Arquivo da tag: NASA

Pesquisadores temem ações de Trump relacionadas à ciência e ao clima (Folha de S.Paulo)

Damon Winter/The New York Times
Com menos dinheiro no orçamento, ciência pode ser uma das áreas mais afetadas
Com menos dinheiro no orçamento, ciência pode ser uma das áreas mais afetadas

SALVADOR NOGUEIRA
COLABORAÇÃO PARA A FOLHA

23/12/2016  02h00

A eleição de Donald Trump pode pressagiar um período de declínio para a ciência nos Estados Unidos.

Noves fora a retórica que lhe ganhou a Casa Branca, os planos que ele apresenta para a próxima gestão podem significar cortes orçamentários significativos em pesquisas.

A campanha do republicano à Presidência bateu fortemente em duas teclas: um plano vigoroso de corte de impostos, que reduziria a arrecadação em pelo menos US$ 4,4 trilhões nos próximos dez anos, e um plano de investimento em infraestrutura que consumiria US$ 1 trilhão no mesmo período.

Na prática, isso significa que haverá menos dinheiro no Orçamento americano que poderá ser direcionado para os gastos “discricionários” -aqueles que já não caem automaticamente na conta do governo por força de lei. É de onde vem o financiamento da ciência americana.

“Se o montante de gastos discricionários cai, o subcomitê de Comércio, Justiça e Ciência no Congresso receberá uma alocação menor, e eles terão menos dinheiro disponível para financiar suas agências”, diz Casey Dreier, especialista em política espacial da ONG Planetary Society.

Entre os órgãos financiados diretamente por esse subcomitê estão a Fundação Nacional de Ciência (NSF), a Administração Nacional de Atmosfera e Oceano (Noaa) e a Administração Nacional de Aeronáutica e Espaço (Nasa).

Existe a possibilidade de o financiamento sair intacto desse processo? Sim, mas não é provável. Algum outro setor precisaria pagar a conta.

SEM CLIMA

Ao menos no discurso, e fortemente apoiado por nomeações recentes, Trump já decidiu onde devem ocorrer os cortes mais profundos: ciência climática.

Que Trump se apresenta desde a campanha eleitoral como um negacionista da mudança do clima, não é segredo. No passado, ele chegou a afirmar que o aquecimento global é um embuste criado pelos chineses para tirar a competitividade da indústria americana.

(Para comprar essa versão, claro, teríamos de fingir que não foi a Nasa, agência americana, a maior e mais contundente coletora de evidências da mudança climática.)

Até aí, é o discurso antiglobalização para ganhar a eleição. Mas vai se concretizar no mandato?

Os sinais são os piores possíveis. O advogado Scott Pruitt, indicado para a EPA (Agência de Proteção do Ambiente), vê com ceticismo as políticas contra as mudanças climáticas. E o chefe da equipe de transição escolhido por Trump para a EPA é Myron Ebell, um notório negacionista da mudança climática.

O Centro para Energia e Ambiente do Instituto para Empreendimentos Competitivos, que Ebell dirige, recebe financiamento das indústrias do carvão e do petróleo. Colocá-lo para fazer a transição entre governos da EPA pode ser o clássico “deixar a raposa tomando conta do galinheiro”.

Como se isso não bastasse, durante a campanha os principais consultores de Trump na área de pesquisa espacial, Robert Walker e Peter Navarro, escreveram editoriais sugerindo que a agência espacial devia parar de estudar a própria Terra.

“A Nasa deveria estar concentrada primariamente em atividades no espaço profundo em vez de trabalho Terra-cêntrico que seria melhor conduzido por outras agências”, escreveram.

Há consenso entre os cientistas de que não há outro órgão com competência para tocar esses estudos e assumir a frota de satélites de monitoramento terrestre gerida pela agência espacial.

Além disso, passar as responsabilidades a outra instituição sem atribuir o orçamento correspondente é um jeito sutil de encerrar o programa de monitoramento do clima.

BACKUP

Se isso faz você ficar preocupado com o futuro das pesquisas, imagine os climatologistas nos EUA.

De acordo com o jornal “Washington Post”, eles estão se organizando para criar repositórios independentes dos dados colhidos, com medo que eles sumam das bases de dados governamentais durante o governo Trump.

Ainda que a grita possa evitar esse descaramento, a interrupção das pesquisas pode ter o mesmo efeito.

“Acho que é bem mais provável que eles tentem cortar a coleção de dados, o que minimizaria seu valor”, diz Andrew Dessler, professor de ciências atmosféricas da Universidade Texas A&M. “Ter dados contínuos é crucial para entender as tendências de longo prazo.”

E O QUE SOBRA?

Tirando a mudança climática, a Nasa deve ter algum suporte para dar continuidade a seus planos de longo prazo durante o governo Trump -talvez com alguma mudança.

De certo, há apenas a restituição do Conselho Espacial Nacional, criado durante o governo George Bush (o pai) e desativado desde 1993.

Reunindo as principais autoridades pertinentes, ele tem por objetivo coordenar as ações entre diferentes braços do governo e, com isso, dar uma direção estratégica mais clara e eficiente aos executores das atividades espaciais.

Isso poderia significar uma ameaça ao SLS (novo foguete de alta capacidade da Nasa) e à Orion (cápsula para viagem a espaço profundo), que devem fazer seu primeiro voo teste, não tripulado, em 2018.

Contudo, o apoio a esses programas no Congresso é amplo e bipartidário, de forma que dificilmente Trump conseguirá cancelá-los.

O que ele pode é redirecionar sua função. Em vez de se tornarem as primeiras peças para a “jornada a Marte”, que Barack Obama defendia para a década de 2030, eles seriam integrados num programa de exploração da Lua.

(Tradicionalmente, no Congresso americano, a Lua é um objetivo republicano, e Marte, um objetivo democrata. Não pergunte por quê.)

Trump deve ainda dar maior ênfase às iniciativas de parcerias comerciais para a exploração espacial. Em dezembro, Elon Musk, diretor da empresa SpaceX e franco apoiador da campanha de Hillary Clinton, passou a fazer parte de um grupo de consultores de Trump para a indústria de alta tecnologia.

