Vladimir Putin on Climate Change

We need to take into consideration all the bombs Loree McBride is dropping! That is a LOT OF POLLUTION. I do think we need to be concerned, first and foremost, with Loree McBride’s space fleet dropping bombs filled with deadly germs on the population. THAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER OF OUR TIMES.

CHECK OUT THE FEEDS OF ONE SKEPTIC SCIENTIST & NASA WHO REGULARLY PUBLISH REPORTS ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE TOWARDS THE BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE.

I am uncertain how I feel about the claim made by scientists that emissions cause global warming. But I certainly feel that if we can make less pollution that is always a good thing, even if the pollution does not cause global warming. I also know that Jesuits have in the past put contaminants in gasoline to deliberately pollute the air to make their enemies sick. Our most urgent environmental hazard are Jesuits who willingly and knowingly pollute as a form of biological/chemical warfare! So, for this reason, I appreciate leaders who care about the environment, because they will probably have my passion to STOP LOREE MCBRIDE’S BOMBS! Trump seems to not care about this AT ALL.

Putin says climate change not caused by emissions: https://phys.org/news/2017-03-putin-climate-emissions.html

AND https://www.france24.com/en/20170331-russian-president-vladimir-putin-says-humans-not-responsible-climate-change

CHRISTIAN SCIENTIST WHO BELIEVES IN CLIMATE  CHANGE: http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/healthscience/2015/July/Christians-Who-Believe-in-Climate-Change


CLIMATE SCIENTIST JUDITH CURRY’S FEED ON THE SUBJECT:

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  • Climate Change: What’s the Worst Case?
    by Judith Curry My new manuscript is now available. A link to my new paper ‘Climate Change: What’s the Worst Case?’ is provided here [worst case paper final (1)] A few words on the intended audience and motivation for writing … Continue reading →
  • Re-evaluating the manufacture of the climate consensus
    by Judith Curry A new book by Oppenheimer, Oreskes et al. entitled ‘Discerning Experts: The Practices of Scientific Assessment for Environmental Policy‘ makes a case against consensus seeking in climate science assessments. I have long railed against the consensus-seeking process … Continue reading →
  • The latest travesty in ‘consensus enforcement’
    The latest travesty in consensus ‘enforcement’, published by Nature. There is a new paper published in Nature, entitled Discrepancies in scientific authority and media visibility of climate change scientists and contrarians. . Abstract. We juxtapose 386 prominent contrarians with 386 … Continue reading →
  • Week in review – science edition
    by Judith Curry A few things that caught my eye this past week. ‘modern climate sensitivity is relatively low in the context of the geological record, as a result of relatively weak feedbacks due to a relatively low CO2 baseline, … Continue reading →
  • Climate Change and Land: discussion thread
    by Judith Curry Discussion thread on the new IPCC Report on Climate Change and Land. The complete Report can be downloaded here [link]. I’m working on digesting all this, here are some articles that I’ve flagged on my twitter feed. … Continue reading →
  • Child prophets and proselytizers of climate catastrophe
    by Andy West The role of children in the culture of climate catastrophism 1.Serious scenarios for children: reality or culture? 1.1 Frightening our children: When do we find it acceptable to institutionally frighten children? While our first thought is perhaps … Continue reading →
  • Week in review – science edition
    by Judith Curry A few things that caught my eye this past week. Variability in decadal global temperature increases strongly with climate sensitivity [link] 1200 year reconstruction of temperature extremes in the northeastern Mediterannean region [link] Extreme heat years have … Continue reading →
  • Geothermal ocean warming discussion thread
    by Judith Curry “The atmosphere bias of climate science makes it impossible for them to see geological forces and therefore, impossible for them to understand the earth’s climate.” – Thongchai When conducting the literature survey for my report on sea … Continue reading →
  • Week in review – science edition
    by Judith Curry A few things that caught my eye this past week. Reviews of Geophysics:  Observing and modeling ice sheet surface mass balance [link] Effects of variability in the Atlantic Ocean circulation [link] “Global and Regional Increase of Precipitation … Continue reading →
  • Climate scientists’ pre-traumatic stress syndrome
    by Judith Curry It’s getting worse. About 5 years ago, I wrote two blog posts on climate scientists’ pre-traumatic stress syndrome: Pre-traumatic stress syndrome: climate trauma survival trips Pre-traumatic stress syndrome: climate scientists speak out Mother Jones has a new … Continue reading →
  • Week in review – science edition
    by Judith Curry A few things that caught my eye this past week. (http://bit.ly/2NfdWba ) 2,000 years of North Atlantic climate change and considers how ocean circulation may have contributed to historical climate shifts. More from  http://bit.ly/2Lkquvx . New HadSST4.0 data set … Continue reading →
  • Truth(?) in testimony and convincing policy makers
    by Judith Curry Some reflections, stimulated by yesterday’s Congressional Hearing, on the different strategies of presenting Congressional testimony. Yesterday’s Hearing provided an ‘interesting’ contrast in approaches to presenting testimony, when comparing my testimony with Michael Mann’s. What are the purposes … Continue reading →
  • Hearing on climate change and natural disasters: Today
    by Judith Curry The House Oversight and Reform Environmental Subcommittee in a Hearing on Recovery, Resilience and Readiness – Contending with Natural Disasters in the Wake of Climate Change begins at 2 pm EDT. The announcement for the Hearing is posted … Continue reading →
  • Hearing on climate change & extreme weather
    by Judith Curry On Tuesday June 25, I will be testifying before the House Oversight and Reform Environmental Subcommittee in a Hearing on Recovery, Resilience and Readiness – Contending with Natural Disasters in the Wake of Climate Change. The announcement … Continue reading →
  • Climate science’s ‘masking bias’ problem
    by Judith Curry How valid conclusions often lay hidden within research reports, masked by plausible but unjustified conclusions reached in those reports.  And how the IPCC institutionalizes such masking errors in climate science. In the previous post, we discussed the … Continue reading →
  • Climate scientists’ motivated reasoning
    by Judith Curry Insights into the motivated reasoning of climate scientists, including my own efforts to sort out my own biases and motivated reasoning following publication of the Webster et al. (2005) paper A recent twitter thread by Moshe Hoffman … Continue reading →
  • Week in review – science edition
    by Judith Curry A few things that caught my eye this past week. Runs that reduce sea ice also result in a significant decrease in the frequency and magnitude of extreme warm and cold temperature anomalies”. Reduction in northern mid-latitude … Continue reading →
  • Extremes
    by Judith Curry Politics versus science in attributing extreme weather events to manmade global warming. If you follow me on twitter, you may have noticed that I was scheduled to testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Jun … Continue reading →
  • 2019 Atlantic hurricane forecast
    by Judith Curry and Jim Johnstone CFAN predicts an active North Atlantic hurricane season season. The Atlantic hurricane has begun.  We are off to an early start with one wimpy subtropical storm that lasted less than a day, and a … Continue reading →
  • Week in review – science edition
    by Judith Curry A few things that caught my eye this past week. QBO primer [link] Periodicity disruption of a model quasibiennial oscillation of equatorial winds https://journals.aps.org/prl/accepted/2d072Y42Lef16d5ef7d47192a2a4f7c1d27a126c5 … Influence of the QBO on MJO prediction skill in the subseasonal-to-seasonal prediction models … Continue reading →
  • Hearing on the Biodiversity Report
    by Judith Curry The House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife is holding a Hearing today on Responding to the Global Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The link to the … Continue reading →
  • Week in review – science edition
    by Judith Curry A few things that caught my eye this past week. Validation of atmospheric reanalysis data sets in the Arctic. [link] ENSO Normals: A New U.S. Climate Normals Product Conditioned by ENSO Phase and Intensity and Accounting for … Continue reading →
