In a similar tradition to our monthly “Universe Update”, the first Thursday of every month, the Morrison Planetarium is now hosting “Earth Update” at the 7:30 and 8:30 planetarium shows during NightLife. Ryan Wyatt, Director of the Morrison Planetarium and Science Visualization here at the Academy, working with Tim Horn, Producer of Climate and Earth Science Visualization, select their favorite Earth-bound stories from the past month and give a brief run-down of current discoveries while taking audiences on a guided tour of our beloved planet.

We’ll give you the same update here each month, in the same order Ryan does, starting and ending closest to our home city, San Francisco.

Where’s the Snow?
Some of us were looking forward to sledding down our great neighborhood hills... On February 23rd, the San Francisco Chronicle reported “there is a good chance for snow at sea level in San Francisco for the first time since February 1976, the National Weather Service opines.” But on February 25th, it declared a “love-hate relationship with weather predictions.”

But everyone else got snow, according to NASA’s Earth Observatory:

January 2011 was marked by a series of crippling snow storms across the United States. By January 12, about 71 percent of the country had snow on the ground, the fifth-largest snow cover extent in the last 45 years.

While the snow-pack in the Sierras has been good for California, other states are not so lucky:

With all the snow, it would be easy to think that the United States received plenty of winter moisture, but snow is deceptive... January 2011 was the ninth-driest January in the United States in 117 years. The southern half of the country was particularly hard hit. New Mexico experienced its driest January on record.

Expedition to the Philippines
We mentioned this in Earth Update last month, but head Academy researcher Terry Gosliner outlined his plans, hopes and dreams for the upcoming Hearst Expedition to the Philippines at Nightlife last night. Academy scientists, working with Filipino researchers, will explore three research arenas in the country: shallow-water reefs, deep-sea,  and terrestrial and freshwater. The expedition will take place from April 25th through June 10th-- look for updates here.

Australia and New Zealand Updates
Australia, land of floods, droughts and cyclones. Tropical Cyclones Diane and Carlos both hovered off the coast of Western Australia last month and Atu approached the north island of New Zealand. (Click on the links for more stunning images from the Earth Observatory.)

The 6.3-magnitude earthquake that struck Christchurch last month was surprising in the amount of damage it amassed. From Earth Observatory:

Besides striking closer to a major population center, the 6.3-magnitude Christchurch earthquake had a depth of just 5 kilometers (3 miles). The New Zealand Herald reported that, whereas the Darfield quake [September 2010] happened in the early morning hours, the February 22 quake struck at the “worst possible time” of day—at the lunch hour when city streets were crowded with shoppers, diners, office workers, and school children. Moreover, some of the buildings that collapsed may have been weakened by the September 2010 quake.

It’s also possible that the quake could have been magnified by volcanic rock.

Let’s look to some beauty of the area. The image above is not a painting; it shows the annual summer phytoplankton bloom, taken February 10th.

Goodbye Glory
Ryan reported on the Glory satellite launch to his NightLife crowd last night. Sadly, only a few hours later, early this morning, the climate-data gathering spacecraft failed to separate from the Taurus XL rocket and plunged somewhere into the South Pacific. We saw this same thing only two years ago with the Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite. You can read more here.

If you’re in the area, come visit the Academy for NightLife on April 7th for the next “Earth Update,” when Ryan and Tim will give you more of the latest news on Academy research and our home planet.

NASA image by Norman Kuring

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