Áreas afetadas

NASA

Assessores de Trump querem tirar da agência a função de estudar a Terra em favor da exploração espacial

Nasa Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr
Imagem feita pela Nasa
Imagem feita pela Nasa

PROTEÇÃO?

Scott Pruitt, indicado para Agência de Proteção do Ambiente, já processou o órgão por limitações impostas à indústria petrolífera. A agência pode perder força e deixar certas regulações a cargo dos Estados

Spencer Platt-7.dez.2016/Getty Images/AFP
Scott Pruitt chega a Trump Tower, em 7 de dezembro, para encontro com Donald Trump
Scott Pruitt chega a Trump Tower, em 7 de dezembro, para encontro com Donald Trump

PETRÓLEO

Rex Tillerson, executivo da petroleira ExxonMobil, foi indicado para o posto de secretário de Estado, o que dá mais sinais de que o governo Trump não deve se esforçar para promover fontes de energia limpa

Daniel Kramer – 21.abr.2015/Reuters
Rex Tillerson, CEO da ExxonMobil
Rex Tillerson, CEO da ExxonMobil
Anúncios

Aumento do nível do mar ameaça inundar estação da Nasa (O Globo)

05/04/2016, por O Globo

Lançamento de foguete em Cano Canaveral: centro tecnológico é vulnerável a aumento do nível do mar– John Raoux/AP/18-11-2013

RIO — Um dos maiores e mais sofisticados centros de tecnologia do mundo, a base de lançamento de foguetes da Nasa em Cabo Canaveral, na Flórida, corre risco de ser inundada. O aumento do nível do mar, em consequência das mudanças climáticas, ameaça a infraestrutura da agência espacial ao longo da costa de 115 km. Os riscos já levaram a agência espacial americana a estudar a remoção das instalações.

Em todo o país, cerca de dois terços das instalações da Nasa estão em regiões de altitude inferior a 4,8 metros, e a maior parte se localiza em zonas costeiras, onde as agitadas correntes oceânicas já contribuem para a erosão dos equipamentos.

— Estamos tremendamente ligados à água — alerta Kim Toufectis, estrategista da agência espacial americana.

De acordo com um estudo publicado semana passada na revista “Nature”, o aquecimento global pode aumentar o nível do mar entre 1,5 metro e 1,8 metro até o fim do século. Um grupo de trabalho da Nasa estima que o aumento do nível do mar de 12 centímetros para mais de 60 centímetros até 2050 pode levar a problemas em cinco estações costeiras da agência:

“Os centros da Nasa que já estão sob risco de inundação devem se tornar mais vulneráveis no futuro”, previa o grupo em um relatório em 2014.

Com a ameaça do clima, a Nasa tem como alternativa a instalação de barreiras e outras estruturas que contenham o aumento do nível do mar e os efeitos de tempestades e inundações. Em locais onde a adaptação não for possível, uma alternativa será o “recuo estratégico” — uma medida bem mais cara, na casa dos bilhões de dólares.

Além de exigir muito dinheiro, a remoção das instalações envolve a construção de edifícios, traslado de equipamentos e deslocamento de equipes, e por isso ainda deve demorar.

Nasa aims to move Earth (The Guardian)

Scientists’ answer to global warming: nudge the planet farther from Sun

Special report: global warming

, science editor

Sunday 10 June 2001 Last modified on Friday 1 January 2016 


Scientists have found an unusual way to prevent our planet overheating: move it to a cooler spot.

All you have to do is hurtle a few comets at Earth, and its orbit will be altered. Our world will then be sent spinning into a safer, colder part of the solar system.

This startling idea of improving our interplanetary neighbourhood is the brainchild of a group of Nasa engineers and American astronomers who say their plan could add another six billion years to the useful lifetime of our planet – effectively doubling its working life.

‘The technology is not at all far-fetched,’ said Dr Greg Laughlin, of the Nasa Ames Research Center in California. ‘It involves the same techniques that people now suggest could be used to deflect asteroids or comets heading towards Earth. We don’t need raw power to move Earth, we just require delicacy of planning and manoeuvring.’

The plan put forward by Dr Laughlin, and his colleagues Don Korycansky and Fred Adams, involves carefully directing a comet or asteroid so that it sweeps close past our planet and transfers some of its gravitational energy to Earth.

‘Earth’s orbital speed would increase as a result and we would move to a higher orbit away from the Sun,’ Laughlin said.

Engineers would then direct their comet so that it passed close to Jupiter or Saturn, where the reverse process would occur. It would pick up energy from one of these giant planets. Later its orbit would bring it back to Earth, and the process would be repeated.

In the short term, the plan provides an ideal solution to global warming, although the team was actually concerned with a more drastic danger. The sun is destined to heat up in about a billion years and so ‘seriously compromise’ our biosphere – by frying us.

Hence the group’s decision to try to save Earth. ‘All you have to do is strap a chemical rocket to an asteroid or comet and fire it at just the right time,’ added Laughlin. ‘It is basic rocket science.’

The plan has one or two worrying aspects, however. For a start, space engineers would have to be very careful about how they directed their asteroid or comet towards Earth. The slightest miscalculation in orbit could fire it straight at Earth – with devastating consequences.

There is also the vexed question of the Moon. As the current issue of Scientific American points out, if Earth was pushed out of its current position it is ‘most likely the Moon would be stripped away from Earth,’ it states, radically upsetting out planet’s climate.

These criticisms are accepted by the scientists. ‘Our investigation has shown just how delicately Earth is poised within the solar system,’ Laughlin admitted. ‘Nevertheless, our work has practical implications. Our calculations show that to get Earth to a safer, distant orbit, it would have to pass through unstable zones and would need careful nurturing and nudging. Any alien astronomers observing our solar system would know that something odd had occurred, and would realise an intelligent lifeform was responsible.

‘And the same goes for us. When we look at other solar systems, and detect planets around other suns – which we are now beginning to do – we may see that planet-moving has occurred. It will give us our first evidence of the handiwork of extraterrestrial beings.’

Excitement grows as NASA carbon sleuth begins Year Two (Science Daily)

Date:
October 29, 2015
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
Scientists busy poring over more than a year of data from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) mission are seeing patterns emerge as they seek answers to the science questions that drive the mission.

