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News and Features

What Is Space Weather?

Space weather develops from solar phenomena that can affect Earth’s technology, communications, and electrical systems.

Rain, wind, and storms are everyday features of our weather on Earth. But beyond our atmosphere, scientists are monitoring phenomena in space that are a close cousin to terrestrial weather. Space weather, the name scientists adopted in the late twentieth century to describe changes in space, has become a keen area of study for many heliophysicists, meteorologists, and skywatchers.

Understanding space weather means looking beyond our experiences on the Earth’s surface. Rather than wind, rain, thunder, and seasonal changes, space weather develops differently and produces outcomes unlike terrestrial weather.

More powerful than volcanic eruptions, solar flares cause disturbances in the atmosphere around the sun and emit particles that travel through space as far as Earth’s magnetic field.
More powerful than volcanic eruptions, solar flares cause disturbances in the atmosphere around the sun and emit particles that travel through space as far as Earth’s magnetic field.

So, can space weather cause a tornado, hurricane, thunderstorm, or temperature swings? Generally speaking, the impacts of space weather tend to affect us more in other ways. Space weather falls into a different category.

Causes of Space Weather

It starts with the sun—our dynamic star that’s under constant change. As the sun changes, so does the space around it. Solar flares and eruptions release enormous amounts of energy—much more energy than has been produced on Earth in all of human history—over the course of just a few minutes! These events are so powerful and enormous they can be felt across the solar system, from the sun's surface to tens of millions of miles away on Earth and beyond.

As the sun evolves, changes in its magnetic field store vast amounts of energy. Often this energy dissipates gradually, heating the sun's atmosphere or being swept away by solar wind. Sometimes a fraction of it is released impulsively, triggering powerful events that can lead to severe space weather near Earth. Satellites, sensors, and imaging technology record those activities in real time for researchers at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center who analyze the data each day to monitor and predict changes in space weather. Solar flares, coronal mass ejections, coronal holes, and geomagnetic storms cause scientists to take note.

Solar Eruptions: Flares and Coronal Mass Ejections

Solar eruptions are massive explosions on the sun that send huge amounts of energy and mass streaming into space. Eruptions manifest in many ways: solar flares are short, impulsive bursts of electromagnetic radiation that blast X-rays and energetic particles into interplanetary space. Weak flares are common occurrences on the sun, while massive flares, which can last for days, are the most energetic events in the solar system.

CMEs, coronal mass ejections, act like shockwaves in space.
CMEs, coronal mass ejections, act like shockwaves in space.

Another manifestation of solar eruptions, called coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, are powerful outbursts of magnetic field and plasma from the Sun's corona. CMEs can contain as much mass as 10,000 modern aircraft carriers and fling solar matter into space at speeds high enough to reach the outer edges of the solar system. Billions of tons of electrified plasma and subatomic particles from the sun’s corona fire off like a blast into space by a CME at speeds typical of 600 to 900 km/s, with speeds varying widely. The most powerful CMEs can reach speeds of several thousand km/s.

Coronal Holes

Coronal holes, dark regions in the sun’s atmosphere detected by ultraviolet and X-ray imaging, are the source of high-speed solar wind streams. The winds generated by the coronal hole pass virtually unhampered into space. Sometimes present for many months, the holes rotate as the sun rotates every month. These high-speed streams collide with the slow solar wind that is generated outside the holes. The visual effect resembles the spiral of a rotating sprinkler, which scientists call the Parker Spiral. This collision can lead to the formation of shockwaves in the solar wind and can produce disturbances to Earth’s magnetosphere, the protective magnetic field that surrounds the planet for thousands of miles above the surface.

Geomagnetic Storms

Flares, CMEs, and high speed streams cause space weather-induced storms near Earth referred to as geomagnetic storms. These near-Earth responses to events from the sun demonstrate the far-reaching impact of the star’s tremendous power. The sun’s eruptions, precursors to storms, become problematic once they interact with the Earth’s magnetosphere and ionosphere. Storms can disrupt systems on Earth, from radar to airline navigational tools.

GPS signals are susceptible to geomagnetic storms, which can change a receiver’s ability to calculate an accurate position from a satellite signal. With more than 2,000 satellites in space and GPS features common in cell phones, the implications can be broad if signals are hampered. At home, our telecommunications systems, radio waves, cellular service, and power grids can all be affected by space weather.

In March 1989, millions of people lost power when a geomagnetic storm caused a power grid failure in Quebec and even melted some power transformers in New Jersey. During another incident around Halloween 2003, a geomagnetic storm forced airline rerouting, halted spacecraft instrumentation, and caused a power failure in Sweden.

The Northern Lights come about from particles reacting to the everyday atmospheric matter in Earth’s
          protective buffer.
The Northern Lights come about from particles reacting to the everyday atmospheric matter in Earth’s protective buffer.
Source: NOAA's NWS Collection, LCDR Gary Barone, NOAA Corps (ret.)

The Human Experience

Though space weather can reach Earth’s immediate vicinity within a few days or less, observations from key satellites, GOES and DSCOVR, help detect potential harm. Nonetheless, the random nature of flares, solar winds, and CMEs—the underlying causes of storms—make predictions more difficult. In October 2016, a U.S. presidential executive order required the development of a nationwide strategy to cope with security and disaster issues related to space weather.

However, not all outcomes of space weather are negative. Aurorae claim the distinction of being a natural, beautiful consequence of space weather. Aurorae could be considered space weather’s equivalent to the rainbow, except that the shimmering curtains of light have nothing to do with rain. They develop from the collision of charged particles from solar eruptions with our upper atmosphere. The same space weather event of Halloween 2003 that caused so many problems also created a remarkable aurora. That aurora borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, was so spectacular, regions around the globe reported sightings.

