent years: As depicted in the map of Figure 34, the instrument has detected four-to-five times as many fires in northern Cambodia as it did in Vietnam and Thailand between August 2016 and February 2018. Northern Laos also had a relatively high number of fires.
Figure 32: On 3 Feb. 2018, the VIIRS instrument acquired this image of Southeast Asia showing the locations of hundreds of fires burning in Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, images by Joshua Stevens, using fire data from the VIIRS Active Fire team, story by Adam Voiland)
- People light fires in Southeast Asia for several reasons. In some forested areas, small-scale subsistence farmers practice swidden agriculture (also called slash-and-burn). The technique involves cutting down trees and shrubs, letting the wood dry out for a few months, and then burning it to clear fields. Hunters sometimes start fires to drive reclusive animals into view. Likewise, people collecting mushrooms sometimes burn the forest floor to make it easier to forage. Loggers use fire to clear roads and to clear the land after harvesting the most desirable species. In non-forested areas, farmers set fires to dispose of plant debris after harvesting rice, wheat, and other crops. Discarded cigarettes, sparks from vehicles, and problems with electrical systems also spark fires.
Figure 34: VIIRS has detected four-to-five times as many fires in northern Cambodia as it did in Vietnam and Thailand between August 2016 and February 2018 (acquired February 21, 2018). Northern Laos also had a relatively high number of fires (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, images by Joshua Stevens, using fire data from the VIIRS Active Fire team, story by Adam Voiland)
• February 9, 2018: NOAA/NASA's Suomi NPP satellite captured this image of the Korean Peninsula on February 8, 2018 (Figure 35), one day before the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Despite recent cold temperatures, there is relatively little snow over the country's more mountainous terrain, including the Taebaek Mountains where this year's games will be held. This imagery shows snow cover in the southwestern corner of the country (bright white areas near the coast), while areas near Pyeongchang are only lightly snow covered. 19)
- Located 700 m above sea level and exposed to frigid northerly winds out of Siberia during winter, the Pyeongchang region is more than cold enough for snow. Climate data from the Korean Meteorological Administration show average daily high temperatures in Pyeongchang at this time of year are just below freezing, making the area conducive to artificial snow at game venues if needed.
Figure 35: VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on Suomi NPP captured this image on 8 Feb. 2018. Although true-color images like this one appear to be photographs of the Earth, they are actually created by combining data from three different color channels on the satellite's VIIRS instrument. These channels are sensitive to the red, green and blue (or RGB) wavelengths of light, and are blended into a single composite image (image credit: NOAA/NESDIS)
• January 6, 2018: On December 28, 2017, VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on the Suomi NPP satellite (Figure 36) and the MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) on the Aqua satellite (Figure 37) acquired the data for these natural-color images. Swirls of milky blue and green reveal the presence of massive numbers of phytoplankton in the South Atlantic Ocean near the Falkland Islands. The dense blooms stretched hundreds of kilometers. The puffs of white in each image are thin clouds. 20)
- Phytoplankton are microscopic, plant-like marine organisms that use chlorophyll to harness sunlight for energy in much the same way that land-based plants do. When conditions are right, these tiny floating organisms can multiply exponentially and spread across hundreds of square kilometers of the ocean surface.
- Phytoplankton form the center of the marine food web, serving as the primary food source for zooplankton, shellfish, fish, and larger marine creatures that consume them both. They are also critical to the global carbon cycle, as they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turn it into carbohydrates. When the phytoplankton (or the animals that eat them) die, some of their remains sink to the ocean floor, transporting carbon to the bottom of the ocean. Finally, phytoplankton are key producers of the oxygen that makes the planet livable for humans and other creatures.
- Bloom conditions are often just right near the east coast of South America and the Falklands in southern spring and winter. The waters are fueled by abundant nutrients carried on the Malvinas Current. Spun off of the Circumpolar Current of the Southern Ocean, the Malvinas flows north and east along the coast. The waters are enriched by iron and other nutrients from Antarctica and Patagonia, and they are made even richer by the interaction of ocean currents along the shelfbreak front, where the continental shelf slopes down to the deep ocean abyssal plain.
Figure 36: The VIIRS instrument on Suomi NPP acquired this natural color image of phytoplankton near the Falkland Islands on 28 Dec. 2017 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Joshua Stevens, using VIIRS data from the Suomi NPP satellite, story by Mike Carlowicz)
Figure 37: The MODIS instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite acquired this natural color image of phytoplankton near the Falkland Islands on 28 Dec. 2017 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Joshua Stevens, using MODIS data from LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response, story by Mike Carlowicz)
• December 27, 2017: Since 2011, the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) sensor on the Suomi NPP satellite has been collecting data on the brightness of lights—natural and manmade—that shine around the Earth at night. 21)
- Suomi NPP’s orbit allows VIIRS to collect new night light data for almost all of the Earth every night. This means the sensor does much more than generate pretty pictures. With each orbit, it adds to an ever-growing archive of data that is allowing scientists and geographers to track changes in artificial lights, fishing practices, economic activity, development patterns, the movement of goods and people, and many other research areas in innovative ways and on a global scale.
- The map of Figure 38 offers a few small-scale examples of the sort of changes that VIIRS can reveal. The map shows where the intensity of light decreased (orange), increased (purple), and stayed the same (white) between 2012 and 2016 in the Midwest. In order to make the map, all of the clear-sky imagery collected by VIIRS in 2012 was compiled into a composite and then compared to a composite of clear images from 2016.
Figure 38: Detail map of VIIRS on Suomi NPP showing the change in night lights in the period 2012-2016 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA GSFC. Story by Adam Voiland)
- The marked increase in light along Interstate 90 between Chicago and Rockford, as well as the increase in light around the town of Coldwater, Michigan, are two of the more noticeable features. The new light along the highway is associated with a multi-year infrastructure project to widen the road. In 2013 and 2014, the western portion of this stretch of I-90 was expanded from two to four lanes; the eastern portion went from six to eight lanes between 2014 and 2016.
- In Coldwater, Michigan, the increase in light relates to the recent construction of greenhouses that are used to raise vegetables using hydroponic growing techniques. Despite Michigan’s dark and chilly winters, the high-tech greenhouses are equipped with powerful grow lights that are often lit at night, making it possible to raise tomatoes and peppers 365 days a year.
- Many small, local changes in lighting like these can point to big changes in energy use, light pollution, and economic development over time. However, scientists—as well as the public—should be careful when interpreting the changes they see in qualitative maps of changing nighttime light, cautioned Miguel Román, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. There are several natural factors that can influence how much light the satellite detects, ranging from the phase of the Moon, lightning flashes, the presence or absence of snow or vegetation, and haze and cloud cover. These issues need to be fully understood when analyzing changes in light over time. Snow can be particularly problematic because its presence can amplify light signals even when skies are perfectly clear.
- “Some of the changes you see in this map have more to do with differences in snow cover than with changes to lights on the ground,” said Román. “However, along that part of I-90 and around Coldwater, the signal is quite strong. We have checked enough on the day-to-day and week-to-week light levels—not just whole years of data averaged together, as this map shows—that I am confident the increases are real in those two places.”
Figure 39: The time-series chart above provides a more complete look at how the intensity of the light VIIRS detected along I-90 changed between 2012 and 2016. The uncorrected values observed by the satellite are shown in light purple. In the corrected data, shown in dark purple, algorithms developed by Román and his colleagues have filtered out changes caused by moonlight, snow, and other natural factors as much as possible (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA GSFC. Story by Adam Voiland)
- Notice that the corrected data shows a sizable—roughly tenfold—increase in light in the beginning of 2015, a clear sign that new lighting associated with the highway project came online at that time. The small peaks and valleys in the uncorrected data are associated with changes in moonlight. The steeper peaks and valleys are caused by snow amplifying the light signal. The amplification can be significant. Note that light levels went up roughly 30-fold in 2015 in the uncorrected data, but that roughly two-thirds of the increase was due to the signal being amplified by snow, explained Román.
- As time passes and more satellite data accumulates, expect to see scientists and geographers digging deeply into VIIRS data. For the past few decades, researchers have been mining an earlier generation of night light data acquired by the OLS (Operational Linescan System), which operated on weather satellites managed by the U.S. Department of Defense. “Since VIIRS is about ten to fifteen times better than the OLS at resolving the relatively dim lights of human settlements, I expect there will be even stronger interest in doing time-series analysis for VIIRS,” said Román. “It’s an exciting time to be doing this type of research.”
Figure 40: Context image of the Great Lakes region of VIIRS on Suomi NPP showing the change in night lights in the period 2012-2016 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA GSFC. Story by Adam Voiland)
• December 6, 2017: Tropical Storm Ockhi brought drenching rain to the west coast of India in early December 2017, while also stirring up dust plumes and disturbing stagnant, smoggy air in the interior. 22)
- On 4 Dec. 2017, VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on the Suomi NPP satellite acquired the data for a natural-color image (Figure 41) of the tropical cyclone approaching India. The diffuse center of the storm was expected to make landfall near Mumbai and Gujarat state on December 5. Schools and colleges were shut down for the day as a precautionary measure.
- Note the smog and haze to the north and east of the storm in the December 4 image—remnants of a persistent air pollution event in the northern reaches of India. The strong winds and atmospheric circulation of Ockhi could clear that air over the next few days; rainfall also could wash many of the aerosol particles out of the air.
- To the north and west in the image, streams of airborne dust and sand blew out over the Arabian Sea from Pakistan and Iran. The plumes are a visible manifestation of strong northerly and northeasterly winds associated with the turbulent weather in the region. The outer bands of Ockhi stretched far to the north, and the system likely strengthened the pressure gradient between the cyclone and a high-pressure system to the northwest, intensifying surface winds until they picked up dust.
Figure 41: VIIRS image of Tropical Storm Ockhi, acquired on 4 Dec. 2017 [image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Jesse Allen, using VIIRS data from the Suomi NPP. Story by Mike Carlowicz, with image interpretation from Andy Ackerman (NASA GISS), Hiren Jethva (NASA/GSFC) and Steve Lang (NASA/GSFC)].
- On 5 December 2017, MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired the second image, a natural-color view of Ockhi as the storm neared landfall. At the time of the image, sustained winds were estimated to be 45 knots (80 km/hr).