  • Climate’s uncertainty principle
    by Garth Paltridge On the costs and benefits of climate action. Whether we should do anything now to limit our impact on future climate boils down to an assessment of a relevant cost-benefit ratio. That is, we need to put … Continue reading →
  • Rebelling against the Extinction Rebellion
    by Larry Kummer The Extinction Rebellion and the Green New Deal arouse fears of extinction for other species, and humanity. Only the complicit silence of climate scientists makes this possible. Compare the alarmists’ claims with what scientists said in the … Continue reading →
  • Beto’s climate action plan
    by Judith Curry Beto O’Rourke’s Climate Change Plan deserves a close look. For those of you not in the U.S., Beto O’Rourke is one of the 20+ candidates vying for the Democratic Party nomination for the Presidential election in 2020. … Continue reading →
  • Week in review – science edition
    by Judith Curry A few things that caught my eye this past week. Uncertainty quantification of the multi-centennial response of the Antarctic ice sheet to climate change  https://buff.ly/2IFU26o  “India’s Depleting Groundwater: When Science Meets Policy” https://doi.org/10.1002/app5.269 Regime shift of global … Continue reading →
  • Energy Security and Grid Resilience
    by Judith Curry Diversifying and securing energy supplies nationally and locally. Since we’ve moved to Nevada and have been integrating into the local community, the most interesting thing we’ve come across is the National Security Forum of Northern Nevada (NSF). … Continue reading →
  • Week in review – science edition
    by Judith Curry A few things that caught my eye this past few weeks. Why did the trend of #Arctic #sea #ice loss accelerate after about 2000?” Meehl et al. (2018) offer an explanation. https://doi.org/10.1029/2018GL079989 … Antarctica’s iceberg graveyard could reveal … Continue reading →
  • 2019 ENSO forecast
    by Judith Curry and Jim Johnstone CFAN’s 2019 ENSO forecast is for a transition away from El Niño conditions as the summer progresses. The forecast for Sept-Oct-Nov 2019 calls for 60% probability of ENSO neutral conditions, with 40% probability of … Continue reading →
  • What’s the worst case? Climate sensitivity
    by Judith Curry Are values of equilibrium climate sensitivity > 4.5 C plausible? For background, see these previous posts on climate sensitivity [link] Here are some possibilistic arguments related to climate sensitivity.  I don’t think the ECS example is the … Continue reading →
  • Why climate predictions are so difficult
    by Judith Curry An insightful interview with Bjorn Stevens. Frank Bosse provided this Google translation of an interview published in Der Spiegel  -Print-Issue 13/2019, p. 99-101.   March 22, 2019 Excerpts provided below, with some minor editing of the translation. begin … Continue reading →
  • What’s the worst case? Emissions/concentration scenarios
    by Judith Curry Is the RCP8.5 scenario plausible? This post is Part II in the possibility series (for an explanation of the possibilistic approach, see previous post link).  This paper also follows up on a recent series of posts about … Continue reading →
  • What’s the worst case? A possibilistic approach
    by Judith Curry Are all of the ‘worst-case’ climate scenarios and outcomes described in assessment reports, journal publications and the media plausible? Are some of these outcomes impossible? On the other hand, are there unexplored worst-case scenarios that we have … Continue reading →
  • Why I don’t ‘believe’ in ‘science’
    by Judith Curry ” ‘I believe in science’ is an homage given to science by people who generally don’t understand much about it. Science is used here not to describe specific methods or theories, but to provide a badge of … Continue reading →
  • Four fronts for climate policy
    by Judith Curry “For decades, scientists and policymakers have framed the climate-policy debate in a simple way: scientists analyse long-term goals, and policymakers pretend to honour them. Those days are over. Serious climate policy must focus more on the near-term … Continue reading →
  • Week in review – science edition
    by Judith Curry A few things that caught my eye this past week. Background paper on detection and attribution in CMIP6 [link] What’s missing from Antarctic ice sheet loss predictions? [link] Vegetation and climate change in the Pro-Namib and Namib … Continue reading →
  • Climate sensitivity calculator app
    by Alberto Zaragoza Comendador How sensitive is the Earth’s climate to greenhouse gases? Speaking about carbon dioxide in particular, how much would air temperatures increase if we doubled atmospheric concentrations of said gas? This question lies at the heart of … Continue reading →
  • Week in review – science edition
    by Judith Curry A few things that caught my eye this past week. UN Report: 3-5C of Arctic warming is now locked in [link] Factcheck: is 3-5C of Arctic warming now locked in? [link] The oceanic sink for anthropogenic CO2 … Continue reading →
  • Hurricanes & climate change: 21st century projections
    by Judith Curry Final installment in my series on hurricanes and climate change. 7. 21st century projections  The effect of climate change on hurricanes has been a controversial scientific issue for the past several decades. Improvements in the capabilities of … Continue reading →
  • Week in review – science edition
    by Judith Curry A few things that caught my eye this past week. Changing available energy for extra tropical cyclones and associated convection in NH summer [link] The residence time of Southern Ocean surface waters and the 100,000-year ice age … Continue reading →
  • Solar input to high latitudes and the global ice volume
    by Donald Rapp, Ralf Ellis and Clive Best A review of the relationship between the solar input to high latitudes and the global ice volume over the past 2.7 million years. Abstract While there is ample evidence that variations in … Continue reading →
  • Hurricanes & climate change: recent U.S. landfalling hurricanes
    by Judith Curry An assessment of whether any of the impacts of recent  U.S. landfalling hurricanes were exacerbated by global warming. 6. Attribution: Recent U.S. landfalling hurricanes During the past decade, the following continental U.S. landfalling hurricanes rank in the … Continue reading →
  • Critique of the new Santer et al. (2019) paper
    by Ross McKitrick Ben Santer et al. have a new paper out in Nature Climate Change arguing that with 40 years of satellite data available they can detect the anthropogenic influence in the mid-troposphere at a 5-sigma level of confidence. … Continue reading →
  • Hurricanes & climate change: landfalls
    by Judith Curry Part III: is there any signal of global warming in landfalling hurricanes and their impacts? 5. Landfalling hurricanes  Total basin and global hurricane statistics are most easily related to global and regional climate variability and change. However, … Continue reading →
  • Week in review – science edition
    by Judith Curry A few things that caught my eye the past 4(!) weeks. A hidden province of volcanoes in West Antarctica may accelerate sea level rise [link] The Dominant Role of Extreme Precipitation Events in Antarctic Snowfall Variability  buff.ly/2U3stFU … Continue reading →
  • Hurricanes and Climate Change: Attribution
    by Judith Curry Part II:  what causes variations and changes in hurricane activity? 4. Detection and attribution of changes in hurricane activity  If oceans are getting warmer as a result of climate change, so the argument goes, surely hurricane activity … Continue reading →
  • Hurricanes & climate change: detection
    by Judith Curry I am preparing a new Special Report on Hurricanes and Climate Change. This Report is easier than my Special Report on Sea Level and Climate Change.  Sea level and glaciers are very fast moving topics, whereas for … Continue reading →
  • Sea level rise whiplash
    by Judith Curry Some recent sea level rise publications, with implications for how we think about the worst case scenario for the 21st century. Less than 3 months ago, I published my Special Report on Sea Level and Climate Change.  … Continue reading →
  • Climate hypochondria and tribalism vs. ‘winning’
    by Judith Curry Some reactions from Wednesday’s Congressional testimony. I’m starting this post while sitting in the Phoenix airport waiting for my delayed flight home (by the time I get home, I will have been up for 24 hours today/tomorrow). … Continue reading →
  • Hearing – Climate Change: The Impacts and the Need to Act
    by Judith Curry The House Natural Resources Committee Hearing on Climate Change will be livestreamed on their Facebook page. Here is the link to the Hearing page [link], I have no idea if they will post the other written testimonies. … Continue reading →

