Heat signatures from fighting in Ukraine

As you might guess one of my favorite TV shows from the last 20 years was “House, MD”. House was noted for saying “It’s a basic truth of the human condition that everybody lies, the only variable is about what.” When it comes to geopolitics and especially military action, this goes double, and it’s essentially impossible to get somewhat neutral information. The only way to sort of get a handle on the situation is to delve in to the various propaganda sources and try to figure out who is lying about what, and thus get a glimpse of the truth. Even photos and videos are not objective data – I’ve seen many times where reporters will do stand-ups in front of the most devastated structure after a wind storm – surrounded by areas that look like nothing happened. Likewise, especially in Ukraine where both sides are using similar military hardware, knowing who that burning ATV belonged to is difficult.

It’s fascinating to see how things are reported on each side of this conflict. Many of you have seen the video of a missile hitting an apartment building. In the Western media it is universally being called a “Russian Missile.” However, pro-Russian media and the Russian MOD says it was a Ukrainian BUK-M1 anti-aircraft missile that had malfunctioned/missed its target. That’s certainly a plausible explanation based on the appearance and flight path. Recall that during the Pearl Harbor attacks, a lot of the 5″ anti-aircraft artillery rounds were improperly fuzed in the panic or malfunctioned, landing in Honolulu and caused fires and damage. Which is true? Almost doesn’t matter at this point, not to those in the middle. It seems likely the “Kindergarten attack” from a week or so before the Russian Invasion was, in fact, friendly fire – the wall was apparently facing away from the LDPR forces who were returning fire across the border. No matter who is shooting, civilians always get caught in the crossfire in these conflicts.

From space we can see heat signatures that are normally used to track wild fires. They also are useful for tracking other human activities; often the operating status of factories or refineries can be assessed from their thermal images. During COVID I’ve used this data to monitor China’s factories to see if their rhetoric about production is truthy or not. Likewise, wars generate a lot of unique signatures detectable from space. Here’s one example, the fighting northeast of Kiev yesterday in the outskirts of the town of Chernhiv, which lies on the route between Belarus and the capital …

Fighting has been intense near the airfields around Kiev. Here is Antonov International Airport …

And yesterday, after the order was given to resume the advance (which had apparently been paused by Russia to allow negotiations – or was it the delay caused by the heroic resistance of Ukrainian forces?), the fuel dumps near the military airfield at Vasylkiv were hit by missiles …

Clearly there is heavy fighting – but in the fog of war, with propaganda the only thing coming out of the “news” sources from all sides, facts and truth are in short supply. In summary, I’d suggest that you not jump to any conclusions as to how the war is going. My guess is by the middle of this week we will really know how things are really going, based on seeing if the government of Zelenskii is still in Kiev or has relocated to Livov.

I’d also urge everyone to consider that this is getting out of hand, and realize that the global leadership are taking actions that will potentially make a bad situation worse. Disconnecting Russia from the global financial system is going to have severe repercussions. Europe and the US are trying to have it both ways – hurt Russia while still keeping access to Russian energy, since without it Europe will likely plunge in to economic chaos, which will cascade across the rest of the world. What if Russia doesn’t cooperate in this and stops the flow of gas (and wheat – it’s not 1980 any more – while certain US politicians seem to be ignorant of this fact, Russia now exports more wheat than the US and Canada combined!). May be obvious, but it’s going to get uglier the longer this goes on.

One other note, I think it is very dangerous to call foreign leaders insane, crazy, compare them to Hitler, and use that kind of rhetoric in most cases, including this one. It’s “good” politics and a “good” way to manipulate public opinion, but it’s terrible policy because once you call someone “crazy” you don’t have to consider if maybe you share some responsibility for what has happened, and it paints you into a corner that shuts down the path to negotiation and compromise. To be clear, I don’t approve of the invasion, and think they had other options, but I understand why Russia has done it, and feel we didn’t take Russia’s legitimate concerns seriously. If we had I think the people of Ukraine would be better off, and this would have been avoided.

