Tag Archives: weather

Mars’ seasonal dust storms

Data from the many Martian orbiters since 1997 have allowed scientists to roughly outline a seasonal pattern of dust storms on Mars.

Most Martian dust storms are localized, smaller than about 1,200 miles (about 2,000 kilometers) across and dissipating within a few days. Some become regional, affecting up to a third of the planet and persisting up to three weeks. A few encircle Mars, covering the southern hemisphere but not the whole planet. Twice since 1997, global dust storms have fully enshrouded Mars. The behavior of large regional dust storms in Martian years that include global dust storms is currently unclear, and years with a global storm were not included in the new analysis.

They have also found three types of regional dust storms, all of which appear to occur each Martian year.

India wins contract to launch private weather satellites

The competition heats up: The first two satellites in the first private weather satellite constellation will be launched on India’s PSLV rocket.

With 12 satellites on orbit, PlanetiQ will collect approximately 34,000 “occultations” per day, evenly distributed around the globe with high-density sampling over both land and water. Each occultation is a vertical profile of atmospheric data with very high vertical resolution, comprised of measurements less than every 200 meters from the Earth’s surface up into the ionosphere. The data is similar to that collected by weather balloons, but more accurate, more frequent and on a global scale.

“The world today lacks sufficient data to feed into weather models, especially the detailed vertical data that is critical to storm prediction. That’s why we see inaccurate or ambiguous forecasts for storms like Hurricane Joaquin, which can put numerous lives at risk and cost businesses millions of dollars due to inadequate preparation or risk management measures,” McCormick said. “Capturing the detailed vertical structure of the atmosphere from pole to pole, especially over the currently under-sampled oceans, is the missing link to improving forecasts of high-impact weather.”

This project is a win-win for aerospace. Not only will this weather constellation help shift ownership of weather satellites from government to private ownership, the company’s decision to use India’s PSLV rocket increases the competition in the launch industry.

Congress moves to require NOAA to use private weather satellites

The competition heats up: The House Science Committee has approved a bill that would require NOAA to begin using private satellites to gather weather data.

NOAA officials, most recently at a Feb. 12 hearing of the House Science environment subcommittee, have long said the agency is open to buying space-based weather data from aspiring commercial providers, so long as the companies can certify their data are up to NOAA standards. Currently this is impossible because NOAA has published no standards.

That would change if the Weather Research and Forecast Innovation Act of 2015 (H.R. 1561) becomes law. The measure sets a legal timetable for NOAA to publish the standards and competitively select at least one provider to sell the agency data to determine whether it can be easily folded into the National Weather Service’s forecasting models.

Watch what they do, not what they say. NOAA might claim it would use private providers, but without providing those standards it has given itself an easy way to reject everyone, which is exactly what they have done for years. This bill would force the issue.

Privately-built weather satellite constellation to be built

The competition heats up: A private company, dubbed Spire, has announced its intention to launch a 20-satellite constellation of weather satellites, all cubesats, by the end of 2015.

Spire raised $25 million in Series A funding during the summer of 2014, bringing its total amount to $29 million. The company already has customers in a variety of verticals, but Platzer said weather was planned to be a focus from the company’s inception.

…With the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) facing an impending weather data gap, an increasing amount of focus has been placed on leveraging commercial options as well. Last year NOAA issued a Request for Information (RFI) on RO that piqued interest from the commercial sector. Congress has also urged the agency to leverage private sector capabilities.

For years I argued that there is no justification for the federal government to provide free weather satellite data to private companies like the Weather Channel. There is more than enough profit to be made tracking and predicting the weather for these companies to launch their own orbiting networks, just as the television and communications industries do. Thus, it is good to see a new start-up take advantage of this need and to push to make a business out of it.

The weather is finally changing on Titan

New Cassini images of Titan have spotted the appearance of clouds above the planet’s northern seas, suggesting the overdue onset of the summer storms that climate models have predicted.

For several years after Cassini’s 2004 arrival in the Saturn system, scientists frequently observed cloud activity near Titan’s south pole, which was experiencing late summer at the time. Clouds continued to be observed as spring came to Titan’s northern hemisphere. But since a huge storm swept across the icy moon’s low latitudes in late 2010, only a few small clouds have been observed anywhere on the icy moon. The lack of cloud activity has surprised researchers, as computer simulations of Titan’s atmospheric circulation predicted that clouds would increase in the north as summer approached, bringing increasingly warm temperatures to the atmosphere there.

“We’re eager to find out if the clouds’ appearance signals the beginning of summer weather patterns, or if it is an isolated occurrence,” said Elizabeth Turtle, a Cassini imaging team associate at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland. “Also, how are the clouds related to the seas? Did Cassini just happen catch them over the seas, or do they form there preferentially?”

Any conclusions drawn at this time about the seasonal weather patterns of Titan must be considered highly uncertain, since we only have been observing the planet for a period that only covers one very short portion of its very long 30 year-long year.