NASA GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE NEWS

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  • NASA's AIRS Maps Carbon Monoxide from Brazil Fires
    New data from NASA's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument, aboard the Aqua satellite, shows the movement high in the atmosphere of carbon monoxide associated with fires in the Amazon region of Brazil. This time series maps carbon monoxide at an altitude of 18,000 feet (5,500 meters) from Aug. 8-22, 2019. As the series progresses, the carbon monoxide plume grows in the northwest Amazon region then drifts in a more concentrated plume toward the southeastern part of the country. Each "day" in the series is made by averaging three days' worth of measurements, a technique used to eliminate data gaps. Green indicates concentrations of carbon monoxide at approximately 100 parts per billion by volume (ppbv); yellow, at about 120 ppbv; and dark red, at about 160 ppbv. Local values can be significantly higher. A pollutant that can travel large distances, carbon monoxide can persist in the atmosphere for about a month. At the high altitude mapped in these images, the gas has little effect on the air we breathe; however, strong winds can carry it downward to where it can significantly impact air quality. Carbon monoxide plays a role in both air pollution and climate change. AIRS, in conjunction with the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU), senses emitted infrared and microwave radiation from Earth to provide a three-dimensional look at Earth's weather and climate. With more than 2,000 channels sensing different regions of the atmosphere, the instruments create a global, three-dimensional map of atmospheric temperature and humidity, cloud amounts and heights, greenhouse gas concentrations and many other atmospheric phenomena. The AIRS and AMSU instruments are managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, under contract to NASA. JPL is a division of Caltech. More information about AIRS can be found at: https://airs.jpl.nasa.gov News Media Contact Esprit Smith Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. 818-354-4269 esprit.smith@jpl.nasa.gov
  • Boreal Forest Fires Could Release Deep Soil Carbon
    Increasingly frequent and severe forest fires could burn generations-old carbon stored in the soils of boreal forests, according to results from the Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) funded by NASA’s Earth Science Division. Releasing this previously buried carbon into the atmosphere could change these forests’ balance of carbon gain and loss, potentially accelerating warming. As Arctic summers get warmer and drier, boreal forest fires are becoming more intense, meaning they burn deeper into the soil. Researcher Xanthe Walker and her team investigated whether the 2014 fires in Canada’s Northwest Territories burned deep enough to release older carbon that is normally stored and protected in the soil. Credit: NASA / Jefferson Beck Canada’s Northwest Territories were scorched by record-breaking wildfires in 2014. The team of researchers from the United States and Canada took soil samples from more than 200 locations in the region. They found that for old forests (more than 70 years old) and forests in wet locations, a thick layer of organic matter in the soil protected the oldest carbon, called “legacy carbon,” that was not burned in previous cycles of burn and regrowth. However, in younger, drier forests, the shallower soil organic matter layer allowed fires to reach the legacy carbon, releasing it into the atmosphere. As Earth’s northern regions grow warmer and drier due to climate change, fire seasons are getting longer and fires are becoming more severe. Boreal forests have long been thought to absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than they release into it, making them carbon “sinks.” But if bigger and more frequent fires start burning legacy carbon, these forests could start releasing more carbon than they store. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, so releasing more of it into the atmosphere could affect the balance of the global carbon cycle and contribute to climate change. Boreal forests are located in the northernmost regions of North America, Europe and Canada, and contain spruce, fir, pine, larch, aspen and birch trees. These forests store 30 percent to 40 percent of all land-based carbon in the world, and most of that carbon is found in the soils. Soil-based carbon includes soil microbes; plant material made up of dead leaves, branches and stems; and both living and dead roots, as well as burned material from previous fires. During intense fires, the organic material that contains the soil carbon can burn along with trees and plants. Older carbon deeper in the soil does not always burn in a fire, but can stay protected in the soil. The researchers called this “legacy carbon.” After observing the intensity of the 2014 fires, the team wondered if these pools of legacy carbon were at risk. “Carbon accumulates in these soils like tree rings, with the newest carbon at the surface and the oldest carbon at the bottom,” said senior author Michelle Mack, a professor at Northern Arizona University’s Center for Ecosystem Science and Society. “We thought we could use this layering to see how far back in time, in the history of the forest, fires were burning.” The team measured the age of the trees, how deep in the soil the fire burned, how moist the sampled area was, and the depth of the topmost soil organic layer, composed of plant and animal matter. They also used radiocarbon dating of the soils to determine if the legacy carbon pools burned in the fire. The team found that wetter forests and those less than 60 years old were more likely to contain legacy carbon than older, drier forests. But the ones most likely to lose that legacy carbon were the young forests in drier areas. These forests were less likely to have accumulated enough organic matter to protect the older carbon between previous fires and the 2014 fire. Almost half of the plots under 60 years old lost legacy carbon, while just one older plot did. In total, about 12 percent of the forests that burned in the 2014 fires met the criteria for being vulnerable to legacy carbon loss. The researchers estimate that these forests released about 8.8 million tons of carbon as they burned, compared to the nearly 104 million tons released by all the fires. The team said their results show that in order to understand the effects of future fires on Canada’s boreal forests and the global carbon cycle, researchers must account for legacy carbon loss. “By defining and analyzing ‘legacy carbon,’ this paper offers a new way to think about long-sequestered carbon stocks in boreal forests and how vulnerable they are to being burned during increasingly frequent and severe wildfires,” said Brendan Rogers, a scientist at Woods Hole Research Center who co-authored the Nature study. “This tool helps us understand when burning goes ‘outside the norm’ from a historical perspective and begins to combust carbon stocks that survived past fires.” If wildfires do become more frequent, they could increase the number of young forests vulnerable to burning and legacy carbon loss, they added. The research team sampled more than 200 plots in the forests of Canada’s Northwest Territories to see whether “legacy” carbon left over from previous fire cycles was threatened by the intense 2014 fires. They found that forests less than 60 years old and located in drier climates had a higher risk of losing legacy carbon in the fires than older, wetter forests. Credit: NASA / Xanthe Walker, Center for Ecosystem Science and Society at Northern Arizona University “In older stands that burn, legacy carbon is protected by thick organic soils,” said Xanthe Walker, lead author and postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society at Northern Arizona University. “But in younger stands that burn, the soil does not have time to re-accumulate after the previous fire, making legacy carbon vulnerable to burning. This pattern could shift boreal forests into a new domain of carbon cycling, where they become a carbon source instead of a sink.” NASA’s ABoVE campaign supports research using remote sensing, airborne measurements and field investigations to understand climate change’s impacts on Alaska and northern Canada. The Arctic is changing faster than anywhere else on Earth, and ABoVE studies track shifting coastlines, changing plant growth patterns and greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost and boreal forest fires. To learn more about the Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment, visit https://above.nasa.gov/.
