June 29, 2012

Wildfires in America Visible from Space

NASA Video From Space

A camera mounted aboard the International Space Station captured a film (view below) of the huge wildfires raging in Colorado and other states in June 2012. The four-minute video from the International Space Station, released today by NASA, shows smoke billowing across the western United States. The snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains can also be seen in the video through the haze of smoke covering the Great Plains. The wildfires are raging across the plains 230 miles (370 kilometers) below the space station and a docked Russian spacecraft.

According to Cosmic Log (MSNBC), "More than 30,000 residents in the Colorado Springs area had to evacuate their homes Tuesday night, due to what officials said was the most destructive fire in the state's history. Today, Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach passed along a preliminary report that the Waldo Canyon Fire destroyed 346 houses. President Barack Obama is due to visit the city of Colorado Springs on Friday to meet with firefighters and view the fire-ravaged zones."

Note: The NASA video of the fires is silent.

June 15, 2012

More Plastic than Plankton: Piles of Garbage in the Ocean and on the Beaches

Why is the world's biggest landfill in the Pacific Ocean? That is the question being asked by more and more people regarding the collection of trash currently floating in the ocean. The trash ball, more commonly known in the press as Garbage Island, is twice the size of the state of Texas and is about 90% plastic. According to National Geographic, an additional floating garbage patch is growing in the North Atlantic ocean.

Garbage washed up on the beach
Vberger/Wikimedia Commons
The garbage patches present numerous hazards to marine life, fishing and tourism. Plastic constitutes 90% of all trash floating in the world's oceans, as reported by the LA Times. Every square mile of ocean hosts at least 46,000 pieces of floating plastic, according to the UN Environment Program. In some areas, the amount of plastic outweighs the amount of plankton by a ratio of six to one. According to Greenpeace, of the more than 200 billion pounds of plastic the world produces each year, about 10 percent ends up in the ocean. Seventy percent of that eventually sinks, harming life on the ocean floor. The rest floats; much of it ends up in gyres and the massive garbage patches.