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Isthmus of Tehuantepec Between Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean, Mexico

17.5N 94.5W

March 26th, 2013 Category: Snapshots

Mexico – March 23rd, 2013

The Isthmus of Tehuantepec is an isthmus in Mexico. It represents the shortest distance between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean. At its narrowest point, the isthmus is 200 km (120 mi) across from gulf to gulf, or 192 km (119 mi) to the head of Laguna Superior on the Pacific coast. The northern side of the isthmus is swampy and densely covered with jungle.

The Sierra Madre breaks down at this point into a broad, plateau-like ridge. Since Sierra Madre de Oaxaca mountains flatten out to form Chivela Pass before the Sierra Madre de Chiapas mountains resume to the south, geographically the isthmus divides North America from Central America.

Fire Near Gulf of Fonseca, Nicaragua

13.1N 87.6W

February 5th, 2013 Category: Fires

Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador – January 23rd, 2013

The Gulf of Fonseca, part of the Pacific Ocean, is a gulf in Central America, bordering El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. The gulf region forms part of the eastern border of El Salvador and is composed of a wide variety of coastal environments, including islands, mangrove forests, sand beaches, and rock cliffs. This environment has been subject to relatively little modification and preserves a rich flora and fauna. The Gulf of Fonseca’s natural resources still support traditional fishing and gathering of molluscs and crustaceans. Here, what appears to be a plume of smoke from a fire can also be seen blowing southwestward off the coast of Nicaragua, southeast of the gulf.

Fire West of Laguna Superior, Oaxaca, Mexico

16.2N 94.9W

December 24th, 2012 Category: Fires, Sediments

Mexico – December 22nd, 2012

A plume of smoke can be seen blowing southwestward over the Pacific Ocean near the center of this image, off the coast of the Mexican state of Oaxaca on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Another plume, this time composed of sediments rather than smoke, can be seen spilling from the Laguna Superior into the Pacific near the right edge.

El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve on Baja California Peninsula, Mexico

27.3N 114.5W

December 6th, 2012 Category: Deserts

Mexico – December 4th, 2012

The green area surrounded by tan desert nested in a nook on the western side of the Baja Californina Peninsula is the El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve. More precisely, it is located in Mulegé Municipality in northern Baja California Sur, at the center of the peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez (or Gulf of California).

With a landmass of over 55,555 square-mile (143,600 square km) it is the largest wildlife refuge in all of Latin America and certainly the most diverse. The animals and plants of this territory have adapted themselves to the region’s extreme desert conditions with little rainfall, intense winds and an ecosystem which has produced thousands of endemic species of plants and animal life found nowhere else in the world.

Ship Tracks Over Pacific Ocean Off Coast of California, USA

32.0N 122.6W

June 5th, 2012 Category: Clouds

USA - June 1st, 2012

The criss-crossed patterns of lines in the clouds off the coast of California, USA, are an atmospheric phenomenon known as ship tracks. These are clouds that form around the exhaust released by ships into the still ocean air.

Water molecules collect around the tiny particles (aerosols) from exhaust to form a cloud seed. More and more water accumulates on the seed until a visible cloud is formed. In the case of ship tracks, the cloud seeds are stretched over a long narrow path where the wind has blown the ship’s exhaust, so the resulting clouds resemble long strings over the ocean.

Ship tracks provide an excellent way of studying the direct and indirect climatic impacts aerosols could have. Scientists who study how human-produced aerosols affect cloud formation observe ship tracks because in most urban areas, they are unable to discern exactly how pollutants contribute to forming clouds because the atmosphere over the land is too tumultuous. In contrast, ships release their exhaust into the relatively clean and still marine air, where the scientists have an easier time of measuring the effects of fossil fuel emissions on cloud formation.

In general, the air above the oceans suffers from less turbulence and convection than the air above land. The lower atmosphere is especially calm over the eastern Pacific in the summertime due to a layer of hot air that settles in 500 to 700 meters above that region of the ocean. This effect creates a temperature inversion, placing a cap on the cooler air below, trapping pollutants and water vapor. While the inversion is responsible for the smog that reduces air quality in Los Angeles, it also allows for the formation of long lasting ship tracks. The particles billowing from ships’ smokestacks enter the air above the eastern Pacific and create long, thin clouds that remain there for days.