Archive for the ‘My Big Fat Planet’ Category

Inside the United Nations Climate Change Conference

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013
NASA-Generated Damage Map To Assist With Typhoon Haiyan Disaster ResponseWhen Super Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded on Earth, struck the Philippines Nov. 8, 2013, it tore a wide swath of destruction across large parts of the island nation. Image Credit: ASI/NASA/JPL-Caltech

Over on My Big Fat Planet, Carmen Boening, a scientist in the Climate Physics Group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is sharing news from the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland. Read her reports on the discussions shaping climate change policy and the emotional speech delivered in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.


My Big Fat Planet: Ask the Expert - Is It too Late to Reduce Climate Change?

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

By Chip Miller

Line graph on a computer screen

In this new series on “Big Fat Planet,” we will answer selected questions about Earth’s climate submitted by readers. Recently, a reader asked: “Is there still time to reduce climate change, or is it too late?” The following answer is from Dr. Chip Miller, a researcher specializing in remote sensing of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He is principal investigator of the Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE) and was deputy principal investigator for NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite mission, which was designed to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide from space.

This is a question that has been asked many times and many studies have investigated similar questions: What level of climate change is “acceptable”? What constitutes “dangerous interference” in the climate system?

The short answer is that it’s not too late to act, but our past actions may have already locked in certain outcomes and action is needed to avoid more substantial impacts in the future.

In the 1990s and early 2000s it was generally felt that a doubling of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere compared to pre-industrial levels - that is, CO2 concentrations increasing to about 500 parts per million (ppm) - was “acceptable.” However, the series of studies from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found that as climate models improve, average worldwide surface temperature is projected to increase well beyond the “acceptable” level of 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100. (See the IPCC website for the reports and most recent information.)

Jim Hansen (head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies) has been one of the more outspoken advocates of curtailing CO2 emissions immediately to return atmospheric CO2 levels to about 350 ppm (the level of carbon dioxide that was in the air in the late 1980s). The challenge here is that even if human emissions of CO2 were cut to zero today, there is an inertia in the climate system that would continue for hundreds to thousands of years as the system attempts to re-equilibrate. (See Hansen’s Royal Society paper, “Climate change and trace gases,” for more details.)

Michael Oppenheimer [Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs at Princeton University] and colleagues have taken a different approach to assessing climate change risk - they define the likelihood of certain environmental outcomes for different levels of atmospheric CO2 accumulation. (See their 2002 Science paper, “Dangerous climate impacts and the Kyoto Protocol,” for a look at three potential outcomes at different CO2 levels.)

Further reading:

Perception of climate change,” J. Hansen, M. Sato & R. Ruedy, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (6 August 2012); doi: 10.1073/pnas.1205276109.

This post was written for “My Big Fat Planet,” a blog hosted by Amber Jenkins on NASA’s Global Climate Change site.


My Big Fat Planet: In Essence: Science Boiled Down

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

By Amber Jenkins

Map of the Arctic Sea and environs

An interesting recent paper from Dr. Son Nghiem at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and colleagues finds that the bottom of the Arctic Ocean controls the pattern of sea ice thousands of feet above on the water’s surface. The seafloor topography exerts its control not only locally, in the Bering, Chukchi, Beaufort, Barents and Greenland Seas, but also spanning hundreds to thousands of miles across the Arctic Ocean.

How? The seafloor influences the distribution of cold and warm waters in the Arctic Ocean where sea ice can preferentially grow or melt. Geological features on the ocean bottom also guide how the sea ice moves, along with influence from surface winds.

Interestingly, the study also links the bottom of the Arctic Ocean with cloud patterns up in the sky. The ocean bottom affects sea ice cover, which affects the amount of vapor coming from the surface of the ocean out into the air, which in turn influences cloud cover.

The researchers, who also come from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the Applied Physics Laboratory and the National/Naval Ice Center in the U.S., use sea ice maps taken from space with NASA’s QuickSCAT satellite, as well as measurements from drifting buoys in the Arctic Ocean. They compare the sea ice and seafloor topography patterns to identify the connection between the two.

Bottom line:

Since the seafloor does not change significantly over many years, sea ice patterns can form repeatedly and persist around certain underwater geological features. So computer models need to incorporate these features in order to improve their forecasts of how ice cover will change over the short- and long-term. This ‘memory’ of the underwater topography could help refine our predictions of what will happen to ice in the Arctic as the climate changes.

