Mysterious Red Sprites, Hybrid Bears and Large-scale Melting on Greenland

In this Best of Syndication post, we look back on some amazing photographs of our home planet taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station, the hybridization of polar bears and grizzly bears as a shifting climate forces grizzlies north, and how the spread of diseases can be linked to the degradation of the environment.

Other topics covered include an interesting plan to salvage the Dead Sea ecosystem and satellite imagery showing the damage done in the United States by a small beetle.



Photograph of the elusive red sprite as seen from space. Credit: NASA Earth OBservatoryElusive Sprite Captured from International Space Station – Originally Published by NASA Earth Observatory

“Red sprites” are short-lived, red flashes that occur about 80 kilometers (50 miles) up in the atmosphere. With long, vertical tendrils like a jellyfish, these electrical discharges can extend 20 to 30 kilometers up into the atmosphere and are connected to thunderstorms and lightning. Expedition 31 astronauts aboard the International Space Station captured these images traveling from over central Myanmar to north of Malaysia.

 



Artificially Colored satellite imagery of Greenland's ice cap. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory Satellites Observe Widespread Melting Event on Greenland – Originally Published by NASA Earth Observatory

Nearly the entire ice sheet covering Greenland—from its thin coastal edges to its two-mile-thick center—experienced some degree of melting for several days in July 2012. According to measurements from three satellites and an analysis by NASA and university scientists, an estimated 97 percent of the top layer of the ice sheet had thawed at some point in mid-July, the largest extent of surface melting observed in three decades of satellite observations.

 


Cropped image of a map showing epidemics in the past years. Credit: NY Times.The Ecology of Disease – Originally Published by The NY Times

Disease, it turns out, is largely an environmental issue. Sixty percent of emerging infectious diseases that affect humans are zoonotic — they originate in animals. And more than two-thirds of those originate in wildlife. Teams of veterinarians and conservation biologists are in the midst of a global effort with medical doctors and epidemiologists to understand the “ecology of disease.”

 
 
 


Photograph of  Jack Dangermond, president and founder of EsriArcGIS Online Provides a Platform for Mapping for the Masses – Originally Published by Sensors and Systems

Esri has been framing and working on a cloud platform for GIS for some time that has recently culminated in the launch of ArcGIS Online. In this interview, Jack Dangermond, president and founder of Esri, discusses this move toward Software as a Service (SaaS), and the impacts that it will have on the geospatial market and Esri’s customer base.

 
 


Photograph of the aurora australis from space. Credit: NASAAurora Australis As Seen From the Space Station – Originally Published by Earth Today

The Expedition 32 crew onboard the International Space Station, flying an altitude of approximately 240 miles, recorded a series of images of Aurora Australis, also known as the Southern Lights, on July 15.

 
 
 
 


. This aerial photo shows sinkholes created by the drying of the Dead Sea, near Kibbutz Ein Gedi. (Photo by Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)The Dead Sea is Dying: Can A Controversial Plan Save It? – Originally Published by e360

The Dead Sea — the lowest terrestrial point on the planet — is dropping at an alarming rate, falling more than 1 meter a year. A $10 billion proposal to pipe water from the Red Sea is being opposed by conservationists, who point to alternatives that could help save one of the world’s great natural places.

 
 
 


The lead character of the 2011 climate story was a double dip La Niña, which chilled the Pacific at the start and end of the year. Many of the 2011 seasonal climate patterns around the world were consistent with common side effects of La Niña. (Credit: NOAA Climate Portal)Back-To-Back La Niñas Cooled Globe and Influenced Extreme Weather in 2011 – Originally Published by ScienceDaily

Worldwide, 2011 was the coolest year on record since 2008, yet temperatures remained above the 30 year average, according to the 2011 State of the Climate report released online today (July 10, 2012) by NOAA. The peer-reviewed report, issued in coordination with the American Meteorological Society, was compiled by 378 scientists from 48 countries around the world.

 
 


Line of fire: Amazon Indians protest against the massive Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. Photograph: STRINGER/BRAZIL/REUTERSEthical living: it is right to give a dam? – Originally Published by The Guardian

The Belo Monte dam in Brazil, when finished (it’s due to begin generating hydroelectricity in 2015) will be the world’s third-largest dam. It’s projected to generate 11GW of electricity. Drying up about 100km of the Xingu river (one of the Amazon’s main tributaries), it will flood 500km2 of land in the Brazilian state of Para and displace at least 20,000 indigenous people.

 
 
 


A hybrid polar/grizzly bear on Victoria Island in the Canadian Arctic at about 74 degrees North. The hybrid, photographed on April 23, was traveling with a grizzly bear on the sea ice in Viscount Melville Sound. (Photo courtesy of Jodie Pongracz)Unusual Number of Grizzly and Hybrid Bears Spotted in High Arctic – Originally Published by e360

Two Canadian biologists have reported sighting a handful of grizzly bears and hybrid grizzly/polar bears at unusually high latitudes in the Arctic, indicating that the interbreeding of the two bear species is becoming more common as the climate warms and grizzlies venture farther north. The sightings of three grizzly bears and two hybrid bears, made in late April and May, represent an unprecedented cluster of these animals at such high latitudes.

 


satellite imagery of brown forests killed by bark beetles. Credit; NASA Earth OBservatoryTiny Beetles Take a Large Bite Out of the Forest – Originally Published by NASA Earth Observatory

A single pine bark beetle is about the size of a grain of rice. But when the beetle population swells, it can have a major impact on forest health. And that’s exactly what has been happening across the Rocky Mountains over the past decade. In Colorado, severe beetle infestations showed up in lodgepole pine forests about 50 miles west of Boulder and Fort Collins around 2000.

 
 


Photo of a tree stranded by floods.  (Image: Scott Olson/Getty) River diversion created new land in Mississippi Delta – Originally Published by New Scientist

As the 2011 Mississippi river flood moved downstream, it quickly became apparent that it threatened to inundate New Orleans. To prevent that, the US Army Corps of Engineers opened a levee west of the city to divert much of the floodwater. This action helped create new land in the delta. Generating more land there in the future could help protect New Orleans and the surrounding area from rising sea levels.

 
 


Image of antarcic sea ice. Credit Robert HendersonAntarctic: Grand Canyon-sized rift ‘speeding ice melt’ – Originally Published by BBC News

A rift in the Antarctic rock as deep as the Grand Canyon is increasing ice melt from the continent, researchers say. A UK team found the Ferrigno rift using ice-penetrating radar, and showed it to be about 1.5km (1 mile) deep.