Tag Archives: NASA

NORAD Maps the Flight of Santa’s Sleigh

Where is Santa Claus?  The question is perhaps preposterous; Santa is imaginary, after all.  But every Christmas Eve for over fifty-fie years, the North American Aerospace Command–NORAD–has invited viewers to track the gift-laden sleigh of Santa crossing the night-time sky at the speed of starlight on NORAD’s Santa Tracker, an annual collective exercise in mapping of increasing popularity–indeed the mind-boggling proportions of its popularity, attracting upwards of 20 million individual users in 2011 alone, is a statement not only to its improved UX, but to the versatility of its incorporation of mapping servers better to imagine the itinerary of Santa’s airborne sleigh.  For while we once envisioned the night-time flight of Santa Claus far-off and against a starlit sky and full moon, to accentuate the surprise of a magical itinerary–

 

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–the Santa Map brings that journey up-close for everyone before a computer monitor.  The remapping of Santa’s itinerary has been done in a way that tracked, as the sleigh’s global progress is intercepted and relayed online in real time from posts of remote observation to viewers around the world.  And in an age of global surveillance, there seems to be no reason why Santa’s sleigh cannot as well be surveilled for the interests of children everywhere.

There’s a huge appeal in the ways that the Santa Map creates and imagined community, as much as it embodies an annual itinerary.  The interest in tracking Santa’s sleigh has grown considerably in recent Christmas Eves.  The huge interest in tracking Santa’s sleigh–and effectively mapping the visits of the airborne sleigh into our hearth–is a way of bringing maps in line with pleasure at a time when we need to look for solace where we can find it, and where we can find a comfort that the onslaught of most maps of contemporary events in fact rarely provide.  Christmas has been a communal but solitary experience–located in the hearth and around the tree, and gift-opening a ritual of individual families–but somewhat serendipitously, the collective witnessing of the Santa Map offers a vicariously removed experience for crowds of viewers, removed from one another but creating the illusion of comprehensively witnessing the arrival of a fictional character to homes everywhere, as if to knit us together in holiday wonder, suspended for the evening in an imaginary international airspace of momentary world peace.

The interactive map is a new way to conceive the itinerary of gift giving Santa Claus uses to deposit gifts in every chimney and hearth, giving a virtual presence to the fictional Father Christmas making his annual voyage of gifts for children from the North Pole.  And at a time when drones gained popularity as holiday gift–some 1.2 million drones were sold during in the 2016 Christmas season, according to the Consumer Technology Association, often to novice pilots–their popularity reflects the prominence of drones in mainstream America’s spatial imaginary.  The many drones lost and found drones over Christmas week for two years suggest the appeal of remotely guided aeronautics, in which mapping the course of Santa’s sleigh by a drone not only enhances the UX of Santa Maps, but lends materiality to the wondrous arrival of Santa’s sleigh.  The amplified user experience offered on the website provides views akin to virtual drone, by which viewers can observe the expected arrival of Santa Claus as if from an unmanned object beside Santa’s path.

 

Leaving th eNOrth POle.pngSanta Leaves North Pole on YouTube (2010)

 

tracking-santaSanta Trackers in Colorado

 

Santa to Wash.pngViewing Santa arrive in Washington, DC

 

Santa Maps invite viewers by web-based technologies to  map of the sleigh’s route in two- or three-dimensions, or chose an option of receiving regular updates on the progress of gift-giving on a global scale all night long.  The curiously intangible map sustains the questionable fiction of Santa’s arrival to each household from the North Pole:  and if all maps stand at a remove from the world, the Santa Tracker seems to stand at a particularly odd angle to the world–especially in a period where the number of international borders defined by physical obstructions and apparatuses of surveillance have grown 48% since 2014, and border-crossing has become an increasingly politicized and even a desperate act for refugees or those without economical opportunity.  The increasing popularity of Santa Trackers provide an upbeat narrative all the more needed in a time of global dissensus–at no cost to tax-payers, with the tracking map, and telecom services donated by sponsors.