Space Weather Data

NCEI stores a broad assortment of space weather data for public use. Solar and space environmental data archives include extensive collections from solar observatories, ground ionospheric sounders, and satellites. The datasets include solar radio flux, sunspot numbers, solar imagery, and geomagnetic indices. They are used to produce forecasts, such as the monthly sunspot number forecast. Most notably, sunspot numbers represent one of the longest continuous climate records available. The data give scientists the means to make many forecasts and issue space weather advisories and alerts.

For more information, visit:

Seeing Holiday Lights from Space

Holiday house lights

The NOAA/NASA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite shows how the holidays affect nighttime light intensity around the globe.

The holidays shine bright—so bright that even satellites take notice. The NOAA/NASA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership, or Suomi NPP, satellite has shown us some unique patterns in nighttime light intensity around the globe during major holiday seasons. In particular, the United States shines exceptionally bright during Christmas and New Year's and the Middle East does so during the holy month of Ramadan.

According to scientists from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, nighttime lights in many major U.S. cities shine 20% to 50% brighter during Christmas and New Year's when compared to the rest of the year. Nighttime lights in some Middle Eastern cities shine more than 50% brighter during Ramadan when compared to the rest of the year.

A special instrument called the Visible Infrared Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) resides onboard the Suomi NPP satellite, and it can observe the “dark side” of the planet, detecting the glow of cities and towns as well as gas flares and fires. To determine how the holidays impact nighttime lights, NASA scientists developed an advanced algorithm that analyzes VIIRS data and tracks when and how brightly people illuminate the night.

City lights shine brighter during the holidays in the United States when compared with the rest of the year. Dark green pixels are areas where lights are 50% brighter, or more, during December
City lights shine brighter during the holidays in the United States when compared with the rest of the year. Dark green pixels are areas where lights are 50% brighter, or more, during December.
Credit: NASA's Earth Observatory

Christmas and New Year's in the United States

In the United States, nighttime lights typically start getting brighter the day after Thanksgiving, with the trend continuing through New Year's Day. In most suburbs and the outskirts of major cities, light intensity increased by 30% to 50% in 2012 and 2013. Lights in the central urban areas did not increase as much as in the suburbs, but still brightened by 20% to 30% during the same period.

Ramadan in the Middle East

In several cities in the Middle East, city lights brighten during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Dark green pixels are areas where the lights are 50% brighter, or more, during Ramadan
In several cities in the Middle East, city lights brighten during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Dark green pixels are areas where the lights are 50% brighter, or more, during Ramadan.
Credit: NASA's Earth Observatory

In several Middle Eastern cities, nighttime lights brighten during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. During Ramadan, Muslims fast during the day, delaying meals and many social gatherings, markets, commerce and more to nighttime hours.

Looking at three consecutive years of data, from 2012 through the fall of 2014, the scientists found a large increase in light output in Egypt's capital of Cairo that corresponded with Ramadan. But, not all Middle Eastern cities followed the same pattern as Cairo. Light use in Saudi Arabian cities, such as Riyadh and Jeddah, increased by about 60% to 100% through the month. Light use in Turkish cities, however, increased far less. Some regions in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon did not have an increase in light output, or even demonstrated a moderate decrease, possibly due to unstable electrical grids or conflict in the region.

For more information about VIIRS and nighttime lights, see:

Story adapted from NOAA/NASA Satellite Sees Holiday Lights Brighten Cities.

GOES-R, Building Better Predictors

NOAA's new GOES-R satellite promises faster, more accurate data for a better understanding of weather, climate, and solar activity.

Soon, a new satellite will add greater depth to NCEI's weather and climate observations, taking us from Data 2.0 to Data 3.0. The GOES-R satellite carries into orbit the newest technology for collecting weather and climatic data. The sophisticated instruments on the satellite will increase NOAA's capacity to provide faster, more accurate information for a wide range of uses.

GOES-R's Spectrum of Detection

The GOES-R, one of NOAA's four geostationary operational environmental satellites, represents a significant leap forward in NOAA's ability to detect and observe environmental phenomena. Among the upgrades to improve the safety of people, property, and prosperity, the satellite will provide:

Flooded road.
Flooded road.
Credit: National Weather Service
  • Improved hurricane tracking and intensity forecasts
  • Increased thunderstorm and tornado warning lead time
  • Earlier warning of ground lightning strikes
  • Improved aviation flight route planning
  • Improved air quality warnings and alerts
  • Better fire detection and intensity estimation
  • Better detection of heavy rainfall and flash flooding risks
  • Improved solar flare warnings to protect communication/navigation systems
  • More accurate monitoring of radiation hazards to humans and spacecraft
  • Improved geomagnetic storm forecasting to protect power systems and spacecraft
  • Improved predictions by models
  • Better long-term data for climate studies

The satellite includes six different instruments, including a search-and-rescue system, data collection system, and emergency weather communications. The array of complex sensors and instruments are designed to take highly accurate measurements of Earth, our surface, and space environment.

Advanced Weather Forecasting

Instruments on the new GOES-R satellite will collect three times more data and provide four times better resolution of images of events taking place above Earth's surface. Once fully operational in 2017, the satellite will scan the Western Hemisphere at frequencies not possible until now. Scans will occur as frequently as every 15 minutes of the hemisphere, every 5 minutes of the continental United States, and as often as every 30 seconds during severe weather, all at the same time. The GOES-R system will produce 1.75 terabytes of data per day from the single satellite—the equivalent of about 40,000 16-gigabyte smartphones of data per year.

