NASA's January 2012 Blue
Marble Image of Earth's Western Hemisphere.
Friday March 16, 2012
NASA's most recently launched earth-observing satellite, Suomi NPP, is proving to pack both beauty and brains. Since its launch into space in October, Suomi NPP has taken some of the most stunning images of Earth ever generated and, at the same time, has begun to collect critical data about Earth's environment and atmosphere. The satellite, the product of a partnership between NASA, NOAA, and the Department of Defense, carries five instruments that collect a host of important information including sea surface temperatures, ozone levels, and measures of biological productivity on land and in oceans.
Suomi NPP received significant attention in late January and again in February for its latest Blue Marble images stunning, high definition composite images of Earth from space. January's Blue Marble, which shows Earthâ€™s western hemisphere, immediately went viral after its release. The photo-sharing site Flickr reported that the image received more than 3.1 million views as of February 1, making it one of the most viewed images in the site's history after just one week on the web. February's image shows Earth's eastern hemisphere and was created from data collected during six orbits of Earth.
Suomi NPP satellite under development.
But while the satellite is churning out eye-pleasing images, it's also busy collecting data that will help us better understand how Earth is changing. Among the five instruments aboard the satellite is the latest version of the Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES) which measures Earth's energy budget, or balance of incoming and outgoing energy. Having accurate, timely measurements of minute changes in Earth's energy budget is crucial to increasing our understanding of long-term climate change, including the potential impacts of heat-trapping gasses on ocean and atmospheric temperatures and sea-level.
At the same time, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument is monitoring cloud systems, which strongly influence Earth's energy budget by either reflecting incoming sunlight or blocking energy that would otherwise radiate into space. Scientists want to understand the effects of such cloud characteristics as thickness, altitude, and distribution on energy budgets and climate change.
As Suomi NPP continues its anticipated 5-year mission, meteorological and earth scientists around the world will gain new information to better understand how Earth is changing. We'll also be sure to see more beautiful pictures of our planet.
Screen shots of USGCRP's new Resource Library website.
Screen shot of USGCRP's previous resource website: "GCRIO".
This week, the US Global Change Research Program launched a revamped Resource Library website for easier, more intuitive access to Federal global change resources. Â The Resource Library â€”USGCRPâ€™s access hub for publications, reports, and other global change resources â€“ fulfills the Congressional mandate for a Global Change Research Information Office (GCRIO).Â
GCRIO was mandated by Congress in the Global Change Research Act of 1990 â€œto disseminate to foreign governments, businesses, and institutions, as well as citizens of foreign countries, scientific research information available in the United States which would be useful in preventing, mitigating, or adapting to the effects of global change,â€ and was formally launched in May 1993.Â
The redesigned Resource Library provides access to more than 100 products containing data and information on climate change research, adaptation and mitigation strategies and technologies, as well as relevant educational resources. Most of the reports and publications in the Resource Library are available to users free of charge.
The revamped site features clear explanations of various publications and reports as well as enhanced search functionality that allows users to refine and tailor searchers to their specific needs. Â
â€œThe new site is a big step forward for us in providing easy access to Federal global change information,â€ said Tanya Maslak, Operations Manager of the U.S. Global Change Research Programâ€™s National Coordination Office. â€œThe goal is make all of our resources as open, accessible, and usable as possible for our wide range of stakeholders.â€Â
The new Resource Library interface is similar to online shopping interfaces that users may encounter in their day-to-day lives. After sorting and searching to find the document most relevant to their needs, users can choose to download a digital copy or place orders for print resources.
Stay tuned at globalchange.gov or follow us on Twitter or Facebook for updates on new products and resources available in the Resource Library.Â
Jerry Miller, Assistant Director,Â Ocean Sciences, and
Tom Armstrong, Executive Director,Â U.S. Global Change Research Program,
Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President
A new study concludes that the current rate of ocean acidification is higher than at any time in at least the last 300 million years and attributes this ecosystem-threatening change to the huge quantities of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere from fossil-fuel burning and deforestation. The studyâ€™s investigators, at Columbia University and other institutions, scrutinized Earthâ€™s geologic record for times in ancient history when natural events such as intensive volcanic activity may have similarly led to CO2 releases or ocean acidification. Although none of those ancient chemical changes appear to have been as extreme as those occurring today, there is nonetheless evidence that they contributed to serious ecological disruptions. That suggests that current trends similarly pose serious threats to marine ecosystems, the researchers conclude in the journal Science.
Oceans are major storage depots for carbon dioxide (CO2), with levels naturally remaining in rough equilibrium with carbon dioxide levels in the air above. Thus, as human activities like fossil-fuel burning have driven up carbon content in the atmosphere, the worldâ€™s oceans have taken up more and more of that carbon. In fact, more than a quarter of the CO2 released into the atmosphere each year is absorbed by oceans, causing changes in natural seawater chemistry. Among the most significant of these chemical changes has been a gradual increase in the concentrations of carbonic acid and other chemicalsâ€”a Â process called acidification. This shift, which is already being observed around the world, lowers the concentration and availability of ocean carbonatesâ€”a class of chemicals that many marine organisms need to build their skeletons and shells.
Whether and to what extent a more acidic ocean environment is impacting or will impact marine ecosystems is a question that scientists have sought to answer for decades. Nailing down specific impacts is difficult because the complexity of ocean ecosystems far exceeds that which can be fully replicated and analyzed in a laboratory. Just consider the elaborate system of ocean currents, weather patterns, atmospheric conditions, food webs, ocean chemistry, and other factors that play a dynamic role in shaping the marine environment.
