UK looks polar (temporarily)

Quickly highlighting a stunning image of the UK currently with very little not under a blanket of snow. The image is from the MODIS instrument (notice NASA first port of call again) and it is worth highlighting the recent improvements to the MODIS Rapid Response site. At first glance they look relatively minor, but the layout of quicklook images in a geographic pattern makes locating the required image much easier. Chapeau!

modis_greatbritain

First SMOS data

The Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity satellite launched last year as part of the ESA Earth Explorer series has returned its first data. Whilst this is part of the commissioning phase and is completely uncalibrated, it’s a good first step. At least it is distinguishing land from ocean.

smos_1st_image_2_h

More information is available from ESA here and I’ll relay more new when useable data starts flowing.

Wilkins update

Someone recently asked what was the current status of the Wilkins Ice Shelf. As ever up to date imagery is available from Polar View here, but I annotated a recent image to offer a guiding hand and thought it might be worthwhile making it available. Excuse the amateur cartoon nature of this, but it serves a purpose.

wilkins

Any pointers on my interpretation are of course welcome. The unadulterated image is available here.

UK Space Agency announced

The Science Minister Lord Drayson has just announced the formation of a UK Space Agency. More details available here and on Drayson’s twitter feed.

The real details however concern how this will be funded and whether it will take responsibility for all current subscriptions to ESA. So we’ll wait to see what the consequences are for NERC and its budget. Regardless at least we now have a focal point for determining common priorities for all UK Space investment.

Watch this space.

drayson_twitter_spaceagency

Virtual Globes at AGU

Slightly off topic, but interesting nonetheless, the Virtual Globes session at AGU will be a live (free) webcast on Tuesday 15th December at 10:20 (San Francisco time). See here for more information and details of the presentations.

globedisplay

It’s not all Google Earth either.

Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment published

The SCAR Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment report was published yesterday. It provides a very comprehensive picture of the current knowledge about the state of the Antarctic, priorities for research and questions that need to be answered in the future. Readers here may be interested in the review of satellite observations used to monitor the Antarctic provided in Chapter 2 – “Observations, Data Accuracy & Tools”.

scar_acce

The full report is available here, but a more digestible summary of the 10 key points is provided at the bottom of the British Antarctic Survey press release here. There’s plenty of other coverage on BBC, New Scientist etc.

Gravity satellite sees East Antarctic ice loss

Data from NASA’s GRACE satellite (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) has been used to show that the East Antarctic ice sheet is losing mass.  GRACE has previously shown that the smaller West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are losing mass, but it was thought the East Antarctic was stable.

grace_antarctica

The data suggests there was no net loss between 2002 and 2006, but has been losing mass over the last three years. Whilst the loss is small compared to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, it is a surprising find. More reporting is available here or best read the paper published in Nature Geoscience (Accelerated Antarctic ice loss from satellite gravity measurements, Chen J.L. et al, Nature Geoscience, 2009).

Antarctic icebergs drift toward New Zealand

Neal Young at the Australian Antarctic Division has spotted a large number of icebergs drifting an unusually long way north towards New Zealand from the Antarctic. Several hundred icebergs have been identified in visible MODIS satellite imagery in the area around Macquarie Island. It is thought these bergs originated from a much larger iceberg which began its journey having calved from the Ross Ice Shelf.

Map of iceberg locations in Southern Ocean

The main press release and maps of their position can be found here where you can follow progress. No doubt New Zealand, who has already issued coastal navigation warnings for the area in the Southern Ocean, will be keeping a keen eye too.

Hopefully no sheep will be traumatised this time round (and that’s not a joke stereotyping NZ locals – see the last line of this report).