Source:

Seafloor Control on Sea Ice,” S. V. Nghiem, P. Clemente-Colon, I.G. Rigor, D.K. Hall & G. Neumann, Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography, Volumes 77-80, pp 52-61 (2012).

This post was written for “My Big Fat Planet,” a blog hosted by Amber Jenkins on NASA’s Global Climate Change site.


My Big Fat Planet: Pick of the Pics

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

By Amber Jenkins

View of Earth at Night    Earth at night, as seen by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite, a joint effort by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory and NOAA National Geophysical Data Center.

This is a new image of our planet at night, as taken by a new NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite orbiting above us. Scientists recently unveiled this global composite image (and the one below), constructed using cloud-free nighttime images. They show the glow of natural and man-made phenomena across the planet in greater detail than ever seen before. City lights can tell us about how humans have spread across the globe.

View of Earth at Night

Many satellites are equipped to look at Earth during the day, when they can observe our planet fully illuminated by the sun. But with a new sensor onboard the NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite launched last year, scientists now can observe Earth’s atmosphere and surface during nighttime hours.

For more Earth at night images, see this article.

This post was written for “My Big Fat Planet,” a blog hosted by Amber Jenkins on NASA’s Global Climate Change site.


In a State of Flux

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

By Amber Jenkins

This post was written for My Big Fat Planet, a blog hosted by Amber Jenkins on NASA’s Global Climate Change site.

Latest Image of Vesta captured by Dawn on July 17, 2011
COLD SNAP: Petermann Glacier, Greenland. Left: June 26, 2010. Right: August 13, 2010. An iceberg more than four times the size of Manhattan broke off the Petermann Glacier (the curved, nearly vertical stripe stretching up from the bottom right of the images) along the northwestern coast of Greenland. Warmer water below the floating ice and at the sea’s surface were probably responsible for the break.
› See more images of our changing Earth from State of Flux

They say a picture says a thousand words. This week we published our 100th image in State of Flux, our gallery showing images of change around our planet. So hopefully by now you’re in awe of our home planet and the ways in which it is constantly changing, and aware of the impact us humans can have.

Each week for the past couple of years, we’ve published new images of different locations on planet Earth, showing change over time periods ranging from centuries to days. The pictures have been taken from space, by NASA’s Eyes on the Earth (its fleet of satellites whizzing above our heads), and from the ground, by real-life people. Some of the changes seen are related to, or exacerbated by, climate change, and some are not. Some document the effects of urbanization and man’s impact on the land, while others the ravage of disasters such as fires and floods.

Seeing our planet from space gives us a global view that we can’t get elsewhere. Through those eyes, we’ve witnessed damage caused by the recent tsunami in Japan, glacier melt in the Himalayas, the greening of China, the growth of Las Vegas and a century of global warming. We’ve looked at the march of deforestation in Bolivia, the rumblings of the (unpronounceable) Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, and the damming of the River Nile. Take a look below at some of our favorites. Sign up to our monthly newsletter or subscribe to our Facebook page if you want to keep up to date with our latest images. We’ll be launching a brand spanking new version of the gallery soon!

See more of some of the most stunning images from State of Flux on My Big Fat Planet.


Out of This World? The Mars Climate Change Mystery

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

By Erik Conway, writing for My Big Fat Planet

Mars

Mars has been a grand scientific mystery ever since the first modern images were beamed back from the Mariner 4 spacecraft in 1965. Those snapshots showed a moon-like, cratered surface — not what we expected. Scientists had assumed that Mars would have an Earth-like atmosphere, composed mainly of nitrogen and with traces of carbon dioxide and water vapor. What they found instead was a cold desert world, one that possessed a thin wisp of an atmosphere containing only carbon dioxide.

Subsequent missions to the Red Planet detected tiny amounts of water vapor in Mars’ atmosphere, and better images began to unveil what looked like river channels and deltas on the surface. Indeed, spacecraft launched in the late 1990s and 2000s found water on Mars in the form of ice, bound into the planet’s soil and in great underground deposits. Water used to flow on the surface of Mars. But how? And where did it all go?

At first sight, the facts defy logic. According to astronomers, the sun used to be dimmer (i.e. colder) than it is now, meaning that Mars (and Earth) should have been colder in the past, not warmer. But observations tell us that it was clearly warmer and wetter on Mars in the past — not colder and more frozen. How did Mars buck the trend and stay toasty in the past? The most likely answer is that it used to have some sort of “super greenhouse effect” going on, the like of which we see on Venus. On Venus, the thick carbon-dioxide-based atmosphere traps the sun’s heat, resulting in surface temperatures that are hot enough to melt lead. Scientists think that early Mars also had a thick, carbon-dioxide-rich atmosphere that provided warming.