In the new study, scientists sought to address that problem by analyzing evidence of ancient changes in marine organisms that correspond to periods in history when the rate of change in atmospheric CO2 concentration and ocean acidity were particularly high. The study is careful to point out that while no historic event perfectly compares to the current state of our climate and oceans, valuable lessons may still lurk in the geologic record.Â
The study found a correlation between periods of rapid acidification and periods when the shell-like plates that cover certain types of algae and plankton shrunk in size.The study also found that at the boundary between Paleocene and Eocene periods (about 55 million years ago), a large release of carbon caused temperatures and ocean acidity to rise, leading to mass extinctions of deep-sea foraminifersâ€”one of the most common marine plankton speciesâ€”as well as the collapse of coral reefs in shallow waters. Â Â
Because a variety of co-occurring environmental changes may have contributed to these marine ecosystem changes, scientists canâ€™t directly or fully attribute them to ocean acidification. However, they still provide clues about possible causes and consequences of changes to the marine environmentâ€”information that is critical not only to scientists, but to communities and local economies that depend on ocean resources for food and income.
For example, studies and monitoring in the Arctic Ocean, the Puget Sound, shellfish hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere have concluded that acidification is already having impacts on marine life, such as compromising the ability of oysters and other organisms to build the protective shells they need to survive. Other reports, such as the U.S. Global Change Research Programâ€™s most recent National Climate Assessment have found that ocean acidification poses a significant threat to coral reefs and the rich ecosystems, local fishing industries, and tourism economies they support.
These threats are among the reasons why the Obama Administrationâ€™s National Ocean Council lists among its nine priority objectives strengthening theâ€œresiliency of coastal communities and marine and Great Lakes environments and their abilities to adapt to climate change impacts and ocean acidification.â€
Phil Duffy, Senior Policy Analyst and Becky Fried, Policy Analyst, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President
Polling results released last week by the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College (Pennsylvania) show that, compared to previous surveys, the largest majority of Americans in years now believe global warming is occurring. Sixty two percent of respondents to the December 2011 National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change (NSAPOCC) agreed there is â€œsolid evidenceâ€ that Earth has been getting warmer over the past four decadesâ€”a marked increase from 55 percent just half a year earlier.
Notably, however, almost half of the 62 percent said their views were shaped by personal observations of temperature and weather phenomena. In narrative explanations of why they accept the reality of global warming, survey respondents indicated â€œwinters just arenâ€™t as cold as they were in the past,â€ â€œtemperatures last summer that were awful,â€ and â€œdroughts this past summer,â€ among other observations.
Those results suggest that many Americans are basing their climate change attitudes on near-term personal experiences and observations rather than the stream of scientific evidence demonstrating climate change and warmer-than-normal global temperatures due to greenhouse gas emissions. While science tells us that there are indeed links between local weather and global climate, particular weather events and short-term variations are not reliable indicators of long-term climate trends, which must be measured across decades or longer. So while more and more Americans apparently agree with the scientific consensus on climate change, many seem to be doing so for the wrong reasons.
The risk in this, of course, is that in years when short-term weather cycles are coolerâ€”as can be expected occasionally in the course of the current longer-term warming trendâ€”these people will be more likely to change their minds. Indeed, the poll found that some Americans are already making this error. In the study, among those who said they are unconvinced that global warming is happening, the most commonly cited rationales were personal observations such as â€œwinters were just as cold as when I was a kid,â€ or â€œour weather seems just as cold as in the past."
â€œPeople naturally form viewpoints and make decisions based on personal experience. Itâ€™s one reason why understanding the local-scale impacts of climate change and how they differ from weather is so critical.â€ said Tom Armstrong, Director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program. â€œCommunicating this information broadly is one of the most important ways we can ensure that people and communities are able to make informed, science-based decisions.â€
The NSAPOCC is planning a follow-up report to explore the connections between American climate change attitudes and policies.
As a first step toward future efforts to enhance traceability of NCA data and sources, the site incorporates access to a sample of the datasets used as a basis for the 2009 report. The site provides an enhanced web-based interface for the NCAâ€™s wide range of stakeholdersâ€”from private citizens, to business leaders, to local decision makers, and moreâ€”to search for findings, topics, and sources for the 2009 report that are most relevant to their needs.
The launch comes as USGCRP is in the thick of preparing its next NCA report, due for release in 2013. Work is already underway to ensure that insights gained from enhancing access to the 2009 report are incorporated into efforts for 2013.
â€œWe developed the site as a way of trying out some methods to improve transparency and searchability,â€ said Dr. Anne Waple, Program Manager for NOAAâ€™s Assessment Services and Chair of the NCA Technical Support Unit. â€œWe learned a lot of lessons in the process that will inform our efforts for the 2013 report and the sustained assessment effort.â€
A quick rollover of the interactive map on the front page of the site gives a summary of regional climate impacts, even before the first click. Users interested in delving deeper can explore climate information by region or sector, click through to some sample datasets, view relevant images and information about their sources, and even read supporting documents for the assessment.
â€œFor us, this is a small but important step forward,â€ said Emily Cloyd, Public Participation and Engagement Coordinator for the National Climate Assessment. â€œAnalyzing what works and what doesnâ€™t will be critical to our future efforts.â€