Satellite Eye on Earth: May 2017 in pictures

Vesuvius in Italy and volcanoes in northern Tanzania, lights going out in Syria, and flooding in Sri Lanka are among images captured by Nasa and the ESA this month

A vertical view of Vesuvius in southern Italy, taken by the European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet from the International Space Station. The Proxima mission is named after the closest star to the sun, continuing a tradition of naming missions with French astronauts after stars and constellations. The mission is part of the ESAs plan to use Earth-orbiting spacecraft as a place to live and work while preparing for future voyages of exploration further into the solar system.

Garabogazkl
Photograph: OLI/Landsat 8/Nasa

The next time you are out at sea, keep an eye out for long filaments of foam and debris floating on the surface. This common phenomenon usually the product of natural decomposition processes and wind is seen on Garabogazkl, a shallow, salty lagoon near the Caspian Sea in Turkmenistan. In most cases, foam is the product of decaying aquatic plants, algae, phytoplankton, or other microorganisms. The decomposition process releases oils and other substances called surfactants that rise up and reduce the surface tension of the water, making it easier for bubbles to form in windy conditions. (In addition to these natural sources, detergents and other manmade pollutants can act as surfactants.) In the case of Garabogazkl, the white lines are likely the intersections of warmer and cooler waters. When two surface currents bump into each other, they dive.

Monterrey,
Photograph: ISS/Nasa/ESA

Mount Silla also referred to as Cerro de la Silla or Saddle Hill is an iconic landscape feature of the Monterrey, the capital of the Mexican state of Nuevo Len. When viewed from the west, the ridges and peaks resemble a saddle. Mount Silla has been declared a natural monument under the guidelines of the World Commission on Protected Areas. The Monterrey metropolitan area sits 1,300 meters (4,200 feet) below the steep, forested flanks of the mountain. Monterrey straddles several large rivers flowing out of the mountains. The Santa Catarina river cuts through the older parts of the city (such as Monterrey Antiguo). Major highways follow the river to the nearby cities of Guadalupe, San Pedro Garza, and Santa Catarina. Rio La Silla (Saddle river) flows from the northern Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range and joins the Santa Catarina just outside the top left corner of the image. The semi-arid climate keeps these rivers dry for much of the year. Nuevo Len state is home to the third largest economy in Mexico thanks to Monterreys extensive manufacturing facilities and infrastructure.

Mount Silla, Mexico

Flooding along the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois rivers. At the time, the Mississippi was transitioning from moderate to minor flood stage. For comparison, the first image shows the three rivers a year earlier.

Lake
Photograph: OLI/Landsat 8/Nasa

Not many people venture near the shores of Lake Natron in northern Tanzania. The lake is mostly inhospitable, except for a few species adapted to its warm, salty, and alkaline water. The lake is seen here very early in the rainy season that runs from March to May. The climate here is arid. In a non-El Nio year, the lake receives less than 500mm (20in) of rain. Evaporation usually exceeds that amount, so the lake relies on other sources such as the Ewaso Ngiro river at the north end to maintain a supply of water through the dry season.

But it is the regions volcanism that leads to the lakes unusual chemistry. Volcanoes, such as Ol Doinyo Lengai (about 20km to the south), produce molten mixtures of sodium carbonate and calcium carbonate salts. The mixture moves through the ground via a system of faults and wells up in more than 20 hot springs that ultimately empty into the lake. While the environment is too harsh for most common types of life, there are some species that take advantage of it. Small, salty pools of water can fill with blooms of haloarchaea salt-loving microorganisms that impart the pink and red colours to the shallow water. And when the waters recede during the dry season, flamingos favour the area as a nesting site as it is mostly protected from predators by the perennial moat-like channels and pools of water.

Gobi
Photograph: ISS/Nasa/ESA

Drainage patterns are visible on the south-western end of the Gobi desert in Chinas Gansu province. The desert landscape part of the Hexi corridor along the historical Silk Road is low in elevation, generally flat, and surrounded by mountains and rolling hills. The foothills of the Tien Shan mountains lie to the north. As temperatures warm in the spring, snow melt from the higher elevations flows down into streams, forming narrow alluvial fans. The water carries sand, silt, and clay that accumulate at the mouths of the streams. These sediments are then available for further transport by larger valley rivers such as the Shule. The grid pattern superimposed on the basin is part of the Gansu wind farm project. Narrow roads mark the paths between dozens of wind turbines. Currently China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and the wind farms are part of an effort to reduce carbon emissions and to harness cleaner energy. Several small towns skirt the Shule river, diverting water for cultivation of wool, tobacco, and a variety of grain and fruit crops.