Finally, thanks for all of the kind comments and support for previous posts. These events are so emotional, and people tend to have knee-jerk reactions to things. There are over 20,000 readers of a typical post, and if even half of a percent of people misunderstand something, take it the wrong way, or even are just having a bad day and vent, that’s over a hundred angry emails or comments to deal with (not to mention the hundreds of reasonable replies of people who may disagree, but just want to have a discussion and understand). For one person that’s a bit exhausting and some times it gets to be a bit much. Again, thanks for the understanding.

Brief note on the Tonga eruptions

An undersea volcano near the island of Tonga (named Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai if you are curious) has erupted sending ash, debris, and a small tsunami over the island. Residents heard the boom of the eruption. While there have been tsunami warnings across the Pacific (including Japan, Australia/New Zealand, and the US West coast). Japan has seen four foot waves. Waves at Hawai’i have been small, and waves hitting California and Mexico should be under a foot, but there may be strong currents and higher surges in places. Here is what it looked like from the Japan Meteorological Agency’s Himawari satellite …

#Colorado Fires

The fires in Colorado are clearly visible from satellite. This overlay shows fires detected from the NOAA-20 satellite as flame icons:

click to enlarge.

The fires have jumped into several subdivisions. The early (very preliminary) economic impact estimates are over $500 Million, and the fires are still partly out of control. This is pretty unusual for this time of year, normally there would be snow covering the ground but it has been an unusually warm and dry winter so far, after a very dry summer and fall. Fortunately it looks like snow is already falling this morning, and 3 to 5 inches of accumulation is predicted over the next day or so.

You Got The Fire Down Below …

The fires out west are epic – you can actually see the flames from the GOES satellite in geosynchronous orbit, 22,236 miles up … here is the color view:

Click to embiggen and animate …

Here is a static view zoomed in a bit:

Yes, those red patches are actually fire!

These fires, and their impacts, are a wicked combination of short term weather patterns, human development and “management” practices, the natural order of things (fires are a normal way nature cleans out the brush; some plants and animals that depend on them actually need periodic fires to survive), and probably a bit of climate change thrown in. Either way, it’s spectacular (in a bad way if you live out there).

AL092020 and Chaos … (5pm Tue 28 July 2020)

So … I wasn’t planing on doing this quite so soon, but with Potential Tropical Cyclone #9 threatening the viral encrusted southeast, I’m doing a mega-juggleing act and trying to fire up the Patreon site, as well as do some much needed computer infrastructure rearranging.  So please be patient with the chaos … and the brevity of this post.  As for PTC9, nothing too much changed since NHC started advisories.  Here’s the latest “core” track models that NHC is having to work with.  I didn’t put GFS in here because the 12z run was way off and the 18z run isn’t up yet:

As for impacts, the current thinking is that this thing will remain a tropical storm until Florida landfall – but there is a yuge amount of uncertainty in that until it spins up better, so it may not even go to Florida.  Way too early to freak out if you are on the mainland US.  PR does need to prepare for a tropical storm, as do the USVI and northern Caribbean.  More in the morning …

Enki has started a Patreon account to help fund this work – please think about supporting us if you find this valuable.

Do satellite images show the Chinese burning thousands of bodies outside Wuhan?

Short answer: No.

Longer answer:  No, here’s the background:  There are a number of reports floating around that are implying that satellite data is showing high Sulphur Dioxide emissions outside Wuhan, China,and that means they are secretly burning thousands of bodies.  It’s being widely reported, especially on “alternative” news sites based on images from “windy.com”.  Here one such image (screenshot from windy.com):

Well, it’s just not true.

Continue reading

California Fires (28 October 2019); over $25Billion in property within one mile

It’s another bad fire season in California.  Wait, you may ask, isn’t it fire season year round in Cali?  It turns out no!  There are two distinct fire seasons, with two different forcing factors.  The Santa Anna wind driven fire season runs from October through April (winter/spring).  The high winds can drive fires into a frenzy – such as is happening this weekend, where winds in California have been gusting into tropical storm levels.  The second fire season, during the driest and hottest months of the summer, runs from June to September.  So … May is nice sometimes.

