Author: Nyssa Rayne

Before we kick off an exciting year — full of celebrating Terra’s upcoming 25th Anniversary! — let’s take a moment to look back at the top-viewed monthly Earth Observatory stories featuring the Terra mission from 2023!

Click the linked month in each banner to jump down to a brief article summary and image thumbnail.

Want to know more? Click on either the linked URL or the image thumbnail below to view the original Earth Observatory story!

Image of iceberg piece breaking off and floating away from the coast of Antarctica.

January 2023: “Antarctica’s Brunt Ice Shelf Finally Breaks

The long-awaited break of the Chasm 1 rift in the Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica occurred on January 22, 2023, spawning Iceberg A-81, approximately 1550 square kilometers in size, as observed by NASA’s Terra satellite on January 24, 2023, marking a culmination of the rift’s growth since the 1970s.

February 2023: “Ex-cell-ent Clouds off Chile’s Coast

Satellites like Terra have shown that marine stratocumulus clouds, covering about 23% of global oceans, exhibit open-celled and closed-cell formations. Open-celled clouds generate rainfall, while closed-cell clouds produce little rain. Local air quality, influenced by factors like smoke and aerosols, can impact the transition between these cloud types. Recent Terra imagery captured off the coast of Chile highlight the intricate structures of these clouds.

March 2023: “A Surge of Floodwater for Owens Lake

In March 2023, California’s historically dry Owens Lake experienced an unprecedented rainfall event that led to the collapse of three sections of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, causing floodwaters to flow over the lakebed. The first of its kind, this breach prompted the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to open floodwater spill gates for repairs. Terra satellite imagery on March 25, 2023, revealed the transformed landscape and highlights the importance of planning for future climate change impacts to water cycle extremes in the region.

April 2023: “A Massive Seaweed Bloom in the Atlantic

Last spring, the “Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt” witnessed its largest recorded Sargassum bloom, estimated at 13 million tons by University of South Florida researchers using NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. The seaweed, vital for ocean health, poses challenges near coasts, affecting marine species and tourism. The ongoing growth trend since 2011, influenced by nutrient inputs and changing ocean patterns, raises concerns for major beaching events along the Caribbean and Florida’s east coast.

May 2023: “Retreat at Petermann Glacier

Over twenty years of combined Terra imagery from Greenland show the Petermann Glacier’s retreat, thinning, and accelerated flow, resulting in a one-third reduction of the ice tongue during this period. Significant iceberg calving events, including a 2017 rift, raise concerns about future glacial melt. Warming ocean waters contribute to melting the glacier from below, a process that causes significant sea level rise.

June 2023: “Canadian Smoke Reaches Europe

Last summer, smoke from Quebec’s ongoing wildfires crossed the Atlantic, darkening skies in southwestern Europe, shown in this imagery captured by Terra’s MODIS instrument on June 26, 2023. The plume of black carbon particles, spanning over 2,000 miles, impacted air quality in Europe and contributed to notable sunrises and sunsets, according to the UK Met Office.

July 2023: “Curious Waves of Clouds Across Australia

This past July, Terra captured a striking display of unusual clouds over Western Australia and the Northern Territory. The patterns, marked by abrupt edges and fine textures, intrigued experts, who suggested that these clouds were influenced by atmospheric stability processes. The large-scale shapes resembled fallstreak clouds, though at lower altitudes. The spectacle, forming overnight and vanishing by late morning, aligned with the destabilization of the lower atmosphere due to ground heat radiation.

August 2023: “The Ocean Has a Fever

July 2023 also marked record-high global sea surface temperatures, influenced by the developing El Niño in the Pacific and long-term warming trends. On August 21, 2023, anomalies exceeded 3°C (5.4°F), particularly in the equatorial Pacific, emphasizing El Niño’s significant impact on global sea surface temperatures and potential repercussions on weather patterns into winter. The map shown, derived from NASA’s JPL Multiscale Ultrahigh Resolution Sea Surface Temperature (MUR SST) project, integrates data from diverse sources, including NASA’s Terra satellite, while showcasing variations from the August 21, 2003-2014 daily average sea surface temperature.

