Check a
satellite view of clouds RIGHT NOW where you are!

Weather and Climate

Hurricane Rick  Nov.9, 1997, hits Mexico,
Hurricane Pauline - Oct. 7, 1997 off the coast of Mexico
Smoke plumes from forest fires in 
Indonesia, Sept. 1997
Icebergs from St. Lawrence River,
Mar. 28, 1997
Forest fires - Amazon River           watershed, July 30, 1994

Geology and Mapping

Montserrat Volcano erupting,        
August 5, 1997
Fernandina Volcano - one of the     Galápagos Islands
Landform Atlas of Your State      


Where are most of the Plants on Earth RIGHT NOW?
Chlorophyll in the Ocean, where the algae (one-celled plants) are.
Algae concentrations, USA coast

Space Shuttle

NASA has a web page for kids
with Space Shuttle photos

Plenty of interesting and useful information is available to you from satellites.  Satellites orbit the Earth, carrying sensors or other instruments.  Many of these instruments use radar, visible light, or other means to produce pictures of the Earth.  Others like the Argos System can locate transmitters on the Earth's surface and report the location or relay information from the transmitters to ground receiving stations.  We will use the Argos System to locate the transmitters on travelling albatrosses in the Hawaiian Islands.  At the nesting colony we will attach the transmitters to albatrosses when they are at their nests.  From that point on, the Argos satellites will look for the transmitters every time they pass over the northern Pacific.  If they locate one of the transmitters, they relay the location to ground stations in either Alaska, Virginia, or France.  Eventually all of the location data end up in France, where they are processed and then sent every morning at 1:00 AM Eastern USA time to us at Wake Forest University, and we send the daily data on to the students participating in The Albatross Project.

One of the miniature transmitters that we use
Transmitter 09950, with its antenna curled forward so you
can see it.  Normally it sticks straight out from the back.

What do satellites look like?  The Coastal Zone Color Scanner (CZCS) is one that took some of the pictures you can see below; click here to see what it looked like before launch into orbit around the Earth.  The CZCS measured the concentration of chlorophyll, a molecule in plants.  The data from the CZCS showed where on Earth chlorophyll is most common, and where chlorophyll is common, plants are common, and where plants are common, animals that eat plants might be common.  We might be able to use data from the CZCS to understand why albatrosses make the travel decisions that they do, because albatrosses eat fish and squid that eat smaller prey that eat plankton that eat algae.  In an indirect way the albatrosses depend on algae for food.  We'll be looking to see whether the albatrosses go to areas with high concentrations of algae.   The CZCS stopped working in 1986, and the  SeaStar satellite has taken its place.  Click here for background on SeaStar and how it will be used to measure chlorophyll in the ocean.

Satellites are terrific for studying the El Niño-Southern Oscillation climate pattern.  During El Niños unusual weather hits many parts of the Earth.  In the Pacific Ocean, trade winds normally blow along the Equator from east to west.  As they blow, they push water at the surface to the west.  This surface water is warm from exposure to the sun, so the winds pile up warm water in western part of Pacific.

During El Niños those winds fail, and warm water flows back to the east.  A warm water pool appears in the eastern Pacific, often around Christmas, hence the term El Niño, Spanish for "the Christ child."  The sea level height is greater than normal in the eastern Pacific during El Niños because all of that warm water flowed back east.  The surface temperature of the ocean in the eastern Pacific is higher than normal.  We speak of the unusual sea level height and sea surface temperature as "anomalies."  A positive anomaly means that sea level height or sea surface temperature is higher than normal.

El Niños have a number of biological and climatic effects.  For seabirds, El Niños often mean changes in fish and squid abundance, because those prey items are sensitive to water temperature.  Seabirds like albatrosses nesting on equatorial islands sometimes desert their nests and the equatorial regions because their prey vanishes during El Niños.  Here's where you can find satellite information about the 1998 El Niño and its lingering effects:

  • Animation of the sea surface temperature anomaly in the Pacific Ocean over the past year or so. In this animation, redder colors indicate water that is warmer than it usually is in that area.  This is a great animation, but you have to give it a few minutes to download.  When it has downloaded, then hit your browser's "reload" button.  Sea surface temperatures have big effects on albatrosses and other seabirds.   generally, unusually warm water contains less food for them.  What have sea surface temperatures been like around Hawaii lately?
  • Chlorophyll concentrations around the Galápagos Islands, which are right in the middle of warm water pool during El Niños.  The two images shown are from October 1983, which was not during an El Niño, and October 1997, which is during the 1997-98 El Niño.  The difference in chlorophyll concentration (which means a change in plant populations) is amazing!  The Coastal Zone Color Scanner (1983) and SeaStar spacecraft (1997) collected these pictures.

You can locate a lot of information from satellites on the web by searching with terms  like:

"remote sensing," "satellite image," "NASA," "NOAA," "GOES," and "AVHRR"


This page was last updated on May 23, 2000 08:15 AM