Phytoplankton
Photograph: VIIRS/Suomi NPP/Nasa

Phytoplankton blooms in the waters around Britain and France. Increasing sunlight in the spring provides the energy for the floating, microscopic plant-like organisms to bloom in vast numbers.

night-time lighting between 2012 and 2016 in Syria and Iraq

These images show differences in night-time lighting between 2012 and 2016 in Syria and Iraq, among several Middle Eastern countries. Such images can indicate economic development or the lack of it. Some changes reflect increases or decreases in electric power generation or in the steadiness of the supply.

Night light images also have value for international relief and humanitarian organisations, which can use this data to pinpoint areas in need. Nasa makes its Earth observations openly available to those seeking solutions to important global issues.

In the above images, the changes are most dramatic around Aleppo, but also extend through western Syria to Damascus. Over the four years, lighting increased in areas north of the Syrian border in Turkey and to the west in Lebanon. According to a 2015 report from the Voice of America, as much as 80 percent of the lights have gone out in Syria over the past few years.

In Iraq, some northern sections near Mosul saw a decrease in light, while areas around Baghdad, Irbil, and Kirkuk saw increases. Note, too, the change in electric light patterns along the Tigris and Euphrates river basins.

South
Photograph: Modis/Terra/Nasa

By late autumn the temperatures in southern South America begin to turn chilly and grasses develop the first traces of the brown colouration of senescence as they start to wilt and dry. It is also the time when precipitation increases as the season heads into winter. A broad bank of open-celled marine cumulus clouds covers the South Pacific. Thick clouds also hang over the Andes, obscuring all of Chile (along the west coast) and much of western Argentina. Smaller clumps of cloud are scattered across the semi-desert of Argentina some reaching over the Argentine Sea.

Mokpo
Photograph: Proba-V/Vito/ESA

Mokpo is a city of 250,000 inhabitants in the south-west of South Korea. It is a main gate to the countrys largest granary at the Honam plain and was a naval base during the Joseon dynasty (13921910). The port city is surrounded outside the coast by more than 1,400 islands, which provide fishing grounds and also protect the area from large typhoon and tsunami impacts. Mokpo lies in the bottom right of the image, a blue-grey area located at the Yeonsang river estuary. Scattered smaller and larger islands lie off the coast, while an extensive area with large sediment concentrations extends further into the Yellow Sea in a bow shape.

Arctic Nares strait

The Arctic is largely hemmed in by the northern edges of Eurasia and North America. As a result, pieces of drifting pack ice have few outlets for escape when sea ice is thinning and breaking up in the spring and summer.

The primary passageway out of the Arctic is the Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard. However, a narrower waterway to the west the Nares Strait, which separates Greenland and Ellesmere Island is also important. The amount of ice flowing through the Nares Strait in 2017 will likely be higher than usual. A key arch of pack ice that blocks other pieces of ice from entering the strait has broken apart earlier than usual. Typically, ice arches form between Ellesmere Island and Greenland in January and break down in early July. In 2017, sensors on Nasa satellites observed a key arch breaking down in mid-May. By May 12, large pieces of sea ice had begun to break into slivers and move into the strait. By May 17, even more pack ice north of the arch had broken up.

That is not good news because an unusually warm winter means that the overall extent of Arctic sea ice between January and May 2017 had already shrunk well below the 1981-2010 median.

Early breaks of ice arches have happened in this area before. In 2007, unusually warm winter weather prevented this ice arch from forming at all. That doubled the amount of ice that flowed through the strait that year compared to the average, according to an analysis of satellite data led by Ronald Kwok of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. While that doubling was significant, the total flow of ice through the Nares Strait that year was still just 10% of what regularly passes through the larger Fram Strait.

Corinth
Photograph: ISS/Nasa/ESA

The straight line in the centre of the image is the Corinth canal as it crosses a narrow isthmus between mainland Greece (right) and the Peloponnese peninsula. The towns of Corinth and Isthmia stand near the west and east ends. A highway crosses the canal and connects Athens to the Peloponnese. Twenty-six hundred years ago, the ruler of Corinth Periander proposed digging a canal to connect the Mediterranean (via the Gulf of Corinth) to the Aegean (via the Saronic Gulf). The goal was to save ships from the dangerous 700km voyage around the ragged coastline of the peninsula. But the canal was still too ambitious a digging project and construction was not started.