September 2023: “Torrential Rain Wreaks Havoc in Libya

On September 10, 2023, a low-pressure storm struck northeastern Libya in Africa, causing severe flooding in cities along the Mediterranean coast, particularly in Al Bayda and Derna. Located at the end of a dry valley, the city of Derna faced dam collapses along Wadi Derna, resulting in destructive floods. Satellite images from NASA’s Terra satellite on September 7 and 13 depict the flooded regions and inland wadis. The storm, dubbed Storm Daniel, exhibited characteristics of a “Mediterranean Hurricane” or “medi-cane” during its landfall.

October 2023: “Darkened by the Moon’s Shadow

On October 14, 2023, an annular solar eclipse, or “ring of fire,” graced the skies over the United States, Mexico, and parts of Central and South America. The map shown, created by NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio using Terra and Aqua satellites’ MODIS data, outlines the eclipse’s path from Oregon to Texas. Duration contours on the map indicate the varying eclipse lengths. The next annular solar eclipse visible from the U.S. is expected on June 21, 2039, with a total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.

November 2023: “Antarctic Iceberg Sails Away

In November 2023, Iceberg A-23A, which broke off the Filchner Ice Shelf in 1986, gained attention as it drifted northward across the Weddell Sea. Captured by NASA’s Terra satellite’s MODIS, the image shows the iceberg nearing islands at the Antarctic Peninsula, about 1,700 kilometers from its origin. For decades, the iceberg remained anchored near the ice shelf but became unstuck in the early 2020s, likely due to underwater melting. Riding the Weddell Sea Gyre, it measures about 4,300 square kilometers as of November 24, making it the world’s largest current iceberg.

December 2023: “As the Arctic Warms, Its Waters Are Emitting Carbon

Wrapping up the year, new published research from December 2023 shows that the Arctic Ocean faces increased carbon dioxide emissions attributed to thawing permafrost and runoff in Canada’s Mackenzie River, challenging its role as a critical carbon sink. The ECCO-Darwin model, developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, reveals that river discharge, particularly from the vast drainage area of the Mackenzie, leads to intensified CO2 outgassing in the southeastern Beaufort Sea and results in an annual net release of 0.13 million metric tons. Data from the Terra satellite, including this processed 2007 image from Terra’s ASTER instrument, aided researchers in their work to better determine the impact of this environmental shift in a rapidly warming Arctic region.

Another year, another cheesy Valentine’s Day card from the Terra mission!

Pink graphic with hearts, the Terra satellite, and Earth in the background, with the words "I can't IMAGE-ine Earth without YOU. Happy Valentine's Day 2024! From NASA's Terra Mission"

Happy 24th Birthday to the Terra mission, launched December 18, 1999!

Happy Halloween 2023, from the Terra mission! Enjoy this ‘spooky’ set of (Terra)-fying imagery that highlights some of Earth’s strangest costumes (as well as past NASA Earth Observatory images featuring Terra!)

  1. Frightening Foliage: The bright colors of Fall in New England (USA) take center stage in this October imagery from 2015. For more information, view “Fall Color Arrives in the U.S. and Canada” (linked here).
  2. Spirit Trails: Terra imagery illuminates what are thought to be walking trails once used for religious ceremonies by the ancient Nazca people. Check out the Earth Observatory series on Nazca lines in Peru (linked here).
  3. Paranormal Plankton: Terra captured this eerie swirling eddy of blooming phytoplankton off the coast of South Africa (learn more in “The Eddy and the Plankton” article, linked here!).
  4. Spooky Sunglint: A dark spirit-like intrusion breaks into the bright glint of reflected sunlight off the coast of Oman, in an optical illusion caused by the less-reflective current of turbulent waters. (Featured in both Earth Observatory and a major news outlet, both linked here.)
  5. Ancient Graveyards: From above, Terra views what appear to be emerald key holes, but that are actually massive ancient burial sites in Japan! For more information on these incredible tombs, check out “A Burial Site Fit for an Emperor,” linked here.
  6. Creepy Clouds: These ghastly clouds over Australia offer a real modern-day mystery in how they were formed! (But similar events have been caused by atmospheric gravity waves — read more in “Curious Waves of Clouds Across Australia,” linked here!)