- Ockhi ( meaning “eye” in the Bengali language) is the strongest cyclone to develop in the Arabian Sea since Megh in 2015. It formed near southern India and Sri Lanka on November 30, 2017, moved out over the Arabian Sea, intensified to category 3 strength on December 2–3, but then weakened quickly as it moved north and closer to land.
Figure 42: MODIS image of Cyclone Ockhi, acquired on 5 Dec. 2017 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory)
• November 29, 2017: Since August 2017, residents of the Indonesian island of Bali have been living with a heightened sense of the uncertainty that comes with living near a volcano. Mount Agung has been rumbling with increasing unrest for more than three months. Activity ramped up with a small ash eruption on November 21, 2017, followed by an explosive phreatic eruption on November 25. 23)
- Clouds have so far prevented satellites from capturing visible images of the volcanic plume, but that does not mean the eruption has gone unobserved. Even on a cloudy day, some satellites excel at detecting components in the atmosphere that are invisible to human eyes, such as the sulfur dioxide (SO2) in a volcano’s plume. The gas can affect both human health and climate (Figures 43 and 44).
- Simon Carn, a volcanologist at Michigan Tech, noted that the westward motion of the plume is due to the pull of Tropical Cyclone Cempaka south of Java.
- Also notice that by November 28, the SO2 plume directly over the volcano appears to have decreased. “It is definitely normal that it should fluctuate a bit,” said Janine Krippner, a volcanologist at the University of Pittsburgh. “But the volcano is definitely not winding down at this point.” She also notes that the concern now is that there is a clear pathway through which lava can travel to the surface. An “open system” like this one led to deadly lava flows during the volcano’s last major eruption in 1963.
- According to a report by the Jarkata Globe, about 100,000 people live on the volcano’s slopes but less than half have evacuated. The eruption has also led to airport closures and the cancellation of hundreds of flights.
Figure 43: SO2 concentrations detected over Mount Agung on 27 November with OMPS on Suomi NPP (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Joshua Stevens, using OMPS data from the Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center (GES DISC). Story by Kathryn Hansen)
Figure 44: SO2 concentrations detected over Mount Agung on 28 November with OMPS on Suomi NPP (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Joshua Stevens, using OMPS data from the Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center (GES DISC). Story by Kathryn Hansen)
• On October 17, 2017, the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite captured this image (Figure 45) of an unusual cloud pattern off the coast of southern Australia. 24)
- Clouds appear to be streaming out from a cold front, indicated by the dark blue line on a weather map published that day by Australia’s BOM (Bureau of Meteorology). But according to Paul Lainio, BOM meteorologist, that’s not actually what’s happening.
- Instead, the pattern is caused by a phenomenon in the atmosphere called “gravity waves.” Similar to a boat’s wake, which forms as water is pushed upward by the boat and pulled downward again by gravity, these clouds are formed by the rise and fall of air columns. As the wave moves along the cloud band, the wave peaks appear cloudy and the troughs appear cloud-free. In this case, the gravity waves developed as a result of instability on the flank of a strong jet stream moving ahead of the cold front.
- “This type of effect is relatively unusual since it requires a strong anticyclonic-curved jet that develops gravity waves of sufficient magnitude,” Lainio said. “The gravity waves are the atmosphere’s way of restoring balance, and they usually don’t last for lengthy periods.”
Figure 45: The VIIRS instrument captured this unusual cloud pattern on 17 Oct. 2017 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Joshua Stevens using VIIRS data from LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response. Story by Kathryn Hansen)
• September 25, 2017: Hurricane Maria was analyzed in visible and infrared light as NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP passed overhead over two days. NASA's GPM satellite also provided a look at Maria's rainfall rates. 25)
- On Sept. 23 at 8:12 a.m. EDT (12:12 UTC) the GPM (Global Precipitation Measurement) mission core observatory estimated of hourly rainfall in multiple intense rainfall bands of thunderstorms around Maria's western side. Rain was found falling at a rate of over 137 mm/hour and some thunderstorm tops in these rain bands were found to reach heights above 15.7 km. GPM is managed by NASA and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency).
Figure 46: The GPM core observatory estimated of hourly rainfall of Hurricane Maria. Rain was found falling at a rate of over 137 mm/hour (image credit: NASA/JAXA, Hal Pierce)
- On Sept. 24 at 1:54 p.m. EDT (17:54 UTC), the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) instrument aboard NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite captured a visible light image of Hurricane Maria that showed the eye had become cloud filled. Maria was located northeast of Bahamas and far off the Florida east coast (Figure 47).
- On Sept. 25 at 2:12 a.m. EDT (06:12 UTC) the VIIRS instrument aboard NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite provided tan infrared image of Hurricane Maria (Figure 48). The infrared image provided forecasters with temperature data that showed where the strongest storms were located within the hurricane. Coldest clouds tops and strongest storms were in the southeastern quadrant where temperatures were as cold as or colder than minus minus 62.2º C. NASA research has shown that storms with cloud top temperatures that cold can produce heavy rainfall.
Figure 48: The VIIRS instrument aboard NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite provided this infrared image of Hurricane Maria. Coldest cloud tops (red) and strongest storms were in the southeastern quadrant (image credit: NOAA/NASA Goddard Rapid Response Team)
• September 9, 2017: Meteorologists struggled to find the right words to describe the situation as a line of three hurricanes—two of them major and all of them threatening land—brewed in the Atlantic basin in September 2017. 26)
- Forecasters were most concerned about Irma, which was on track to make landfall in densely populated South Florida on September 10 as a large category 4 storm. Meanwhile, category 2 Hurricane Katia was headed for Mexico, where it was expected to make landfall on September 9. And just days after Irma devastated the Leeward Islands, the chain of small Caribbean islands braced for another blow—this time from category 4 Hurricane Jose.
- The VIIRS instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite captured the data for a mosaic of Katia, Irma, and Jose as they appeared in the early hours of September 8, 2017. The images were acquired by the VIIRS “day-night band,” which detects light signals in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared, and uses filtering techniques to observe signals such as city lights, auroras, wildfires, and reflected moonlight. In this case, the clouds were lit by the nearly full Moon. The image is a composite, showing cloud imagery combined with data on city lights.
Figure 49: Suomi NPP image of Hurricanes Katia, Irma and Jose, captured on September 8, 2017 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory,images by Joshua Stevens and Jesse Allen, using VIIRS day-night band data from the Suomi NPP, story by Adam Voiland)
Figure 50: MODIS on NASA's Terra satellite acquired a natural-color image of Irma at 16:00 UTC on September 8, 2017 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory,images by Joshua Stevens and Jesse Allen, using MODIS data from LANCE (Land Atmosphere Near real-time Capability for EOS), story by Adam Voiland)
• On September 6, 2017, Hurricane Irma slammed into the Leeward Islands on its way toward Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the U.S. mainland. As the category 5 storm approaches the Bahamas and Florida in the coming days, it will be passing over waters that are warmer than 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit)—hot enough to sustain a category 5 storm. Warm oceans, along with low wind shear, are two key ingredients that fuel and sustain hurricanes. 27)
- The map of Figure 51 shows sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico on September 5, 2017. The data were compiled by NOAA's CRWP (Coral Reef Watch Program), which blends observations from the Suomi NPP, MTSAT, Meteosat, and GOES satellites and computer models. The mid-point of the color scale is 27.8°C, a threshold that scientists generally believe to be warm enough to fuel a hurricane. The yellow-to-red line on the map represents Irma’s track from September 3–6.
- By definition, category 5 storms deliver maximum sustained winds of at least 252 km/ hour. When it hit the Leeward Islands, Irma’s winds surpassed 295 km/ hour, making it the strongest storm to ever hit the islands and one of the strongest storms ever measured in the Atlantic basin.
Figure 51: Sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico on September 5, 2017. NOAA compiled the data from the Suomi NPP, MTSAT, Meteosat, and GOES satellites and computer models (image credit: NOAA, NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens and Jesse Allen)
• September 6, 2017: With dozens of wildfires burning across the western United States and Canada, many North Americans have had the acrid taste of smoke in their mouths during the past few weeks. On September 5, 2017, the NIFC (National Interagency Fire Center) reported more than 80 large fires burning in nine western U.S. states. People living in large stretches of northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho have been breathing what the U.S. government’s Air Now website rated as “hazardous” air. 28)
- The natural-color mosaic of Figure 52 was made from several scenes acquired on September 4, 2017, by the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi-NPP) satellite. The OMPS (Ozone Mapper Profiler Suite ) on Suomi NPP also collected data on airborne aerosols as they were swept by winds from west to east across the continental United States (second image).
- The OMPS map depicts relative aerosol concentrations, with lower concentrations appearing in yellow and higher concentrations appearing in dark orange-brown. Note that the sensor detects aerosols in high-altitude plumes more readily than lower plumes, so this map does not reflect air quality conditions at “nose height.” Rather it shows where large plumes of smoke were lofted several kilometers up into the atmosphere.
- On September 5, roughly 7.8 million acres had burned in the United States since the beginning of 2017, according to NIFC. “While it is unlikely that this season will be record-breaking for modern fire record keeping in the western United States, it is above normal relative to the last decade—which has seen abundant fire activity,” said John Abatzoglou, a fire researcher at the University of Idaho. Unusually warm and dry conditions across a broad swath of the West has fueled the active fire season, noted Abatzoglou. A wet winter in some parts of the West also contributed by triggering the growth of more grass in the spring—grass that turns into fuel for fires in the summer.
Figure 53: The OMPS map depicts relative aerosol concentrations, with lower concentrations appearing in yellow and higher concentrations appearing in dark orange-brown (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, images by Joshua Stevens and Jesse Allen, using Suomi NPP OMPS data provided courtesy of Colin Seftor (SSAI), Story by Adam Voiland)
• September 3, 2017: Hurricane Harvey changed the landscape of southern Texas and the lives of millions of people. The storm also changed the surface profile of the Gulf of Mexico, though those effects are likely to be short-lived. 29)
- When Harvey crossed the Yucatán Peninsula into the Gulf of Mexico on August 22–23, 2017, the tropical depression moved into waters that were 1.5 to 4º Celsius warmer than the long-term regional average for sea surface temperatures. Hurricanes feed off of warm ocean temperatures, like a fire relies on a steady oxygen supply to keep burning. “So this deep, warm pool of water helped provide additional fuel for Harvey to intensify,” said Dalia Kirschbaum, a scientist and natural hazards specialist at NASA/GSFC (Goddard Space Flight Center).
