Category Archives: Nature

The Big Blue Marble in glorious HD video

From NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and ramp it up to you monitor’s maximum resolution:

Ultra High Definition [4K] View of Planet Earth

Program notes:

NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. The International Space Station hosts a variety of payloads and experiments supporting climate research, weather predictions, hurricane monitoring, pollution tracking, disaster response and more.

Map of the Day: Pesticide water pollution risk

BLOG Water

From Yale Environment 360: which reports that:

Streams across roughly 40 percent of the planet’s land area are at risk of pollution from pesticides, according to an analysis published in the journal Environmental Pollution. Globally, roughly 4 million tons of agricultural pesticides are applied each year, and studies show they are associated with significant declines in freshwater biodiversity, the researchers note. Surface waters in the Mediterranean region, the United States, Central America, and Southeast Asia are particularly at risk, according to the study, which produced the first global map of pesticide pollution risk. Taking into account weather data, terrain, pesticide application rates, and land use patterns, the map shows that the risk of pesticide pollution is relatively low in Canada and northern Europe but increases closer to the Equator. More areas are likely to face high pesticide pollution risk as global population grows and the climate warms, the researchers say, because agricultural activity and crop pests will both intensify, likely requiring even higher rates of pesticide use.

The earth below: A satellite Grand Canyon view

From NASA’s Earth Observatory, a segment of a spectacular 19 megabyte montage of astronaut images of the Grand Canyon:

BLOG Canyon edit

The Grandest of Canyons

Grand Canyon National Park stretches 277 river miles (446 kilometers) across the Colorado Plateau of northwestern Arizona, and it averages 10 miles (16 kilometers) wide. But it is not just that spectacular size that makes it a natural wonder. It is the spectacular variety of ecosystems, micro-climates, and life forms that make it the grandest of canyons.

That variety arises out of the depth (or height) of the canyon. From the highest point on the Kaibab Plateau of the North Rim to the water line of the Colorado River, the elevation changes by 8,000 feet (2400 meters). According to the National Park Service (NPS), at least 129 different vegetation communities are found in the park at various altitudes. The dominant ones are the riparian (river) community; desert scrub; pine and juniper woodland; Ponderosa pine forest; and montane meadows and subalpine grasslands. Or as NPS puts it, you can wander from the environmental equivalent of Mexico to that of Canada all within a few miles.

More than 1,700 species of vascular plants—and another 400 of mosses, lichens, and fungi—populate these communities. At least a dozen plant species are only found only within the park. Those plants and trees give cover or food to 362 bird species, 92 species of mammals, and 59 types of reptiles and amphibians. This abundant life spreads across a landscape that is geologically abundant too, offering a rock and fossil record that spans three eras of geologic time. Six million years of erosion by the Colorado River has exposed two billion years of Earth history.

The photographs above and below were shot from the International Space Station (ISS) on December 18, 2009, by American astronaut Jeff Williams. “It was a quiet period aboard the Station, with only two of us—Russian cosmonaut Max Suraev and me,” Williams recalls. “Using a Nikon D2Xs with an 800mm lens—and looking through one of the windows in the Russian docking compartment—I found the Canyon through mostly clear skies. I quickly fired off multiple overlapping frames with the idea to later merge the oblique shots.” The mosaic above was composed from 12 of those photographs. (Click on the link below it to download a full-resolution version.) The other photos are closeups derived from the wider shot.

Williams and the ISS were 650 miles (1050 kilometers) to the southwest at the time, over the Pacific Ocean near Baja. He located the canyon while observing the jumble of wooded plateaus, mountains, and tan desert flats of the western United States. The near-midday sun of winter threw long shadows; combined with the highly oblique viewing angle, the light gives a strong three-dimensional sense that is marred by just a few streaks of cloud.

Grand Canyon is the second most visited national park in the United States, drawing 5.5 million visitors in 2015. The park will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2019. The National Park Service itself is celebrating its centennial in 2016.