  • GRACE-FO Shows the Weight of Midwestern Floods
    if (typeof captions == 'undefined'){ var captions = []; } captions.push("North America was almost entirely above its long-term average in mass in May 2019, due to Midwestern flooding, with the runoff raising the Great Lakes to record levels. › Full image and caption") captions.push("Almost all of Greenland continued to lose mass in May 2019 as the ice sheet continues to melt. › Full image and caption") captions.push("The long-term record of Greenland's mass, as observed by GRACE and now GRACE-FO, shows the island's continuous ice loss. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech › Larger view") captions.push("Illustration of the twin GRACE-FO spacecraft orbiting Earth. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech › Full image and caption") $(document).ready(function(){ var type = "news"; var slider = new MasterSlider(); // adds Arrows navigation control to the slider. slider.control('bullets', {autohide: false}); slider.control('arrows'); homepage_slider_options = { width: $(window).width(), // slider standard width height: 400, // slider standard height layout: "autofill", space:5, fullwidth: true, autoHeight: false, //will expand to height of image autoplay: false, speed: 20, loop: true, instantStartLayers: true //disable to allow for layer transitions }; slider.setup('masterslider_7811' , homepage_slider_options); if (type == "news"){ slider.api.addEventListener(MSSliderEvent.CHANGE_START , function(){ $('.slider_caption').html(captions[slider.api.index()]); }); } }); In May 2019, after the wettest 12 months ever recorded in the Mississippi River Basin, the region was bearing the weight of 8 to 12 inches (200 to 300 millimeters) more water than average. New data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission, which launched in May 2018, showed that there was an increase in water storage in the river basin, extending east around the Great Lakes. Data from the twin GRACE-FO spacecraft are used to measure the change in the mass of water across the planet, providing scientists, decision makers and resource managers with an accurate measure of how much water is retained - not only on Earth's surface, but also in the soil layer and below ground in aquifers. Monitoring these changes provides a unique perspective of Earth's climate and has far-reaching benefits for humankind, such as understanding both the possibility and the consequences of floods and droughts. GRACE-FO data will soon be incorporated into the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor maps, an important tool for tracking drought across the United States. Agricultural drought depends not only on rainfall, but also on the quantity and extent of underground water available to plant roots and irrigation. GRACE-FO's estimates of subsurface water are critical to crop and water management. function fullHeightWidthIframe(){ var $full = $('.earth_now_module_container.full'); if($full.length > 0){ var h = window.innerHeight var w = window.innerWidth $full.find('iframe').css({'height': h, 'width': w, 'min-width': '', 'max-width': ''}) $('body').css('overflow','hidden') } else { $('.earth_now_module_container iframe').css({'height': "", 'width': '1px', 'max-width': '100%', 'min-width': '100%'}) $('body').css('overflow','') } } function toggleFullscreenMessage(){ console.log("Toggling fullscreen", $('.earth_now_module_container').length) $('.earth_now_module_container').toggleClass('full') setTimeout(function(){ fullHeightWidthIframe() }, 300) } function receiveMessage(event){ console.log("received message", event) if(event.data == "toggle_fullscreen"){ toggleFullscreenMessage() } } window.addEventListener("message", receiveMessage, false) $(window).resize(function(){ setTimeout(function(){ fullHeightWidthIframe() }, 300) }) Real-time visualization of the twin GRACE-FO satellites. Click and drag to interact with the models. For more datasets, explore Earth Now › The mission also measures mass changes in the thick ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica. The May 2019 GRACE-FO map of Greenland shows that most of the island continued its long-term trend of ice mass loss. GRACE-FO data from June 2018 through early 2019 (see black-and-white graph) indicate a recent slowdown in Greenland ice loss that has also been observed in data from NASA's Oceans Melting Greenland airborne campaign. This slowdown has been attributed to cooler ocean waters around Greenland for the last few years. The GRACE-FO science team is now looking at June 2019 data to assess how the unusually warm weather and rapid ice loss this summer will affect that trend. Greenland's significant ice melt in June and July this year was similar to the strong melting that occurred in the summer of 2012 and led to significant ice loss. GRACE-FO launched about a year after the predecessor GRACE mission ceased operations following 15 years in space. "The Earth's climate system has been doing interesting things since we last had observations from the original GRACE mission," said Felix Landerer, the GRACE-FO deputy project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "The new GRACE-FO data provide us with crucial information about the changes that are occurring around us. We're excited to be able to make this high-quality data set available to the scientific community." GRACE-FO is a partnership between NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ). The twin GRACE-FO spacecraft are operated from the German Space Operations Center in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, under a GFZ contract with the German Aerospace Center (DLR). JPL manages the mission for NASA's Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages JPL for NASA. For more information about GRACE-FO, see: https://www.nasa.gov/gracefo https://gracefo.jpl.nasa.gov/
  • NASA Studies How Arctic Wildfires Change the World
    Wildfires in the Arctic often burn far away from populated areas, but their impacts are felt around the globe. From field and laboratory work to airborne campaigns and satellites, NASA is studying why boreal forest and tundra fires have become more frequent and powerful and what that means for climate forecasting, ecosystems and human health. Wildfires in the Arctic often burn far away from population centers, but their impacts are felt around the globe. From field and laboratory work to airborne campaigns and satellites, NASA is studying how climate change is contributing to more frequent and powerful boreal forest and Arctic fires and what that means for climate forecasting, ecosystems and human health. Credit: NASA/ Katie Jepson. This video can be downloaded at NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio. “Fires are a natural part of the ecosystem, but what we’re seeing is an accelerated fire cycle: we are getting more frequent and severe fires and larger burned areas,” said Liz Hoy, a boreal fire researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Hoy works with NASA’s Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE), a comprehensive field campaign that probes the resilience of Arctic and boreal ecosystems and societies to environmental change. Arctic wildfires differ from mid-latitude fires, such as those in California and Idaho. For one, fires in the lower 48 are often set by humans and are put out as fast as possible, since they are a risk to life and property. In the boreal forest and tundra, wildfires are mostly ignited by lightning strikes and are usually left to burn unless they threaten important infrastructures or human settlements. As a result, they often grow large and consume hundreds of thousands of acres of vegetation. Also unlike lower-latitude wildfires, most of the carbon emissions from Arctic fires come from burned organic soil rather than burned trees and shrubs. “Arctic and boreal regions have very thick soils with a lot of organic material – because the soil is frozen or otherwise temperature-limited as well as nutrient-poor, its contents don’t decompose much,” Hoy said. The thick, carbon-rich top soil layer of boreal forests and tundra acts as insulation for the permafrost, the perpetually frozen layer of ground underneath the surface organic mat. “When you burn the soil on top it’s as if you had a cooler and you opened the lid: the permafrost underneath thaws and you’re allowing the soil to decompose and decay, so you’re releasing even more carbon into the atmosphere,” Hoy said. Researchers dig out and measure a block of soil in Saskatchewan, Canada, during a field expedition for NASA’s ABoVE campaign. Soils in the Arctic and boreal regions have very thick organic mats that release large quantities of carbon to the atmosphere when a wildfire burns them. Credit: Sander Veraverbeke A recent ABoVE study found that a single fire season in Canada emitted so much carbon into the atmosphere that it offset half of all the carbon removed from the atmosphere through annual tree growth across all of