But if the Santa Tracker seems something of a a metaphor for globalism it keeps up with the pace of the naturalization of the authority of map providers:  for the speed of mapping real-time motion, and indeed of tracking fast-flying objects, as the sleigh that moves at the speed of starlight, is in a sense the other side of the project of mapping Santa’s sleigh:  the instantaneous transmission of the path of Santa’s arrival is as much the promise of the Santa Map as the tracing of the path that Santa’s sleigh takes.  While once the promise of protecting the course of Santa’s sleigh on its way to deliver gifts became the job of NORAD, and the arrival of gifts the proof of NORAD’s authority and power in the hemisphere, the mappability of the rapid course of Santa’s sleigh is as much the promise of remote tracking of the atmospheric gasses, weather patterns, icy air streams and wind-currents by orbiting satellites:  we are promised to be able to follow the speed by which Santa condenses the project of visiting every hearth world wide on one night, as if to capture that night’s magic, as if from cameras stationed directly over or behind his Sleigh.

 

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Filed under globalization, mapping technologies, military maps, Satellite maps, satellite surveillance

Mapping Holes over Poles: Disappearing Stratospheric Ozone

Maps can make wonderful arguments to orient us to a variety of global processes whose scale could not otherwise by visualized or even adequately comprehended.  Maps of the relative size of the depletion of ozone over Antarctica over time, looking at the earth’s atmosphere from the South pole and mapping the threat of a monumental environmental shift to allow us to consider changes in the loss of stratospheric ozone that have recently occurred, in ways that are only adequately understood by few:  diachronic maps provide the best means to chart the emergence at the poles, due to the similar pocket of cold air, of the disappearance of the thin layer of ozone that encloses the earth’s atmosphere, and blocks 90% of UV rays of solar radiation:

Sept 2006-Sept 2012 ozone

These two maps centered on Antarctica highlight where weather conditions helped expand the largest ozone “hole” in the stratosphere–a region where ozone has been reduced from 300 to 100 Dobson units, or by two-thirds, and an unprecedented entrance way for UV radiation unveiled.  With the continent of Antarctica reduced to an exposed island in the bright green iris of a protective level of stratospheric ozone, they map provides both a visualization of the permanent gap through which UV radiation enters our atmosphere, and the stubborness with which a problem that first registered at the British Antarctic Research station in 1985, literally wasn’t accepted as genuine, so sudden and unthinkable was its appearance:  deep blue registers the diminution of high-level ozone to 220 Dobson Units, the lowest ever recorded up to 1979.

There’s a tension in using bright iridescent hues to represent a tenuous layer that, if not so widely dispersed, would be only just three cm. in width.  The fragility of this protective if thinly distributed layer may be impossible to visualize as a unit, and as difficult to map as the mechanics of its depletion is to grasp or predict.  The depletion of ozone in the “hole” –more of a relative absence of ozone that usually checks UV rays–lacks the sort of boundaries or objective parameters maps chart, and its gradations hard to ascertain from the ground:  the tenuousness of the dispersed level of ozone in other words challenges cartographical denotation; exactly how much radiation enters the earth’s atmosphere is harder to calculate or represent, so we are left with registering the diminution as an effective ‘hole,’ given the lack of objective criteria to map the diminution in spatial terms that narrate the scope of its effects.  Such obstacles or constraints in mapping has no doubt lead to well-warranted criticism of inadequate appreciation of its seriousness or persistence in media stories that champion its reduced relative size, as we try to grasp  a process we can’t control.  This seems tied to the difficulty of presenting an argument in recognizable graphic conventions, and the appropriation of the map above as an argument that the hole’s expansion reduced and is under control or no longer subject to further expansion.