Astronaut photographs ISS022-E-14078 through ISS022-E-14087 were acquired on December 18, 2009, with a Nikon D2Xs digital camera using an 800 millimeter lens, and are provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 22 crew.

DroughtWatch: Another dramatic reduction

The latest California report from the United States Drought Monitor includes the most dramatic one-week reduction in the worst “Exceptional Drought” category since the multi-year Golden State drought began five years ago, with a fall from 31.68 percent to 21.04 percent of the state’s total land surface. Nonetheless, 95.76 percent of the state remains in one of the monitor’s five drought levels:

BLOG Drought

Climate change’s dramatic avian impacts charted

Many of our recent climate change posts have focused on impacts beneath the waves of the world’s oceans, our latest focuses looks to the skies above.

We begin with a video from England’s Durham University:

Strong effects of climate change on common birds in Europe and USA

Program note:

Scientists have shown for the first time that common bird populations are responding to climate change in a similar pronounced way in both Europe and the USA.

And now for the story, from the Durham University newsroom:

Scientists have shown for the first time that common bird populations are responding to climate change in a similar pronounced way in both Europe and the USA.

An international team of researchers, led by Durham University’s Department of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, found that populations of bird species expected to do well due to climate change had substantially outperformed those expected to do badly over a 30 year period from 1980 to 2010.

The research, conducted in collaboration with the RSPB and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), is published in the journal Science. [$30 for one-day access — esnl]

It is the first real demonstration that climate is having a similar, large-scale influence on the abundance of common birds in widely separated parts of the world, the researchers said.

Woodland and garden birds

Among the species showing pronounced effects of climate change are common woodland and garden birds such as the wren, in Europe, and the American robin in the USA.

The scientists characterised the climates favoured by different bird species to find out if recent changes in climate should have positively or negatively affected common breeding birds.

Using climate records for the period 1980 to 2010 they split species into two groups based on whether climate had been getting progressively better or worse for each species.

Using data from the same 30-year period for 145 common bird species in Europe and 380 common bird species in the USA, they contrasted average population trends of species in the two groups.

The team found a clear difference in the average population trends of bird species either advantaged or disadvantaged by climate change in both continents.

Populations of species predicted to have been favoured by changes in climate had, on average, substantially outperformed those expected to have been disadvantaged, the scientists said.

Change climate suitability

Populations of bee-eater and Cetti’s warbler, species with a southerly distribution in Europe, have increased in recent years, whilst more northerly distributed species such as willow tit and brambling have been declining in the same period.

Differences in population trends due to changes in climate can also be seen within the same species of bird across different geographical areas.

There’s much more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Heavens above!: There’s a bubble in my Hubble

From NASA:

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Hubble Sees a Star ‘Inflating’ a Giant Bubble

For the 26th birthday of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers are highlighting a Hubble image of an enormous bubble being blown into space by a super-hot, massive star. The Hubble image of the Bubble Nebula, or NGC 7635, was chosen to mark the 26th anniversary of the launch of Hubble into Earth orbit by the STS-31 space shuttle crew on April 24, 1990

“As Hubble makes its 26th revolution around our home star, the sun, we celebrate the event with a spectacular image of a dynamic and exciting interaction of a young star with its environment. The view of the Bubble Nebula, crafted from WFC-3 images, reminds us that Hubble gives us a front row seat to the awe inspiring universe we live in,” said John Grunsfeld, Hubble astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in Washington, D.C.

The Bubble Nebula is seven light-years across—about one-and-a-half times the distance from our sun to its nearest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri, and resides 7,100 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cassiopeia.

The seething star forming this nebula is 45 times more massive than our sun. Gas on the star gets so hot that it escapes away into space as a “stellar wind” moving at over four million miles per hour. This outflow sweeps up the cold, interstellar gas in front of it, forming the outer edge of the bubble much like a snowplow piles up snow in front of it as it moves forward.

There’s lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Map of the day: Water exploitation in Europe

From the European Environment Agency [EEA], a map depicting the relationship between water use and the ability to replace water extracted throughout the continent:

BLOG Water