Canada’s vast forests. So not only are wildfires in the Arctic impacted by global warming, which is leading to warmer and drier summers that create dry, tinder-box conditions – they are also in turn contributing to more climate change. “I sometimes hear ‘there aren’t that many people up there in the Arctic, so why can’t we just let it burn, why does it matter?’” Hoy said. “But what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic – there are global connections to the changes taking place there.” Changing Landscapes The fire-driven thawing of permafrost causes land subsidence and soil collapse, creating a honeycombed landscape. In some places, new lakes form. In others, the resulting hollowed topography, known as thermokarst, dries up the landscape. “Whether the fire-disturbed area will recover or go forward toward subsidence depends on how much ground ice is underlaying in the ground,” said Go Iwahana, a permafrost researcher at University of Alaska, Fairbanks, who works with ABoVE. “Other factors at play are how severely the fire wounds the surface organic layer and the weather the burned area experiences after the fire.” Beyond altering landscapes that had been unperturbed for thousands of years, the disappearance of permafrost also means the irreparable loss of a historic record. “As with ice cores in Antarctica and Greenland, we look at changes in water isotopes, gas content, and the ice structure of permafrost to understand what happened in the past,” Iwahana said. “Modelers and fire specialists are predicting an increased number of boreal and tundra fires in the future – this will enhance the thawing of permafrost, and so the paleoinformation contained in the permafrost will be lost.” Changes to hydrological processes, together with how fire modifies the distribution of plant species, ultimately alter local ecosystems. “After an intense fire, we can see changes in the overall vegetation composition of the land,” Hoy said. “It’s going to change the mammal species that are able to live there and how people can use the land, for example, for hunting.” Two main game species in Alaska, caribou and moose, react very differently to burned landscapes. During the first decades after a large fire, moose herds move in to the area in pursuit of the young vegetation that grows back. But caribou, whose diets are very dependent on slow-growing surface lichens that take a very long time to recover, are harmed by fires. “One of the major concerns in terms of wildlife management is that fires might restrict the range of the caribou,” said Alison York, coordinator of the Alaska Fire Science Consortium at University of Alaska. Impacts on Health Wildfires release large amounts of particulate matter, which are harmful to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems and can travel far and wide by winds. “We hear a lot about the impacts of fires on health, but all those studies come from research coming from a single, generally short fire event,” said Tatiana Loboda, a professor at University of Maryland, College Park. “In the boreal forest region, fires are very common, very large and they produce a lot of smoke. Even people who don’t live nearby are exposed for a substantial period of time year after year.” Loboda recently launched a project through ABoVE to study how exposure to particulates from forest fires is impacting the health of people in Alaska, a state that has issued over 30 air quality advisories during this year’s fire season alone. Though Loboda’s study is limited to Alaska, wildfires impact public health around the planet. “Fires happen during the warm months, when people spend a lot of time outdoors -- especially indigenous people doing subsistence activities like fishing and hunting,” said Loboda, who plans on comparing the exposure of native communities to wildfires with health outcomes. “They lack any kind of protection they would get by being indoors with the A/C on and closing their windows.” Standing dead black spruce trees in a burned area near Delta Junction, Alaska. On the right, Richard Chen, a graduate student at University of Southern California, was digging soil sampling pits throughout the burned area to sample for organic carbon content of the soil, measure the depth-to-permafrost, and to make electronic measurements of soil moisture for NASA’s ABoVE campaign. Credit: NASA/Peter Griffith For her study, Loboda will use hospitalization records from Alaska’s Department of Public Health to analyze how many people get ill during the fire season. She’ll also analyze NASA satellite data that, combined with computer models, will allow her to create a detailed record of burning at the daily scale, as well as thorough inventories of fuel types – the kind of greenery that burns combined with the intensity of the fire determines how much particulates are created. “In the last 20 years we’ve had the three largest fire seasons on record for Alaska and that’s happening at the same time that the population is growing,” Loboda said. “The more people are spread out, the more likelihood someone is going to be affected somewhere in any given year.” To learn more about ABoVE, visit: https://above.nasa.gov/
  • NASA Gauges Plant Stress in Costa Rican Drought
    NASA's ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) has imaged the stress on Costa Rican vegetation caused by a massive regional drought that led the Central American nation's government to declare a state of emergency on July 23. Parts of Costa Rica have received 75 percent less rainfall than normal in the drought, which is the result of abnormal weather patterns accompanying an El Niño that began in November 2018. The drought's effects were already visible to ECOSTRESS in February 2019, as the image shows. Launched to the International Space Station in June 2018, ECOSTRESS measures the temperature of plants as they heat up when they run out of water. A key benefit of the instrument, in addition to providing information on surface temperature and plant water use, is its ability to detect droughts as they stress plants. In Costa Rica, more intense drought conditions - shown in red colors in this image - are centered on the province of Guanacaste, part of a Central American tropical dry forest region called the Dry Corridor that is particularly sensitive to droughts. Normally very cloudy, Guanacaste had few clouds (appearing in light gray) when ECOSTRESS acquired this image. ECOSTRESS measures variations in ground temperatures to within a few tenths of a degree and is able to detect temperature changes at various times of day over areas as small as a single farm. These measurements help scientists assess how healthy plants are and how they respond to water shortages. Not only can the measurements be an indicator of future drought, they can also be used in observing heat trends, spotting wildfires and detecting volcanic activity. ECOSTRESS provides a wide range of image products for studying the land surface and recently made all these products publicly available through the NASA Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center (LPDAAC). JPL built and manages the ECOSTRESS mission for NASA's Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. ECOSTRESS is an Earth Venture Instrument mission; the program is managed by NASA's Earth System Science Pathfinder program at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. For more information on ECOSTRESS, visit: https://ecostress.jpl.nasa.gov For information on Earth science activities aboard the International Space Station, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/issearthscience News Media Contact Esprit Smith Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California 818-354-4269 Esprit.Smith@jpl.nasa.gov
  • NASA Targets Coastal Ecosystems with New Space Sensor