That said, in a recent talk at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, Mars specialist Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado pointed out that heat-trapping carbon dioxide alone would not have been sufficient to make Mars warm enough and wet enough to match our observations. Carbon dioxide’s ability to trap heat would have at some point “saturated”, or maxed out. Other greenhouse gases, like methane or ammonia, might have helped trap more heat near the surface of Mars — but they would not have been sufficient either because the sun’s ultraviolet radiation would have destroyed them far too quickly. Ergo, some sort of ultraviolet-absorbing layer high in Mars’ atmosphere would have been needed to help trap the heat. (The Earth’s ozone layer, which dates back to somewhere between 2 and 2.7 billion years ago, performs this service for us now.)

There is, as yet, no evidence of the necessary chemicals on Mars to do this. Jakosky didn’t draw any firm conclusions about how the warmer Mars could have existed. But he did lay out possible future investigations that might help uncover parts of this mystery a little more clearly. One of those includes the MAVEN mission to Mars, scheduled for launch in 2013, which will study how Mars’ atmosphere and climate has changed over time.

As Jakosky has said, in some ways, Mars is a very Earth-like planet. By looking at conditions on other worlds, we can gain insights into how, and why, our own climate is changing here on planet Earth.

You can read more about the Mars Science Laboratory rover here. Scheduled for launch in the fall of 2011, the Curiosity rover will help determine whether Mars has in the past, or does today, harbor life.

This post was written for “My Big Fat Planet,” a blog hosted by Amber Jenkins on NASA’s Global Climate Change site.


Science Fact, Not Fiction: Isaac Asimov on the Greenhouse Effect

Monday, January 10th, 2011

By Amber Jenkins

I stumbled upon this video earlier today. It’s Isaac Asimov, famous science fiction writer and biochemist, talking about global warming — back in January 1989. If you change the coloring of the video, the facial hair style, and switch out Asimov for someone else, the video could pretty much have been made today.

Asimov was giving the keynote address at the first annual meeting of The Humanist Institute. “They wanted me to pick out the most important scientific event of 1988. And I really thought that the most important scientific event of 1988 will only be recognized sometime in the future when you get a little perspective.”

What he was talking about was the greenhouse effect, which, he goes on to explain, is “the story everyone started talking about [in 1988], just because there was a hot summer and a drought.” (Sound familiar, letting individual weather events drive talk of whether the Earth’s long-term climate is heating up or cooling down??)

The greenhouse effect explains how certain heat-trapping (a.k.a. “greenhouse”) gases in our atmosphere keep our planet warm, by trapping infrared rays that Earth would otherwise reflect back out into space. The natural greenhouse effect makes Earth habitable — without our atmosphere acting like an electric blanket, the surface of the earth would be about 30 degrees Celsius cooler than it is now.

The problem comes in when humans tinker with this natural state of affairs. Our burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) constantly pumps out carbon dioxide — a heat-trapping gas — into the atmosphere. Our cutting down of forests reduces the number of trees there are to soak up some of this extra carbon dioxide. All in all, our atmosphere and planet heats up, (by about 0.6 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution) with the electric blanket getting gradually thicker around us.

“I have been talking about the greenhouse effect for 20 years at least,” says Asimov in the video. “And there are other people who have talked about it before I did. I didn’t invent it.” As we’ve stressed here recently, global warming, and the idea that humans can change the climate, is not new.

As one blogger notes, Asimov’s words are as relevant today as they were in 1989. “It’s almost like nothing has happened in all this time.” Except that Isaac Asimov has come and gone, and the climate change he spoke of is continuing.

Asimov’s full speech can be seen here.

This post was written for “My Big Fat Planet,” a blog hosted by Amber Jenkins on NASA’s Global Climate Change site.


Unchained Goddess: Frank Capra Knew

Monday, December 6th, 2010

By Amber Jenkins

a screen grab from The Unchained Goddess

You might think from the amount of “climate science debate” that is given airtime in the U.S. media that it’s undiscovered territory. But it’s not. The science is very well established and goes back a long way. Global warming is not a new concept.