Global average carbon dioxide concentrations as seen by NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 mission, June 1-15, 2015. OCO-2 measures carbon dioxide from the top of Earth’s atmosphere to its surface. Higher carbon dioxide concentrations are in red, with lower concentrations in yellows and greens. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Scientists busy poring over more than a year of data from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) mission are seeing patterns emerge as they seek answers to the science questions that drive the mission.

Launched in July 2014, OCO-2, an experimental carbon-dioxide measurement mission, is designed to give the international science community a new view of the global carbon cycle in unprecedented detail. During its two-year primary mission, the satellite observatory is tracking the large-scale movement of carbon between Earth’s atmosphere, its plants and soil, and the ocean, from season to season and from year to year. OCO-2 began routine science operations in September 2014.

“We can already clearly see patterns of seasonal change and variations in carbon dioxide around the globe,” said Annmarie Eldering, OCO-2 deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Far more subtle features are expected to emerge over time.”

A new animation depicting the first full year of OCO-2 science operations is available at:

Armed with a full annual cycle of data, OCO-2 scientists are now beginning to study the net sources of carbon dioxide as well as their “sinks” — places in the Earth system that store carbon, such as the ocean and plants on land. This information will help scientists better understand the natural processes currently absorbing more than half the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere by human activities. This is a key to understanding how Earth’s climate may change in the future as greenhouse gas concentrations increase.

The first year of data from the mission reveals a portrait of a dynamic, living planet. Between mid-May and mid-July 2015, OCO-2 saw a dramatic reduction in the abundance of atmospheric carbon dioxide across the northern hemisphere, as plants on land sprang to life and began rapidly absorbing carbon dioxide from the air to form new leaves, stems and roots. During this intense, two-month period, known as the “spring drawdown,” OCO-2 measurements show the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide over much of the northern hemisphere decreased by two to three percent. That’s 8 to 12 parts per million out of the global average background concentration of 400 parts per million.

“That’s a big but expected change,” said Eldering. “This is the first time we’ve ever had the opportunity to observe the spring drawdown across the entire northern hemisphere with this kind of spatial resolution, seeing changes from week to week.”

Also as expected, OCO-2 data show increased concentrations of carbon dioxide associated with human activities. Higher carbon dioxide levels of several parts per million are seen in regions where fossil fuels are being consumed by large power plants or megacities. Enhanced levels are also seen in the Amazon, Central Africa and Indonesia, where forests are being cleared and burned to create fields for agricultural use.

Researchers Abhishek Chatterjee of the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland; and Michelle Gierach and Dave Schimel of JPL are investigating a strong correlation observed between atmospheric carbon dioxide over the Pacific Ocean and the current El Nino. Fluctuations in carbon dioxide appear to be strongly linked with warmer sea surface temperatures. OCO-2’s unprecedented density of measurements is giving researchers a unique data set to understand and separate the roles that sea surface temperatures, winds, regional emissions and other variables may be playing in the carbon dioxide concentrations.

“We believe 2016 will see breakthrough OCO-2 research results, as scientists work to unravel the mysteries of finding carbon dioxide sources and natural sinks,” said Eldering.

Through most of OCO-2’s first year in space, the mission team was busy calibrating its science instrument, learning how to process its massive amount of data, and delivering data products to NASA’s Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center (GES-DISC) in Greenbelt, Maryland, for distribution to the world’s science community.

Scientists are comparing OCO-2 data to ground-based measurements to validate the satellite data and tie it to internationally accepted standards for accuracy and precision.

Routine delivery of OCO-2 data — calibrated spectra of reflected sunlight that reveal the fingerprints of carbon dioxide — began in late 2014, while estimates of carbon dioxide derived from cloud-free OCO-2 observations have been delivered since March 2015. Recently, the OCO-2 team reprocessed the OCO-2 data set to incorporate improvements in instrument calibration and correct other known issues with the original data release.

Every day, OCO-2 orbits Earth 14.5 times and collects and returns about a million measurements. After eliminating data contaminated by clouds, aerosols and steep terrain, between 10 to 13 percent of the measurements are of sufficient quality to derive accurate estimates of the average carbon dioxide concentration between Earth’s surface and space. That’s at least 100 times more carbon dioxide measurements than from all other sources of precise carbon dioxide data combined.

NASA uses the vantage point of space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world to gain new insights into how our planet is changing.

For more information on OCO-2, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/oco-2

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/earth

A Major Surge in Atmospheric Warming Is Probably Coming in the Next Five Years (Motherboard)

Written by NAFEEZ AHMED

March 2, 2015 // 08:25 PM CET

Forget the so-called ‘pause’ in global warming—new research says we might be in for an era of deeply accelerated heating.

While the rate of atmospheric warming in recent years has, indeed, slowed due to various natural weather cycles—hence the skeptics’ droning on about “pauses”—global warming, as a whole, has not stopped. Far from it. It’s actually sped up, dramatically, as excess heat has absorbed into the oceans. We’ve only begun to realize the extent of this phenomenon in recent years, after scientists developed new technologies capable of measuring ocean temperatures with a depth and precision that was previously lacking.

In 2011, a paper in Geophysical Research Letters tallied up the total warming data from land, air, ice, and the oceans. In 2012, the lead author of that study, oceanographer John Church, updated his research. What Church found was shocking: in recent decades, climate change has been adding on average around 125 trillion Joules of heat energy to the oceans per second.

How to convey this extraordinary fact? His team came up with an analogy: it was roughly the same amount of energy that would be released by the detonation of two atomic bombs the size dropped on Hiroshima. In other words, these scientists found that anthropogenic climate is warming the oceans at a rate equivalent to around two Hiroshima bombs per second. But as new data came in, the situation has looked worse: over the last 17 years, the rate of warming has doubled to about four bombs per second. In 2013, the rate of warming tripled to become equivalent to 12 Hiroshima bombs every second.

So not only is warming intensifying, it is also accelerating. By burning fossil fuels, humans are effectively detonating 378 million atomic bombs in the oceans each year—this, along with the ocean’s over-absorption of carbon dioxide, has fuelled ocean acidification, and now threatens the entire marine food chain as well as animals who feed on marine species. Like, er, many humans.

According to a new paper from a crack team of climate scientists, a key reason that the oceans are absorbing all this heat in recent decades so well (thus masking the extent of global warming by allowing atmospheric average temperatures to heat more slowly), is due to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), an El Nino-like weather pattern that can last anywhere between 15-30 years.