The inability to map a relationship between the hole and the land in anything like a one-to-one fashion of meteorological maps creates a challenge in registering satellite readings of a thin layer spread across the upper reaches of the stratosphere as if it were an object or place.  The iridescent hues that render depletion of ozone map are both misleadingly and deceptively presented, Bruce Melton argues, as evidence of a “record low” ozone hole–since the reduction in size conceal the fragility of the tenuous ozone layer when increased stratospheric cooling will further deplete the failure of ozone, as Melton argues, and create an uphill struggle to ever block the entrance into our atmosphere of radioactive UV rays.  The map is in this case not the territory:  the territory is being irradiated, and is going to be irradiated for some time.  Climatologists predicted many narratives of the hole’s eventual shrinking in the early 1980s, or in 2006, when it was noted that “in Antarctica, we can say that the patient is not getting any sicker, either,” and 2006 led to the prediction tha reducing fluorocarbons would bring clear evidence of unambiguous improvement by 2016.

Yet the persistence of the hole is striking:  2011-12 saw the re-emergence of a similar ‘hole’ above the north pole, far closer to inhabited areas.

The evidence is difficult to interpret, and harder as a result to represent in maps.  Most maps effectively materialize or embody land and a relation to space, but the hole or gap records the depletion of a gas whose effects are far greater than its relative size, and not necessarily proportional to its size.  To be sure, after being warned of the eventual depletion of ozone, it does not seem so inevitable. Although naming a “hole” seems concrete–something is leaking or escaping from a delimited zone–the entrance of UV rays through this “hole” can’t be adequately mapped to reveal or represent what is happening climatically, and the scope of the dramatic increase of the ozone hole’s radius is difficult to imagine, for  it’s difficult to know what the size of the hole means.

The perspective above Antarctica shows an area about as large as the Antarctic continent itself to be entirely depleted of ozone.  This map of absence challenge us to chart something that resists most of the usual categories of maps.  Perhaps the process is better communicated by mapping the distribution of real-time ozone loss at an altitude of twenty kilometers, as the below visualization of the World Data Center for  Remote Sensing of the Atmosphere, using a vertically resolved distribution to  map variations in loss and depletion of ozone, showing a significant reduction above the north pole that becomes more urgent below the equator:

 

scia_o3loss_actual__still

 

A similarly striking map of local variations from the normal density of 300 Dobson units, tells the difficult to grasp story of wide-ranging atmospheric shift over the southern hemisphere at a time of greatest ozone depletion, of which the hole over in the ozone layer over Antarctica is only a section:

 

scia_o3column_actual__still

Mapping the absence of ozone in the atmosphere is a difficult proposition as well as graphic, especially since most maps are static in nature. The first two visualizations of NASA’s Ozone Watch centered on the continent of Antarctica portray the region’s exposure to UV rays, as if one is somehow looking up the world’s skirts, in ways that work because they tweak or shake up the notion of a global map to show a vital or exposed place in the world’s atmosphere: the perspective from  from that of solar radiation entering our atmosphere suggests looking into something that one shouldn’t be able to see.

It’s a bit comforting that there was some contraction from the massively gaping hole of 2006,  but the slight apparent contraction doesn’t really offer any reassurances.  If purple and blue is where ozone is least present, and yellow toward the red end of the spectrum where it is most present, the hole is still gaping pretty large in April, 2013:  the ozone (O3) in the upper atmosphere is present in such trace amounts, that its absence from the stratospheric atmosphere allows ultraviolet radiation to seep in; while it can absorb the most dangerous and intense radiation before it reaches the earth’s surface, ozone depletion allows it to enter freely.

We can far more easily, of course, map the extent to which more and more ozone is itself trapped, as a greenhouse gas, in our atmosphere, but that is not where we want it–its benefits are nil and even adverse since it is a health hazard.  Its concentration as measured in our country roughly matches concentrations of smog:

National US Ozone Map

The above map registers ozone created from car and other industrial emissions lying below the stratosphere, and the rise of parts of ozone/billion from 10-15 in pre-industrial society to upwards of 80–a rise that has largely contributed to local smog or “ozone days,” and the “spare the air” days of the East Bay when folks are asked to take public transit.