What are the practical implications? It's the equivalent of replacing dial-up with high-speed broadband. Faster weather data allow for faster dissemination of information about rapid weather changes. Weather forecasters from the National Weather Service anticipate better response times for issuing warnings, watches, and alerts.

Solar flare blazingly hot in the upper right of the sun.
Solar flare blazingly hot in the upper right of the sun.

GOES-R and Space Weather

Instruments onboard GOES-R also monitor space weather conditions that can cause disturbances to electrical and radio technology systems on Earth. Space weather is caused by electromagnetic radiation and charged particles being released from powerful solar storms. Commercial airlines and transportation-related technology, such as GPS tools, are vulnerable to changes in space weather, as is NOAA's fleet of satellites.

A handful of the most sophisticated instruments in science, such as X-ray and energetic particle sensors, gather the space weather data and add them to a vast database, dating back to 1974. NCEI provides access to this solar and space environmental data and archives the data for future use.

GOES-R sensors and imaging instruments are also designed to feed space weather data to the Space Weather Prediction Center, which posts several measurements each day related to the sun.

Data at the Ready

Staff at the NOAA Satellite Operations Control Center monitor data from a GOES satellite
Staff at the NOAA Satellite Operations Control Center monitor data from a GOES satellite.
Credit: NOAA

Through the National Centers for Environmental Information, information from GOES-R can be accessed and downloaded for public and private uses. Observations are stored and available from NCEI as raw and enhanced data and images covering the Earth's atmospheric, oceanic, and terrestrial conditions. NCEI works with many user groups: private industry and businesses, local and international governments, academia, as well as the general public.

Unlike other satellites, GOES-R will supply enhanced, user-friendly data for 34 meteorological, solar, and space weather measurements. The value-added information continues to develop through a working group process that combines government, academia, and private industry. The collaboration focuses on transforming instrument data into usable "products." For example, signal strength values from various wavelengths are processed into information about cloud characteristics, atmospheric properties, and surface characteristics, such as snow and wildfires. From space weather data, NCEI plans to generate products to show solar features in a thematic color-coded map categorized by type of solar phenomena—including flares, coronal holes, and quiet areas on the sun, among others.

GOES-R data will be available to the public after post-launch testing, sometime in late 2017. Climate satellite data can be accessed directly from NCEI online. Data can be selected by the type of dataset, by satellite or instrument, by image, or by contacting NCEI. Free software for visualizing and exporting weather and climate data, including radar, satellite, and modeling, is available through the Weather and Climate Toolkit (WCT). WCT provides non-proprietary software for background maps, animations, and filtering information. Images and movies can be exported in multiple formats.

For more information, visit:

November 5: World Tsunami Awareness Day

The first World Tsunami Awareness Day promotes awareness to help curb the destruction these deadly natural forces can cause.

One of the costliest and deadliest forces of nature earns a greater global profile this month. The United Nations hopes to reduce harm caused by tsunamis by designating November 5 the first World Tsunami Awareness Day. The infrequency of tsunamis complicates the public perception about their dangers, but the tide is turning.

According to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), tsunamis took the lives of more than 290,000 million people in the past 100 years. Their elusive nature contributes to their deadly impact. Unlike many natural hazards, the number of tsunamis is low. In the last 100 years, just 103 fatal tsunamis struck coastlines around the globe.

The path of destruction from the Tohoku, Japan, tsunami in 2011
The path of destruction from the Tohoku, Japan, tsunami in 2011.
Credit: NOAA/NCEI, Dylan McCord, U.S. Navy

Tsunamis recognize no particular season or time of day, and although most occur in the Pacific, they have occurred in every ocean. To bring greater awareness to the dangerous nature of tsunamis, World Tsunami Awareness Day marks the first worldwide campaign to improve public knowledge and preparedness. Designated by the U.N. General Assembly, the day includes drills, activities, and continued efforts to improve readiness and public responsiveness.

Tsunamis: Warnings from the Past

Geological traces of tsunamis can be found dating back to 4000 BC in Japan. More than 160 years ago, the country experienced a tsunami that inspires today's World Tsunami Awareness Day.

A tsunami on November 5 (Japanese calendar) in 1854 is remembered in Japan's lore because of the heroic acts of one farmer. Hamaguchi Goryo took prescient measures to save the lives of his fellow villagers of Hiro-mura. As many tsunamis do, the event began with an earthquake. After the destructive earthquake, a tsunami wave struck the village of Hiro-mura. Goryo, a farmer who lived in the village, set fire to precious sheaves of rice on higher ground, knowing other waves were possible. Villagers rushed out of harm's way to put out the fire. From the hilltop, the villagers saw the next tsunami waves further destroy their village and understood that it was Goryo's actions that saved them.

The Nature of Tsunamis

Caused by undersea disturbances such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, and other causes, tsunamis are a series of waves that are long in length and time and can grow to hundreds of feet high at the coast. They have the capability to overwhelm infrastructure and obliterate manmade and natural environments. Like the village of Hiro-mura, modern day coastal communities are not immune. Waves sometimes travel up to a mile inland, washing away homes, utilities, automobiles, businesses, infrastructure, and causing fatalities.

Boat washed ashore during Maule Chile 2010 tsunami
Boat washed ashore during Maule Chile 2010 tsunami.
Credit: NOAA/NCEI, Walter D. Mooney, U.S. Geological Survey

Many places along the U.S. coastline fall in tsunami danger zones. The most destructive tsunamis in the United States and territories have happened along the coasts of Alaska, American Samoa, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Puerto Rico, and Washington. Globally, the deadliest of all was the December 26, 2004, tsunami in the Indian Ocean. It killed an estimated 228,000 people in 15 countries, with Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand hardest-hit. The death toll included 9,000 tourists from many nations.