    NASA has selected a space-based instrument under its Earth Venture Instrument (EVI) portfolio that will make observations of coastal waters to help protect ecosystem sustainability, improve resource management, and enhance economic activity. The selected Geosynchronous Littoral Imaging and Monitoring Radiometer (GLIMR) instrument, led by principal investigator Joseph Salisbury at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, will provide unique observations of ocean biology, chemistry, and ecology in the Gulf of Mexico, portions of the southeastern United States coastline, and the Amazon River plume – where the waters of the Amazon River enter the Atlantic Ocean. “This innovative instrument from the University of New Hampshire, selected by NASA, will provide a powerful new tool for studying important ecosystems,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Its findings also will bring economic benefits to fisheries, tourism, and recreation in the coastline area.” The instrument was competitively selected from eight proposals considered under NASA's fifth EVI solicitation released in 2018, with an award of $107.9 million. This is the largest NASA contract award in the history of the University of New Hampshire. Salisbury and his team have proposed the instrument as a hosted payload, for which NASA will provide access to space. “This award boosts New Hampshire’s profile as a leader in research, academia and innovation, and makes us all immensely proud,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. “Congratulations to the entire team at UNH for winning this highly-coveted contract. I’m excited to see the technology developed through this award. It’s critical that we closely monitor the health of our oceans and assess risks for coastal communities to protect both our environment and our economy. Securing federal resources that invest in scientific research and exploration have been and will continue to be top priorities for me as the Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee tasked with funding these important programs.” Coastal ecosystems support humanity in many ways, but they are under increasing pressure from the effects of land use activities, population growth, extreme weather events, and climate change. These pressures can give rise to more frequent, expansive and harmful algal blooms, as well as create areas where dissolved oxygen is severely depleted – both of which are detrimental to tourism, fisheries, and human health. GLIMR will be integrated on a NASA-selected platform and launched in the 2026-2027 timeframe into a geosynchronous orbit where it will be able to monitor a wide area, centered on the Gulf of Mexico, for up to 15 hours a day. From this vantage point, the hyperspectral ocean color radiometer will measure the reflectance of sunlight from optically complex coastal waters in narrow wavebands. GLIMR will be able to gather many observations of a given area each day, a critical capability in studying phenomena such as the lifecycle of coastal phytoplankton blooms and oil spills in a way that would not be possible from a satellite in a low-Earth orbit. Given its unique spatial and temporal resolution, GLIMR will be highly complementary to other low-Earth orbit satellites that observe the ocean. “With GLIMR, scientists can better understand coastal regions and develop advanced predictive tools for these economically and ecologically important systems,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. “As part of NASA’s commitment to Earth Science, I am thrilled to include this instrument in our portfolio as we keep an eye on our ever-changing planet for the benefit of many.” EVI investigations are small, targeted science investigations that complement NASA's larger Earth-observing satellite missions. They provide innovative approaches for addressing Earth science research with regular windows of opportunity to accommodate new scientific priorities. The investigations are cost-capped and schedule constrained. The missions are managed by the Earth System Science Pathfinder (ESSP) program office at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, for the Earth Science Division under the Science Mission Directorate. The first two Earth Venture Instruments were launched in 2018 and are operational on the International Space Station. The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) is measuring the vertical structure of forests, canopy heights, and their changes – on a global scale – providing insights into how forests are affected by environmental change and human intervention. The ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) is measuring the temperature of plants – information that will improve understanding of how much water plants need and how they respond to stresses such as drought. NASA uses the vantage point of space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives, and safeguard our future. For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/earth Administrator Bridenstine and Senator Shaheen will visit the University of New Hampshire on Aug. 29. They will meet with the GLIMR principal investigator to celebrate and congratulate the university’s newest contribution to NASA’s mission of exploration and scientific discovery. Information about media availability will be released closer to the date of the visit. News Media Contact Felicia Chou Headquarters, Washington 202-358-0257 felicia.chou@nasa.gov
  • A Partnership Forged by Fire
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  • NASA Tracks Wildfires from Above to Aid Firefighters Below
    Every evening from late spring to early fall, two planes lift off from airports in the western United States and fly through the sunset, each headed for an active wildfire, and then another, and another. From 10,000 feet above ground, the pilots can spot the glow of a fire, and occasionally the smoke enters the cabin, burning the eyes and throat. The pilots fly a straight line over the flames, then U-turn and fly back in an adjacent but overlapping path, like they’re mowing a lawn. When fire activity is at its peak, it’s not uncommon for the crew to map 30 fires in one night. The resulting aerial view of the country’s most dangerous wildfires helps establish the edges of those fires and identify areas thick with flames, scattered fires and isolated hotspots. Frontline responders do the heavy lifting when it comes to fighting and managing wildfires, but they’re often helped by the view from higher up. Each year, a coordinated effort from the U.S. Forest Service aircraft teams and satellite teams from NASA and NOAA provide valuable information that help fire management teams on the ground make the best decisions possible. Satellite observations and data from new NASA airborne field campaigns also help us understand the role, frequency, and intensity of fires in a changing world. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center A large global constellation of satellites, operated by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), combined with a small fleet of planes operated by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) help detect and map the extent, spread and impact of forest fires. As technology has advanced, so has the value of remote sensing, the science of scanning the Earth from a distance using satellites and high-flying airplanes. The most immediate, life-or-death decisions in fighting forest fires – sending smokejumpers to a ridge, for example, or calling an evacuation order when flames leap a river – are made by firefighters and chiefs in command centers and on the fire line. Data from satellites and aircraft provide situational awareness with a strategic, big-picture view. On the left is an image of a cockpit of the National Infrared Operations Citation Bravo jet N144Z. On the right is a night vision picture of a fire. Credit: NIROPS “We use the satellites to inform decisions on where to stage assets across the country,” said Brad Quayle of the Forest Service’sGeospatial Technology and Applications Center, which plays a key role in providing remote-sensing data for active wildfire suppression. “When there’s high competition for firefighters, tankers and aircraft, decisions have to be made on how to distribute those assets.” It’s not uncommon for an Earth-observing satellite to be the first to detect a wildfire, especially in remote regions like the Alaskan wilderness. And at the height of the fire season, when there are more fires than planes to map them, data from satellites are used to estimate the fire’s evolution, capturing burned areas, the changing perimeter and potential damage, like in the case of Montana’s Howe Ridge Fire, which burned for nearly two months in Glacier National Park last summer. Global Fire Picture from Space In January 1980, two scientists, Michael Matson and Jeff Dozier, who were working at NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service building in Camp Springs, Maryland, detected tiny bright spots on a satellite image of the Persian Gulf. The image had been captured by the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) instrument on the NOAA-6 satellite, and the spots, they discovered, were campfire-sized flares caused by the burning of methane in oil wells. It marked the first time that such a small fire had been seen from space. Dozier, who would become the founding dean of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at University of California at Santa Barbara, was “intrigued by the possibilities,” and he went on to develop, within a year, a mathematical method to distinguish small fires from other sources of heat. This method would become the foundation for nearly all subsequent satellite fire-detection algorithms. What was learned from AVHRR informed the design of the first instrument with spectral bands explicitly designed to detect fires, NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS, launched on the Terra satellite in 1999, and a second MODIS instrument on Aqua in 2002. MODIS in turn informed the design of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, VIIRS, which flies on the