Global patterns of precipitable water look like wisps of liquid smoke in this Mapbox visualization.

As Cassini sails through the ice plumes of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, New Horizons discovers red ice on the surface of Pluto, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter finds evidence of liquid water flowing on the slopes on Mars, it can be easy to forget that the water here on Earth is pretty amazing, too.

Mapbox didn’t.

Using the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Global Forecast System data, Mapbox geographer Damon Burgett produced a map showing the flow of precipitable water in the atmosphere over a map of the planet. The data visualization covers these patterns in three-hour intervals from October 15-28; the results are pretty compelling.  

As Burgett explains, he used the same method previously to embed a video of Hurricane Patricia forming and faltering in a map showing the coast of Mexico. This new map goes further, showing all the precipitable water being tracked by forecasters at the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (part of NOAA). I like what Burgett has to say about the map:

Animated weather data unearths complex and beautiful patterns in our atmosphere: the subtle daily rhythm of pulsing evapotranspiration over rain forests, eddying atmospheric rivers hurtling moisture away from equatorial regions, and the violent vortices of hurricanes forming, strengthening, and dissipating.

Just your standard evapotranspiration map, you know.

The continents look like they are vaping; wisps of cool liquid smoke wash over the wettest places. It’s incredible to see a flash of light over the Texas landmass coincide with the major flooding events there. It must be amazing to see the Indian subcontinent at the height of the rainy season. The fractal complexity of the world’s weather makes the planet look like Jupiter, but rendered in the cool colors of Neptune.

This post has been updated.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. The facade of a casino in Atlantic City.
    Photos

    Photographing the Trumpian Urbanism of Atlantic City

    Brian Rose’s new book uses the deeply troubled New Jersey city as a window into how a developer-turned-president operates.

  2. Life

    Who’s Really Buying Property in San Francisco?

    A lot of software developers, according to an unprecedented new analysis.

  3. Design rendering of a high-tech floating city.
    Environment

    Floating Cities Aren’t the Answer to Climate Change

    UN-Habitat is looking at high-tech urban islands as a potential survival fix for communities at risk from rising seas. This isn’t what resilience looks like.

  4. A map of Baltimore and its surrounding leafy suburbs.
    Environment

    Every Tree in the City, Mapped

    Researchers at Descartes Labs are using artificial intelligence to make a better map of the urban tree canopy.

  5. A toddler breathes from a nebulizer while sitting in a crib.
    Environment

    How Scientists Discovered What Dirty Air Does to Kids’ Health

    The landmark Children’s Health Study tracked thousands of children in California over many years—and transformed our understanding of air pollution’s harms.