- Once in the Gulf, Harvey grew rapidly and sped toward the Texas coast as a category 4 hurricane — then lingered for five days as a potent tropical storm. In the process, the storm dropped unprecedented amounts of rainwater on Houston and southern Texas while churning up the Gulf of Mexico.
- The maps of Figure 54 show sea surface temperatures in the western Gulf of Mexico on August 23 and August 30, 2017, as well as the storm track for Harvey. The pair of maps of Figure 55 show sea surface temperature anomalies; that is, how much the surface layer was above or below the long-term average temperature for this time of year. The data for all of the maps were compiled by Coral Reef Watch, which blends observations from the Suomi NPP, MTSAT, Meteosat, and GOES satellites with computer models.
- All of the fresh rainwater and the ocean mixing from the storm combined to dramatically alter the surface waters of the Gulf. Cooling naturally as it rose through the atmosphere, the water that fell back onto the sea as rain likely would have been cooler than the surface waters. At the same time, the winds and waves of the storm worked to disperse warm surface water and to bring up cooler water from the ocean depths.
- In theory, the cooler water now near the surface of the northern Gulf of Mexico should make it less likely for a new storm to develop or intensify there in the coming weeks. However, the waters of the Gulf are not exactly cool. Scientists generally agree that SSTs (Sea Surface Temperatures) should be above 27.8°C to promote the development and intensification of hurricanes. (There are some exceptions.) So even some of the light blues on our sea surface temperature maps are still warm enough for storms.
Figure 54: Surface temperatures in the Golf western Gulf of Mexico, acquired on August 23 and August 30, 2017, as well as the storm track for Harvey. The data were compiled by Coral Reef Watch, which blends observations from the Suomi NPP, MTSAT, Meteosat, and GOES satellites with computer models (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, images by Joshua Stevens, using data from Coral Reef Watch and Unisys, Story by Mike Carlowicz)
Figure 55: Western Golf of Mexico sea surface temperature anomalies - difference from the long-term average temperature for this time of the year. The observations were in the time frame August 23 and August 30, 2017. The data were compiled by Coral Reef Watch, which blends observations from the Suomi NPP, MTSAT, Meteosat, and GOES satellites with computer models (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, images by Joshua Stevens, using data from Coral Reef Watch and Unisys, Story by Mike Carlowicz)
Table 1: Overview of the VIIRS data product performance - continuing with the JPSS (Joint Polar Satellite System) missions 30)
• On June 17,2017, lightning reportedly ignited a deadly wildfire that spread across the mountainous areas of Pedrógão Grande—a municipality in central Portugal located about 160 km northeast of Lisbon. The MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured a daytime image of smoke billowing northward from areas of active burning on June 18. The following night the blaze continued to burn so bright that it was visible from space. 31)
- VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured a nighttime image of the fire at 2:48 a.m. local time (01:48 UTC on June 19, 2017, Figure 56). For comparison, the second image of Figure 57 shows the same area in the predawn hours of June 16. Turn on the image-comparison tool to see the fires brighten the rural landscape between the urban areas. Note that some differences in brightness and sharpness are due to the presence of more cloud cover in the June 19 image. The fire was imaged by a special “day-night band” that detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared and uses light intensification to detect dim signals.
- Fires across Portugal’s forested landscape during the warm, dry summer months are not uncommon. In 2016, hundreds of fires raged on the mainland and also on the Portuguese island of Madeira. The high death toll associated with this week’s fire, however, led The New York Times and other media to report it as “Portugal’s worst forest fire in more than half a century.”
Figure 56: VIIRS nighttime image of the fires in Portugal acquired on June 19, 2017 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Jesse Allen, using VIIRS day-night band data from the Suomi NPP, story by Kathryn Hansen)
Figure 57: VIIRS image of the same region in Portugal acquired in the predawn hours on June 16, 2017 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Jesse Allen, using VIIRS day-night band data from the Suomi NPP, story by Kathryn Hansen)
• May 16, 2017: Image comparison: Unlike most satellite imagery and data, views of Earth at night tell a distinctly human story. From fires to fishing boats to urban neon, lights show where people have made their homes, set up their industries, and laid down their roads. The lack of light usually reflects rural or uninhabited areas, though sometimes it means there is not enough electricity to keep lights on through the night. 32)
- Changing patterns of light over time also tell us something. The images above show differences in nighttime lighting between 2012 and 2016 in Syria and Iraq, among several Middle Eastern countries. Such images interest demographers, engineers, and social scientists because they can indicate economic development or the lack of it. Some changes reflect increases or decreases in electric power generation or in the steadiness of the supply. Even areas that switch to LEDs or other energy efficient lights can show up over time.
- Night light images also have value for international relief and humanitarian organizations, which can use this data to pinpoint areas in need. NASA makes its Earth observations freely and openly available (often via the Web) to those seeking solutions to important global issues. Several current applied sciences efforts within NASA are aimed at making satellite data more readily accessible for disaster response and the delivery of aid.
- Each image of Figures 58 and 59 is drawn from a global composite that was made by selecting the best cloud-free nights in each month over each land mass on Earth. The data come from the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on the NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP satellite. VIIRS includes a special “day/night band,” a low-light sensor that makes quantitative measurements of light emissions and reflections, allowing researchers to distinguish the intensity, types, and sources of night lights and to observe how they change over several years.
- A research team led by Miguel Román of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center recently released new global maps of Earth at night from 2012 and 2016. Román and colleagues are collaborating with institutions such as the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency and the United Nations to enable near-real-time applications of such data, in addition to fundamental research.
- In the images of Figures 58 and 59, the changes are most dramatic around Aleppo, but also extend through western Syria to Damascus. Over the four years, lighting increased in areas north of the Syrian border in Turkey and to the west in Lebanon. According to a 2015 report from the Voice of America, as much as 80 percent of the lights have gone out in Syria over the past few years.
- In Iraq, some northern sections near Mosul saw a decrease in light over the years, while areas around Baghdad, Irbil, and Kirkuk saw increases. Note, too, the change in electric light patterns along the Tigris and Euphrates river basins.
- International agencies such as the United Nations Institute for Training and Research Operational Satellite Applications Program (UNITAR-UNOSAT) have used such imagery in the past few years “to track fast-moving conflicts and to update our UN colleagues on where the front lines might be,” said Lars Bromley, a remote sensing specialist with the agency. UNOSAT works to “improve the integration of satellite imagery and geospatial data in supporting global UN operations and activities in the areas of disaster response, humanitarian support, human security, and human rights.” Nighttime imagery helps relief and peacekeeping groups identify areas that are most in need of aid and support.
• April 12, 2017: NASA scientists are releasing new global maps of Earth at night, providing the clearest yet composite view of the patterns of human settlement across our planet. This composite image, one of three new full-hemisphere views, provides a view of the Americas at night. The clouds and sun glint — added here for aesthetic effect — are derived from MODIS instrument land surface and cloud cover products. 33)
- In the years since the 2011 launch of the NASA-NOAA Suomi- NPP (National Polar-orbiting Partnership) satellite, a research team led by Earth scientist Miguel Román of NASA/GSFC (Goddard Space Flight Center) has been analyzing night lights data and developing new software and algorithms to make night lights imagery clearer, more accurate and readily available. They are now on the verge of providing daily, high-definition views of Earth at night, and are targeting the release of such data to the science community later this year.
- Today they are releasing a new global composite map of night lights as observed in 2016, as well as a revised version of the 2012 map. The NASA group has examined the different ways that light is radiated, scattered and reflected by land, atmospheric and ocean surfaces. The principal challenge in nighttime satellite imaging is accounting for the phases of the moon, which constantly varies the amount of light shining on Earth, though in predictable ways. Likewise, seasonal vegetation, clouds, aerosols, snow and ice cover, and even faint atmospheric emissions (such as airglow and auroras) change the way light is observed in different parts of the world.
Figure 60: Earth at Night map (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NAS/GSFC) 34)
Suomi NPP observes nearly every location on Earth at roughly 13:30 and at 1:30 hrs (local time) each day, observing the planet in vertical 3000 km strips from pole to pole. VIIRS includes a special “day-night band,” a low-light sensor that can distinguish night lights with six times better spatial resolution and 250 times better resolution of lighting levels (dynamic range) than previous night-observing satellites. And because Suomi NPP is a civilian science satellite, the data are freely available to scientists within minutes to hours of acquisition.
Figure 61: Composite image of Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern U.S. (Boston-Washington corridor) at night, 2016 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA/GSFC)
• February 22, 2017: Yet another series of atmospheric rivers has drenched California and the American West in a stunning turnaround from five years of drought. Many parts of California have received nearly twice as much rain as normally falls in the first five months of a water year, which began on October 1. 35)
- Flood and landslide warnings are in effect in many counties, particularly in the Sacramento Valley, which is crossed by several rivers and sits downstream from several large reservoirs and dams. According to news reports, more than two dozen mud/debris flows have been reported across California, and at least 30 major roads have been flooded at various times in the past week. Spillways have been opened at the Anderson, Oroville, and Monticello dams, among others.
- The map of Figure 63 shows satellite-based measurements of rain, snow, and other wintry precipitation as it has accumulated over California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona this year. Specifically, it adds the daily precipitation totals from December 31, 2016, to the evening of February 20, 2017. These are remotely-sensed estimates, and local amounts can be significantly higher when measured from the ground. The brightest areas on the map depict as much as 1000 mm of precipitation.
- More than 12 cm of rain fell in parts of northern California and along the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada on February 19–20. Daily rainfall records for February 20 were doubled in San Jose (4.75 cm) and San Francisco (5.5 cm ). According to Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach and National Weather Service sources, San Francisco has received 41.6 cm of rain since January 1, while Oakland has received 52.85 cm; the typical yearly total is 58 cm.
- During an atmospheric river event in southern California on February 17–18, new rainfall records were set in Death Valley (1.65 cm) and Santa Barbara (10.6 cm). More than 100,000 people lost power in the Los Angeles Metropolitan area on February 17 due to the storms.