The Victorians knew about it. John Tyndall (born 1820) knew about it. So did Svante August Arrhenius. In April 1896, Arrhenius published a paper in the London, Edinburgh and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science entitled “On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground.” (Arrhenius referred to carbon dioxide as “carbonic acid” in accordance with the convention of the time.)

Arrhenius’ paper was the first to quantify how carbon dioxide contributed to the greenhouse effect — carbon dioxide warms up the Earth by trapping heat near the surface, a bit like swaddling the planet in an extra blanket. Arrhenius was also the first to speculate about whether changes in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have contributed to long-term variations in Earth’s climate. He later made the link between burning fossil fuels and global warming.

Another person who “knew” some time ago was Frank Capra. Graduating from Caltech in 1918, he went on to become a famous filmmaker responsible for “It’s a Wonderful Life” and other movies. But one that stands out, at least for nerds like me or people with an interest in climate change is “Meteora: The Unchained Goddess”, released in 1958:

Made for Bell Labs, this most awesome educational film speaks of “extremely dangerous questions”:

Dr. Frank C. Baxter: “Because with our present knowledge we have no idea what would happen. Even now, man may be unwittingly changing the world’s climate through the waste products of his civilization. Due to our release through factories and automobiles every year of more than six billion tons of carbon dioxide, which helps air absorb heat from the sun, our atmosphere seems to be getting warmer.”

Richard Carlson: “This is bad?”

Dr. Frank C. Baxter: “Well, it’s been calculated a few degrees rise in the Earth’s temperature would melt the polar ice caps. And if this happens, an inland sea would fill a good portion of the Mississippi valley. Tourists in glass bottom boats would be viewing the drowned towers of Miami through 150 feet of tropical water. For in weather, we’re not only dealing with forces of a far greater variety than even the atomic physicist encounters, but with life itself.”

In 1958, they knew about the effects of heating up the planet. In the 1800s they knew about it. Today, the biggest challenge facing climate scientists lies in predicting how much our climate will change in the future. It’s not a trivial task, given how complicated the climate system is — we can barely predict in detail more than a week’s worth of weather. We’re not viewing Miami through bottomed-glass boats yet, but we’re already beginning to see some of the predictions of global warming — melting sea and land ice, sea level rise, more extreme weather events, changes in rainfall and effects on plants and animals — be borne out.

Thanks to OSS and Discovery News for the tip.

This post was written for “My Big Fat Planet,” a blog hosted by Amber Jenkins on NASA’s Global Climate Change site.


Pulling for the Deniers — Place Your Bets

Friday, November 12th, 2010

By Ed Begley Jr.

Ed Begley Jr.
A guest blog written for My Big Fat Planet by Ed Begley Jr.

 

I visit the NASA website and review the data. CO2: Up. Ocean and land temperature: Up. Sea level: Up. Polar ice: Down.

Oops.

But, as bizarre as this sounds … I find myself pulling for the climate change deniers. Wouldn’t it be swell if they were right? We could all just relax and ride around in huge cars, and life would be good again.

Like it was in 1970 when I showed up at the first Earth Day. Oh, wait. The smog kind of sucked back then. That might not be the best example.

But, what about the main reason the deniers give not to address climate change?: The cost.

As it turns out, a great example can be found back in smoggy Los Angeles in 1970. Many of us wanted to do something about the horrible choking smog of that era. But, we were told we couldn’t afford it.

“We’d love to do something too, Ed, but … the cost!” Fortunately, we didn’t listen to them. Fortunately we also weighed healthcare costs and lost productivity into the equation, and realized the cost of doing nothing was much greater.

And, now, even though we have millions more people in L.A., and four times the cars … we have far less smog. And, there were many jobs and tremendous wealth created by doing the things that addressed the problem.

Making catalytic converters, combined cycle gas turbines, spray paint booths, and a myriad of other clean technologies of that day - they all created new industries, and brought growth with them.

We have that same choice today. Do we want to accept the costs of doing nothing, and hope that the problem goes away?

So, please, do as I do, and direct everyone you know to reputable sources of climate data, such as NASA’s Global Climate Change website. At every talk I give, I make sure that everyone is aware that this information if available. The clock is ticking, and to ignore the science on this one is the worst bet we have ever placed.

Ed Begley Jr. is an Emmy-nominated actor who is active in the environmental community and turns up to Hollywood events on his bicycle. He currently lives near Los Angeles in a self-sufficient home powered by solar energy.