Not Julius Caesar, nor the Roman emperors Caligula or Nero, were able to complete their plans for this ambitious project. The Venetians laid plans to dig the canal in the late 1600s but they never started it. In lieu of a water passage, boats have been hauled overland for centuries on a portage created by Periander. It runs roughly along the line of the modern canal. Construction of the modern Corinth canal which is 6.4km long (4 miles) was started in 1882 and completed by 1893. The canal is narrow (only 21.3 metres), making many ships too wide for it. Landslides from the steep walls have occasionally blocked the canal, while channeled winds and tides can also make navigation difficult.

Canada
Photograph: Modis/Aqua/Nasa

With the onset of spring and warmer temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere, sea ice is thinning and breaking up along Canadas Labrador coast. On 13 May 2017, a combination of winds and currents steered the ice into the interlocking swirls.

Flooding in Sri lanka May 2017

Torrential rains caused severe flooding in Sri Lanka in late May 2017. After more than 48 hours of non-stop rain, water levels rose rapidly in the countrys south, spurring emergency evacuations in multiple districts. An earlier image taken in January 2017, shows the same area before the waters rose.

Matara was among the hardest hit towns. Low-lying areas around the Nilwala Ganga river (in blue) have also been submerged. In many areas, flooding has contaminated wells and tainted water supplies. Sri Lankas disaster management centre reported that more than half a million people have been affected by the flooding.

Rann
Photograph: Copernicus Sentinel-2A/ESA

A seasonal salt marsh known as the Rann of Kutch in western India is one of the largest salt deserts in the world. During the summer monsoon season the area fills with water and in the drier winter, the vast whi

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/14/satellite-eye-on-earth-may-2017-in-pictures

Russia and China veto UN resolution to impose sanctions on Syria

Russia and China veto UN resolution to impose sanctions on Syria

France, UK and US wanted sanctions over chemical weapon use but Vladimir Putin rejects totally inappropriate proposal

Russia and China have vetoed a UN resolution to impose sanctions on Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons during the six-year war.

It is Russias seventh veto to protect the Syrian government from UN security council action. The vote was one of the first confrontations at the UN between Russia and the US since Donald Trump took control of the White House in January, pledging to build closer ties with Moscow.

Russia and China are both permanent members of the UN security council. France, the UK and the US complete the five-nation lineup. Another 10 nations are non-permanent members, elected for two-year terms by the 193 states that are members of the UNs general assembly.

Russian president Vladimir Putin described the draft resolution on Tuesday as totally inappropriate.

Russia argued that the resolution drafted by Britain, France and the US would harm UN-led peace talks between the warring Syrian parties in Geneva, which began last week.

Nine UN council members voted in favour of the resolution and Bolivia voted against, along with China and Russia. Egypt, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan abstained.

A resolution needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes by any of the five permanent members in order to be adopted. Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations, criticised Moscow following the vote.


Nikki
Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN, greets outgoing security council president and Ukrainian ambassador to the UN, Volodymyr Yelchenko, before the meeting. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

It is a sad day on the security council when members start making excuses for other member states killing their own people, she said. The world is definitely a more dangerous place.

Russias deputy UN ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov, described the statements made against Moscow as outrageous and warned: God will judge you.

The vetoes received widespread condemnation by rights groups. Sherine Tadros, of Amnesty International, said: By vetoing this resolution, Russia and China have displayed a callous disregard for the lives of millions of Syrians.

French UN ambassador Franois Delattre said the failure by the council to act would send a message of impunity.

Physicians for Human Rights, an organisation that guides doctors in Syria on how to treat victims of chemical attacks, said the security council had shown itself impotent to halt the terrible scourge of chemical weapons.

Its statement added: Shame on the Russian Federation, China and all those who enable the Syrian governments attempts to escape accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity.


Vladimir
Vladimir Safronkov, centre, Russias deputy UN ambassador, keeps his hand lowered during the vote. Photograph: Bebeto Matthews/AP

Western powers put forward the resolution in response to the results of an investigation by the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The international inquiry found Syrian government forces were responsible for three chlorine gas attacks and that Islamic State militants had used mustard gas.

British UN ambassador Matthew Rycroft told the council before the vote: This is about taking a stand when children are poisoned, its that simple.

Chlorines use as a weapon is banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined in 2013.

If inhaled, chlorine gas turns to hydrochloric acid in the lungs and can kill by burning lungs and drowning victims in body fluids.

Syrian president Bashar al-Assads government has denied its forces have used chemical weapons. Russia has questioned the results of the UN/OPCW inquiry and has long said there was not enough proof for the security council to take any action.

The draft resolution would have banned the sale or supply of helicopters to the Syrian government because the UN/OPCW inquiry found Syrian government forces had used helicopters to drop barrel bombs containing chlorine gas.