Images of tsunamis reaching land show their chilling nature and destructive capacity. In many ways, tsunamis demonstrate nature's untameable power. The signs of an oncoming destructive tsunami can be distinguished from ordinary sea conditions. Unusual and rapid fluctuations of the sea, such as receding tides, signal a tsunami wave is approaching. Other tsunami natural warning signs include ground shaking and a roaring sound from the sea. These natural warning signs may not always precede a tsunami, thus tsunami detection systems are needed.

Placing a tsunami detection buoy from the NOAA Ship Ka'imimoana.
Placing a tsunami detection buoy from the NOAA Ship Ka'imimoana.
Credit: NOAA National Weather Service, Matthew Wingate, NOAA Corps

Tsunami Preparedness with the Help of Science

NOAA's National Weather Service (NWS) provides tsunami alert services to vulnerable coastal areas in the United States and internationally through the U.S. National Tsunami Warning Center and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. NWS warnings, watches, and advisories improve public sensitivity to tsunamis and diminish some risk factors. The NWS and the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program, a partnership led by NOAA, have also established the TsunamiReady® program to help communities minimize the dangers posed by tsunamis through better risk assessment, planning, education, and warning communications.

NCEI plays an important role in collecting critical data, pre- and post-event. Data on water levels comes from many contributors, including the National Data Buoy Center (NDBC). The NDBC data contributes to the detection of tsunami waves in the deep ocean and aid in tsunami warning. NCEI also collects a wide variety of historical data. We make those and many other tsunami databases available to the public.

Raising Hope with Tsunami Awareness

As we enjoy time with friends and family near coastlines, visit vacation destinations, and work in coastal communities, World Tsunami Awareness Day calls on us to remember the past and prepare for preventative life-saving measures in the future. Going forward, the hope is that the impact of tsunamis is minimized due to the brighter light we shine on education.

For general information:

For preparedness:

DSCOVR Space Weather and Solar Data Available

Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR)—the nation's first operational satellite in deep space—is now the primary warning system for solar magnetic storms.


Launched in February 2015, DSCOVR is located approximately 1 million miles from Earth's surface, and it sits at a point known as Lagrange point 1, or L1, where the gravitational forces between Earth and the sun are in balance. DSCOVR replaces the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) research satellite and is a partnership between NOAA, NASA, and the U.S. Air Force.

DSCOVR's space weather sensors include the Faraday cup plasma sensor, which measures the velocity, density, and temperature of the solar wind, and a magnetometer, which measures the strength and direction of the solar wind magnetic field. These instruments provide NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) forecasters with the information needed to issue geomagnetic storm warnings up to one hour in advance.

Geomagnetic storms occur when changes in the solar wind cause fluctuations in the magnetic field near Earth's surface. These storms can adversely affect modern technology systems such as satellites, communications networks, and terrestrial power grids that are vulnerable to space weather.

NCEI is the Nation's official archive for DSCOVR data, as well as user-focused products based on those data. Data are available at: ngdc.noaa.gov/dscovr

Updating the Earth Magnetic Anomaly Grid

Global animation
The global magnetic map illustrates Earth evolution (plate tectonics and crustal interaction with the deep mantle).

Our latest update to the Earth Magnetic Anomaly Grid, or EMAG2, provides a better view of Earth's magnetic deviations than ever before.

We've updated the Earth Magnetic Anomaly Grid, also known as EMAG2. Now in its third version, EMAG2 is a two arc-minute (three-kilometer) resolution compilation of deviations from Earth's larger magnetic field. We developed this compilation by assimilating 50 years of ship, airborne, and satellite-based magnetic measurements from over 100 data providers across the globe.

Unlike its predecessors, the third version of EMAG2 does not rely on known or idealized local geology to interpolate anomalies into nonexistent data areas. Instead, this version relies solely on the data available, and it better represents the complexity of these anomalies—particularly in oceanic regions--while also accurately reflecting areas where no data has been collected.

Magnetic anomaly grids like those contained in EMAG2 aid in resource exploration and navigation where GPS is unavailable. For example, these grids are essential for submarine navigation and in directional drilling for water, oil, and natural gas. What's more, they also provide a great deal of insight into the subsurface structure and composition of Earth's crust.

For more information, see the EMAG2 page.

Attending the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting

NCEI at AGU Graphic

Several of our scientists are attending the American Geophysical Union (AGU) 2015 Fall Meeting from Monday, December 14 through Friday, December 18, 2015. The meeting brings together the Earth and space science community for discussions of emerging trends and the latest research. And, it offers a mix of more than 23,000 oral and poster presentations, a broad range of general sessions, and an exhibit hall with nearly 300 exhibitors showcasing new and relevant research tools and services.

If you can’t make it to the AGU Fall Meeting, check out their free on-demand access to live-streamed and recorded on-demand videos. You can browse on-demand sessions by channel or by day. And, read on below to learn more about some of the latest research, products, and services that our scientists are highlighting at the meeting.

Follow #AGU15 and #NCEIatAGU on social media for more updates on the AGU Fall Meeting and our contributions to it.

Magnetic Modeling

Our Magnetic Modeling project relies on data from the European Space Agency Swarm satellite mission to develop models such as the World Magnetic Model and the Enhanced Magnetic Model. The latest advances in using Swarm data for magnetic modeling will be presented and discussed at this year’s AGU Fall meeting. Check out this opportunity to familiarize yourself with the interfaces we’ve created for the archived data and provide us with feedback.

GOES-R Space Weather Data

Scientific and commercial communities rely heavily on data available from the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) series satellites. NCEI scientists will demonstrate how customers will retrieve data for the next generation GOES satellite, GOES-R. They will also indicate what data products and formats are available and solicit user feedback to improve the proposed data archive and access system.