- Las Vegas Valley set a new record rainfall on February 18, measuring 1.1 cm that day. Locations on the west side of the valley received double that amount. Meanwhile, in northern Nevada, Mount Rose has been buried under 12.7 m of snow this winter. The Mount Rose Highway between Reno and Lake Tahoe has been closed by an avalanche that dropped 6 m of snow on the road.
Figure 62: VIIRS on Suomi NPP captured a natural-color image of conditions over the northeastern Pacific. Note the tight arc of clouds stretching from Hawaii to California, a visible manifestation of the atmospheric river pouring moisture into western states (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, images by Jesse Allen and Joshua Stevens using VIIRS data)
Figure 63: Precipitation accumulated over the western states in 2017. The data come from IMERG (Integrated Multi-Satellite Retrievals for GPM), a product of the Global Precipitation Measurement mission (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, images by Jesse Allen and Joshua Stevens using IMERG data of GPM)
• February 14, 2017: After extreme drought and water shortages plagued California for years, a series of winter storms pushed reservoirs in the Sacramento Valley to the brim in January and February 2017. Rivers and reservoirs are swollen throughout California. VIIRS on Suomi NPP captured the image of Figure 64 on Feb. 11, 2017. 36)
- For comparison, the image of Figure 65 shows the same area on November 9, 2016, before the wet weather arrived. Large amounts of water have pooled in the Yolo Bypass, a water storage area designed to minimize flooding in Sacramento. Sediment stirred up during the flooding has turned waterways throughout northern California—including San Pablo Bay and Suisun Bay—a dark shade of brown.
- With weather stations in the northern Sierra Nevada recording remarkably high levels of precipitation for the 2016-2017 water year, reservoir levels are well above the historical average in the Sacramento Valley and elsewhere in California. As of February 11, 2017, Lake Oroville stood at 151% of the historical average. Folsom Lake was at 144%, Lake Shasta was at 138%, Don Pedro Reservoir was at 141%, and Lake McClure was at 182%.
- At the Oroville Dam, the situation became dire on February 7, 2017, when a large hole appeared in the main concrete spillway, a part of the dam managers use to release excess water in a controlled fashion. The hole limited how much water authorities could safely release through the spillway, so water levels in the reservoir continued to rise. A few days later, water began flowing over an emergency spillway that has never before been used. When the emergency spillway began showing worrisome signs of erosion on February 12, authorities ordered the evacuation of 188,000 people living downstream.
- Lake Oroville’s levels have declined since the evacuation order and the risk of a catastrophic failure has lessened. But reservoir managers remain concerned that rain showers forecast for this week could elevate reservoir water levels and stress the spillways again. As of 11 a.m. on February 13, the evacuation order remained in effect.
Figure 64: VIIRS on Suomi NPP captured this natural-color image of sediment-filled waterways in the Sacramento Valley on February 11, 2017 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Jesse Allen, caption by Adam Voiland)
Figure 65: For comparison, VIIRS on Suomi NPP captured this natural-color image on Nov. 9, 2016, before the wet weather arrived (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Jesse Allen, caption by Adam Voiland)
• February 13, 2017: NASA has awarded the SNPPS (Suomi National Polar-Orbiting Partnership Sustainability) contract to BATC (Ball Aerospace and Technology Corp.) of Boulder, Colorado. This is an indefinite-delivery/indefinite quantity, cost-plus fixed-fee contract with the ability to issue task orders. Under this contract, Ball Aerospace will continue to provide sustaining engineering services to the JPSS (Joint Polar Satellite System) Flight Project and NOAA’s Office of Satellite and Product Operations for the mission operations systems and subsystems, and deactivation of the Suomi NPP satellite. This effort will maintain the current operational phase of the satellite through the Suomi NPP mission life, including deactivation and contract closeout. 37)
- Suomi NPP provides continuity for NASA’s EOS (Earth Observing System) and is a bridge between NOAA’s legacy POES (Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite) missions and the JPSS-1 (Joint Polar Satellite System-1) satellite, under development and integration at BATC. Its sensor complement has surpassed expectations for low noise and accuracy, and has provided useful data to forecasters beginning well before it gained operational status. The NWS (National Weather Service) uses Suomi NPP global measurements in its numerical weather prediction models. NPP’s advanced imagery of clouds, ocean surface, land features and other physical parameters is key data for civilian and DoD forecasters. Suomi NPP’s precise observations are improving the accuracy of global forecasts three to seven days in advance of significant weather events, including hurricanes and winter storms. 38)
• January 12, 2017: Starting from 14 :18 UTC on January 12, 2017, the Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band began to be produced operationally using the NOAA STAR (Satellite Applications and Research) Center delivered calibration parameters based on onboard and pitch maneuver data, which were previously delivered by external partners based on dark ocean special collect data. STAR has improved the calibration which will result in better radiometric quality especially for low radiances. With the new calibration, users should expect to see a significant reduction of erroneous negative radiances especially during new moon. 39)
• December 7, 2016: Many parts of eastern China were put on orange alert on December 4, 2016, when heavy smog veiled large swaths of the country. The haze stranded passengers at airports in northern China and slowed down city life in Beijing, which reached orange alert level on December 1. 40)
- An orange alert signals heavy pollution—a PM2.5 (particulate matter) density of more than 150 micrograms per cubic meter of air—for three consecutive days. Such high concentration of fine particles in the air can cause lung and heart problems for vulnerable individuals, including asthmatics, children, and the elderly.
- Low winter temperatures exasperate smog since they cause temperature inversions. Warm air settles atop a layer of cooler, denser, smog-ridden air, trapping it like a lid. High concentrations of smog frequently appear in cities like Beijing during winter.
Figure 66: VIIRS on the Suomi NPP satellite acquired this natural-color image of northeastern China on December 6. Photos taken from the ground also showed low visibility—less than 200 m, according to news reports. On December 5, People’s Daily reported smog blanketing more than 60 Chinese cities (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Jeff Schmaltz)
• November 5, 2016: The Indian state of Punjab is known as India’s breadbasket. Despite its relatively small size, Punjab ranks among the nation’s top wheat and rice producers. For a few weeks in October and November, Punjab also becomes a major producer of air pollution. 41)
- Punjab has two growing seasons and two main crops. Rice is planted in May and grown through September; wheat is planted in November and grown through April. Since rice leaves behind a significant amount of plant debris after harvest, many farmers burn the leftover debris in October and November to quickly prepare their fields for the wheat crop.
- In early October 2016, Earth-observing satellites began to detect small fires in Punjab, and the number of fires increased rapidly in the following weeks. By November, thousands of fires burned across the state, and a thick pall of smoke hovered over India. VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured a natural color image on November 2, 2016 (Figure 67). The map of Figure 68 shows the locations of the fires VIIRS also detected.
- Since the fires are small, short-lived, and burn at relatively low-temperatures, the smoke generally stays near the surface. On November 2, winds carried a stream of smoke — likely mixed with small particles of soil, dust, and partially burned plant material — toward New Delhi. The smoke from Punjab combined with urban pollution from vehicles, industry, and fireworks to push levels of particulate matter in the capital city to unusually high levels.
Figure 67: Thick smoke over northern India and Pakistan created by the fires of plant debris after the rice harvest. The image was acquired on Nov. 2, 2016 by the VIIRS instrument on Suomi NPP (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Joshua Stevens)
• October 28, 2016: After five years in space, the NOAA/NASA Suomi NPP mission continues to contribute significant advances in severe weather prediction and environmental monitoring leading to better forecasts and situational awareness for the nation and users worldwide. Suomi NPP is a bridge to NOAA's next generation JPSS (Joint Polar Satellite System) weather satellites. The JPSS-1 satellite is scheduled to launch in 2017 to complement the data from Suomi NPP. 42)
Currently NOAA’s primary polar-orbiting weather satellite, Suomi NPP, provides critical input into weather forecasts beyond 48 hours and is increasing the consistency and accuracy of forecasts three to seven days in advance of a severe weather event for NOAA’s National Weather Service. These data are also provided to other federal, state and local users; commercial weather sector; and international partners.
Research scientists throughout the United States and the world use Suomi NPP data as they study severe weather, atmospheric and oceanographic phenomena and climate. Data produced by Suomi NPP are derived from a new generation of instruments that will also fly on future JPSS satellites: Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS), Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS), and Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite-Nadir (OMPS). Suomi NPP provides the first mission using these instruments, and also flies the fifth flight model of the Cloud and Earth Radiant Energy System (CERES).
Suomi NPP data are used to generate dozens of environmental data products, including measurements of atmosphere, oceans and land conditions. These include:
- Atmospheric temperature/moisture profiles
- Thunderstorms, tornado potential
- Ice detection
- Precipitation and floods
- Dense fog
- Volcanic ash
- Fire and smoke
- Sea surface temperature, ocean color
- Sea ice extent and snow cover /depth
- Polar satellite derived winds (speed/direction/height
- Vegetation greenness indices and health
- Oil spills.
It takes Suomi NPP 14 orbits to observe the entire Earth in one day. The weather and environmental mission data from its five instruments for each orbit are stored and transmitted to Earth every orbit.
Suomi NPP stored mission data is collected by a ground station in Svalbard, Norway, and is then routed to the NOAA Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Maryland, where it is processed and distributed. With JPSS-1, there will also be a transmission to antennas at McMurdo Station, Antarctica near the South Pole to enable data to be received and routed every half orbit, cutting the time processed data is sent to users by half. — In addition, Suomi NPP data are accessed by users through the use of direct broadcast antennas to quickly access Suomi NPP observations made while in view of each direct broadcast antenna to support critical missions (Ref. 42).
• In August 2016, tourists on a luxury cruise departed Seward Alaska and steered toward the waterways of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. The excursion is one example of the growing human presence in an increasingly ice-free Northwest Passage — the famed high-latitude sea route that connects the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In mid-August 2016, the southern route through the Passage was nearly ice-free. 43) 44)
- For most of the year, the Northwest Passage is frozen and impassible. But during the summer months, the ice melts and breaks up to varying degrees. The VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on the Suomi -NPP satellite captured the image of Figure 69 of the Northwest Passage on August 9, 2016. A path of open water can be traced along most of the distance from the Amundsen Gulf to Baffin Bay.
