How Green Is My Valley? New Satellite Imagery Shows Changes in Earth’s Vegetation

Satellite imagery reveals a green, breathing planet — but one under threat from human activity

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We call earth the blue planet with reason — water covers 71% of our world’s surface, a fact that sets the third rock from the sun apart. But humans are land creatures, and we have lived and thrived on earth because of the vegetation our planet supports. We depend on the green.

Now recent footage gathered by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite shows in detail just how that green changes over the course of the seasons — and how we’re altering it with man-made activity. The video above is distilled from footage collected from April 2012 to April 2013 by the NASA/NOAA Suomi NPP satellite. The satellite can detect pixel-by-pixel changes in the earth’s vegetation over the course of a week or several decades. The areas of darkest green show dense vegetative growth — think rain forests — while lighter areas represent land with less plant cover, like deserts and mountains. Oceans and fresh water in the video are left white.

In North America, the video shows how greenery changes over the course of the year, as fall turns to winter and vegetation shrinks thanks to snowfall and dropping temperatures. Wildfires — like the deadly fires blasting through Arizona now — torch forests but over the long term can help promote revitalized plant growth. In South America, the video shows how deep green land surrounding the wide Amazon River has changed thanks to deforestation. The land has been scarred as forests have been cut down or burned to make room for agriculture and settlements. In China, the most populous country on the planet, unprecedented urban sprawl has left pockets of white amid the dense green along the coasts. Shanghai — a city with a metro population of over 23 million people — is seen as a blank white spot.

The detail NOAA’s satellite imagery can offer is especially valuable in the Horn of Africa, where minute changes of vegetative growth can offer advance warning for oncoming droughts. At the same time, a sudden flourishing of green could signal an uptick in malaria — a disease that kills more than 3,000 African children a day — as the Anopheles mosquito that hosts the malaria parasite thrives on dense, wet vegetation.

The Suomi NPP satellite allows us to see how our planet is changing in near real time. And given how fast we’re changing it — thanks to man-made greenhouse gases and sprawling development — it’s an eye in the sky we need more than ever.

MORE: Timelapse: Satellite Videos Show How the Earth Has Changed

13 comments
MegP
MegP like.author.displayName 1 Like

We badly need the kind of information these satellite studies can offer. But I'm disappointed in the tone of the video, which was soothing, calm. 

Given what what's happening to forest, watershed, wildlife, and even local First Nations wellness in northern Alberta with open pit tar mining (re XL and if industry gets favorable sign will be toxification and denuding of region approx size of Florida. Migrating birds, as well as indigenous wildlife can't 'hang about waiting for these habitats to return to normal; they will starve. These forests also 'purify' and manage water, snowmelt, and runoff - allowing water to seep deeper into the earth.)

We've also got mountain top blasting in forested US coal country. Global fracking toxins are treated as if they are localized issues rather than of consequence to the whole of earth's dynamic life system.

*All* human earth destructiveness, externalized costs for sake of corporate bottom line, and even herbicides for dandelions - dandelions! - are creating risks to *all* life as we think we know it. This is one earth - just the one - and its waters and air in constant interactive movement around the globe. 

These natural systems are not 'available for our convenience'. Our job is stewardship - always has been. It is up to us to make changes in how we approach resource exploitation - should have started way back when. All resources now have a certain 'precious' quality that, before high-consumption lifestyles, was perhaps not quite so critical.

We need a much more vigorous response and 'disciplined resource use' - on all inhabited continents - than the vid or article seem to suggest.  "Expand and exploit" national and global economics can no longer serve. Soothing advertisements from profit-seeking mega-energy corps when associated with 'green enthusiasm' vids have a pat on the head quality, "there, there, my dear, don't worry your pretty little head.  The ads are not particularly reassuring, (except perhaps to corporate PR departments, who assume they will work to prevent closer investigation of harm done.)

(My system only gave me about 2min following the commercial and attempt at replay says 'try later' so maybe the vid 'got serious' farther on; but as my long rant may suggest; I have a certain passion on this topic. ... I think we're headed for pretty serious trouble - us and the other species we may take down with us.)


