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Cape Verde Waves and Plumes

Posted On: June 8, 2012 - By: Curtis Seaman


Cape Verde is an island nation off the west coast of Africa, located in the North Atlantic. The islands are a popular initiation point for tropical storms. The original capital of the 10-island archipelago was sacked twice by Sir Francis Drake, the same one who, in his later years, would fail to sack the villages along Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela due to Catatumbo lightning. That guy really got around, and I mean that literally: he circumnavigated the globe between 1577 and 1580, sacking nearly every village and boat he came across. But, this isn’t about Francis Drake – it’s about the Cape Verde islands and the amazing view of them captured by VIIRS.

False color RGB composite of VIIRS channels I-1, I-2 and I-3 taken 14:41 UTC 6 June 2012

False color RGB composite of VIIRS channels I-1, I-2 and I-3 taken 14:41 UTC 5 June 2012

Can you see the 10 major islands? One of them (Santa Luzia) is almost obscured by clouds. If you click on the image, you’ll see each of the major islands identified. Go ahead and click on it. It will help for later.

The image above was made from the RGB composite of VIIRS high-resolution imagery channels I-01, I-02 and I-03. While it technically is a false color image (uses reflectance at 0.64 µm [blue],  0.865 µm [green] and 1.61 µm [red]), it looks realistic in many situations, so that we refer to it as “pseudo-true color”. Snow and ice show up as an unrealistic blue, however, which is the main difference between it and a “true color” image. You might also notice a few more differences between the “pseudo-true color” image above and the “true color” image below.

True color RGB composite of VIIRS channels M-3, M-4 and M-5 taken 14:41 UTC 6 June 2012

True color RGB composite of VIIRS channels M-3, M-4 and M-5 taken 14:41 UTC 5 June 2012

The true color image uses moderate resolution channels M-3 (0.48 µm, blue), M-4 (0.55 µm, green) and M-5 (0.67 µm, red), which actually observe radiation in the blue, green and red portions of the visible spectrum. Apart from differences in resolution, the vegetation on the islands shows up a bit better in the “pseudo-true color” image. The islands just look brown in the true color image.

What is particularly interesting about these images are the visible effect that the islands have on the local atmosphere. Downwind (southwest, or to the lower left) of Sal, Boa Vista, and Maio, you can see singular cloud streets, much like the flow of water around a rock. In the photograph in that link, you can see how the water dips downward on both sides of the center line downstream of the rock, and upward in the middle (along the center line). The islands are acting like rocks in the atmosphere, causing upward motion behind them, and this lift was enough to form cloud streets. On either side of these cloud streets there is downward motion and, as a result, clear skies.

Downwind of São Nicolau, São Vicente and Santo Antão, the cloud streets highlight von Kármán vortices and vortex shedding, which you can see in more-controlled lab conditions here and here.

Many of the islands appear to be producing their own aerosol plumes (i.e. dust), and if you zoom in on the area between Boa Vista and Santiago, you can see gravity waves present in some of the plumes (highlighted by the arrows in the image below).

False color RGB composite of VIIRS channels I-1, I-2 and I-3 taken 14:41 UTC 5 June 2012

False color RGB composite of VIIRS channels I-1, I-2 and I-3 taken 14:41 UTC 5 June 2012

A common way to detect dust is the “split-window difference”: the difference in brightness temperature between the 11 µm channel and the 12 µm channel. On VIIRS, this means subtracting M-16 from M-15 which, when you do that, gives you this image:

Split-window difference from VIIRS (M15 minus M16) from 14:41 UTC 5 June 2012

Split-window difference from VIIRS (M15 minus M16) from 14:41 UTC 5 June 2012

The color scale goes from -0.16 K (black) to +4.0 K (white). For some reason, the dust or aerosol plumes don’t produce a strong signal here. It may be that the dust is too low in the atmosphere and the lack of temperature contrast with the surface prevents a strong signal. Maybe water vapor absorption effects in M16 are washing out the signal. Or, there could be some other explanation waiting to be discovered.

The plumes are highly reflective in the 3.7 µm channel (M-12), as are the clouds, which show up as warm spots in the image below (not as warm as the islands, however):

Moderate resolution 3.7 µm image (M-12) from VIIRS, taken 14:14 UTC 5 June 2012

Moderate resolution 3.7 µm image (M-12) from VIIRS, taken 14:41 UTC 5 June 2012

Here, just to throw you off, the color scale has been reversed so that dark colors mean higher values. The scale ranges from 295 K (white) to 330 K (black). When you take the difference of this image and the 10.6 µm brightness temperature (M-15), the clouds and aerosol plumes really show up, along with the gravity waves and vortices:

Brightness temperature difference between VIIRS channels M-12 and M-15 from 14:14 UTC 5 June 2012

Brightness temperature difference between VIIRS channels M-12 and M-15 from 14:41 UTC 5 June 2012

In this case, the M-12 brightness temperatures are always greater than the M-15 brightness temperatures (due to the combination of Earth’s emission and solar reflection in M-12 as opposed to just surface emission in M-15), so the scale varies from +5 K (black) to +30 K (white). Higher (brighter) values on this scale show off where the most solar reflection occurs at 3.7 µm – the liquid clouds and aerosol plumes.

There are much more sophisticated ways of identifying dust and aerosol plumes. To find out more, check out this article written by one of our resident experts, Steve Miller, who is currently working on applying dust detection algorithms to VIIRS.

If you are more interested in the von Kármán vortices, NASA has put together a great page that you can visit here. If you take the original image in this post, zoom out and rotate it a little bit, you can get a sense of just how far the vortices extend from their parent islands:

False color RGB composite of VIIRS channels I-1, I-2 and I-3 taken 14:41 UTC 5 June 2012

False color RGB composite of VIIRS channels I-1, I-2 and I-3 taken 14:41 UTC 5 June 2012. This image has been rotated from the previous images to highlight the length of the vortex streets.

Coincidentally, this image has been cropped to a size that makes it suitable for use as a desktop wallpaper, should you happen to have a 16:9-ratio monitor and a desire to stare at this image all day. (You have to click on the image, then click on the “1920 x 1080” link below the header to get the full resolution image.)


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