The weather on an exoplanet: Cloudy and clear.

The weather on an exoplanet: Cloudy and clear.

Astronomers using data from NASA’s Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes have created the first cloud map of a planet beyond our solar system, a sizzling, Jupiter-like world known as Kepler-7b. The planet is marked by high clouds in the west and clear skies in the east. Previous studies from Spitzer have resulted in temperature maps of planets orbiting other stars, but this is the first look at cloud structures on a distant world.

This result is cool, but no one should take it too seriously. They have detected evidence of that to the scientists “suggest” clouds, but no one really knows.

A Florida university has broken ground on a new hurricane simulation machine capable of recreating category 5 hurricanes in three dimensions.

A Florida university has broken ground on a new hurricane simulation machine capable of recreating category 5 hurricanes in three dimensions.

The facility will not only allow scientists to study hurricanes, they will also be able to test the engineering of objects trying to survive them.

Forecasting hurricanes

NOAA today announced its prediction for the upcoming Atlantic Ocean hurricane season, calling for between 9 and 15 tropical storms in 2012, with 4 to 8 becoming full blown hurricanes. The NOAA release can be seen here.

To me, the range of the prediction is so wide it really doesn’t mean anything. Moreover, I wonder about the reliability of these predictions.
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Scientists have found that the structure of Titan’s atmosphere appears to change daily and seasonally, much like the Earth’s.

Scientists have found that the structure of Titan’s atmosphere appears to change daily and seasonally, much like the Earth’s.

“The most interesting point is that their model shows the presence of two different boundaries, the lower one caused by the daily heating and cooling of the surface – and varying in height during the day – and the higher one caused by the seasonal change in global air circulation,” commented Paulo Penteado from the Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Science at the University of São Paulo in Brazil. According to [Benjamin Charnay from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris], this link between the lower atmosphere’s layers and the moon’s daily and seasonal cycle has never been seen on another moon or planet besides the Earth.

One caveat: the results are based upon a computer climate model. Though this model was tweaked based on actual data, that data remains slim and incomplete.

The Winds of Mars

changing martian dunes
Images taken 1363 days apart.

In two different papers published in two different journals in the past month, scientists have concluded that — despite the thinness of the planet’s atmosphere — the dunes and sands of Mars are being continually shaped and changed by its winds. In both papers the data from which this conclusion was drawn came from high resolution images taken by the HiRISE camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

What is especially interesting about this conclusion is that the climate models that had been developed for the Martian atmosphere, combined with wind measurements gathered by the various Martian landers, had all suggested that the kind of strong winds necessary to move sand were rare. To quote the abstract of the paper published on Monday in the journal Geology, Bridges, et al,

Prior to Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter data, images of Mars showed no direct evidence for dune and ripple motion. This was consistent with climate models and lander measurements indicating that winds of sufficient intensity to mobilize sand were rare in the low-density atmosphere.

Similarly, the second paper, Silvestro, et al, published on October 22 in Geophysical Research Letters, stated that

results from wind tunnel simulations and atmospheric models show that such strong wind events should be rare in the current Martian atmospheric setting.

Yet, both studies found significant evidence that such winds do occur on Mars, and are moving sand in many different places.
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Obama: “You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change.”

Obama on Sunday at a fundraiser, attacking Rick Perry: “You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change.”

Here is another example of a politician making a fool of himself. The wildfires in Texas have nothing to do with climate change. And if Obama thinks they do, he immediately shows himself to be completely ignorant of the science behind the Earth’s climate.

Private Japanese weather company to launch satellite to track Arctic Ice

A private Japanese weather company plans to launch a satellite to track Arctic ice for use by shipping.

The satellite will transmit images and information about sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. Weathernews will combine the information with available data on sea currents, weather and wave height to provide consumers with a finished product enabling safe navigation along the northern route.

Though I know most people are skeptical of this idea, I think that all weather information should be gathered and sold by private companies, as Weathernews is doing above. For example, the Weather Channel makes its money providing weather information to the public. If they didn’t get the satellite data free from NOAA weather satellites, they would have every reason to launch their own satellites.

Ethane lakes in a red haze: Titan’s uncanny moonscape

Titan’s ethane lakes in a red haze.

So far, there are no recognisable signs of organic life. That’s not surprising: by terrestrial standards, Titan is a deep freeze with surface temperatures at a chilly -180°C. Yet Titan is very much alive in the sense that its atmosphere and surface are changing before our eyes. Clouds drift through the haze and rain falls from them to erode stream-like channels draining into shallow lakes. Vast dune fields that look as if they were lifted from the Sahara sprawl along Titan’s equator, yet the dark grains resemble ground asphalt rather than sand. It is a bizarrely different world that looks eerily like home. Or as planetary scientist Ralph Lorenz puts it: “our prototype weird-world exoplanet”.

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