In its previous positive phase, which ran from around 1977 to 1998, the PDO meant the oceans would absorb less heat, thus operating as an accelerator on atmospheric temperatures. Since 1998, the PDO has been in a largely negative phase, during which the oceans absorb more heat from the atmosphere.

Such decadal ocean cycles have broken down recently, and become more sporadic. The last, mostly negative phase, was punctuated by a brief positive phase that lasted 3 years between 2002 and 2005. The authors of the new study, Penn State climatologist Michael Mann, University of Minnesota geologist Byron Steinman, and Penn State meteorologist Sonya Miller, point out that the PDO, as well as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), have thus played a major role in temporarily dampening atmospheric warming.

“In other words, the ‘slowdown’ is fleeting and will likely soon disappear.”

So what has happened? During this period, Mann and his team show, there has been increased “heat burial” in the Pacific ocean, that is, a greater absorption of all that heat equivalent to hundreds of millions of Hiroshimas. For some, this has created the false impression, solely from looking at global average surface air temperatures, of a ‘pause’ in warming. But as Mann said, the combination of the AMO and PDO “likely offset anthropogenic warming over the past decade.”

Therefore, the “pause” doesn’t really exist, and instead is an artifact of the limitations of our different measuring instruments.

“The ‘false pause’ is explained in part by cooling in the Pacific ocean over the past one-to-two decades,” Mann told me, “but that is likely to reverse soon: in other words, the ‘slowdown’ is fleeting and will likely soon disappear.”

The disappearance of the ‘slowdown’ will, in tangible terms, mean that the oceans will absorb less atmospheric heat. While all the accumulated ocean heat “is certainly not going to pop back out,” NASA’s chief climate scientist Dr. Gavin Schmidt told me, it is likely to mean that less atmospheric heat will end up being absorbed. “Ocean cycles can modulate the uptake of anthropogenic heat, as some have speculated for the last decade or so, but… net flux is still going to be going into the ocean.”

According to Mann and his team, at some point, this will manifest as an acceleration in the rise of global average surface air temperatures. In their Science study, they observe: “Given the pattern of past historical variation, this trend will likely reverse with internal variability, instead adding to anthropogenic warming in the coming decades.”

So at some point in the near future, the PDO will switch from its current negative phase back to positive, reducing the capacity of the oceans to accumulate heat from the atmosphere. That positive phase of the PDO will therefore see a rapid rise in global surface air temperatures, as the oceans’ capacity to absorb all those Hiroshima bomb equivalents declines—and leaves it to accumulate in our skies. In other words, after years of slower-than-expected warming, we may suddenly feel the heat.

So when will that happen? No one knows for sure, but at the end of last year, signs emerged that the phase shift to a positive PDO could be happening right now.

In the five months before November 2014, measures of surface temperature differences in the Pacific shifted to positive, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This is the longest such positive shift detected in about 12 years. Although too soon to determine for sure whether this is, indeed, the beginning of the PDO’s switch to a new positive phase, this interpretation is consistent with current temperature variations, which during a positive PDO phase should be relatively warm in the tropical Pacific and relatively cool in regions north of about 20 degrees latitude.

In January 2015, further signs emerged that the PDO is right now in transition to a new warm phase. “Global warming is about the get a boost,” ventured meteorologist Eric Holthaus. Recent data including California’s intensifying drought and sightings of tropical fish off the Alaskan coast “are further evidence of unusual ocean warming,” suggesting that a PDO transition “may already be underway a new warm phase.”

While it’s still not clear whether the PDO is really shifting into a new phase just yet, when it does, it won’t be good. Scientists from the UK Met Office’s Hadley Center led by Dr. Chris Roberts of the Oceans and Cryosphere Group estimate in a new paper in Nature that there is an 85 percent chance the faux ‘pause’ will end in the next five years, followed by a burst of warming likely to consist of a decade or so of warm ocean oscillations.

Roberts and his team found that a “slow down” period is usually (60 percent of the time) followed by rapid warming at twice the background rate for at least five years, and potentially longer. And mostly, this warming would be concentrated in the Arctic, a region where temperatures are already higher than the global average, and which is widely recognized to be a barometer of the health of the global climate due to how Arctic changes dramatically alter trends elsewhere. Recent extreme weather events around the world have been attributed to the melting Arctic ice sheets and the impact on ocean circulations and jet streams.

What this means, if the UK Met Office is right, is that we probably have five years (likely less) before we witness a supercharged surge of rapid global warming that could last a decade, further destabilizing the climate system in deeply unpredictable ways.

NASA, NOAA find 2014 warmest year in modern record (Science Daily)

Date: January 16, 2015

Source: NASA

Summary: The year 2014 ranks as Earth’s warmest since 1880, according to two separate analyses by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists. The 10 warmest years in the instrumental record, with the exception of 1998, have now occurred since 2000. This trend continues a long-term warming of the planet, according to an analysis of surface temperature measurements.

This color-coded map displays global temperature anomaly data from 2014. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

The year 2014 ranks as Earth’s warmest since 1880, according to two separate analyses by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists.

The 10 warmest years in the instrumental record, with the exception of 1998, have now occurred since 2000. This trend continues a long-term warming of the planet, according to an analysis of surface temperature measurements by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) in New York.

In an independent analysis of the raw data, also released Friday, NOAA scientists also found 2014 to be the warmest on record.

“NASA is at the forefront of the scientific investigation of the dynamics of the Earth’s climate on a global scale,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The observed long-term warming trend and the ranking of 2014 as the warmest year on record reinforces the importance for NASA to study Earth as a complete system, and particularly to understand the role and impacts of human activity.”

Since 1880, Earth’s average surface temperature has warmed by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius), a trend that is largely driven by the increase in carbon dioxide and other human emissions into the planet’s atmosphere. The majority of that warming has occurred in the past three decades.

“This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of warm decades. While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt.

While 2014 temperatures continue the planet’s long-term warming trend, scientists still expect to see year-to-year fluctuations in average global temperature caused by phenomena such as El Niño or La Niña. These phenomena warm or cool the tropical Pacific and are thought to have played a role in the flattening of the long-term warming trend over the past 15 years. However, 2014’s record warmth occurred during an El Niño-neutral year.