MuricanBob
MuricanBob

These liberal freaks are turning my beautiful MURICA into sh*t!!!! We need bush back! If only these liberal fktards and illegals would gtfo we would be perfect and MURICA would be pure green within 6 months! MURICA!!!!!!

JimBullis
JimBullis

It does appear that the greenest California regions are the Sierra mountains, and somewhat lighter parts are the Central Valley.  There is even a streak of lesser vegetation, which might suggest that some of the water restrictions now in place are capable of also doing serious damage.

This is a problem needing more intelligent resolution also. 

JimBullis
JimBullis like.author.displayName 1 Like

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97XQDD3w-cU

The above link shows innovation in agricultural equipment which could be a part of intelligent human action.

MegP
MegP like.author.displayName 1 Like

@JimBullis Thanks! Very encouraging to see 'small is beautiful' perspective - large ag machinery simply can't be operated with 'earth care' in mind in the same way that small can. (I've a life-long involvement with farming and have watched it go from my grandfather's horses and open (no cab) smaller tractor to monster tractors pulling huge cultivating equipment. There's no way anyone operating the giant machinery can, for instance, 'go around' a killdeer nest as my father did one entire growing season because he could see the nest!)  

One other thought I have re 'back breaking work' , of which I've done lots and lots in growing activities, is that it's not as backbreaking IF the hours aren't so long. I wonder what our world and societies would be like if more people spent *part* of their time raising food by 'small technology', and getting physical exercise and fresh air while listening to bird song - but with shifts short. We'd spell one another off; we'd get to spend the rest of the day or week teaching history or building musical instruments!  

(I recognize my scheme wouldn't work for everyone's task 'arrangements' - physicians should probably have time to focus on the gift of their training and skill ... but it's weird to think people pay money to go to gyms and use resistance devices to build muscle and 'health' then hang out at the pool or patio expecting food to be available, and earth to 'somehow' be looked after.  We have so many unemployed or stressed by 'demands of fast-paced culture'; and 'small' food production methods better protect environment and habitat.)

JimBullis
JimBullis like.author.displayName 1 Like

@MegP @JimBullis  

I understand and appreciate your comments about small versus large, but I should be clear that my goal is increasing productivity and sometimes that is best accomplished with big machines.   

To me, increasing productivity is to reduce hunger, provide employment, and make us prosperous as a nation.  Actions to make best possible use of land and people seems like the path we should be trying to follow.  Where water is insufficient, I say we should fix that.  Where big machines do not enable effective hand labor, we should fix that. 

MegP
MegP

@JimBullis @MegP  Thanks and I also appreciate your goal of increasing productivity.  Perhaps my small contribution to these discussions can be to remind us that every manufactured 'gadget' we use, for any reason including large machinery in food production, is created from earth resources at a cost. 'Back when" the cost was more temporary, we did our damage and earth repaired itself. The scope and size of human destructiveness was at a pace earth could more easily handle.

There's always been a cost in habitat and watershed damage and loss.  As we know, these have often been discounted as 'external', allowing us to 'pretend' the practices of our economy are "good for us and everything else".  To us, 'externalized costs' are, and always were, 'irrelevant' - which in terms of earth's capacity to support us of course has never been an absolute truth.

By now, accumulated losses are beginning to show up in ways we can't so easily treat as 'externalized cost'.  Perhaps beyond our contributions to threat of earth over-warming; the other global-wide evidence of consequences when costs are externalized is conditions of ocean, (not just due to CO2, but over-fishing, plastic island gyres, etc.)

I *know* the impossibility of humanity feeding itself if we can't raise especially grains in massive quantity. (Or at least, by thought experiment, I 'know'.)  (My computer 'blinks off' by itself and I've managed to get this far so will quit and hope no major editing needs stay in my message... )

I appreciate your appreciation and back to you!  One of my 'drumbeats' is that we become scrupulously honest with ourselves about externalized costs in every way - from food production to the Hollywood film industry and every other place we do what we do.

ppd27575
ppd27575 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@MegP, not sure about the US, but in India there is the National Innovation Database, where they try to innovate things from ground up. For instance, they have a new product called "Mitti-cool" which is basically a clay refrigerator, using the basic properties of clay pots to cool stuff. They also have frying pans without the non stick covering/coating made of clay. If a little clay goes into your stomach while making something, it doesn't really harm you, but the coating of many pans are harmful chemicals.

