Day 43: This week in Earth news (02/12/2017)

It’s getting snowy out there! Here in North America, we’ve gotten hit by a series of snow storms, and thanks to modern technology we’ve been able to track these storms across the continent and map their future trajectory. The result is absolutely stunning and uses cutting edge technology, like high-definition images from those new satellites NOAA sent into space (as we saw last month). Although these storms certainly do not break the global warming trend, snow was sadly missed last winter and this is a nice break from the drought New York state experienced last year. The last snow emergency before this one in Albany (where I’m reporting from today) was in February, 2015, according to locals. You can find gorgeous pictures like the “Picture of the Day” of a Nor’easter below and real-time imagery of the Earth at NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service. I really can’t thank these people enough for putting this together for all of us to enjoy, it really makes a snowday enjoyable.


Just to prove that global warming is there, despite all the snow and ice we’ve been experiencing, check out this ice crack animation by the NYtimes of an Antarctican ice shelf.  The crack on Larsen C has been observed and studied for months by worried scientists. This ice shelf is bigger than the ones that broke away in 1995 and 2002, but it won’t represent much of a sea-level rise when it does break away and melt. It will, however, set a trend for Antarctican glaciers and vulnerable ice shelves to break away, and the sea-level rise from all the break-away ice could be significant. Usually there is much talk about the melting Arctic in the news (this article says that the melting ice on Greenland alone could contribute as much as 7 meters to sea-level rise, which is quitestaggering), and I wouldn’t be surprised if scientists became equally as concerned with what’s happening in the South Pole.

Another tragedy took place this week in New Zealand when 400 pilot whales beached themselves. Scientists aren’t sure why this happened, or why whales and dolphins beach themselves to begin with. It could be that they get trapped in shallow water when chasing a school of fish, or something more serious like some sort of interference with their geomagnetic orientation, which humans could affect to some extent with underwater noise, like submarines. This wasn’t the worst pilot whale beaching in history (although it certainly is one of the worst), and this beach in New Zealand is notorious for animal beachings. All the same, humans should be on the lookout to see how their actions impact animals, and how they can correct that. In my opinion, this mass whale stranding deserves an investigation, and I hope they get one.

If one of your hobbies is looking up at the sky at night, you might have seen a spectacle last Friday! There was a lunar eclipse, a green comet, a full moon all in one night. Although the lunar ecplise was a partial gray shadow and the comet wasn’t visible to the naked eye, these are definitely treats for the amateur astronomer. If you weren’t ready for this one, then buckle up for the next show, which is going to legendary – this year the US will be host to the 2017 Solar Eclipse on August 21st! People are already getting tickets to get front row seats somewhere along the trajectory of the total solar eclipse, which you can view here.

Not in the US? Don’t worry, there’s another show coming up in the Southern Hemisphere – this month, actually! My friends in Santa Catarina, Brazil are actually at one of the best continental places to view a partial solar eclipse – check out the map in the previous link for the full trajectory or this link for a website in Portuguese that explains when and how much of the eclipse you’ll be able to see (in Florianópolis, for example, 50% of the sun will be blacked out). Mark February 26th on the calendar and hope for a clear sky – but don’t look directly at the sun. I remember using a contraption made of 3 ski goggles taped together to view a partial solar eclipse in France, in 2015 (and yet, not for more than a couple seconds at a time). NASA however does NOT recommend looking at the sun with any type of sunglasses. This is what is recommended. I realize that maybe none of these options are available to my Southern friends, except for building a pinhole projector, so I will do more research this week on the subject.

Have fun, and thanks to everyone that pitched in with ideas and images this week! Open source pictures and information are truly a blessing.






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