birdseye view

Posted by Ellen

In recent years, gentrification in many Philadelphia neighborhoods has been characterized by construction of new rooftop decks on top of old rowhouses. This view is from a rooftop elevated above the elevated train in the Kensington neighborhood; the rooftop has not yet been completely deckified, but the view is as good as it's going to get.

Posted by Ellen

Soccer is popular in Nepal, even if the fields are more dirt than grass, and this year the national team, known as the Ghorkalis, is on a roll. Last week, Nepal notched two victories, 2-0 and then 5-0, in 2014 World Cup qualifying matches against East Timor. The Ghorkalis have a new coach, Graham Roberts, an Englishman who played for Tottenham and Chelsea, mostly on defense, and won six caps for England.

Meanwhile, in league play, defending champions Nepal Police Club holds a comfortable lead in the Martyrs Memorial Red Bull Division A, though Yeti Air Himalayan Sherpas Club is not out of the running.

The field shown here is in the suburbs of Kathmandu, at the base of the hill topped by the Monkey Temple.

Posted by Ellen

About three weeks ago, the Nabro volcano in the East African nation of Eritrea began erupting for the first time in recorded human history. The initial eruption was a violent explosion, pumping vast quanitities of ash and sulfur dioxide into the air above North Africa and the Middle East. Aviation in the region was briefly suspended. Nabro's dark, dense plume of ash and gases shrouded the mountaintop for two weeks, concealing the eruption from view until June 29, when this satellite image was captured.

The image shows that the eruption has transitioned to a quieter, oozing sort of phase. Hot lava glows orange, fading to black as it cools. The lobes at the end of the long lava flow are dark, suggesting that the top of the flow may have crusted over. As the long westward flow cools, hotter, fresher lava appears to be spilling out of the vent toward the south and east.

Nabro is in very arid, dusty country; the green patches in the landscape around the volcano are actually only sparsely vegetated. The image was captured using a combination of infrared and visible light, which misrepresents the degree of vegetation in the landscape.

Although the eruption is a first for the record books, Nabro is in the East African rift valley, where volcanic activity in one form or another is nearly constant. Three tectonic plates are pulling apart from one another in this region, stretching the earth's crust so thin that hot magma from deep below finds numerous weak spots through which to erupt.

Posted by Ellen

Glenwood Green Acres sits hard by the railroad tracks in north Philadelphia, on a strip of land where abandoned warehouses burned down in 1984. Ninety-six families in the neighborhood till plots in this community garden; some of them work at it full time, selling their produce or giving it to the hungry.

Their crops include: collard greens, peppers, eggplant, squash, string beans, okra, blackberries, cotton, and tobacco. The southern character of what is grown reflects the southern roots of many people in the north Philly neighborhoods surrounding Glenwood. People like to grow what they grew up growing.

Room to garden in is hard to come by in most of Philadelphia, where row houses line the streets with little or no yard space. There are community gardens all over town–an estimated 400 active ones–but most are tiny, typically occupying just a few hundred square feet in a vacant lot that the gardeners don't own and can't protect from development.

Glenwood is huge by comparison: 3.5 acres. And it's owned by a citywide land trust and operated by a neighborhood organization. The garden is deeded as public green space forever.

The number of vacant lots in the city is thought to be well over 30,000, and most of them are derelict. But after twenty years of struggling to purchase and protect land for Philadelphia's community gardens, the trust now owns just 22 parcels totaling less than 10 acres.

Meanwhile, for what it's worth, in my little one-pot garden, I have a golf-ball-sized tomato, plus 4 flowers on the plant and more buds than I can count. I'm so optimistic I'm not fit to be around.

Posted by Ellen

On April 28, 2011, the visible-light and infrared sensors of NASA's ASTER satellite captured this image of Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, which had been raked by an especially large and powerful tornado just the day before.

Infrared sensors are useful for distinguishing between vegetated and non-vegetated land cover. The pink areas in the photo represent vegetation–forests, pastures, cropland, golf courses. Areas that show up as aqua are non-vegetated or very lightly vegetated–cities, highways, rivers, strip mines, recent clearcuts.

The tornado track is obvious here: a straight aqua-colored streak running from the southwest to the northeast. Vegetation in this streak that was not directly destroyed by the storm was so littered with pieces of buildings and household objects that satellite sensors could barely detect it.

Just north of the storm track is the twisting course of the Black Warrior River, which shows up in aqua. The city of Tuscaloosa is mostly south of the river, at the left edge of the picture.  In the upper left corner of the picture is Lake Tuscaloosa, a dammed-up tributary to the Black Warrior that provides the city's drinking water.

NASA's spokespeople assert that images such as this one can be useful in the aftermath of storms. They may help identify storm-damaged places outside of populated areas, where tornadoes might escape public awareness. And by proving the time and location of tornado paths, they could help homeowners support their insurance claims for storm damages.

If you click on the picture to see the larger version, you can follow numerous roads out into the countryside and observe that many of them seem to end with a little dot of aqua, indicating a non-vegetated spot. These are well pads for methane rigs. About fifteen years ago, the Black Warrior basin was the scene of one of the nation's first methane gas drilling booms. Coalfields underlie much of west Alabama, including almost all of Tuscaloosa County, but until recently the methane gas associated with coal deposits was considered a danger rather than an economically valuable fuel. "Fracking" technology, in which high-pressure liquids are injected deep into the earth to crack open the rocks hosting methane, was developed and refined in Alabama; drilling for methane is now under way all over the world. Unlike oil or traditional natural gas, methane is best extracted by small wells located within a few hundred feet of numerous other small wells; thus, the countryside is speckled with hundreds or thousands of separate well pads.

Posted by Ellen

In 1977, the Voyager space probe shot this picture of the earth and moon together. It is believed to be the first snapshot that captures both bodies in the same frame.

Posted by Ellen

 This is a picture of a real estate bubble. There have been land bubbles in Florida since forever; what we're looking at here is just the bubble du jour, a subdivision near Fort Myers, on the Gulf Coast, where the developer put in the roads and the "lake" and the cul de sacs and managed to build two houses complete with swimming pools before it was all over.

I read today that 11 per cent of the housing units in the United States are currently unoccupied. So it's really over. For a while.

Posted by Ellen

As the year turns, the astronauts in the International Space Station have been steadily circling the globe about 400 miles above us. A couple of nights ago, when they were flying over the ocean near North Korea, they picked up their little Nikon digital camera and pointed it westward, toward the Asian mainland. That's Beijing in the upper left, Tianjin in the lower right, glowing out into space.

This is what new years will be looking like for a long time to come.

Meanwhile, may 2011 bring health and glowing good cheer to you and yours. This past year wasn't all that great; there is plenty of room for improvement. 

Good mornings, y'all.

Posted by Ellen

Near Cape Town, South Africa.

Posted by Ellen

 

The sun was shining brightly on April 10, 2010, when a hillslide suddenly slumped down onto this highway near Keelong City in northern Taiwan.

The soil was dry. There was no seismic activity in the area. It was just one of those things.