The Magic of Modis – Land Surface Temperatures

The Magic of Modis

Sometimes I happen to stumble across a WTF image.

This particular WTF image is the Maximum Land Surface Temperature published by the NASA Earth Observatory which suggests the maximum surface temperatures in the middle of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have reached 25 °C.

The map above shows global maximum land surface (or skin) temperatures from 2003 to 2009, as measured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) onboard NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites.

The MODIS instrument has 36 different spectral bands (groups of wavelengths), including some that detect thermal radiance, or the amount of infrared energy emitted by the land surface. Since the two MODIS instruments scan the entire surface each day, they provide a complete picture of earthly temperatures and fill in the gaps between the world’s weather stations—particularly in extreme environments where temperatures are simply not measured.

In five of the seven years – 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2009 – the highest surface temperature on Earth was found in the Lut Desert of Iran. The single highest LST recorded in any year occurred there in 2005, when MODIS recorded 70.7°C (159.3°F) – more than 12°C (22°F) warmer than the official world record air temperature from Libya.

This seems remarkable because the maximum air temperature recorded at Camp Summit in Greenland is a chilly 3.6 °C.

Summit Camp, also Summit Station, is a year-round research station on the apex of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

The station is located 3,216 metres (10,551 ft) above sea level.

The climate is classified as polar, and the weather is highly variable and harsh.

Typical daily maximum temperatures at Summit Camp are around −35 °C (−31 °F) in winter (January) and −10 °C (14 °F) in summer (July).

Winter minimum temperatures are typically about −45 °C (−49 °F) and only rarely exceed −20 °C (−4 °F).

Annual precipitation is about 3,000 mm (118.1 in), much of which falls as sleet or snow, which is possible in any month.

Inland, the snow line in summer is at an altitude of about 300 m (984 ft).

The highest temperature at Summit Camp was 3.6 °C (38.5 °F), recorded on July 16, 2012; the lowest recorded temperature is −67.2 °C (−89.0 °F)

Greenland - Camp Summit - Big House by Robin Carroccia

The Big House. Photo: Robin Carroccia
CH2M HILL Polar Services

My faith in their Maximum Land Surface Temperature was further undermined by their average Maximum Land Surface Temperature image for July 2012 which shows that “Antarctica and Greenland remain consistently cold”.

The maps shown here were made using data collected during the daytime by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite.

Temperatures range from -25 degrees Celsius (deep blue) to 45 degrees Celsius (pinkish yellow).

At mid-to-high latitudes, land surface temperatures can vary throughout the year, but equatorial regions tend to remain consistently warm, and Antarctica and Greenland remain consistently cold.

Altitude plays a clear role in temperatures, with mountain ranges like the North American Rockies cooler than other areas at the same latitude.

Land Surface Temperature - July 2012

Therefore, I decided to take a closer look at February 2012 when Europe experienced a cold wave.

The Early 2012 European cold wave was a deadly cold wave that started on January 27, 2012 and brought snow and freezing temperatures to much of the European continent.

There were 824+ deaths reported.

Particularly low temperatures hit several Eastern and Northern European countries, reaching as low as −39.2 °C (−38.6 °F) in Finland.

The heaviest snow was recorded in the Balkan region.


The daily MODIS land surface data on the NASA Earth Observatory site provides daily images that are presumably used to construct their monthly average graphics.

February 2012 Land Surface Temperature

These daytime land surface temperature maps were made using thermal infrared measurements made by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument aboard NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites.

MODIS measures Earth in 36 discreet spectral band, 16 of which are in the thermal infrared region ranging from 3 to 15 micrometers.

The measurements shown here represent the temperature of the “skin” (or top 1 millimeter) of the land surface during the daytime – including bare land, snow or ice cover, and cropland or forest canopy – and should not be confused with surface air temperature measurements that are given in a typical weather reports.

February Land Surface Temperature

Personally, I find it magical and mesmerising watching the modest MODIS daily data being massaged, manipulated and morphed into a monthly mirage.

Call me cynical, but I don’ trust any source that deliberately uses reds and purples to indicate mid-range temperatures.

I definitely mistrust any source that suggests the surface temperature of ice is 25 °C.

And I emphatically mistrust any source which limits their reporting to “daytime” temperatures.

Gallery | This entry was posted in Earth, Inventions & Deceptions, Science, Water. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Magic of Modis – Land Surface Temperatures

  1. tom0mason says:

    I wonder why they don’t do a scan at local midnight across the globe for comparison. For one thing local, non-sun determined, hot spots could be identified and reassessed. Probably all those UHI would be better identified.
    But then again why would anyone be interested in seeking these anomalous hot-spots?

  2. Steven Mosher says:

    both daytime and nighttime are collected and reported.
    trust is not required.
    just consult valiation

    Click to access wan.pdf

    do you think we landed on the moon?

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