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NASA Earth Observatory
NASA Earth Observatory

Mapping 13 Years of Clouds on Earth

NASA Earth Observatory
NASA Earth Observatory

Today’s forecast: cloudy with a chance of maps. The NASA Earth Observatory has condensed more than a decade of data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) to create a single map of Earth’s average cloud cover for the last 13 years. 

Around two-thirds of the Earth’s surface is covered by clouds at any given point, especially concentrated over the oceans. Clouds are so prevalent in the atmosphere that when NASA does manage to capture satellite images of Earth without clouds, it’s news

MODIS cloud observations from July 2002 to April 2015 show Earth has some perpetually sunny regions. (Dark blue indicates fewer clouds on average, while white indicates frequent clouds.) Notably, the deserts of northern Africa and Saudi Arabia show up as clear dark spots in an otherwise opaque Blue Marble. You can also pick out certain mountain ranges based on the phenomenon of rain shadows: Mountains form a kind of wind break, protecting the region on the far side. As a result, one side of the mountain range forms clouds and remains lush and green, while the other side dries out. This pattern contributes to the dry weather west of the Sierra Nevadas in California’s Death Valley and west of the Andes Mountains in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

Cloud cover from January 2015 to April 2015. Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

By contrast, Europe and the upper half of South America seem to be perpetually hazy. Skies are more likely to be cloudy near the equator, where tropical weather patterns create thunderstorms. Clouds are also more likely on the western edge of continents, because of the way ocean water circulates due to Earth’s rotation on its axis: water at the surface of the ocean gets pushed west, away from the western edge of continents, and cool water from the bottom of the ocean rises to replace it. 

See more cloud maps from MODIS here.

[h/t: Scientific American]

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8 City Maps Rendered in the Styles of Famous Artists
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Vincent van Gogh once famously said, "I dream my painting and I paint my dream." If at some point in his career he had dreamed up a map of Amsterdam, where he lived and derived much of his inspiration from, it may have looked something like the one below.

In a blog post from March, Credit Card Compare selected eight cities around the world and illustrated what their maps might look like if they had been created by the famous artists who have roots there.

The Andy Warhol-inspired map of New York City, for instance, is awash with primary colors, and the icons representing notable landmarks are rendered in his famous Pop Art style. Although Warhol grew up in Pittsburgh, he spent much of his career working in the Big Apple at his studio, dubbed "The Factory."

Another iconic and irreverent artist, Banksy, is the inspiration behind London's map. Considering that the public doesn't know Banksy's true identity, he remains something of an enigma. His street art, however, is recognizable around the world and commands exorbitant prices at auction. In an ode to urban art, clouds of spray paint and icons that are a bit rough around the edges adorn this map of England's capital.

For more art-inspired city maps, scroll through the photos below.

[h/t Credit Card Compare]

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A New NASA Map Shows Spring Is Coming Earlier Each Year
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Climate change is shifting Earth’s seasons. Winters are getting shorter, and the warmth of spring has started to arrive earlier and earlier, messing with the timing of processes like animal migrations and the budding of new plant growth. In a series of graphics spotted by Flowing Data, the NASA Earth Observatory shows how much earlier new leaves are arriving in some parts of the U.S., and how much earlier they reach full bloom.

The data comes from a 2016 study of U.S. national parks, so the maps only cover seasonal changes within the park system. But since there are so many parks spread across the U.S., it’s a pretty good snapshot of how climate change is affecting the timing of spring across the country. The map in green shows the difference in “first leaf” arrival, or when the first leaves emerge from tree buds, and the map in purple shows the arrival of the first blooms.

A map of the U.S. with a colored grid showing where leaves are coming earlier
Joshua Stevens, NASA Earth Observatory

Around 75 percent of the 276 parks analyzed in the study have been experiencing earlier springs, and half had recently seen the earliest springs recorded in 112 years. In Olympic National Park in Washington, the first leaves are now appearing 23 days earlier than they did a century ago, while the Grand Canyon is seeing leaves appear about 11 days earlier. National parks in the Sierras and in Utah are seeing leaves appear five to 10 days earlier, as are areas along the Appalachian Trail. Some parks, however, particularly in the South, are actually seeing a later arrival of spring leaves, shown in dark gray in the graphic.

A map of the U.S. with a colored grid showing where blooms are coming earlier
Joshua Stevens, NASA Earth Observatory

The places that are witnessing earlier first blooms aren't always the ones with extra-early first leaves. The Appalachian Trail is blooming earlier, even though the first leaves aren't arriving any earlier. But in other places, like Olympic National Park, both the first leaves and the first blooms are arriving far earlier than they used to.

“Changes in leaf and flowering dates have broad ramifications for nature,” National Park Service ecologist John Gross explained in the Earth Observatory’s blog. “Pollinators, migratory birds, hibernating species, elk, and caribou all rely on food sources that need to be available at the right time.” When temperatures get out of sync with usual seasonal changes, those species suffer.

[h/t Flowing Data]

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