Satellite Support and Services

We play a vital role in supporting NOAA’s space weather satellite acquisition program. Functions include environmental sensor calibration, product validation, and ground processing algorithm development. At the meeting, our scientists will be discussing the future satellite systems and space weather capabilities available from NOAA for the operational and scientific user communities.

Paleoclimatology Data

In paleoclimatology, or the study of past climates, scientists use what is known as proxy data to reconstruct past climate conditions. These proxy data are preserved physical characteristics of the environment that can stand in for direct measurements. Our scientists will be discussing new ways they’re using corals to determine past sea surface salinity and sea surface temperatures.

NCEI's Presentations and Posters

The times below are listed in Pacific Standard Time.

Monday, December 14

Kaleb Horlick Assessing the Contribution of Sea Surface Temperature and Salinity to Coral δ18O Using a Weighted Forward Model 8:00 a.m. Moscone South, Poster Hall
Kenneth Casey Big Data Partnerships at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information 10:20 a.m. Moscone West 2020
Tim Owen NCEI's Use-Inspired Data Information services for Climate, Weather, Coasts, Oceans, and Geophysics 1:40 p.m. Moscone West 2020
Paul Loto'aniu Possible current sheet flapping motion and periodic particle flux enhancements observed during the Galaxy 15 spacecraft anomaly 1:40 p.m. Moscone South, Poster Hall
Nancy Ritchey Assessing Stewardship Maturity: Use Case Results and Lessons Learned 5:00 p.m. Moscone West 2020

Tuesday, December 15

Tim Owen Fostering Engagement Activities to Advance Adaptation and Resiliency 8:00 a.m. Moscone South, Poster Hall
Aaron Sweeney Challenges to Standardization: A Case Study Using Coastal and Deep-Ocean Water Level Data 8:00 a.m. Moscone South, Poster Hall
Margaret Tilton Recent Geoeffective Space Weather Events and Technological System Impacts 8:00 a.m. Moscone South, Poster Hall
Brian Kress The Role of ULF Driven Radial Transport in Rebuilding the Earth’s Outer Radiation Belts 8:00 a.m. Moscone South, Poster Hall
Eugene Wahl New work on evaluating relationship of N Pacific Jet Stream to California precipitation and fire occurrence over 1500-2100 10:50 a.m. Moscone West 2012
Carrie Morrill Model-data comparison of middle to late Holocene
droughts in the Sierra Nevada
1:40 p.m. Moscone South, Poster Hall
Feng Chi Hsa Simulating VIIRS Observed Gas Flare 1:40 p.m. Moscone South, Poster Hall
Olivier Prat Merging Radar Quantitative Precipitation Estimates (QPEs) from the High-resolution NEXRAD Reanalysis over CONUS with Rain-gauge Observations. 4:45 p.m. Moscone West

Wednesday, December 16

Xuepeng (Tom) Zhao Long-term Climate Data Records (CDRs) and Applications 8:00 a.m. Moscone South, Poster Hall
William Denig NOAA Environmental Satellite Measurements of Extreme Space Weather Events 10:20 a.m. Moscone West 2018
John Bates Toward a Career in Data Science: Pathways and Perspectives II Posters 1:40 p.m. Moscone South, Poster Hall
Xuepeng (Tom) Zhao Long-term Climate Data Records (CDRs) and Applications 1:40 p.m. Moscone West 3005
Olivier Prat Precipitation Climate Data Records 2:55 p.m. Moscone West
Brian Nelson NOAA Nexrad Reanalysis and for the evaluation of existing precipitation Climate Data Records (CDRs) 2:55 p.m. Moscone West 3005
Tim Boyer Subsurface Ocean Climate Data Records: Global Ocean Heat and Freshwater Content 3:25 p.m. Moscone West 3005
Xuepeng (Tom) Zhao Long-term Climate Data Records (CDRs) and Applications 4:00 p.m. Moscone West 3005
John Bates Sustained production of multi-decadal climate records: Lessons from the NOAA Climate Data Record Program 4:00 p.m. Moscone West 3005
Arnaud Chulliat Ionospheric field modeling from Swarm satellite data 4:15 p.m. Moscone South 300
Patrick Alken Observations of ionospheric gravity and diamagnetic current systems inferred from CHAMP and Swarm measurements 4:30 p.m. Moscone South 300

Thursday, December 17

Rob Redmon Recent Geoeffective Space Weather Events and Technological System Impacts 8:00 a.m. Moscone South, Poster Hall
Carrie Morrill Toward more realistic freshwater forcing experiments of the 8.2 ka event 10:35 a.m. Moscone West 2012
Janet Machol Exospheric hydrogen density estimates from absorption dips in GOES solar irradiance measurements 1:40 p.m. Moscone South, Poster Hall

Friday, December 18

Ken Kunkel Precipitation Extremes: Considerations for Anthropogenically-forced Future Changes 8:00 a.m. Moscone West 3020
Bridget Thrasher Normalizing paleoclimate variables in support of data-intensive science 1:40 p.m. Moscone South, Poster Hall

Track Changes in the Earth's Magnetic Poles

Wandering of the geomagnetic North Pole
Map of declination as it has evolved over the past 50 years. The geomagnetic North Pole has been wandering toward geographic north.

Our Historical Magnetic Declination Map Viewer Shows Changes in Earth's Magnetic Field and Geomagnetic Poles from 1590-2020

As Earth's magnetic field varies over time, the positions of the North and South Magnetic Poles gradually change. Magnetic declination - the angle between magnetic North and true North - at a given location also changes over time. Our Historical Magnetic Declination Map Viewer displays locations of the geomagnetic poles and historical declination lines calculated for the years 1590-2020.