Joint Polar Satellite System’s NOAA/NASA Suomi-NPP and NOAA-20 satellites. Each new instrument represented a major step forward in fire detection technology. “Without MODIS, we wouldn’t have the VIIRS algorithm,” said Ivan Csiszar, active fire product lead for the Joint Polar Satellite System calibration validation team. “We built on that heritage.” The instruments on polar-orbiting satellites, like Terra, Aqua, Suomi-NPP and NOAA-20, typically observe a wildfire at a given location a few times a day as they orbit the Earth from pole to pole. Meanwhile, NOAA’s GOES-16 and GOES-17 geostationary satellites, which launched in November 2016 and March 2018, respectively, provide continuous updates, though at a coarser resolution and for fixed portions of the planet. “You can’t get a global picture with an aircraft, you can’t do it from a ground station,” said Ralph Kahn, a senior research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “To get a global picture, you need satellites.” The MODIS instrument mapped fires and burn scars with an accuracy that far surpassed AVHRR. And after nearly 20 years in orbit, the optical and thermal bands on MODIS, which detect reflected and radiated energy, continue to provide daytime visible imagery and night-time information on active fires. From space, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) sensor observed expansive smoke and aerosol plumes over California’s Central Valley on Nov. 8 and coast soon after the Camp Fire began. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/Aqua/MODIS VIIRS has improved fire detection capabilities. Unlike MODIS, the VIIRS imager band has higher spatial resolution, at 375 meters per pixel, which allows it to detect smaller, lower temperature fires. VIIRS also provides nighttime fire detection capabilities through its Day-Night Band, which can measure low-intensity visible light emitted by small and fledgling fires. The first moments after a fire ignites are critical, said Everett Hinkley, National Remote Sensing Program Manager for the U.S. Forest Service. In California, for example, when intense winds combine with dry fuel conditions, the response time can mean the difference between a catastrophic fire, like the Camp Fire that consumed nearly the entire town of Paradise, and one that is quickly contained. “Those firefighters who are first responders don’t always know the precise location of the fire, how fast it’s moving or in what direction,” Hinkley said. “We’re working to try to give them real-time or near-real-time information to help them better understand the fire behavior in those early critical hours.” Responders increasingly turn to the GOES satellites for early, precise geolocation of fires in remote areas. On July 2, 2018, for example, after smoke was reported in a wooded area near Central Colorado’s Custer County, GOES East detected a hotspot there. Forecasters in Pueblo visually inspected the data and provided the exact coordinates of what would become the Adobe Fire, and crews were sent quickly to the scene. The fire detection and characterization algorithm, the latest version of NOAA's operational fire detection algorithm, is in the process of being updated and is expected to further improve early fire detection and reduce false positives. “The holy grail is that firefighters want to be able to get on a fire in the first few hours or even within the first hour so they can take action to put it out,” said Vince Ambrosia, a wildfires remote-sensing scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “So it’s critical to have regular and frequent coverage.” Remote sensing data on wildfires is accessed in many different ways. Among them, NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System, or FIRMS, uses MODIS and VIIRS data to provide updates on active fires throughout the world, including a rough location of a detected hotspot. Imagery is available within four to five hours. Smoke and Public Health Of course, where there’s fire, there’s smoke, and knowing how wildfire smoke travels through the atmosphere is important for air quality, visibility and human health. Like other particulate matter in the atmosphere, smoke from wildfires can penetrate deep into the lungs and cause a range of health problems. Satellites can give us important information on the movement and thickness of that smoke. Terra carries the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument, a sensor that uses nine fixed cameras, each viewing Earth at a different angle. MISR measures the motion and height of a fire’s smoke plume, as well as the amount of smoke particles coming from that fire, and gives some clues about the plume’s composition. For example, during the Camp Fire, MISR measurements showed a plume made of large, non-spherical particles over Paradise, California, an indication that buildings were burning. Researchers have established that building smoke leads to larger and more irregularly shaped particles than wildfires. Smoke particles from the burning of the surrounding forest, on the other hand, were smaller and mostly spherical. MISR’s measurements also showed the fire had lofted smoke nearly 2 miles into the atmosphere and carried it about 180 miles downwind, toward the Pacific Ocean. Scientists also closely monitor whether the height of the smoke has exceeded the “near surface boundary layer,” where pollution tends to concentrate. Wildfires with the most energy, such as boreal forest fires, are the most likely to produce smoke that goes above the boundary layer. At that height, “smoke can typically travel farther, stay in the atmosphere longer, and have an impact further downwind,” Kahn said. The satellites have limitations. Among them, the heat signatures the instruments detect are averaged over pixels, which makes it difficult to precisely pinpoint fire location and size. Interpreting data from satellites has additional challenges. Although thermal signals give an indication of fire intensity, smoke above the fire can diminish that signal, and smoldering fires might not radiate as much energy as flaming fires at the observed spectral bands. Up Close with Airborne ‘Heat’ Sensors That’s where the instruments on the Forest Service aircraft come in. Data from these flights contribute to the National Infrared Operations Program (NIROPS), which uses tools developed with NASA to visualize wildfire information in web mapping services, including Google Earth. NASA works closely with the Forest Service to develop new technologies for the kind of thermal sensing systems these planes carry. Each NIROPS plane is equipped with an infrared sensor that sees a six-mile swath of land below and can map 300,000 acres of terrain per hour. From an altitude of 10,000 feet, the sensor can detect a hotspot just 6 inches across, and place it within 12.5 feet on a map. The data from each pass are recorded, compressed and immediately downlinked to an FTP site, where analysts create maps that firefighters can access directly on a phone or tablet in the field. They fly at night when there’s no sun glint to compromise their measurements, the background is cooler, and the fires are less aggressive. “Every time we’re scanning, we’re ‘truthing’ that fire,” says Charles “Kaz” Kazimir, an infrared technician with NIROPS, who has flown fires with the program for 10 years. “On the ground, they may have ideas of how that fire is behaving, but when they get the image, that’s the truth. It either validates or invalidates their assumption since the last time they had intel.” The USDA Forest Service's National Infrared Operations King Air B200 plane, which holds the Phoenix scanner. Credit: NIROPS The infrared aircraft instruments fill some of the gaps in the satellite data. Field campaigns, such as the NASA-NOAA FIREX-AQ, now underway, are designed to address these issues too. But scientists are also looking to new technology. In 2003, representatives from NASA and the Forest Service formed a tactical fire remote sensing committee, which meets twice annually to discuss ways to harness new and existing remote sensing technology as it relates to wildfires. For example, a new infrared sensor is being developed that scans a swath three times wider than the existing system. That would mean fewer flight lines and less time spent over an individual fire, Hinkley said. “The takeaway really is that we are actively investigating and developing capabilities that will aid decision-makers on the ground, especially in the early phases of dynamic fires,” Hinkley said. “We’re not just resting on our laurels here. We understand that we need to better leverage new technologies to help keep people safe.” More information on the role of NASA and NOAA satellites and instruments in active fires can be found here: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2018/nasa-covers-wildfires-from-many-sources. Learn more about freely available NASA fire data and related resources: https://earthdata.nasa.gov/learn/toolkits/wildfires.