- “It was a warm winter and spring,” said NASA sea ice scientist Walt Meier. That means that the seasonal ice—ice that grew since the end of last summer, and the type found throughout most of the Passage—is thinner than normal. Thinner ice can melt more easily, break up, and move out of the channels. A scattering of broken ice is visible just east of Victoria Island. “It looks pretty thin and disintegrating,” Meier said. “I think an ice-strengthened ship could get through without too much trouble.”
- The open water this year flows along the southern route, or “Amundsen route.” It’s not unusual for the southern route to open up to some degree, as it is more protected than the northern route and receives less sea ice directly from the Arctic Ocean.
• June 25, 2016: There’s more than one way to feed a phytoplankton bloom in the Gulf of Alaska (Figure 70). Iron, a key nutrient for the growth of these tiny plant-like organisms, can enter the gulf waters from the air—via volcanic eruptions or airborne dust from dry lakebeds and streams. Other times, the nutrient stays closer to the ground, catching a ride to the gulf with the meltwater of thawing glaciers. 45)
- NASA scientists noted that this is the time of year when melt water from Alaska’s glaciers flows through rivers and out into the Gulf of Alaska. The meltwater carries a supply of “rock flour,” or “glacial flour”—the dusty remains of bedrock ground up by a glacier. Where it reaches the Gulf of Alaska, this rock flour imparts a milky turquoise color to the water.
- The rock flour also supplies the gulf with the iron, a nutrient that promotes phytoplankton growth by helping the organisms to process nitrate. Eddies such as the ones visible in this image help distribute the iron offshore, where it mixes with nitrate-rich waters. As a result, conditions are just right for an offshore bloom of phytoplankton. The bloom is visible here as swirls of green.
- Runoff is highest from June through September. By fall, iron still makes its way into Gulf of Alaska, but it takes a different path. Low river levels in the fall mean that more riverbed sediments are exposed to winds. Winds can loft huge plumes of riverbed dust into the air, some of which settles back down on gulf waters and fertilizes blooms.
• June 15, 2016: The Suomi NPP satellite collected this natural-color image with the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) instrument which detected hundreds of fires burning in Central Africa on June 13, 2016 (Figure 71). Actively burning areas, detected by MODIS’s thermal bands, are outlined in red. Each hot spot is an area where the thermal detectors recognized temperatures higher than background. The location, widespread nature, and number of fires suggest that these fires were deliberately set to manage land. Farmers often use fire to return nutrients to the soil and to clear the ground of unwanted plants. 46)
• Light Pollution, June 10, 2016: The Milky Way, the brilliant river of stars that has dominated the night sky and human imaginations since time immemorial, is but a faded memory to one-third of humanity and 80 percent of Americans, according to a new global atlas of light pollution produced by Italian and American scientists. The atlas takes advantage of low-light imaging now available from the NOAA/NASA Suomi -NPP (National Polar-orbiting Partnership) satellite, calibrated by thousands of ground observations. 47) 48)
- Light pollution is one of the most pervasive forms of environmental alteration. In most developed countries, the ubiquitous presence of artificial lights creates a luminous fog that swamps the stars and constellations of the night sky. “We’ve got whole generations of people in the United States who have never seen the Milky Way,” said Chris Elvidge, a scientist with NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. “It’s a big part of our connection to the cosmos — and it’s been lost.”
- Elvidge, along with Kimberly Baugh of NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, is part of a team that developed a global atlas of light pollution published in the journal Science Advances. Using high-resolution satellite data and precision sky brightness measurements, their study produced the most accurate assessment yet of the global impact of light pollution.
- Light pollution is most extensive in countries like Singapore, Italy and South Korea, while Canada and Australia retain the most dark sky. In Western Europe, only small areas of night sky remain relatively undiminished, mainly in Scotland, Sweden and Norway. Despite the vast open spaces of the American west, almost half of the U.S. experiences light-polluted nights.
- “In the U.S., some of our national parks are just about the last refuge of darkness – places like Yellowstone and the desert southwest,” said co-author Dan Duriscoe of the National Park Service. “We’re lucky to have a lot of public land that provides a buffer from large cities.”
- Light pollution does more than rob humans of the opportunity to ponder the night sky. Unnatural light can confuse or expose wildlife 49) like insects, birds and sea turtles 50), often with fatal consequences.
• May 2016: Preparation for Emergency Conjunction Avoidance Maneuvers for the Suomi NPP mission. In January 2014, the Suomi NPP MOT (Mission Operations Team) responded to several close approaches. The MOT started RMM (Risk Mitigation Maneuver) planning for four threats during this period. Three of these events did not lead to an executed RMM due to dissipated threat levels from new tracking data. At the moment when these events were cancelled, the MOT had completed most of the steps needed to make an RMM ready for execution. 51)
- Preparation for an RMM demands a significant resource and time allocation from the Suomi NPP MOT, which requires significant lead times and limits the MOT's ability respond to several close approaches simultaneously. Suomi NPP operates at an altitude of approximately 824 km which is identified to be a dense and potentially hazardous debris environment. Due to this dense environment, the MOT experiences frequent close approach events. It was soon realized that the MOT needed improved tools and processes to optimize RMM planning and reduce response times to close approach events. Reducing response times is necessary as better detection capabilities in the near future are expected to increase the number of predicted close approaches.
- The MOT typically executes an RMM twelve to twenty four hours before the TCA (Time of Closest Approach) to minimize the size of the avoidance maneuver. The current method takes approximately twenty hours or two business days of preparation prior to executing the maneuver, requiring the RMM process to be started approximately seventy-two hours before TCA. Additional tracking is required to reduce uncertainties in the position of the approaching object, which is taking place during the period that the MOT is preparing the maneuver. The largest step in the process is the creation, validation, and testing of the DAS (Detailed Activity Schedule) command load containing the commands to execute an RMM. This step requires roughly ten to twelve hours of time to accomplish and required each burn time and duration to be tested using an aging simulator.
- Creating a method of executing an RMM using pre-verified maneuver sequences stored on the spacecraft will remove this ten- to twelve-hour step from the process, allowing more time for uncertainties to reduce prior to responding, and will remove the dependency on a single point of failure simulator and mission planning system resources.
- The OSMS (Onboard Stored Maneuver Sequence) system uses a set of on-board CBM (Command Block Memory) sequences, a sequence of relative time commands, and a set of ground system scripts to command an RMM without the need for a DAS. This system was put through a period of ground testing and on-orbit testing and integration. Once declared operational, this system will significantly improve how much time is needed to execute an RMM.
- The OSMS system consists of components for the spacecraft and ground system. The spacecraft portions of the system are a series of CBM sequences containing all instructions for executing an RMM. The ground components of the system are comprised of ground scripts that will configure and execute the on-orbit CBM sequences.
- The on-orbit CBM is made up of four sequences. Two sequences consist of maneuver commands for the spacecraft, each covering one of the two delta-V modes. The two other sequences contain the commands to prepare the CERES (Clouds and the Earths Radiant Energy Systems) and OMPS instruments for a maneuver and return both instruments to science mode following the RMM. Each maneuver sequence has two sections. The first section is a series of configurable slots that the ground scripts will populate with time delays appropriate for placing the delta-v burn of the RMM at the desired time. The second section contains the maneuver sequence. In the maneuver sequence, there are three empty slots that are populated by the ground scripts. The first two slots are reserved for CBM execution commands for the CERES and OMPS sequences. The third slot is reserved for the delta-v burn command and is populated with the appropriate command and desired magnitude for the burn.
- The ground portion of the system consists of two scripts. The first script will ask the user when the ΔV burn of the RMM should be scheduled, the duration of the burn in milliseconds, and whether CERES and OMPS should be configured for the maneuver. After taking into account the user inputs, it will:
1) Select the delta-v burn mode based on requested duration
2) Calculate the delay needed to place the burn as requested by the user
3) Insert the needed delays in the delay section of the maneuver CBM
4) Insert the CBM calls for the CERES and OMPS sequences
5) Insert the burn command with the appropriate magnitude based on selected burn duration
6) Execute the maneuver CBM sequence.
- The second script, the back out script, will clean up the maneuver CBM sequences and conduct a check to confirm the on-orbit CBM is in its pre-maneuver configuration.
Before the OSMS system could be declared operational, a series of tests had to be performed. The MOT developed a set of ground and on-orbit tests to validate OSMS.
Ground Test Results: All post-test artifacts from the ground test sets were reviewed by the MOT. Analysis of the simulator command logs confirmed that all OSMS CBM sequences executed in their proper order and at the requested times. All burn options were proven valid after comparing test results with predicted results. Command logs and ground system logs confirmed that the setup and back out scripts performed as desired. After reviewing results, it was concluded that all OSMS components were ready to be deployed to the operational ground system and uplinked to the spacecraft.
On-Orbit Test Results: At the time of paper submission, the no-burn and open-loop mode tests have been successfully performed. The no-burn test was performed on November 18, 2015. The no-burn test confirmed that the OSMS ground scripts would perform properly on the operational ground system and placed all commands within two seconds of their desired times. The open-loop test was performed on February 24, 2016, but due to ground track restrictions, the closed-loop test will not be performed for several months. During the open-loop test, OSMS performed DMU (Drag Makeup Maneuver) 22 and placed all commands within one second of their desired execution times. Despite the lack of closed-loop maneuver testing, the no-burn and open-loop test confirmed that the OSMS system can command an RMM without the need for the creation, validation, and testing of a DAS.
In summary, the results gathered so far show promise for the OSMS system. All time delays and burn options were validated, removing the need to simulate future maneuvers. The OSMS system can perform open-loop burn RMMs without the need for a DAS. Once the closed-loop test can be completed, the need for a DAS for RMM execution can be safely removed. Removing the need for creating, validating, and testing the DAS will eliminate ten to twelve hours of RMM preparation time and lower the total time to respond to an RMM from two days to less than one day. With a less than one-day response time, the MOT can delay the start of RMM preparations. The delay will allow time for additional tracking information to be received, reducing positional uncertainty in the approaching object and reducing the calculated risk of conjunction. Reduced risk of conjunction/collision often eliminates the need for executing the maneuver, saving the team the time and effort of a planning exercise for an event that is not executed.