The National Innovation Foundation maintains the database, any farmer or citizen can contribute to it, and some of the suggestions actually become products like the one I mentioned above.

 The foundation works on the principle that cheap doesn't mean low quality. There are talks on TED also about this, which you might find interesting.

http://www.ted.com/talks/anil_gupta_india_s_hidden_hotbeds_of_invention.html

 Here is the catalogue of the foundation (NIF)  for your reference.

http://www.nif.org.in/bd/product_catalog/cv

Cheers,

@JimBullis 

thanks for sharing, it is heartwarming to see such efforts and these should be supported as they are grassroots efforts from the ground up.

MegP
MegP

@ppd27575 @JimBullis  Thanks for sharing news and outcomes from India!  I have high regard for what can come of combining ag sciences with 'trans-generational' knowledge of regional earth and its life as discovered by the people who live there and work the land. The 'clay refrigerators' and non-stick clay cooking surfaces are both probably cases in point! (As a kid on a US grain farm, we took water to the field in an old crockery jug - narrow neck and loop handle. It was warped in burlap, the burlap held in place by a round of bailing wire. The jug was filled with fresh clean water, but dipped in any handy water to wet the burlap. Evaporation kept the drinking water 'coolish'.) 

At the same time we were using 'old tech' to provide field drinks, we were establishing science based soil and water conservation methods, (contoured terraces and cultivation patterns.) One 'principle' clear to us was "if we want earth to take care of us, we must take great care with earth."  Unfortunately I think this is more 'words than understanding' for many around the globe - esp. in high consumption cultures. People are generally very disconnected from 'how nature's dynamics work'.

JimBullis
JimBullis

This is a fantastic proof of what can be done with intelligent human action, more than it shows dangers of such.

The intensely green California Central Valley proves what can be done with intelligent use of water.  That living and breathing vegetative mass is powerfully effective in capturing CO2 and holding carbon.  This could be made to happen in the vast under-used areas of Western America that now show as nearly barren regions in the satellite imagery.  Positive action for everyone's benefit could be taken by action to build infrastructure for enabling universal irrigation.  This could minimize effects of both drought and flood as well as provide a reversal of climate change processes.  Not only that, it could re-invigorate our economy with agricultural jobs and exports.

While we wait for sensible action, we are attempting to solve the problem of hand farm labor which limits agriculture even today.  Check miastrada.com for video links that show this work.   

PacificSage
PacificSage

@JimBullis

Actually, the use of water for the Central Valley is an unsustainable disaster. 

It's not like you would know, nobody looks into the matter because it's not offered as a political issue to debate. But the use and technique is outdated and sloppy. New techniques and technology that tightly regulate irrigation have not been implemented for various reasons.

Since the amount of water is finiteI, the urban Southern California residents are told to limit use because of drought. Documentation does exist,  but is not widely reported:

http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/hearings/cachuma/exbhts_2012feir/cachuma_feir_mu289.pdf

From Wikipedia (see page for notes):

Around 75% of California’s water supply comes from north of Sacramento, while 80% of the water demand occurs in the southern two-thirds of the state.[7] The majority of California water is used by the agricultural industry. About 80-85% of all California water is used for agricultural purposes. This water irrigates almost 29 million acres (120,000 km2), on which grow 350 different crops.[8] Urban users consume 10% of the water, or around 8,700,000 acre feet (10.7 km3).[9] Industry receives the remnant of the water supply.[10]

JimBullis
JimBullis

@GroverSage @JimBullis  

I take it as a great thing that 25 million acres are irrigated with 80% to 85% of the state's water.  Techniques to make water use more efficient are of course desirable.

You might not know that water meters were not used in Southern California for many years and citizens freely used water hoses to sweep their streets and sidewalks. Maybe they still do; I have not checked lately.  This waste was (is) made possible by the water contracts of long ago, which are still absurd. 


PacificSage
PacificSage

@JimBullis @GroverSage 

As someone who grew up in the 70's, I hear you. We used to regularly hose down the rather long driveway....so it could be clean. I've been reconditioned to be very frugal with water since the mid 90's.