Sir James Clark Ross first discovered the North Magnetic Pole in northern Canada in 1831. Since 1831, the pole has been moving across the Canadian Arctic towards Russia. We've calculated the movement of both the North and South Magnetic Poles from 1590 to 2020 using two models: gufm1 and the International Geomagnetic Reference Field (IGRF). Gufm1 incorporates thousands of magnetic observations taken by mariners engaged in merchant and naval shipping. The IGRF is the product of a collaborative effort between magnetic field modelers and the institutes involved in collecting and disseminating magnetic field data from satellites and from observatories and surveys around the world. A recent survey by a Canadian-French international collaboration determined that the Pole is moving approximately north-northwest at 55 km per year.

Earth's magnetic field has been slowly changing throughout its existence. As Earth's molten outer core flows it produces a large magnetic field. Over time this flow will slowly change, causing the strength of the field to grow or decay and the magnetic pole locations to wander. As the tectonic plates form along the oceanic ridges, the magnetic field that exists is "frozen" into the rock as they cool below about 700 Centigrade. The slowly moving plates act as a kind of tape recorder leaving information about the strength and direction of past magnetic fields. By sampling these rocks and using radiometric dating techniques, it has been possible to reconstruct the history of the Earth's magnetic field for roughly the last 160 million years. If one "plays the tape backwards," the record shows the Earth's magnetic field strengthening, weakening, and often changing polarity.

We've created an animation showing changes in declination location and the "wandering" of the North Magnetic Pole over the last 50 years. Watch how the isogonic lines converge at the Pole. View historic data back to 1590 with our Map Viewer.

For more information, see our Geomagnetism page.

The Great Halloween Solar Storm of 2003

Solar flare from October 29, 2003
Taken by the GOES-12 satellite, this image shows one of the solar flares emitted by the sun on October 29, 2003.

In late October 2003, the sun unleashed a massive solar storm that affected a variety of technological systems around the world.

Over a decade ago, the sun played a rather spooky Halloween trick on the planet when it unleashed a massive solar storm on Earth in late October 2003. With little warning, three massive and very intense sunspot groups had emerged on the sun's surface by October 26, with the largest measuring over 13 times the size of Earth. Due to their extreme size and complex structure, 17 major solar flares--including one of the largest ever recorded--accompanied the sudden increase in sunspots.

On October 28, the largest of the sunspots ejected an enormous solar flare--one of the largest ever recorded at the time--directly at Earth. A very fast moving burst of gas and magnetic energy from the sun's outer atmosphere, known as a coronal mass ejection, and a geomagnetic storm quickly followed, with the storm growing to become the sixth most intense in over 70 years. Less than 24 hours later, the sun produced another powerful Earth-directed coronal mass ejection with another extreme geomagnetic storm following quickly on its heels.

While the Earth's atmosphere protects us from the dangerous energy particles and radiation that solar flares produce, technological systems around the world and in space felt the full of effects of the flares and subsequent geomagnetic storms. Everything from satellites to GPS to radio communication experienced problems or outages due to the severe activity.

The storm affected over half of the Earth-orbiting spacecraft, intermittently disrupting satellite TV and radio services and damaging a Japanese scientific satellite beyond repair. The solar activity also sent several deep-space missions into safe mode or complete shutdown and destroyed the Martian Radiation Environment Experiment aboard NASA's Mars Odyssey mission. At the height of the storm, astronauts aboard the International Space Station had to take cover from the high radiation levels, which had only happened twice before in the mission's history.


The solar storm also led to daily communications problems for airline flights between North America and Asia over the North Pole, costing potentially millions of dollars due to the disruptions in operations. Antarctic science groups also had a full communications blackout for over 130 hours due to storm. And, the storm seriously affected GPS systems used for surveying, deep-sea and land drilling, and other airline flights.

Despite the tricks played on our technological systems, the Great Halloween Solar Storm of 2003 also gave us a treat. The extreme and prolonged geomagnetic storms brought widespread middle and even low latitude aurorae with them on October 29 and 30. Aurora sightings occurred from California to Texas to Florida. People in Australia, central Europe, and even as far south as the Mediterranean countries also reported tremendous aurora viewing.

For more information on this storm, see the Intense Space Weather Storms, October 19 - November 7, 2003, Service Assessment. And, check out satellite images and videos from the Great Halloween Solar Storm and other significant events on our GOES Solar X-ray Imager Greatest Hits.

NGDC 50th Anniversary

Collage created by NCEI staff and data

The National Geophysical Data Center, now NCEI, celebrates 50 years as a national archive of geophysical information.

NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) located in Boulder, Colorado, celebrates its first 50 years as a national archive of geophysical information - starting as the National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) and now as NCEI. Along with long-term partners from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), NCEI celebrates providing stewardship, products, and services for unique geophysical data from the sun to the bottom of the sea.

NCEI (formerly NGDC) has its roots in the oldest U.S. geophysical science agency, the Coast Survey, founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1807. The Coast Survey and its successor agency, the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, charted the US coastline, plumbed the depths of the Gulf Stream, tracked earthquakes and tsunamis, studied the Earth's magnetic fields, conducted systematic surveys of the continental shelf, and helped discover magnetic striping. Today NOAA continues in that proud tradition of exacting, scientifically rigorous geophysical work.

NCEI plays a crucial role in archiving data generated from the geophysical, solar-terrestrial, cryosphere, and paleoclimatology activities generated by NOAA and its international partners around the world. To celebrate our 50th birthday, this week we highlight our unique products and datasets: nighttime lights, Extended Continental Shelf mapping, changes in sea ice, historical tsunami data, and much, much more! Join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Learn more: https://ngdc.noaa.gov/ngdcinfo/anniversary50.html.