• May 3, 2016: The Taklimakan (Taklamakan) desert in China is one of the driest, most barren expanses on Earth. Flanked by mountain ranges on three sides and parched by the resulting rain shadow, parts of the Tarim Basin receive no more than 10 mm of rain per year. It is no surprise that plant life is scarce. With little vegetation to hold sand in place, some 85% of the Taklimakan consists of shifting sand dunes. Only the dune fields of Saudi Arabia’s Rub’ al Khali cover a larger area. Taklimakan’s dunes can soar up 200 to 300 meters. With so much sand and so little vegetation or moisture, dust storms are a regular occurrence, particularly in the spring. 52)
- The Tarim Basin is bordered by the Kunlun Shan mountains to the south and the Tian Shan mountains to the north (the Tian Shan is covered with snow and partly obscured by clouds in this image of Figure 72) . The basin opens up on its eastern edge, but that is not generally a way out for dust. Prevailing low-altitude winds almost always blow from the east, keeping most dust below 5 km—about the height of the mountain ranges—and trapped within the basin. In spring, strong surface winds can sometimes lift dust up to 10 km. These particles can then be transported by higher-altitude winds that send them across China and the Pacific. In this case, however, the dust appears to be relatively low in the atmosphere.
Figure 72: On May 1, 2016, the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured this natural-color image of northeasterly winds pushing a wall of dust southwest across the Tarim Basin (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image by Jeff Schmaltz)
• On March 6, 2016, news and social media was buzzing with spectacular photographs of the northern lights (aurora borealis) painting skies across the United Kingdom with brilliant shades of green and pink. — The event was impressive from above as well. Using the DNB (Day-Night Band ) of VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite), the Suomi NPP satellite acquired this view of the aurora borealis on March 7, 2016. Auroras appear as white streaks over Iceland, the North Atlantic, and Norway. The DNB sensor detects dim light signals such as airglow, gas flares, city lights, and reflected moonlight. In the image of Figure 73, the sensor detected the visible light emissions that occur when energetic particles rain down from Earth’s magnetosphere into the gases of the upper atmosphere. 53)
- It is not often that the northern lights are visible south of Scotland and Northern Ireland, but a geomagnetic storm colored night skies over a much wider swath of the country. The storm reached a G3 or “severe” level on NOAA’s geomagnetic storm scale, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center. On March 7, the Kp index—a metric for global geomagnetic storm activity—rose as high as 7 on a scale that goes to 9.
- The brilliant colors of the aurora are provoked by activity the Sun: Solar energy and particles speed toward Earth in a steady stream called the solar wind, or they rush out in massive eruptions known as CMEs (Coronal Mass Ejections). These storms from the Sun disturb geospace (the space around Earth) and energize particles already trapped in the magnetosphere and radiation belts. Electrons then race down Earth’s magnetic field lines and crash into the gases at high altitudes of the atmosphere. Oxygen gives off a green color when excited; nitrogen produces blue or red colors.
• January 27, 2016: It’s wintertime in the Northern Hemisphere, which means spectacular phytoplankton blooms return to the Arabian Sea. Blooms show up this time of year in the Arabian Sea because of the winter monsoon. Winds shift from southwesterly to northeasterly, stirring up currents that bring nutrients up from the depths and out from coastal tributaries. The change in wind direction also picks up dust from the arid lands of southwestern Asia, carrying it out over the sea. This dust contains mineral nutrients that phytoplankton need to fuel their growth. 54)
- Dust storms help fertilize the ocean. They move nitrate, phosphate, and iron from the land into ocean surface waters around the world. Research published in October 2014 found that winter blooms in the Arabian Sea could occasionally be attributed to the nutrients received from dust storms like this one.
Figure 74: VIIRS on Suomi NPP acquired on Dec. 21, 2015 this image of a phytoplankton bloom off the coast of Oman (left), Pakistan (center), and India (right), image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, Norman Kuring
Legend to Figure 74: The image was composed with data from the red, green, and blue bands from VIIRS, in addition to chlorophyll data. A series of image-processing steps were then applied to highlight color differences and bring out the bloom’s more subtle features.
• Dec. 1, 2015: The composite visible image of Figure 75 shows a thick line of agricultural fires stretching from west to east across Central Africa. Visible-light images were taken from the VIIRS instrument aboard the Suomi NPP satellite on Nov. 27, 2015 at 12:50 UTC. The VIIRS image showed the heat signatures from fires (in red) from Burkina Faso and northern Ghana, Togo and Benin stretch eastward across southern Nigeria, Chad and Sudan, Cameroon, Central Africa Republic, South Sudan and Ethiopia. 55)
• On October 28, 2015, the joint NOAA/NASA Suomi NPP mission is 4 years on orbit providing successful observations. The mission was declared the primary satellite for weather in May of 2014. — As of August 31, 2015, Suomi NPP has orbited the Earth 19,900 times, and provided 4.9 PB of data archived in the NOAA CLASS (Comprehensive Large Array-data Stewardship System) archive. This data provides weather and environmental data for a wide variety of forecasting, monitoring and assessment needs. The Suomi NPP ATMS data were operationally assimilated by the NOAA Centers for Environmental Prediction within 7 months of the Suomi NPP launch, three times faster than any prior POES (Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite) microwave sounder. CrIS was operationally assimilated within 13 months, also setting a new record for infrared sounder assimilation. CrIS would have been assimilated within 9 months; however, the operational assimilation was delayed by supercomputer upgrades and hurricane season freezes which delayed changes in the assimilation system. 56)
- The Suomi NPP satellite has been working very well. There are a few anomalies that recur, however these do not significantly impact operations or data availability. The program is closely monitored for system health. In addition, the program has established a longevity plan to guide risk mitigation efforts to realize the maximum life possible. One mitigation measure has been implemented into operations on the ATMS instrument.
- Data availability has been outstanding, as shown in Figure 76, even though the initial version of the ground segment is aged and has relatively limited capabilities. This performance is a strong testament to the efforts of the JPSS (Joint Polar Satellite System) ground project team.
- When Suomi NPP was launched, CrIS was operated in a reduced spectrum mode because in the early phase of NPOESS the success of carbon monoxide and other trace gas products from similar precursor instruments, such as NASA’s AIRS (Atmospheric InfraRed Sounder ) were unknown. Both were also operated at the lower data rate because there concerns about margin in the on-board data bus. - Following on-orbit and ground test activities, CrIS full spectrum capability was implemented in December 2014, and OMPS full data rate has been prepared for implementation in 2016.
- Another major operational improvement for users has been the demonstration of direct readout. NOAA was provided additional funding following the super-storm Sandy (hurricane Sandy was he deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season) to make several investments that will provide mitigation of impacts in the event of a gap in afternoon polar weather satellite observations. One of the investments has been to upgrade NOAA direct readout terminals to handle the X-band feed from Suomi NPP and the subsequent JPSS missions as well all of the heritage POES and EUMETSAT sounder data. The purpose of this is to provide an alternative avenue to retrieve data with very low latency to feed to the Numerical Weather Program.
• August 21, 2015: In the summer of 2015, wildfires raged across the western United States and Alaska. Many of those fires burned in the U.S. Northwest, visible in Figure 77 from late August, 2015. According to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, the Okanogan Complex Fire in Washington was among the larger active fires; as of August 20, the fire had burned 91,314 acres (370 km2). In Oregon, the Canyon Creek Complex Fire had burned 48,201 acres (195 km2), destroyed 26 residences and threatened another 500. Both fires were less than 40 percent contained. Meanwhile, firefighters have made progress on the large, damaging Cornet-Windy Ridge Fire in Oregon, which as of August 20 was 70 percent contained. 57)
Figure 77: This image was acquired in the early morning local time on August 19, 2015 with the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) sensor on the Suomi NPP satellite. The image was made possible by the instrument’s “day-night band,” which uses filtering techniques to observe dim signals including those from wildfires. Labels point to the large, actively burning fires in the region (image credit: NASA)
• Aug. 6, 2015: The NOAA/NASA Suomi NPP satellite passed over powerful Typhoon Soudelor when it was headed toward Taiwan. The VIIRS instrument aboard Suomi NPP captured an infrared image of the typhoon. The infrared image showed some thunderstorms within the typhoon with very cold cloud top temperatures, colder than -53ºC. Temperatures that cold stretch high into the troposphere and are capable of generating heavy rain.
Figure 78: VIIRS image of Typhoon Soudelor, acquired on August 7 (UTC), 2015 when it was headed toward Taiwan (image credit: UWM/CIMSS/SSEC, William Straka III)
• May 26, 2015: Physical oceanographers will sometimes point out that the ocean has weather and seasons, much like the atmosphere. Masses of water with different temperatures, salinities, and nutrient levels clash and mix like warm and cold fronts in the air. Different plant-like species—phytoplankton—bloom, spread, and die back with the different conditions. Ocean currents swirl in turbulent fronts and eddies—much like tornadoes and hurricanes, though far more productive than destructive.
- Springtime in the North Atlantic Ocean is a time of great change, turbulence, and productivity. Increasing sunlight, nutrient runoff from land and upwelling from the deep, and changeable atmospheric weather all conspire to color the ocean surface with interesting patterns. The composite image (Figure 79) shows the northwest Atlantic Ocean on May 14, 2015, with the New England and Canadian Maritimes in the background. The image was constructed from data acquired by VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) sensor on the Suomi NPP satellite. Colors were enhanced to make the blooms more visible. 58)
Legend to Figure 79: On the left side of the image, several circular patterns are traced out by the light green phytoplankton near the surface. These rings are likely eddies that have spun off of the Gulf Stream, which turns east toward Europe in this region. The underwater plateau known as George's Bank is also made visible (indirectly) by the plankton. The Labrador Current and the Gulf Stream meet in this area, and the relatively shallow water promotes an abundant crop of phytoplankton, marine plants, shellfish, finfish, and marine mammals, all the way up the food chain. The bank is marked by bright swirls of color in the image.
Patches and swirls of phytoplankton continue to the north and east from the bank, indicating regions where there are significant nutrients near the surface and other water conditions that promote blooms. Though it is very difficult to identify the genus and species of phytoplankton from a satellite, researchers working from ships in the North Atlantic confirmed that at least some of the phytoplankton blooming in May were diatoms, including Guinardia delicatula.