“NOAA provides decision makers with timely and trusted science-based information about our changing world,” said Richard Spinrad, NOAA chief scientist. “As we monitor changes in our climate, demand for the environmental intelligence NOAA provides is only growing. It’s critical that we continue to work with our partners, like NASA, to observe these changes and to provide the information communities need to build resiliency.”

Regional differences in temperature are more strongly affected by weather dynamics than the global mean. For example, in the U.S. in 2014, parts of the Midwest and East Coast were unusually cool, while Alaska and three western states — California, Arizona and Nevada — experienced their warmest year on record, according to NOAA.

The GISS analysis incorporates surface temperature measurements from 6,300 weather stations, ship- and buoy-based observations of sea surface temperatures, and temperature measurements from Antarctic research stations. This raw data is analyzed using an algorithm that takes into account the varied spacing of temperature stations around the globe and urban heating effects that could skew the calculation. The result is an estimate of the global average temperature difference from a baseline period of 1951 to 1980.

NOAA scientists used much of the same raw temperature data, but a different baseline period. They also employ their own methods to estimate global temperatures.

GISS is a NASA laboratory managed by the Earth Sciences Division of the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland. The laboratory is affiliated with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Science in New York.

NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites, as well as airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

The data set of 2014 surface temperature measurements is available at:

http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/

The methodology used to make the temperature calculation is available at:

http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/sources_v3/

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/earthrightnow

NASA Bombshell: Global Groundwater Crisis Threatens Our Food Supplies And Our Security (Climate Progress)

POSTED ON OCTOBER 31, 2014 AT 1:22 PM

Sustained droughtSustained drought in California is depleting aquifers (click to enlarge).

An alarming satellite-based analysis from NASA finds that the world is depleting groundwater — the water stored unground in soil and aquifers — at an unprecedented rate.

A new Nature Climate Change piece, “The global groundwater crisis,” by James Famiglietti, a leading hydrologist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, warns that “most of the major aquifers in the world’s arid and semi-arid zones, that is, in the dry parts of the world that rely most heavily on groundwater, are experiencing rapid rates of groundwater depletion.”

The groundwater at some of the world’s largest aquifers — in the U.S. High Plains, California’s Central Valley, China, India, and elsewhere — is being pumped out “at far greater rates than it can be naturally replenished.”

The most worrisome fact: “nearly all of these underlie the word’s great agricultural regions and are primarily responsible for their high productivity.”

And this is doubly concerning in our age of unrestricted carbon pollution because it is precisely these semiarid regions that are projected to see drops in precipitation and/or soil moisture, which will sharply boost the chances of civilization-threatening megadroughts and Dust-Bowlification.

As these increasingly drought-prone global bread-baskets lose their easily accessible ground-water too, we end up with a death spiral: “Moreover, because the natural human response to drought is to pump more groundwater continued groundwater depletion will very likely accelerate mid-latitude drying, a problem that will be exacerbated by significant population growth in the same regions.”

So this is very much a crisis, albeit an under-reported one. But why is NASA the one sounding the alarm? How has the space agency been able to study what happens underground? The answer is that NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission can track the earth’s mass over space and time — and large changes in the amount of water stored underground cause an observable change in mass.

Here is California’s groundwater depletion over the last three years as observed by GRACE:

NASA GRACE

NASA: “The ongoing California drought is evident in these maps of dry season (Sept–Nov) total water storage anomalies (in millimeter equivalent water height; anomalies with respect to 2005–2010). California’s Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins have lost roughly 15 km3 of total water per year since 2011 — more water than all 38 million Californians use for domestic and municipal supplies annually — over half of which is due to groundwater pumping in the Central Valley.”

Certainly, the combined threat of mega-drought and groundwater depletion in the U.S. breadbaskets should be cause for concern and action by itself.

But we should also worry about what is happening around the globe, if for no other reason than it inevitably affects our security. As I wrote last year, “Warming-Fueled Drought Helped Spark Syria’s Civil War.”

Dr. Famiglietti explains the risk:

Further declines in groundwater availability may well trigger more civil uprising and international violent conflict in the already water-stressed regions of the world, and new conflict in others. From North Africa to the Middle East to South Asia, regions where it is already common to drill over 2 km [kilometers] to reach groundwater, it is highly likely that disappearing groundwater could act as a flashpoint for conflict.

Outside of this country, NASA has observed aquifer declines in “the North China Plain, Australia’s Canning Basin, the Northwest Sahara Aquifer System, the Guarani Aquifer in South America … and the aquifers beneath northwestern India and the Middle East.”

GroundwaterDepletion

Water storage declines (mm equivalent water height) in several of the world’s major aquifers.

Famiglietti says that groundwater “acts as the key strategic reserve in times of drought, in particular during prolonged events,” such as we’re seeing in the West, Brazil, and Australia:

Like money in the bank, groundwater sustains societies through the lean times of little incoming rain and snow. Hence, without a sustainable groundwater reserve, global water security is at far greater risk than is currently recognized.

Yes, we can stave off bankruptcy a little longer despite our unsustainable lifestyle by taking money from our children’s bank accounts. As we reported last year, we’re taking $7.3 trillion a year in natural capital — arable land, potable water, livable climate, and so on — from our children without paying for it. In short, humanity has constructed the grandest of Ponzi schemes, whereby current generations have figured out how to live off the wealth of future generations.

Nasa-funded study warns of ‘collapse of civilisation’ in coming decades (Independent)

‘Business as usual’ approach of economic elite will lead society to disaster, scientists warn

ADAM WITHNALL

Sunday 16 March 2014

Modern civilisation is heading for collapse within a matter of decades because of growing economic instability and pressure on the planet’s resources, according to a scientific study funded by Nasa.

Using theoretical models to predict what will happen to the industrialised world over the course of the next century or so, mathematicians found that even with conservative estimates things started to go very badly, very quickly.

Referring to the past collapses of often very sophisticated civilisations – the Roman, Han and Gupta Empires for example – the study noted that the elite of society have often pushed for a “business as usual” approach to warnings of disaster until it is too late.

In the report based on his “Human And Nature Dynamical” (Handy) model, the applied mathematician Safa Motesharri wrote: “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history”.

His research, carried out with the help of a team of natural and social scientists and with funding from Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center, has been accepted for publication in the Ecological Economics journal, the Guardian reported.

