The striking image above simulating global wind patterns was produced by the Goddard Earth Observing System Model, Version 5 (GEOS-5), which is a system of integrated models that NASA runs over a supercomputer to study and predict climate and weather patterns on Earth. A high resolution version of the image can be found at NASA here. It's just one of a series of breathtaking simulations recently released from GEOS-5 modeling efforts.
In the image, the vibrant, almost psychedelic rivers that can be seen streaming across the Northern and Southern Hemisphere are the planet's jet streams. The colors represent wind speeds; reds symbolize the fastest winds.
A second simulation, shown in the video below, really brings the wind model to life:
Studying the flow of the jet streams over the Northern Hemisphere, along with other accompanying winds, can be as informative as it is mesmerizing. You might notice that as the simulation progresses, the jet stream begins to bow wildly as it passes over North America. Those deep troughs can mean more extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and heat waves, and research suggests such patterns may be caused by the rapid warming currently occurring in the Arctic.
A third simulation takes modeling to a whole new level. The following video shows cloud formation over Africa, Europe, Australia, North America, Florida, South America and Antarctica with hypnotizing detail. (Warning: you could probably lose hours watching this video over and over again.)
This video is strikingly precise with one exception: the changes in light that come from the passing of day and night has been removed. If the normal daily passage of time was represented, it would create a distracting strobing effect approximately every 90 frames, or every 3 seconds-- the length of a day in this simulation.
You might notice that as the daily cycle commences over North America, a foggy cloud cover seems to rhythmically exhale over the surface of the continent.
As the video pans across central Africa, South America and Oceania, clouds can be witnessed rapidly forming and dissipating over the greenest regions in a dance almost like exploding fireworks. This is the cloud-generating powers of the world's largest tropical rainforests at work.
Remember that these models are simulations based on analysis developed jointly with the NOAA/NCEP/EMC. They are not playback of previously recorded weather patterns. As GEOS-5 becomes more sophisticated, researchers hope that the models will be capable of predicting future weather events and patterns.