The Gulf of Maine and George's Bank have historically been some of the most productive fishing grounds on the planet. Overfishing and pollution brought significant declines in the late 20th century, though regulation and changes in fishing practices may now restore some of the abundance in the local waters. Researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, North Carolina State University, and NOAA have been regularly monitoring the region with ship-based studies, ocean models, and automated, moored instruments in order to keep track of phytoplankton and algae species, particularly those that lead to toxic algae blooms.
• Feb. 25, 2014: In late February 2015, a significant winter storm stirred up dust and sand across much of the Arabian Peninsula. The low-pressure system energized strong northwest winds that carried dust from as far as northern Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Kuwait to the shores of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. 59)
- The VIIRS ( Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured these images of the sand storm on February 23 and 24. Because of the desert landscape and the widespread nature of the event, the airborne particles are easier to see over open water (Figure 80).
- Sand storms are common in the region at this time of year, though this one seems particularly potent and long-lasting—five days so far. Poor visibility has been the biggest danger, causing hundreds of automobile accidents across Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE (United Arab Emirates). Visibility dropped as low as 500 m at Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai.
- The weather system brought rain and snow to several locations, and rough seas along the coast. Temperatures in Muscat, Oman, dropped from 38ºC on February 20 to 20°C on February 24. The city of Dubai (UAE) deployed thousands of workers to clear dust and debris from the streets. News reports said more than 21 tons of sand had been cleared from the city alone. Government authorities in several countries warned people to stay inside as much as possible and to cover their noses and mouths when walking outside. The storms are a particular danger to people with asthma and other respiratory diseases.
• Debris avoidance maneuver for Suomi NPP: — The Suomi NPP mission team monitored a possible close approach of a debris object on Sept. 28, 2014. The risk was assessed to be high enough to start planning a spacecraft maneuver to put the satellite into a safer zone, out of the path of the object classified in a size range of 10 cm up to 1 m. 60)
- It was determined that the object (travelling at almost 27,400 km/h) was approaching at a nearly "head on" angle, and could potentially only miss the Suomi NPP satellite by approximately 100 m on Sept. 30, if no action was taken. With that knowledge, the decision was made on Sept. 29, for NSOF (NOAA's Satellite Operations Facility) in Suitland, Maryland, to reposition Suomi NPP. Operational control as well as planning and execution of all Suomi NPP maneuvers take place at NSOF.
- Since Suomi NPP's launch in October 2011, this recent reposition was the fourth Risk Mitigation Maneuver to avoid space debris. In this case, the object was a section of a Thorad-Agena launch vehicle used between 1966 and1972 primarily for Corona U.S. reconnaissance satellites.
- A previous Suomi NPP risk mitigation maneuver in January 2014 avoided a discarded booster from a Delta 1 launch vehicle, a type of rocket made in the United States for a variety of space missions from 1960 to 1990. There is also a significant amount of debris in Suomi NPP's orbit from the Chinese Fengyun-1C, a meteorological satellite China destroyed in January 2007 in a test of an anti-satellite missile. Another threat near Suomi NPP's orbit is the debris resulting from a 2009 collision of a functioning commercial communications satellite and a defunct Russian satellite.
• Sept. 25, 2014: A joint NOAA/NASA satellite is one of several satellites providing valuable information to aviators about volcanic hazards. An aviation "orange" alert was posted on August 18, 2014, for Bárðarbunga, a stratovolcano located under the Vatnajökull glacier in Iceland, indicating the “volcano shows heightened or escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption.” 61)
Much of the information leading to that alert came from satellites including VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) instrument on board the Suomi NPP spacecraft. The VIIRS instrument is suited to detect the relatively unique spectral signature difference of volcanic clouds often absorb and reflect radiation as a function of wavelength in a manner that is very different from other cloud types.
• July 5, 2014: Large amounts of Saharan sand began to arrive in the Americas in June 2014. On June 23, a lengthy river of dust from western Africa began to push across the Atlantic Ocean on easterly winds. A week later, the influx of dust was affecting air quality as far away as the southeastern United States. The image of Figure 81 was released on July 5, 2014 in NASA's Earth Observatory series. 62)
Legend to Figure 81: The dust flowed roughly parallel to a line of clouds in the intertropical convergence zone, an area near the equator where the trade winds come together and rain and clouds are common. Saharan dust has a range of impacts on ecosystems downwind. Each year, dust events like the one pictured here deliver about 40 million tons of dust from the Sahara to the Amazon River Basin. The minerals in the dust replenish nutrients in rainforest soils, which are continually depleted by drenching, tropical rains. Research focused on peat soils in the Everglades show that African dust has been arriving regularly in South Florida for thousands of years as well.
In some instances, the impacts are harmful. Infusion of Saharan dust, for instance, can have a negative impact on air quality in the Americas. And scientists have linked African dust to outbreaks of certain types of toxic algal blooms in the Gulf of Mexico and southern Florida.
• December 2013: NASA scientists have revealed the inner workings of the ozone hole that forms annually over Antarctica and found that declining chlorine in the stratosphere has not yet caused a recovery of the ozone hole. — More than 20 years after the Montreal Protocol agreement limited human emissions of ozone-depleting substances, satellites have monitored the area of the annual ozone hole and watched it essentially stabilize, ceasing to grow substantially larger. However, two new studies show that signs of recovery are not yet present, and that temperature and winds are still driving any annual changes in ozone hole size. 63)
Figure 82: The area of the ozone hole, such as in October 2013, is one way to view the ozone hole from year to year. However, the classic metrics have limitations (image credit: NASA, Ozone Hole Watch)
The 2012 ozone hole was the second-smallest hole since the mid 1980s. To find out what caused the hole's diminutive area, the researchers, Susan Strahan and Natalya Kramarova, turned to data from the NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite, and gained a first look inside the hole with the satellite's OMPS (Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite). Next, data were converted into a map that shows how the amount of ozone differed with altitude throughout the stratosphere in the center of the hole during the 2012 season, from September through November.
The map revealed that the 2012 ozone hole was more complex than previously thought. Increases of ozone at upper altitudes in early October, carried there by winds, occurred above the ozone destruction in the lower stratosphere.
The classic metrics create the impression that the ozone hole has improved as a result of the Montreal protocol. In reality, meteorology was responsible for the increased ozone and resulting smaller hole, as ozone-depleting substances that year were still elevated. The study has been submitted to the journal of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (Ref. 63).
Figure 83: A look inside the 2012 ozone hole with the Ozone Mapper and Profiler Suite shows how the build-up of ozone (parts per million by volume) in the middle stratosphere masks the ozone loss in the lower stratosphere (image credit: NASA)
• December 2013: Daytime measurements of reflected sunlight in the visible spectrum have been a staple of Earth-viewing radiometers since the advent of the environmental satellite platform. At night, these same optical-spectrum sensors have traditionally been limited to thermal infrared emission, which contains relatively poor information content for many important weather and climate parameters. These deficiencies have limited our ability to characterize the full diurnal behavior and processes of parameters relevant to improved monitoring, understanding and modeling of weather and climate processes. Visible-spectrum light information does exist during the nighttime hours, originating from a wide variety of sources, but its detection requires specialized technology. Such measurements have existed, in a limited way, on USA Department of Defense satellites, but the Suomi NPP satellite, which carries a new Day/Night Band (DNB) radiometer, namely VIIRS, offers the first quantitative measurements of nocturnal visible and near-infrared light. 64)
- VIIRS includes a high-sensitivity DNB that is panchromatic (sensitive to all visible colors) and collects highly detailed imagery of the Arctic even under low light levels (Figure 84). VIIRS DNB imagery has vastly superior information content compared with emissive or thermal IR imagery collected at the same time under the very low thermal contrast conditions that occur frequently in the Arctic during winter (Figure 85). The imagery is enabling significant improvements in forecasting weather and sea ice changes. 65)
Figure 84: VIIRS image of of Alaska and the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas taken under moonlight. DNB provides high-contrast imagery even under the low thermal contrast conditions prevalent in the Arctic winter [image credit: NOAA/CIRA (NOAA/Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere)at Colorado State University)]
Figure 85: VIIRS imagery in the MI5 spectral band (left) and the DNB (right) of the western Chukchi Sea. Note how the sea ice structure and other surface detail so readily apparent in the DNB image is not visible at all in the thermal IR image (image credit: NOAA/CIRA)
• Aug. 2013: Tracking of the Chelyabinsk Meteor Plume. On Feb. 15, 2013, a meteor (or meteoroid) with a mass of ~ 10,000 tons exploded above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk. Travelling at a speed of ~18 km/s, the meteoroid quickly became a brilliant fireball as it passed over the southern Ural region, exploding in an air burst over Chelyabinsk. The atmosphere absorbed most of the released energy, which was equivalent to nearly 500 kilotons of TNT making it ~30 times more powerful than either of the atomic bombs detonated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. About 1,500 people were injured, Over 4,300 buildings in six cities across the region were damaged by the explosion. 66)
- Some of the surviving pieces of the Chelyabinsk bolide (meteor) fell to the ground. But the explosion also deposited hundreds of tons of dust up in the stratosphere, allowing a NASA satellite to make unprecedented measurements of how the material formed a thin but cohesive and persistent stratospheric dust belt. 67) 68)
About 3.5 hours after the initial explosion, the OMPS (Ozone Mapping Profiling Suite) instrument’s limb profiler on the NASA/NOAA Suomi NPP spacecraft detected the plume high in the atmosphere at an altitude of about 40 km, quickly moving east at more than 300 km/h. The day after the explosion, the satellite detected the plume continuing its eastward flow in the jet stream and reaching the Aleutian Islands. Larger, heavier particles began to lose altitude and speed, while their smaller, lighter counterparts stayed aloft and retained speed – consistent with wind speed variations at the different altitudes.
By Feb. 19, 2013, four days after the explosion, the faster, higher portion of the plume had snaked its way entirely around the Northern Hemisphere and back to Chelyabinsk. But the plume’s evolution continued: At least three months later, a detectable belt of bolide dust persisted around the planet.
The scientists' model simulations, based on the initial Suomi NPP observations and knowledge about stratospheric circulation, confirmed the observed evolution of the plume, showing agreement in location and vertical structure.