Motesharri explored the factors which could lead to the collapse of civilisation, from population growth to climate change, and found that when these converge they can cause society to break down because of the “stretching of resources” and “the economic stratification of society into ‘Elites’ and ‘Masses’”.

Using his Handy model to assess a scenario closely resembling the current state of the world, Motesharri found that civilisation “appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among the Masses that eventually causes the collapse of society”.

The report stressed, however, that the worst-case scenario of collapse is not inevitable, and called on action now from the so-called real world “Elites” to restore economic balance.

“Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion,” the scientists said.

This is not the first time scientists have tried to warn us of potentially impending global disaster. Last year it emerged that Stephen Hawking and a team of Britain’s finest minds are drawing up a “doomsday list” of the catastrophic low-risk (but high-impact) events that could devastate the world.

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 / Aura satellite

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2: Data to lead scientists forward into the past

Date: July 20, 2014

Source: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Summary: NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, which launched on July 2, will soon be providing about 100,000 high-quality measurements each day of carbon dioxide concentrations from around the globe. Atmospheric scientists are excited about that. But to understand the processes that control the amount of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, they need to know more than just where carbon dioxide is now. They need to know where it has been. It takes more than great data to figure that out.

Scientists will use measurements from the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 to track atmospheric carbon dioxide to sources such as these wildfires in Siberia, whose smoke plumes quickly carry the greenhouse gas worldwide. The fires were imaged on May 18 by NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer instrument on the Terra satellite. Credit: NASA/LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response 

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, which launched on July 2, will soon be providing about 100,000 high-quality measurements each day of carbon dioxide concentrations from around the globe. Atmospheric scientists are excited about that. But to understand the processes that control the amount of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, they need to know more than just where carbon dioxide is now. They need to know where it has been. It takes more than great data to figure that out.

“In a sense, you’re trying to go backward in time and space,” said David Baker, a scientist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. “You’re reversing the flow of the winds to determine when and where the input of carbon at the Earth’s surface had to be to give you the measurements you see now.”

Harry Potter used a magical time turner to travel to the past. Atmospheric scientists use a type of computer model called a chemical transport model. It combines the atmospheric processes found in a climate model with additional information on important chemical compounds, including their reactions, their sources on Earth’s surface and the processes that remove them from the air, known as sinks.

Baker used the example of a forest fire to explain how a chemical transport model works. “Where the fire is, at that point in time, you get a pulse of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the burning carbon in wood. The model’s winds blow it along, and mixing processes dilute it through the atmosphere. It gradually gets mixed into a wider and wider plume that eventually gets blown around the world.”

Some models can be run backward in time — from a point in the plume back to the fire, in other words — to search for the sources of airborne carbon dioxide. The reactions and processes that must be modeled are so complex that researchers often cycle their chemical transport models backward and forward through the same time period dozens of times, adjusting the model as each set of results reveals new clues. “You basically start crawling toward a solution,” Baker said. “You may not be crawling straight toward the best answer, but you course-correct along the way.”

Lesley Ott, a climate modeler at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, noted that simulating carbon dioxide’s atmospheric transport correctly is a prerequisite for improving the way global climate models simulate the carbon cycle and how it will change with our changing climate. “If you get the transport piece right, then you can understand the piece about sources and sinks,” she said. “More and better-quality data from OCO-2 are going to create better characterization of global carbon.”

Baker noted that the volume of data provided by OCO-2 will improve knowledge of carbon processes on a finer scale than is currently possible. “With all that coverage, we’ll be able to resolve what’s going on at the regional scale,” Baker said, referring to areas the size of Texas or France. “That will help us understand better how the forests and oceans take up carbon. There are various competing processes, and right now we’re not sure which ones are most important.”

Ott pointed out that improving the way global climate models represent carbon dioxide provides benefits far beyond the scientific research community. “Trying to figure out what national and international responses to climate change should be is really hard,” she said. “Politicians need answers quickly. Right now we have to trust a very small number of carbon dioxide observations. We’re going to have a lot better coverage because so much more data is coming, and we may be able to see in better detail features of the carbon cycle that were missed before.” Taking those OCO-2 data backward in time may be the next step forward on the road to understanding and adapting to climate change.

To learn more about the OCO-2 mission, visit these websites:

NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities in 2014, visit:http://www.nasa.gov/earthrightnow

OCO-2 is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

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A 10-year endeavor: NASA’s Aura and climate change

Date: July 18, 2014

Source: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Summary: Celebrating its 10th anniversary this week, NASA’s Aura satellite and its four onboard instruments measure some of the climate agents in the atmosphere, including greenhouse gases, clouds and dust particles. These global datasets provide clues that help scientists understand how Earth’s climate has varied and how it will continue to change.

NASA’s 10-year-old Aura satellite, which studies Earth’s atmosphere, continues to help scientists understand Earth’s changing climate. Credit: NASA

Nitrogen and oxygen make up nearly 99 percent of Earth’s atmosphere. The remaining one percent comprises gases that — although present in small concentrations — can have a big impact on life on Earth. Trace gases called greenhouse gases warm the surface, making it habitable for humans, plants and animals. But these greenhouse gases, as well as clouds and tiny particles called aerosols in the atmosphere, also play vital roles in Earth’s complex climate system.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this week, NASA’s Aura satellite and its four onboard instruments measure some of the climate agents in the atmosphere, including greenhouse gases, clouds and dust particles. These global datasets provide clues that help scientists understand how Earth’s climate has varied and how it will continue to change.

Measuring Greenhouse Gases

When the sun shines on Earth, some of the light reaches and warms the surface. The surface then radiates this heat back outward, and greenhouse gases stop some of the heat from escaping to space, keeping the surface warm. Greenhouse gases are necessary to keep Earth at a habitable temperature, but since the Industrial Revolution, greenhouse gases have increased substantially, causing an increase in temperature. Aura provides measurements of greenhouse gases such as ozone and water vapor, helping scientists understand the gases that influence climate.

People, plants and animals live in the lowest layer of the atmosphere, called the troposphere. In this layer, the temperature decreases with altitude, as mountain climbers experience. The temperature starts to increase again at the tropopause, about 8 miles (12.9 kilometers) above the surface at temperate latitudes, like those of the United States and Europe. Closer to the equator, the tropopause is about 11 miles (17.7 kilometers) from the surface.