Advancing Scientific Knowledge with Citizen Science

NOAA Citizen Science

By harnessing the enthusiasm of people around the world, citizen science is advancing our understanding of geophysics, weather, and climate.

Citizen science projects -- efforts to advance scientific knowledge by harnessing the enthusiasm and curiosity of citizens around the world -- will be the focus of a White House hosted forum. The Open Science and innovation: Of the People, By the People, For the People forum will take place on September 30, 2015, from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. EDT. The White House is inviting the public to view the forum live via webcast at wh.gov/live and to participate on social media by tweeting questions to @WhiteHouseOSTP using the hashtag #WHCitSci. The event will also mark the release of the Federal Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing Toolkit, a resource highlighting case studies of successful citizen science projects.



One of the projects featured in the Toolkit is CrowdMag. This effort, developed in partnership with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science, invites the public to help improve magnetic navigation by tracking changes in the Earth's magnetic field using the free CrowdMag app, available for both Android and iOS devices. The app uses the accelerometers and magnetometers built into smartphones to provide very localized magnetic field data. This data will help update models of Earth's geomagnetic data -- the very same models that smartphone or GPS already uses to help you navigate.

Cyclone Center

Cyclone Center

NCEI is also involved in another citizen science project known as Cyclone Center, a collaborative effort involving NCEI, Zooniverse, the University of North Carolina - Asheville, and the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellite - North Carolina that gives volunteers a way to help improve our understanding of tropical cyclones. So far, more than 10,000 volunteers have viewed and classified more than 450,000 satellite images from more than 30 years of tropical storm records, and evidence suggests that consensus estimates from these citizen scientists do as well as or better than automated methods.

CoCoRaHS and mPING

NOAA supports several other citizen science projects as well, and the Toolkit will also feature two of these: the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network or CoCoRaHS and the Meteorological Phenomena Identification Near the Ground or mPING project. CoCoRaHS allows volunteers to provide daily precipitation data using simple tools and an interactive website. And, the mPING project, managed by NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory, crowdsources weather reports via a free smartphone app.

All of these citizen science efforts are already advancing our understanding of weather, climate, and geophysics, while providing fun, educational opportunities for all of us to participate in the process of scientific discovery. We invite you to check out these and other crowdsourcing opportunities and to try your hand at citizen science.

For more information on these citizen science projects, see:

New Sea Ice Concentration Product for Operational Ice Forecasting

MASAM2 data from 10 Nov 2014

MASAM2 from 10 Nov 2014: FTP

New product provides 40% higher accuracy in developing
daily operational sea ice forecasts Arctic-wide.

The Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), a partnership of NCEI and the University of Colorado Boulder, announces the release of a combined satellite imagery and human analysis sea ice concentration product. The new product provides 40% higher accuracy in developing daily operational sea ice forecasts Arctic-wide. Developed by scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (part of CIRES), NASA, Naval Research Lab, and the National Ice Center, this product includes human analysis of the sea ice edge, leading to detection of thin, small ice floes and surface melt on top of ice during the summer.

MASAM2 is a blend of two other daily sea ice data products. First is ice coverage from MASIE, the Multisensor Analyzed Sea Ice Extent product, at 4-km grid cell size. Second is ice concentration from the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2) at 10-km grid cell size. MASIE and AMSR2 data are fused together to take advantage of the best features of both products. MASIE, based on U.S. National Ice Center analyses, is more likely to be accurate in showing where ice is present than AMSR2 due to the use of multiple sensors and quality control. However, the AMSR2 sea ice concentration product provides concentration information not available from MASIE alone. This prototype MASAM2 product currently covers only 27 months, July 2012 through mid-November 2014, but it will become a daily product if warranted.

Data are delivered in monthly NetCDF files that hold daily sea ice concentration fields. Two daily images are also provided. One shows a quick-view map of the MASAM2 sea ice concentration, and the other is an ice-source map indicating which datasets show the presence of ice: AMSR2, MASIE, both, or neither.

To access the data and learn more about this product, see the MASAM2: Daily 4-Km Arctic Sea Ice Concentration, 2012 - 2014 documentation.

Become a Citizen Scientist with Our CrowdMag App

Earth's magnetic model developed using CrowdMag data
Earth's magnetic model developed using CrowdMag data

You can help us improve the accuracy of magnetic navigation by tracking changes in Earth's magnetic field with the CrowdMag app.

If you're interested in assisting our scientists with geomagnetic research, we've got the app for you! The CrowdMag app, which is available on Google Play for Android devices and Apple's iTunes store for iOS devices, allows you to help scientists obtain data about Earth's magnetic field.

How does the app work? Your smartphone has what's known as a magnetometer-a miniature device incorporated into its integrated circuits-that allows your phone to function similar to a compass. The magnetometers in most smartphones measure Earth's magnetic field in three dimensions. When the magnetometer's data are combined with that of the accelerometer-a device that detects how the phone has moved in relation to a reference position-the phone's directional orientation can be determined.

Science quality magnetic data are typically collected with low-noise sensors in a relatively noise free environment. However, a phone's magnetometer also senses noise from currents flowing in its electronic circuits. Additionally, a phone's magnetometer has a significantly lower sensitivity than a sensor used for measuring science quality data. All these factors make it difficult to separate noise from the geomagnetic field in a phone's magnetic measurements.

This is where we need your help. After you install the CrowdMag app, your phone will send us the data collected by the magnetometer and accelerometer to help measure the strength of Earth's magnetic field at a specific point. By sourcing magnetic data from a large number of users, scientists plan to reduce noise in the data.

