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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Visualizing Drought

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Thursday, February 13, 2014/Categories: photography, environment, climate change

California is experiencing the worst drought in its history. It is now the middle of the rainy season and images of brown hillsides, dry farms, and barren peaks are presented daily. The past three, six, and twelve months were all the driest periods in California since record-keeping began in 1885.

A new map of California's drought situation presents a powerful picture of the "plantscape". Using "big data" sets of from infrared images captured by the Terra and Aqua satellites, the data visualization depicts plant health over nearly the entire State.

According to NASA: "from January 1st to February 17th 2014, satellites images were compared to averages for the same period over the past decade. Brown depicts where plant growth, or where "greenness,” was below normal for the time of year; blue-green indicates where vegetation is more abundant than normal. The map is based on an index that measures how plants absorbs visible light and reflects infrared light. Drought-stressed vegetation reflects more visible light and absorbs more infrared than healthy vegetation."

California Drought Mag  (credit: NASA)

As one NASA investigator commented:

"There is surprising greenness along the edges of the Sierra Nevada range. In a normal year, much of the vegetated areas near the mountains would be snow-covered. Since there is not much snow this year, the evergreens appears anomalously green. That is bad news for this time of the year.”

This is not the pretty picture of most people think of California plantscapes.


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