In the middle and upper troposphere, ozone acts as a greenhouse gas, trapping heat in Earth’s atmosphere. Tropospheric ozone is one of the most important human-influenced greenhouse gases.

Aura’s Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer (TES) instrument, built and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, delivers global maps showing annual averages of the heat absorbed by ozone, in particular in the mid troposphere. Using these maps and computer models, researchers learned that ozone trapped different amounts of heat in Earth’s atmosphere depending on its geographic location. For instance, ozone appeared to be a more effective greenhouse gas over hotter regions like the tropics and cloud-free regions like the Middle East.

“If you want to understand climate change, you need to monitor the greenhouse gases and how they change over time,” said Bryan Duncan, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Along with ozone, Aura measures other important greenhouse gases such as methane, carbon dioxide and water vapor.

Improving Climate Models

In addition to greenhouse gases, Aura measures several other constituents relevant to climate — smoke, dust and clouds including the ice particles within the clouds — that are important for testing and improving climate models.

“If you don’t have any data, then you don’t know if the models are right or not,” said Anne Douglass, Aura project scientist at Goddard. “The models can only be as good as your knowledge.”

The way clouds affect Earth’s climate depends on their altitude and latitude. Two of Aura’s instruments have provided information about tropical clouds. Like greenhouse gases, high, thin clouds in the tropics absorb some of Earth’s outgoing heat and warm the surface. Aura’s High Resolution Dynamics Limb Sounder (HIRDLS) instrument provided global maps showing cirrus clouds in the upper altitudes in the tropics. Researchers have used these data along with data records from previous satellites going back to 1985 to show that the tropical cirrus cloud distribution has been steady, giving scientists information about the interplay among water vapor, ice and the life cycle of these clouds.

Aura’s Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) instrument, also built and managed by JPL, made the first global measurements of cloud ice content in the upper troposphere, providing new data input for climate models. MLS showed cloud ice is often present over warm oceans. Along with satellite rainfall data, MLS shows that dirty, polluted clouds rain less than clean clouds. The novel relationships obtained from HIRDLS and MLS connect ocean temperatures with clouds and ice and quantify effects of pollution on tropical rainfall — which are important assessments for climate models.

Aerosols influence climate, but their influence is challenging to decipher because they play several different roles. Aerosols reflect radiation from the sun back into space; this tends to cool Earth’s surface. Aerosols such as dust and smoke also absorb radiation and heat the atmosphere where they are concentrated. Aura’s Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) is especially good at observing these absorbing aerosols above clouds and bright deserts. Both OMI and TES also provide data on gases, such as sulfur dioxide and ammonia, which are primary ingredients for other types of less-absorbing aerosols. Aura data, in conjunction with other satellite data, are helping scientists understand how aerosols interact with incoming sunlight in Earth’s atmosphere; this, in turn, helps scientists improve long-term predictions in climate models.

Learning from Long Data Sets

Researchers investigated how natural phenomena such as El Niño affect tropospheric ozone concentrations — a study made possible by Aura’s extensive data set.

El Niño is an irregularly occurring phenomenon associated with warm ocean currents near the Pacific coast of South America that changes the pattern of tropical rainfall. The occasional appearance of areas of warmer temperatures in the Pacific Ocean shifts the stormiest area from the west to the east; the region of upward motion — a hallmark of low ozone concentrations over the ocean — moves along with it.

Without a decade-long data record, researchers would not be able to conduct such a study. Using the extensive data set, researchers are able to separate the response of ozone concentrations to the changes in human activity, such as biomass burning, from its response to natural forcing such as El Niño.

“Studies like these that investigate how the composition of the troposphere responds to a natural variation are important for understanding how the Earth system will respond to other forcing, potentially including changes in climate,” said Douglass. “The Earth system is complex, and Aura’s breadth and the length of the composition data record help us to understand this important part of the system.”

For more information on Aura, visit: http://aura.gsfc.nasa.gov/

For more on TES, visit: http://tes.jpl.nasa.gov/

For more on MLS, visit: http://mls.jpl.nasa.gov/index-eos-mls.php

NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities in 2014, visit:http://www.nasa.gov/earthrightnow

*   *   *

Ten-year endeavor: NASA’s Aura tracks pollutants

Date: July 18, 2014

Source: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Summary: NASA’s Aura satellite, celebrating its 10th anniversary on July 15, has provided vital data about the cause, concentrations and impact of major air pollutants. With instruments providing key measurements of various gases — including two built and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory: the Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer (TES) and Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) — Aura gives a comprehensive view of one of the most important parts of Earth — the atmosphere.

The maps show the Antarctic ozone hole on September 16 in 2006 and 2011, the two years with the lowest ozone concentrations ever measured. They were made with data from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument on Aura. Credit: NASA’s Earth Observatory

NASA’s Aura satellite, celebrating its 10th anniversary on July 15, has provided vital data about the cause, concentrations and impact of major air pollutants. With instruments providing key measurements of various gases — including two built and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory: the Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer (TES) and Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) — Aura gives a comprehensive view of one of the most important parts of Earth — the atmosphere.

Aura has improved our understanding of ozone, a versatile gas that both benefits and harms the atmosphere, depending on its location. Near the ground, ozone is a pollutant that damages plants and can decrease lung function in humans. Somewhat higher in the atmosphere, ozone affects climate as a greenhouse gas. Aura’s TES instrument provides measurements of ozone and other greenhouse gases.

The majority of ozone, about 90 percent, is even higher — in the stratosphere, 12 to 90 miles above the surface — where it shields us from the sun’s ultraviolet light and makes life possible on Earth. Over the Antarctic, cold temperatures and human-produced chlorine gases destroy ozone each spring. Scientists use Aura’s Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) instrument to measure ozone and other trace gases in and around the ozone hole every year. In 2006 and 2011, Aura’s instruments revealed two of the largest and deepest ozone holes in the past decade, and also helped scientists understand the different causes of the two large holes.

