Did the Covid-19 pandemic impact climate change? NASA images capture all the extreme weather events of 2020

Heatwaves, hurricanes, wildfires, droughts and floods continued to disrupt life for people across the globe, besides the challenges brought by Covid-19


                            Did the Covid-19 pandemic impact climate change? NASA images capture all the extreme weather events of 2020
Fires devastating the US Pacific Coast (NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens)

Despite a brief dip in global carbon dioxide emissions as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it appears to have had no impact on the climate crisis. Heatwaves, hurricanes, wildfires, droughts and floods continued to disrupt life for people across the globe, besides the challenges brought by Covid-19. Images of some of these climate events have been captured by NASA’s fleet of Earth-observing satellites and instruments on the International Space Station.

Scientists have warned that with increasing global surface temperatures the possibility of more droughts and increased intensity of storms will likely occur. As more water vapor is evaporated into the atmosphere it becomes fuel for more powerful storms to develop. Experts say that climate change has worsened the impact of natural disasters like fires and floods.

The UN has also stated that the relentless rise of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere – a phenomenon that has continued despite a travel lull during the pandemic – will fuel temperature rise for decades to come. 

“Global climate change has already had observable effects on the environment. Glaciers have shrunk, ice on rivers and lakes is breaking up earlier, plant and animal ranges have shifted and trees are flowering sooner. Effects that scientists had predicted in the past would result from global climate change are now occurring: loss of sea ice, accelerated sea-level rise, and longer, more intense heat waves. Hurricanes will become stronger and more intense,” cautions NASA. 

Unprecedented wildfires

According to scientists, increased heat, drought and insect outbreaks, all linked to climate change, have increased wildfires. They have also long anticipated that fires in the US West would grow larger, more intense and more dangerous. But even the most experienced among them were at a loss for words in describing the scope and intensity of the fires burning in West Coast states during September 2020.

The cover image (above) shows North America on September 9, 2020, and depicts an extremely thick blanket of smoke along the West Coast.

Experts say that climate change has worsened the impact of natural disasters like fires and floods
(Getty Images)

Many of the fires were initially triggered by lightning, but it was unusual and extreme meteorological conditions that turned some of them into the “worst conflagrations” in the region in decades, according to researchers. Record-breaking air temperatures, periods of unusually dry air, and fierce winds — on top of serious drought in some areas — led fires to ravage forests and loft vast plumes of smoke.

Sensors such as the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) and the Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS) on the NOAA-NASA Suomi NPP satellite collected daily images showing expansive, thick plumes of aerosol particles blowing throughout the US West. This was on a scale that satellites and scientists rarely see, emphasizes NASA. 

Hurricanes

Hurricane Laura, one of the 10 strongest hurricanes to make landfall in the US, swept through southwestern Louisiana in August, leaving a path of destruction in its wake.

(NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens)

The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on NOAA-20 captured the image of Hurricane Laura at 2.20 am Central Daylight Time on August 26, 2020. Clouds are shown in infrared using brightness temperature data, which is useful for distinguishing cooler cloud structures from the warmer surface below. That data is overlaid onto imagery of city lights.

The Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had predicted an above-normal 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, and it did turn out to be the most active on record. Theta — the 29th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic season — broke the record for the highest number of tropical/subtropical storms in a single year. The previous record of 28 storms was set in 2005. 

River floods

(NASA's Earth Observatory)

In early February 2020, the Mississippi River was near or above flood level in parts of Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana because of heavy rains across the region (known as the watershed) that feeds water to the river. The images were taken before and during the flooding in a combination of visible and infrared light.

They are displayed in false colors that make the floodwaters easier to see. The images were taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. 

Drought

(NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin)

On July 3, 2020, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured the false-color image of the river near Rosario, a key port city in Argentina. Though the image seems to show a lush and green oasis, the picture, captured by NASA’s Landsat, actually reveals the parched river basin of Argentina's Paraná River.

An extended period of unusually warm weather and drought in southern Brazil, Paraguay, and northern Argentina dropped the Paraná River to its lowest water levels in decades. The parched river basin has hampered shipping and contributed to an increase in fire activity in the delta and floodplain. The drought has affected the region since early 2020, and low water levels have grounded several ships, while many vessels have had to reduce their cargo to navigate the river. 

Australia’s deadly fire season

Drought and extreme heat primed much of the continent for unusually extreme fire activity, which was then followed by dangerous flooding.

(NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS/LANCE and GIBS/Worldview)

On January 4, 2020, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite obtained this image of the smoke across Southeastern Australia that has a tan color. 

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