You might be thinking, "My phone has GPS. Why would it need something that works like a compass?" In your phone, the magnetometer and accelerometer help keep the GPS on track since GPS alone cannot provide pointing direction. Other limitations of GPS include the potential for satellite signals to become jammed or masked and an inability to penetrate water well or reach underground. Satellites are also only able to examine one region at a time, which can limit their ability to see the small, constant variations in Earth's magnetic field.

By collecting data from large number of smartphones, scientists plan to overcome or compensate for some of the limitations that accompany satellite geomagnetic data. They also allow scientists to develop magnetic models with much higher resolution than with satellites alone -- closer to a few meters versus around 3,000 kilometers. Ultimately, these data and the research that uses them will help us improve navigational accuracy as well as our understanding of Earth's magnetic field and the changes it undergoes.

Download CrowdMag on Google Play for Android devices and Apple's iTunes store for iOS devices and see if you can become a super data collector. You'll earn badges based on the number of data readings you make: bronze for 100 readings, silver for 1,000, gold for 10,000, and platinum for 100,000. To learn more about the app, visit our About CrowdMag page. And, to learn more about geomagnetism, visit our Geomagnetism Frequently Asked Questions.

Enhanced Magnetic Model Updated

NCEI Enhanced Magnetic Model (EMM2015) over the World Magnetic Model (WMM2015) declination contours
NCEI Enhanced Magnetic Model (EMM2015) (solid) over the World Magnetic Model (WMM2015) (dashed) declination contours (1 degree intervals); Red = Eastward, Green = Zero, Blue = Westward Declination

NCEI has updated the Enhanced Magnetic Model
to accurately represent the Earth's magnetic field at a high resolution.

People have used Earth's magnetic field for navigation since ancient times. Magnetic navigation has continued to improve alongside transportation technologies so that now we use magnetic models in planes, ships, vehicles, and even in smartphones. To improve magnetic navigation, NCEI scientists have tracked the changing magnetic field using satellites. This provides the most accurate and reliable models so that users can navigate their world with ease and precision. Using that work, NCEI has updated the Enhanced Magnetic Model (EMM). The EMM is a high-resolution spherical harmonic model of the magnetic field produced by the Earth's core that will accurately represent the main magnetic field on Earth until 2020.

Like the World Magnetic Model, the EMM is a large-scale representation of Earth's magnetic field that gives analog and digital magnetic compasses dependable accuracy. However, the EMM has a much higher resolution than its World Magnetic Model "cousin," making it require more computing power to run. The EMM's higher resolution also results in significantly improved pointing accuracy for applications that utilize it, which is required in aircraft manufacturing for example. The EMM also aids scientific researchers in their study of magnetic field anomalies originating the Earth's crust, which provides insight into plate tectonics.

Using years of satellite, marine, aeromagnetic and ground magnetic survey data, our scientists are able to model Earth's changing magnetic field and predict what it will look like over the next five years. Produced every five years, this model of the magnetic field produced by Earth's rapidly spinning metallic core and magnetized rocks within the lithosphere provides the best source of data for evaluating the evolution of Earth's main magnetic field and the most accurate models for a myriad of navigational uses across the globe.

50 Years of Tsunami Warning in the Pacific

Boat carried onto land by a tsunami at Concepcion Harbor (Talcahuano)

This month marks 50 years since the start of the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Pacific Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System.

This month marks 50 years since the start of the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Pacific Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (ICG/PTWS). Following the May 22, 1960, Chilean tsunami, which stemmed from a 9.5-magnitude earthquake off the coast of southern Chile, members of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission established the ICG/PTWS. Today, the ICG/PTWS, based in Honolulu, Hawaii, coordinates an international effort across the Pacific to enhance tsunami warning and mitigation activities.

To commemorate the 50 years of tsunami disaster risk reduction efforts, the United States is hosting several events, including the 2015 International Tsunami Symposium and Twenty-sixth Session of the ICG/PTWS. These events will also be part of Hawaii's Tsunami Awareness Month, which remembers the 1946 Aleutian Islands tsunami that triggered the start of the U.S. Seismic Sea (Tsunami) Wave Warning System in 1949.

In support of NOAA's Tsunami Program, the National Centers for Environmental Information host the World Data Service for Geophysics, which includes information on tsunamis and is the national and international tsunami data archive. The World Data Service's tsunami data archive and its data management activities will be highlighted at the International Tsunami Symposium. Visit our Tsunami Data and Information page to see all of our tsunami-related products and services.

National Centers for Environmental Information

NCEI icon

NOAA's former three data centers have merged into the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

The demand for high-value environmental data and information has dramatically increased in recent years. To improve our ability to meet that demand, NOAA's former three data centers—the National Climatic Data Center, the National Geophysical Data Center, and the National Oceanographic Data Center, which includes the National Coastal Data Development Center—have merged into the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

NCEI will be responsible for hosting and providing access to one of the most significant archives on Earth, with comprehensive oceanic, atmospheric, and geophysical data. From the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun and from million-year-old sediment records to near real-time satellite images, NCEI will be the Nation's leading authority for environmental information.

Today we've launched a landing page for the new organization at www.ncei.noaa.gov. Visit this page to browse our full spectrum of atmospheric, oceanographic, coastal, and geophysical products and services.

NCEI is committed to continuing to provide you with the data, information, and services you have come to rely on.

If you have specific questions about this merger, please let us know at ncei.info@noaa.gov.

In The Spotlight

Enhanced Magnetic Model, 2015 Release

Enhanced Magnetic Model, 2015 Release