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Global Portrait of Wind Flow


This model shows the wind system on Earth. Near-ground wind flows are coloured in white (0-40 m/s), winds of the upper stratosphere are multi-coloured (0-175 m/s), while red signals the highest velocity. Cyclones appear as white dots above the ocean. The multi-coloured waves are the jet streams.


Modelling is based on several years of satellite-based observation, including sea surface temperature, as well as emissions caused by forest fires, volcanoes, and human sources.


Model: GEOS-5

Resolution: 10 km

Ship Clouds above the Pacific Ocean


This impressive image shows the legacies of ships in the atmosphere. The white traces of clouds have an effect on the natural clouds: Particles of exhaust gas (aerosols) increase the reflectivity of the clouds which means they can absorb more water. This leads to a reduced precipitation. Even though the use of fossil fuels of ships only accounts for a relatively small part of the changing atmosphere, this image gives an idea which impacts human actions can have on nature.


Location: Pacific Ocean
Picture taken on July 3, 2010
Sensor: Aqua MODIS

Volcanic Ash of des Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland


Iceland is located in the geologically active zone where the outer mantle of the Earth is drifting apart (diverging lithosphere), and is placed on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Here, many active vulcanoes are covered with snow due to the cold climate. In 2010, the eruption of the glaciated vulcano Eyjafjallajökull caused an enormous ash cloud moving south which can be seen in the picture. This cloud brought all air traffic in Europe to a standstill for several days and caused high economic loss.


Location: Iceland

Picture taken on May 11, 2010

Sensor: MODIS Terra

Gravitational Waves on the Coast of Australia

NASA/GSFC (Jeff Schmaltz); Link:

This unusual image shows a part of the Pacific Ocean northwest of Australia and exemplifies the interaction between the atmosphere and the quiet sea of the Indian Ocean.
Atmospheric gravitational waves develop from the rise and fall of air in vertical undulations. If air masses sink during the undulations, they roughen the surface of the water. In the satellite image, this section of the water surface is darker than the smooth surface between the wave troughs. As can be seen in the upper part of the picture, clouds develop above the wave crests quite often.


Smog in China

NASA, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response

Dense smog has developed in the north of China, across Beijing and Shanghai, i.e. a distance of 1200 km, equivalent to the distance between Kiel (Germany) and Florence (Italy). The smog appears as a brown to grayish area. The concentration of respirable fine particles was 480 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m³) in Beijing and 355 in Shanghai that day. The WHO limit for fine particles dangerous to health is 25 µg/m³.


Hurricane Igor


Hurricane Igor, one of the strongest hurricanes in 2010, developed in September above the Cape Verde Islands. Tropical cyclones with this basis are westbound across the Atlantic Ocean and can be particularly strong as they absorb a lot of warm water on their long way across the ocean, thus causing a positive feedback (self-reinforcement). With a maximum wind velocity of 250 km/h, Igor reached category 4 status, indicating the possibility of devastating destructions. Unfortunately, this was the case on September 20 and 21, 2010 when Igor hit Newfoundland.