Here is a satellite view of the Kincade fire as the sun comes up this morning (from GOES 17) … click to animate if you dare (it is big):

Labeled view … click to embiggen:

In all seriousness this is a bad situation.  The Kincade fire, north of San Francisco, has over $10 Billion in property within a mile of the fires.  The Getty fire near LA has another $15 Billion at risk; statewide the total is over $25 Billion of property at immediate risk, being within one mile of an active fire.


#Saudi Arabia Refinery #Attacks

The weather isn’t by any means the most dangerous threat facing us.  My guess is most folks think of Enki as a hurricane or weather research group.  In fact, Hurricanes and Weather/Climate research is about 60% of Enki’s work right now.  Geophysical hazards (Earthquakes, Tsunamis) are another 20% or so, and about 10% “anthropogenic” hazards like LNG or nuclear power incidents.  But about 10% of Enki’s work is in the area of Foreign Policy and related issues (space, remote sensing, and open source intelligence) and impacts of WMD (nuclear mostly).  While the WMD/Foreign Policy related work is the smallest percentile it has been in a long time, in many ways that field was the most important, as many of the techniques used in the other areas originated in that dark realm.  I don’t often post about it for the obvious reasons, but also because unfortunately in modern day America it’s becoming increasingly hard to have a nuanced discussion about anything that touches on Politics. This blog actually started in the early 2000’s as “SatBlog”, and most of the posts were about  monitoring disasters, including war zones, using satellite remote sensing.  In may interest some of you that SatBlog broke several news stories during the Iraq invasion, including that the Iraqis had set the oil fields on fire.

This morning the Houthis rebels (with almost certain help from Iran) are alleged to have attacked multiple targets in Saudi Arabia, damaging several refineries and taking offline over half of Saudi oil production (there is reason to be skeptical of this narrative, but that is what the official sources say).  The fires and smoke plumes are visible from space, as this MODIS quick look image shows …

If these facilities are heavily damaged or stay offline for long, it will have a ripple effect throughout the fragile world economy.  And, of course, the inevitable retaliation will have consequences, and a spiral of violence is possible.  Scary stuff.

Atlantic low, California Fires

The low pressure system NHC is watching continues to develop, and the odds of something spinning up later in the week (Tuesday -Thursday) are increasing.  Here is what it looks like as the sun rises on Monday morning (12 November) …

NHC now give it a 50% chance of formation in the next 48 hours (through Tuesday), and a 90% chance in the next 5 days, so they are increasingly sure it will do something later in the week.  The GFS lowtracker loses it, but the model has a low east of the Bahamas by Thursday, other models (such as the UK models) have it going into the Caribbean.  As usual, with a weak, non-system, just identifying a center, much less predicting where it will go, is difficult. We may have more later today, but check back late tomorrow or Wednesday for a better picture of what it will do.

The situation in California is much clearer, and pretty bad.  Weather the next few days is expected to be favorable for the fires to spread.  Using satellite data, it seems that impacts are on the order of $20 Billion dollars so far – in other words, comparable to the hurricanes this year (Florence and Michael).  Worse, there is over $100 Billion(!) of infrastructure within five  miles of the active fires, which are not as of yet contained (one big fire is only 15% contained).  So it may well get worse …

Mind the gap … and California Wildfires

Generally, if you don’t see something here, it’s because there is no significant doom out there, but the last month there have been several disasters  around the world (couple of earthquakes and typhoons) that while I’ve worked professionally, I haven’t been able to post about.  As long time followers know, sometimes I get overwhelmed with work, not to mention family/personal stuff that people have to deal with from time to time, and while I try to do updates here for global events sometimes I just can’t get to it.   Hopefully things will get back to normal soon, but no guarantees!

One of the research things I’m working on are economic risk assessments for wildland fires.  Hopefully will be able to post a bit more on this soon, but meanwhile here is some data from the NASA and NOAA polar orbiters showing where the fires are in Southern California.  Each little flame symbol represents a roughly 374 square meter (1230 foot on a side) square patch of land that the infrared sensor indicates is on fire …