Terra Operational Changes and Data Updates

Over the past three years, the Terra mission has performed multiple maneuvers that have led to changes in the satellite’s consistent 20+ year orbit*. Today, Terra continues slowly drifting to an increasingly earlier overpass time and lower altitude. While the orbital changes have had little to no impact on instrument data collection or quality, data users have expressed the need for regular updates on Terra’s equator crossing time (in Mean Local Time), as well as orbital altitude. Starting this month, we’ll be adding this information to the Terra homepage and updating it bi-weekly using data provided by the Flight Dynamics Team.

Finally, processing of ASTER data has re-started, with updated Level-1processing to account for the lower Terra orbit. Processing of the previously-collected data since late October 2022 to the end of June 2023 is also taking place. See the infographic provided on the Terra website for more information, and for the latest news on all things related to Terra data, visit the Alerts and Issues page available on the LAADS DAAC website (linked here).

*For more information about Terra’s orbit changes, check out the January/February 2023 edition of The Earth Observer — linked here — for summaries of two recent NASA-hosted webinars pertaining to these changes, or visit the Terra website.

Terra Instrument Check-In

Here’s a list of 2023 happenings and publications for each Terra instrument:


The 52nd ASTER Science & Interface Meeting was held at the Kikai Shinko Kaikan in Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan from September 11-15, 2023 (group photo posted below). The meeting included two Plenary sessions, as well as presentations from ASTER working groups, including Operations and Mission Planning (OMP), Applications, Calibration and Validation, Temperature-Emissivity Separation (TES), and the Science Team Acquisition Request (STAR) groups. Meeting presentations showcased diverse applications of ASTER data in various fields and activities, including mineral and other geologic mapping projects, coastal monitoring activities, cryospheric studies, machine learning models for urban land dynamics, and volcanic eruption precursor detection. Additionally, updates were provided on the ASTER Volcano Archive and the Global Land Ice Measurements from Space (GLIMS) Database. A copy of meeting presentations are available upon request.

Photo credit: Mako Komoda, Japan Space Systems


The next CERES meeting will be held in-person from October 17-19, 2023 at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in New York City, NY. See the “Meeting Logistics and Recommended Hotels” link on the CERES website for more information about attending the meeting and a link to the full agenda (also linked here). Many exciting speakers are scheduled to speak at the meeting, so check back to the Terra website often for an update and summary after the meeting!


The MISR team has been working hard on algorithm adjustments needed to finalize the Level-1 data processing take into account the effects of Terra’s orbit lowering in October 2022. Additional updates on the status of this process will be posted on the Terra website, including a notice when processing has begun.

MISR was highlighted during a biannual summer workshop, hosted by NASA Disasters program, to support dialogue and collaboration between NASA experts and members of the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers (VAACs) team. Find out more about this partnership in a recently-published story from the Disasters program, linked here!


Miguel Román (MODIS) and Helen Wooden (MOPITT) both attended the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) Meteorological Satellite Conference 2023 that took place in Malmö, Sweden, from September 11-15, 2023. A (beautiful) group photo from the meeting is included below.

Miguel Román participated in several sessions to discuss EUMETSAT’s plans for morning-orbit polar orbiting observations. As recommended by NASA’s Terra, Aqua, and Aura Data Continuity Workshop, the EUMESAT Multispectral Visible Infrared Imager (METImage) on the Metop-SG A satellite, due to launch in December 2024, is being explored as a possible source of morning data product continuity, currently represented by the suite of standard science products generated from the MODIS instrument onboard Terra.

Helen Worden presented trends using the MOPITT data record of global carbon monoxide (CO) and plans for continuation of the MOPITT record using MetOP/IASI, NOAA/CrIS and ESA/TROPOMI data. The MOPITT team has long collaborated with the EUMETSAT IASI instrument team on satellite data inter-comparisons. Comparisons with MOPITT data have been especially important for new instruments in space, since MOPITT has the longest available record of satellite CO observations. The EUMETSAT meeting had many useful presentations on atmospheric composition and trends, among other interesting topics, with plenty of networking opportunities for developing new ideas for research and plans for data continuity.

Photo Credit: EUMETSAT