Figure 86: Model and satellite data show that four days after the bolide explosion, the faster, higher portion of the plume (red) had snaked its way entirely around the northern hemisphere and back to Chelyabinsk, Russia (image credit: NASA/GSFC)
• July/August, 2013: Each year, hundreds of millions of tons of dust are picked up from the deserts of Africa and blown across the Atlantic Ocean (Figure 87). That dust helps build beaches in the Caribbean and fertilizes soils in the Amazon region. It affects air quality in North and South America. And some say dust storms might play a role in the suppression of hurricanes and the decline of coral reefs. 69)
Legend to Figure 87: Dust from the Sahara Desert and other points in interior Africa were lofted into the sky in late July 2013. Figure 87 shows the general westerly and northwesterly progression of the airborne particles across the Atlantic Ocean. (Note that the milky lines running vertically across each image are caused by sunglint, the reflection of sunlight off the ocean directly back at the sensor.) Such an image helps to reveal wind patterns (trade winds) that steer plumes and clouds. At several points, dust stretched continuously from North Africa to South America.
The dust also was detected by the OMPS (Ozone Mapping Profiling Suite) on Suomi NPP. The maps of Figure 88 show the relative concentrations of aerosol particles on July 31 and August 1-2, 2013. While designed to measure ozone in the atmosphere, OMPS gathers ultraviolet spectral information that reveals the presence of smoke and airborne dust. Lower concentrations appear in yellow, and greater concentrations appear in orange-brown. Each map includes roughly six satellite passes. Note: sunglint also causes some vertical banding in these images.
Dust has long blown across the Atlantic from Africa, but only during the past several decades of satellite observations have meteorologists begun to appreciate the vast scale of these events. While estimates of the dust transported run to hundreds of millions of tons per year, humankind still knows relatively little about the effects on phytoplankton productivity, climate, and human health. 70)
Table 2: First results of a long-term VIIRS LST (Land Surface Teperature) validation 71)
• June 21, 2013: Images crafted from a year's worth of data collected by the Suomi NPP satellite, provide a vivid depiction of worldwide vegetation (Figure 90). The image, provided by NASA and NOAA on June 19, 2013, shows the difference between green and arid areas of Earth as seen in data from the VIIRS (Visible-Infrared Imager/Radiometer Suite) instrument aboard Suomi NPP. VIIRS detects changes in the reflection of light, producing images that measure vegetation changes over time. 72) 73) 74)
Vegetation Index: There are many types of indices that measure vegetation and many are calculated by using satellite data to compare the relative difference between how much energy is absorbed by the land surface versus how much is reflected back into space. Plants absorb visible light to undergo photosynthesis, so when vegetation is lush, nearly all of the visible light is absorbed by the photosynthetic leaves, and much more near-infrared light is reflected back into space. However for deserts and regions with sparse vegetation, the amount of reflected visible and near-infrared light are both relatively high. The VIIRS sensor on the Suomi NPP satellite is sensitive to these different types of visible and near-infrared light.
Suomi NPP continues the observations of Earth from space that were pioneered by NASA's Earth Observing System. The satellite's five instruments are providing scientists with data to extend more than 30 key long-term datasets. These records, which include observations of the ozone layer, land cover, atmospheric temperatures and ice cover, provide critical data for global change science.
Suomi NPP also collects critical data for our understanding of long-term climate change while increasing our ability to improve weather forecasts in the short term. NOAA meteorologists are incorporating Suomi NPP information into their weather prediction models to produce forecasts and warnings that already are helping emergency responders anticipate, monitor, and react to many types of natural events.
• VIIRS instrument calibration: 77)
- VIIRS continues to operate and calibrate satisfactorily (as planned and expected)
- Overall on-orbit performance meets the design requirements (such as SNR/NEdT)
- Continuous and dedicated calibration efforts are critical for maintaining SDR data and calibration quality
- The modulated RSR, as a result of mirror degradation, have been developed and applied to sensor SDR calibration and data production.
• December 05, 2012: Scientists unveiled an unprecedented new look at our planet at night at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, CA. A global composite image, constructed using cloud-free night images from the Suomi NPP satellite, shows the glow of natural and human-built phenomena across the planet in greater detail than ever before. 78)
Figure 91: Composite map of the world assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC)
Figure 92: This image of the continental United States at night is a composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC, Ref. 78)
Legend to Figure 92: The image was made possible by the satellite's "day-night band" of the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) instrument, which detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared and uses filtering techniques to observe dim signals such as city lights, gas flares, auroras, wildfires and reflected moonlight.
• On October 28, 2012, Suomi NPP celebrated its first anniversary on orbit. 79)
• October 2012: Hurricane Sandy (also referred to as Superstorm Sandy) made landfall along the southern New Jersey coast on the evening of Oct. 29, 2012. The Suomi NPP satellite acquired the accompanying image (Figure 93) of the storm around 3:35 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on October 30 (UTC 7:35 hours on Oct. 30). The full moon, which exacerbated the water height at the time of the storm surge, lit up the tops of the clouds. 80)
Sandy’s clouds stretched from the Atlantic Ocean westward to Chicago. Clusters of lights gave away the locations of cities throughout the region, but along the East Coast, clouds obscured city lights, many of which were out due to the storm. On October 30, CNN reported that several millions of customers in multiple states were without electricity.
On Nov. 1, 2012, the reported death
toll from hurricane Sandy's flooding and high winds has now reached 160
(88 in the U.S., 54 in Haiti, 11 in Cuba), with first damage estimates
ranging from $20 – $55 billion. 81)
Figure 94: Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color imagery from bands M3–M5, composited from three consecutive daytime passes on 17 June 2012, shows the continental United States and surroundings in vivid color detail (image credit: NOAA) 83)
• In July 2012, Suomi NPP started the Direct Broadcast Service with the HRD (High Rate Data) link. Direct Broadcast data is unique in that it provides real-time data on a regional basis which enables quick evaluation of events at a local level. Researchers world-wide are then able to use customized algorithms, or mathematical formulas, turning raw data into images to help manage quickly changing regional events, such as rapidly spreading forest fires, rushing flood waters and floating icebergs at the poles that could affect the shipping and fishing industries. 84)
Ultimately, Suomi NPP's direct broadcast data does two things: continue NASA's role in data continuity by picking up where MODIS will leave off, and enable users to pluck data that is of importance to them from the reservoir of information that comes down from Suomi NPP.
The DRL (Direct Readout Laboratory) at NASA/GSFC organizes and manages the funneling of data to the roughly 200 ground stations around the world that will use it. The DLR also provides the user community with a baseline processing system called IPOPP (International Polar Orbiter Processing Package). This framework is a real-time data processing system that enables the user community to process, generate and visualize direct broadcast data as it is transmitted to Earth (Ref. 84).
• In early March 2012, NASA has completed commissioning of the Suomi NPP spacecraft and its sensor complement. With the completion of commissioning activities, operation of the Suomi NPP has now been turned over to the JPSS (Joint Polar Satellite System) team. NOAA's JPSS Program provided three of the five instruments and the ground segment for Suomi NPP. A government team from the NOAA Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Md., will operate the satellite. 85) 86)
• In February 2012, the CrIS (Cross-track Infrared Sounder) became operational. Hence, CrIS is joining the other four instruments aboard the Suomi NPP spacecraft. 87)
Legend to Figure 95: The image shows the thickness of the Earth's ozone layer on January 27th from 1982 to 2012. This atmospheric layer protects Earth from dangerous levels of solar ultraviolet radiation. The thickness is measured in Dobson units, in this image, smaller amounts of overhead ozone are shown in blue, while larger amounts are shown in orange and yellow.
• The CERES instrument cover was opened on January 26, 2012. The "first light" process represented the transition from engineering checkout to science observations. The next morning CERES began taking Earth-viewing data, and on Jan. 29 scientists produced an image from the scans. 89)
Figure 96: “First light” image of the CERES instrument observed on January 29, 2012 (image credit: NASA/NOAA CERES Team, Ref. 89)
Legend to Figure 96: The thick cloud cover tends to reflect a large amount of incoming solar energy back to space (blue/green/white image), but at the same time, reduce the amount of outgoing heat lost to space (red/blue/orange image). Contrast the areas that do not have cloud cover (darker colored regions) to get a sense for how much impact the clouds have on incoming and outgoing energy.
• The former NPP (NPOESS Preparatory Project) spacecraft has been renamed to Suomi NPP (National Polar-orbiting Partnership) on January 24, 2012 to honor the late Verner Suomi (1915-1995), a longtime UW (University of Wisconsin) -Madison professor and meteorologist (Ref. NO TAG#.
Suomi NPP is currently in its initial checkout phase before starting regular observations with all of its five instruments. The commissioning activities are expected to be completed by March 2012.
Legend to Figure 97: This composite image uses a number of swaths of the Earth's surface taken on January 4, 2012. The VIIRS instrument gets a complete daily view of Earth.
• The VIIRS instrument acquired its first visible range measurements on November 21, 2011 (Figure 99). To date, the images are preliminary, used to gage the health of the sensor as engineers continue to power it up for full operation.
Figure 98: A first full Earth view of VIIRS acquired on November 24, 2011 (image credit: NASA) 92)
Legend to Figure 98: Rising from the south and setting in the north on the daylight side of Earth, VIIRS images the surface in long wedges measuring 3,000 km across. The swaths from each successive orbit overlap one another, so that at the end of the day, the sensor has a complete view of the globe. The Arctic is missing because it is too dark to view in visible light during the winter.
Figure 99: Excerpt of the first natural color image of eastern North America acquired on Nov. 21, 2011 with VIIRS (image credit: NASA/NPP Team) 93)
Figure 100: The ATMS instrument acquired its first measurements on Nov. 8, 2011 (image credit: NASA/NPP Team) 94)
Legend to Figure 100: This global image shows the ATMS channel 18 microwave antenna temperature at 183.3 GHz on November 8, 2011. This channel measures atmospheric water vapor; note that Tropical Storm Sean is visible in the data, as the blue patch, in the Atlantic off the coast of the Southeastern United States. The ATMS data were processed at the NOAA Satellite Operations Facility (NSOF)
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The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: "Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors" (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (firstname.lastname@example.org).