It also proposed targeted sanctions a travel ban and asset freeze on 11 Syrian military commanders and officials, as well as on 10 government and related entities.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/01/russia-and-china-veto-un-resolution-to-impose-sanctions-on-syria

Isis sends female supporters to serve as frontline suicide bombers

As jihadis retreat from key Middle East territories, they have made a drastic U-turn on deploying female recruits, posing a challenge for security organisations

Islamic State is using increasing numbers of women to evade security measures and spearhead a wave of attacks across Europe and the Islamic world as it loses territory in the Middle East.

Previously, female members of Isis have been confined to support roles and kept away from the battlefield. However, this policy appears to have been reversed in the summer, as military pressure on its main strongholds in Iraq, Syria and Libya intensified and substantial territory began to be lost. Researchers describe a drastic U-turn.

Officials have repeatedly warned that Isis would launch attacks as it retreated from earlier gains. Since August, a series of plots involving women have been uncovered by security authorities in Europe and north Africa.

The new tactic poses a challenge for security organisations which already have difficulty penetrating extremist networks and identifying potential attackers. Its a concern There is constant evolution as the pressures on [Isis] increase, so we are not complacent, said one western European security official.

A plot in Paris in September, involving four women aged between 19 and 39, received significant media coverage. The cell, organised by a known Isis militant in France, was the first to be entirely female. Two of the women had been listed as potential security risks by French intelligence agencies after attempting to reach Syria to join Isis. A third was recently married to a militant shot dead by police on the outskirts of Paris in June, after he stabbed two police officials to death at their home.

If at first it appeared that women were confined to family and domestic chores by the terrorist organisation, it must be noted that this view is now completely outdated, Franois Molins, a French prosecutor, told reporters after the four were arrested.

But a series of other plots around the world, which involve women playing combat roles, received less attention. In August, Isis was reported to have deployed at least one female suicide bomber in Libya, while last month 10 alleged female attackers were arrested in Morocco. All were in their teens, had sworn allegiance to Isis, and were in possession of bomb-making material, officials said.

The women, believed to have been planning a series of suicide attacks, got in touch with [Isis] elements via the internet and were brainwashed into committing destructive acts targeting tourist sites in particular, said Abdelhak Khiame, who leads Moroccos Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations.

This is the first time we have found a terrorist cell that was entirely composed of women. Terrorists are focusing [recruitment] efforts on minors who are female. That is very worrying for all of us. Its an alarm bell, Khiame said.

Women have long played a role in Islamic militancy, and have been deployed in frontline positions before. Palestinian groups have used women suicide attackers. So, too, have organisations in central Asia and the Caucasus. However, senior commanders of al-Qaida, the extremist group responsible for the 9/11 attacks, has consistently made clear its opposition to women taking part in combat activities, insisting that they should support male mujahideen and the broader struggle, rather than physically take up arms themselves.

The ruling has not always been obeyed. Al-Qaidas own affiliate in Iraq deployed a female suicide bomber in 2005 to attack a hotel in Amman, Jordan. The decision prompted much criticism within extremist circles.

Isis, which shares broad ideological objectives with al-Qaida but differs dramatically over strategy and tactics, initially restricted the many thousands of female volunteers it attracted from Europe and the Islamic world to support activities. Thus far, Isis has stifled the role of women in the caliphate by limiting them to the house, ensuring they raise the next generation of jihadi militants and provide for their husbands, said Rachel Bryson, of the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics in London.

There have been some exceptions: female lone wolf attackers who attacked without official sanction from the group, and one major affiliate Boko Haram in west Africa which has systematically used young women as suicide attackers.

The recent change would suggest the group is starting to heavily feel the pressure from the action taken against it, Bryson said.

In recent months, Isis has lost significant ground in Libya, and its core territory in Iraq and Syria is now threatened. Offensives are now under way against the cities of Raqqa, the provincial centre in Syria seen as the headquarters of the group, and Mosul, the biggest single urban centre under Isis control and the seat of the caliphate declared by its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, more than two years ago.

As important as the loss of territory is the diminishing population under Isis authority. Although some revenue is earned from oil and other resources, most funds are raised through taxation of individuals, communities and businesses.

Analysts are split over the impact of military defeat on Isis. Some believe the organisation will be able to continue to attract support because of its past record of victories, with volunteers taking the view that it needs help now more than ever. Other experts believe that the appeal of Isis will be seriously weakened.

Bryson said: As [Isis] and others start to lose more ground, their pool of recruits will grow smaller, meaning that theyll need more women to take up combat roles. Furthermore, Isis knows that the death of a woman evokes a larger response worldwide than that of a man, and for Isiss PR machine increasing the groups media platform is an attractive prospect.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/12/isis-women-frontline-suicide-bombers