The geographic centers of pollution documented from satellite photographs from 2006 to travel surprisingly wide distances, in ways that suggest we try to understand the local heights of ozone as a truly global crisis if it is also one of local creation:

160294main_ozone_map

This concentration of atmospheric ozone is a form of smog, that serves no protective function as a trapped greenhouse gas; the ozone layer in the stratosphere itself has little relation to global warming.  But we can perhaps develop a perspective of more global character to map or visualize the absence of ozone at stratospheric levels.

This was, after all, the primary effect when NASA compellingly created a map of the relative depletion of ozone concentration–and the potential disappearance of stratospheric ozone–from 1994 to 2060, should  further production of CFC’s not be banned.  This image of ecological disaster was not fleshed out, but is apparent in the deep blue hues that uniformly enveloped the familiar form of North America, as if to tell our future gone astray as a consequence of the increasing industrial production of fluorocarbons worldwide:

 

 

The mapping of more recent depletion of ozone over the pole is the consequence of its unique climate, mapped a sort of topography of ozone loss, in which blue and violet mark significant deviations in local ozone concentrations that were sensed in 2003, but were first detected as early as 1985:
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And the resulting spottiness of the ‘ozone column’ prominent in this global map of 2006 suggest a broad depletion of ozone layers around the equatorial region, where the sunlight is also more unremitting and intense, outside of the polar regions:

Ozone Column 2006

 

What does this massive decline of a shield against radiation mean?  As of yesterday, the map was considerably expanded and not much more comforting, looking at online near real-time ozone maps:

 

o3doas_yesterday

NASA also continues to provide daily visualizations of the established gap in ozone over the Antarctic, based on satellite measurements, to register a daily changing picture of the hole that is not much more comforting:

OZONE_D2013-04_G^716X716_PA-TIME.IOMI_PAURA_V8F_MGEOS5FP_LSH

 

 

Such snapshots tell half the story; stop-action photographic frames chart the hole’s growth form 1979 to 1991 shows the difficulty in pinpointing its size or shape, providing something of a narrative, as registered by satellite spectrometers:
http://www.atm.ch.cam.ac.uk/tour/tour_mpeg/anim_toms.mpg

The jerky seasonal variations seem to be always up for grabs! But a compilation of monthly averages in a suggestive sequence of time-lapse stills, also from Cambridge’s Centre for Atmospheric Science, reveals the expansion of the violet blotch almost appear from nowhere in about 1983, when it was first detected, in ways linked to how gasses emitted from CFC’s had dramatically depleted atmospheric ozone:

 

Cambridge Ozone Maps

 

These Cambridge Ozone Maps–a wonderful name–show an odd shifting of form, shifting due to polar meteorology, of how the gasses spewing out of factories, homes, and airplanes attach to stratospheric clouds that, in the polar vortex, introduce atomic chlorine over the pole which at such low temperatures, destroy ozone.

To map the loss of the layer over time, in animated form, is perhaps far more compelling than a static map is able to offer its viewer:
http://wdc.dlr.de/data_lib/SCIA/ROSE/animations/scia_o3loss_fullsize_mpeg2.mpg

For the lack of better conventions to visualize the opening of ozone over the earth, its hard to remember the difficulty of turning back or reversing this depletion at all.  The challenges of mapping ozone are multiple, both because of the stories we impose on the maps and an inability to comprehend the costs of the opening hole hovering over the pole.  Is it that the map embodies a process that can be visually grasped, transforming a topic of debate into an entity that cannot be denied?  Indeed, there seems a relative poverty of words–what is a hole, actually?–that seems resolved when one looks at the maps of stratospheric ozone depletion over the poles, and sees where the ever-widening gap lies.

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Filed under Antarctica, Global Warming, Ozone Hole, Solar radiation, UV Radiation