Friday, September 18, 2009

Precision farming in northwestern Minnesota

From space, Noreen Thomas’ farm in northwest Minnesota looks like a patchwork quilt. Fields change hue with the season and with the alternating plots of organic wheat, soybeans, corn, alfalfa, flax, or hay. Thomas enjoys this view from hundreds of miles above Earth’s surface—not just for the beauty, but the utility. She is among a growing group of Midwest farmers who rely on satellite imagery from Landsat to maximize their harvest and minimize damage to their fields. It’s become another crucial tool like their tractors and sprinklers.

The top true-color image, taken by the Landsat satellite on September 10, 2009, shows Thomas’s organic farm along the banks of the Buffalo River near the center of the image. Lush green fields dominate the image, though some crops have already been harvested leaving squares of tan and brown. The lower image shows the same scene in false color. Made with infrared light, the false-color image provides a wealth of information about crop conditions.

Fascinating article from NASA's Earth Observatory, the rest of it is right here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Time to turn back? The most incredible tornado pictures

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 | 9:46 PM - Running towards a raging twister might seem insane to most people but for one artist, such perils are all in a day's work. Storm chaser Jim Reed has narrowly escaped death twice in his pursuit of the perfect stormy shot.

His experiences have been brought together in the revised and expanded version of his award-winning photo book, 'Storm Chaser: A Photographer's Journey.'

The awe-inspiring images chronicle Reed's travels through more than 2,000 U.S. counties documenting some of America's most deadly and spectacular weather.

'Storm Chaser includes the most memorable photos and experiences of 17 years of photographing wild weather,' said Reed.

'These experiences have shaped and changed my life.'

Re-released in June of this year, the book documents 17 hurricanes, including Hurricanes Charley in 2004, Katrina in 2005 and Ike in 2008.

Encountering hundreds of tornadoes, super-cell thunderstorms and hailstorms that have produced icy orbs twice the size of a softball, Jim's pictures are breathtaking.

(Yes, it's just a matter of time before one of these storm chasers, professional or otherwise, gets whacked by a tornado - or killed by lightning - or involved in a multi-car traffic accident with multiple fatalities. I've tagged along with NSSL scientists 3 times in Oklahoma since 1985, saw a tornado each time, but in every case I wasn't scared about getting sucked up into the tornado. I was TERRIFIED about being hit by a car or pickup traveling at 100 mph trying to intercept a twister and get the "money shot").

The rest of the article is here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Global warming threatens beer quality

IF THE sinking Maldives aren't enough to galvanise action on climate change, could losing a classic beer do it? Climatologist Martin Mozny of the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute and colleagues say that the quality of Saaz hops - the delicate variety used to make pilsner lager - has been decreasing in recent years. They say the culprit is climate change in the form of increased air temperature.

Mozny's team used a high-resolution dataset of weather patterns, crop yield and hop quality to estimate the impact of climate change on Saaz hops in the Czech Republic between 1954 and 2006. Best-quality Saaz hops contain about 5 per cent alpha acid, the compound that produces the delicate, bitter taste of pilsners.

(Oh no! For the love of God - and great beer - say it isn't so! For the rest of this profoundly troubling article at click here).

Canada's most deadly natural disasters

Canada's earliest-known most deadly natural disaster was a hurricane that killed 4,000 people off Newfoundland in 1775, many of them fishermen, when scores of ships were lost. "The Rock" was also hit with Canada's only-recorded earthquake-related deaths, when tsunami waves whipped up on Nov. 18, 1929, under the Grand Banks traveled 300 km across the Atlantic Ocean. They smashed 40 villages, right, killing 30 people.

In addition to the 11 tornadoes that ripped through central and southern Ontario last month, heavily damaging more than 600 homes in Vaughan -- 38 irreparably -- and killing an 11-year-old boy in the town of Durham, deadly disasters since the start of the last century have included:

- Five children and four adults died and 25 people were injured in the Inuit village of Kangiqsualujjuaq, Quebec -- now part of Nunavik -- when tonnes of snow cascaded down the sheer face of a 365-metre-high cliff at 1:30 a.m. on New Year's Day, 1999 and hit the Satuumavik School.

- A January 1998 ice storm blanketed the eastern seaboard, killing 26 people in Ontario and Quebec and knocking out electricity well into the month. Most victims died of carbon monoxide poisoning from heaters, or from hypothermia.

- The Red River in Manitoba overflowed in 1997, submerging parts of Winnipeg and nearby villages. But they're used to it, since the Cree -- who warned early settlers of the danger of the "Miscousipi," or Red Water River -- were first proved right in 1826. Even trains were submerged in the big one of 1950.

- Two major hurricanes caused extensive damage on opposite sides of the country. For five days starting on Sept. 24, 2003, Hurricane Juan blew north from Bermuda and hit Nova Scotia and P.E.I winds as high as 170 km/h, leaving eight people dead and causing $300 million damage. Winds up to 152 km/h swept Halifax's harbour area with wave surges up to 2 metres causing serious erosion, felled trees, knocked out power to 700,000 people in central part of the province, damaged buildings around the city's Bedford Basin, including a hospital, high rises and 36% of the homes. The capital's worst storm since 1893 sank a pleasure schooner and left treasured Point Pleasant Park plus the Public Gardens closed for months. On Dec. 15, 2006, three West Coast storms that reached 120 km/h uprooted or snapped the trunks of 10,000 of its half-million trees (including a 200-year-old hemlock) in 400-hectare Stanley Park, a rural-like oasis on Vancouver's harbour that attracts about 8 million visits a year. A couple in their mid-60s were found dead in Burnaby, believed to be victims of carbon-monoxide poisoning caused by a power outage that left up to 240,000 BC Hydro customers with no electricity.

The complete article in the Edmonton Sun is here.