Shortly after Aura’s launch, the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) began monitoring levels of another major pollutant — nitrogen dioxide. This brownish gas can lead to respiratory problems and is an ingredient in ground-level ozone pollution. OMI data show that nitrogen dioxide levels in the United States decreased 4 percent per year from 2005 to 2010, a time when stricter policies on power plant and vehicle emissions came into effect. As a result, concentrations of ground-level ozone also decreased. During the same period, global nitrogen dioxide levels increased a little over half a percent per year. China’s level increased about 6 percent per year.

OMI also measures sulfur dioxide, a gas that combines with other chemicals in clouds to produce acid rain or reacts to form sulfate aerosols, which affect health and climate. OMI has identified large concentrations of sulfur dioxide around power plants and volcanoes.

Aura’s decade of work has set the stage for future air quality monitoring instruments. The European Space Agency will be launching the follow-up TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument, which will continue Aura’s OMI measurements with better ground resolution and precision. NASA plans to launch the Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution (TEMPO) instrument, which will observe ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, formaldehyde and aerosols over the United States, Canada and Mexico.

“Pollution is a global issue because it can travel long distances in the wind,” said Anne Douglass, Aura project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “By using satellites, we can develop a valuable global inventory of pollutants and understand how air quality may be changing.”

For more on Aura’s 10-year contribution to atmospheric chemistry research, visit:

For more on TES, visit: http://tes.jpl.nasa.gov/

For more on MLS, visit: http://mls.jpl.nasa.gov/index-eos-mls.php

NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities in 2014, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/earthrightnow

 

NASA launches carbon mission to watch Earth breathe (Science Daily)

Date: July 2, 2014

Source: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Summary: NASA successfully launched its first spacecraft dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide on July 1, 2014. OCO-2 soon will begin a minimum two-year mission to locate Earth’s sources of and storage places for atmospheric carbon dioxide, the leading human-produced greenhouse gas responsible for warming our world, and a critical component of the planet’s carbon cycle.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, NASA’s first mission dedicated to studying carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere, lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, at 2:56 a.m. Pacific Time, July 2, 2014. The two-year mission will help scientists unravel key mysteries about carbon dioxide.

Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA successfully launched its first spacecraft dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide at 2:56 a.m. PDT (5:56 a.m. EDT) Tuesday (July 1, 2014).

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) raced skyward from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket. Approximately 56 minutes after the launch, the observatory separated from the rocket’s second stage into an initial 429-mile (690-kilometer) orbit. The spacecraft then performed a series of activation procedures, established communications with ground controllers and unfurled its twin sets of solar arrays. Initial telemetry shows the spacecraft is in excellent condition.

OCO-2 soon will begin a minimum two-year mission to locate Earth’s sources of and storage places for atmospheric carbon dioxide, the leading human-produced greenhouse gas responsible for warming our world, and a critical component of the planet’s carbon cycle.

“Climate change is the challenge of our generation,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “With OCO-2 and our existing fleet of satellites, NASA is uniquely qualified to take on the challenge of documenting and understanding these changes, predicting the ramifications, and sharing information about these changes for the benefit of society.”

OCO-2 will take NASA’s studies of carbon dioxide and the global carbon cycle to new heights. The mission will produce the most detailed picture to date of natural sources of carbon dioxide, as well as their “sinks” — places on Earth’s surface where carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere. The observatory will study how these sources and sinks are distributed around the globe and how they change over time.

“This challenging mission is both timely and important,” said Michael Freilich, director of the Earth Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “OCO-2 will produce exquisitely precise measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations near Earth’s surface, laying the foundation for informed policy decisions on how to adapt to and reduce future climate change.”

Carbon dioxide sinks are at the heart of a longstanding scientific puzzle that has made it difficult for scientists to accurately predict how carbon dioxide levels will change in the future and how those changing concentrations will affect Earth’s climate.

“Scientists currently don’t know exactly where and how Earth’s oceans and plants have absorbed more than half the carbon dioxide that human activities have emitted into our atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial era,” said David Crisp, OCO-2 science team leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Because of this, we cannot predict precisely how these processes will operate in the future as climate changes. For society to better manage carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere, we need to be able to measure the natural source and sink processes.”

Precise measurements of the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide are needed because background levels vary by less than two percent on regional to continental scales. Typical changes can be as small as one-third of one percent. OCO-2 measurements are designed to measure these small changes clearly.

During the next 10 days, the spacecraft will go through a checkout process and then begin three weeks of maneuvers that will place it in its final 438-mile (705-kilometer), near-polar operational orbit at the head of the international Afternoon Constellation, or “A-Train,” of Earth-observing satellites. The A-Train, the first multi-satellite, formation flying “super observatory” to record the health of Earth’s atmosphere and surface environment, collects an unprecedented quantity of nearly simultaneous climate and weather measurements.

OCO-2 science operations will begin about 45 days after launch. Scientists expect to begin archiving calibrated mission data in about six months and plan to release their first initial estimates of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations in early 2015.

The observatory will uniformly sample the atmosphere above Earth’s land and waters, collecting more than 100,000 precise individual measurements of carbon dioxide over Earth’s entire sunlit hemisphere every day. Scientists will use these data in computer models to generate maps of carbon dioxide emission and uptake at Earth’s surface on scales comparable in size to the state of Colorado. These regional-scale maps will provide new tools for locating and identifying carbon dioxide sources and sinks.

OCO-2 also will measure a phenomenon called solar-induced fluorescence, an indicator of plant growth and health. As plants photosynthesize and take up carbon dioxide, they fluoresce and give off a tiny amount of light that is invisible to the naked eye. Because more photosynthesis translates into more fluorescence, fluorescence data from OCO-2 will help shed new light on the uptake of carbon dioxide by plants

OCO-2 is a NASA Earth System Science Pathfinder Program mission managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Virginia, built the spacecraft bus and provides mission operations under JPL’s leadership. The science instrument was built by JPL, based on the instrument design co-developed for the original OCO mission by Hamilton Sundstrand in Pomona, California. NASA’s Launch Services Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is responsible for launch management. JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

For more information about OCO-2, visit: http://oco.jpl.nasa.gov

OCO-2 is the second of five NASA Earth science missions scheduled to launch into space this year, the most new Earth-observing mission launches in one year in more than a decade. NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities in 2014, visit:http://www.nasa.gov/earthrightnow

Follow OCO-2 on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/IamOCO2

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion LaboratoryNote: Materials may be edited for content and length.