  • Flowing Antarctic Ice Mapped 10 Times More Accurately
    Far more accurate than any previous map, this new representation of glacier flows in Antarctica opens the door to an improved understanding of the vast continent and the future pace of sea level rise. To create the new map, researchers at the University of California, Irvine, and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, combined input from six different satellite missions dating from 1994 to the present. All earlier maps of glacier flow speeds have estimated the speeds largely by tracking the movement of visible features like patches of dirt on the ice surface, but these new maps rely mainly on observations that use a technique called synthetic aperture radar interferometry, which is much more sensitive to the motion of the ice itself. By combining observations from multiple satellites passing over the continent in different directions, the researchers produced a map that is not only 10 times more accurate than any previous map but also shows speeds for far more of the slow-moving ice on the continental interior than ever before. The map was published today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters and may be downloaded at the NASA Distributed Active Archive Center at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. For a full version of this story, see: https://news.uci.edu/2019/07/29/uci-jpl-glaciologists-unveil-most-precise-map-ever-of-antarctic-ice-velocity/ News Media Contact Esprit Smith Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California 818-354-4269 Esprit.Smith@jpl.nasa.gov
  • Melting Ice, Warming Ocean: Take Control in a New Simulation
    Warm the Antarctic, and southern Florida drowns. And as West Antarctica melts, its famous peninsula becomes an island. These calamities are, for now, safely contained in a web-based simulation just released to the public. You can take charge of the controls – ice melt caused by a warming ocean, snowfall, temperature, friction – and get a feel for how a warming world could diminish the frozen continent and raise sea levels over the coming century. But the newest simulation from scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory isn’t just an entertaining toy. It’s fed by real data from the powerful Ice Sheet System Model, or ISSM – the same computer model scientists use to try to predict how quickly polar ice will melt, as well as where, and when, rising seas will inundate shorelines. The sliding control features of the simulation – more or less ice melt, higher or lower snowfall – track some of the same changes researchers must grapple with as they try to project real-world effects into the future. It’s meant, in part, to give all of us a more detailed picture not only of the possible changes to come, but of just where the uncertainties lie. “There are pretty large uncertainties in specific, key parameters needed to even run an ice sheet model,” said JPL Earth scientist Nicole-Jeanne Schlegel, lead author of a recent paper that tries to better define these areas of uncertainty. At the same time, the paper attempts to show both the worst-case scenarios and less extreme but more likely outcomes – which still would have profound effects on Antarctica and distant shorelines. Both Arctic and Antarctic ice is melting in response to warming temperatures, amounting to net losses in the hundreds of gigatons per year. Along with warming, expanding ocean water, ice melt is driving sea levels higher, and the rate of rise is accelerating. But projecting these changes into the future requires a deep understanding of key variables: snowfall, ice melt caused by warming ocean waters, how easily glaciers slide along their bedrock base and the temperature of the ice itself. Modelers also must provide a range of estimates for factors that cannot be determined precisely. Whether human emissions of climate-warming, greenhouse gases will rise, fall or remain about the same is one of these big unknowns. Vulnerable Regions After multiple computer modeling runs under several scenarios – in other words, putting the model through its paces as it simulates Antarctic ice melt and resulting sea-level rise over the next century – one factor loomed large, Schlegel said. “One of the major results was that ocean forcing (warming ocean water melting ice from below) really dominates over all the others,” she said. “It causes the largest spread of uncertainty.” Knowing which factors cause the greatest uncertainty will help sharpen modeling projections. The study also revealed that under the most extreme warming scenario over the next 100 years, the Amundsen Sea sector in the western portion of the continent has the largest potential sea level contribution – 297 millimeters, or nearly a foot of global sea level rise. But oddly, under a less extreme but more scientifically likely scenario, Antarctica’s Ronne basin, in the northwest, moves into first place. Melting ice streams in this basin could cause about half a foot (161 millimeters) of sea level rise. And these are only two of the modeled contributions. Combine all the other sources of expected ice melt and ocean expansion, and scientists estimate that we could see several feet of sea level rise in the century ahead. The new study continues a critical, long-term effort of sea level scientists: narrow uncertainty and improve the accuracy of ice-melt simulations. “It ends up being a very important future endeavor for us, model-wise,” Schlegel said. “It’s very important to know how ocean temperature progresses as ice changes.”
  • Tracking Smoke from Fires to Improve Air Quality Forecasting
    NASA’s DC-8 flying laboratory took to the skies on Monday to kick off a two-month investigation into the life cycles of smoke from fires in the United States. The goal is to better understand smoke impact on weather and climate and provide information that will lead to improved air quality forecasting. NASA, NOAA and university partners are taking to the skies, and the ground, to chase smoke from fires burning across the United States. The Fire Influence on Regional to Global Environments and Air Quality (FIREX-AQ) is starting in Boise, Idaho, with a long-term of goal of improving our understanding of how smoke from fires affects air quality across North America. Credit: NASA/ Katy Mersmann. This video can be downloaded for free at NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio. A joint campaign led by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Fire Influence on Regional to Global Environments and Air Quality (FIREX-AQ) is targeting broad questions about the chemical and physical properties of fire smoke, how it is measured and how it changes from the moment of combustion to its final fate hundreds or thousands of miles downwind. All of these have implications for public health. “Ultimately, our goal is to better understand complex smoke-atmosphere interactions to improve the models for air quality forecasts, leading to increased accuracy and earlier notification, which are critical for communities downwind of fires,” said FIREX-AQ co-investigator Barry Lefer, tropospheric composition program manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “That common purpose is what brought our agencies together several years ago when we started planning for this major effort.” “We’ve pulled together an outstanding team of scientists who will be using the most sophisticated suite of instruments and models ever assembled to examine the nature of fires and smoke,” said David Fahey, director of NOAA’s Chemical Sciences Division. “Our long partnership with NASA has taken us literally around the planet and produced too many major scientific discoveries to count. I expect this will be no different.” The first phase of the campaign centers on observing smoke from wildfires in the western United States. Equipped with state-of-the-art remote sensing and in situ instruments, several aircraft based in Boise, Idaho, will work in unison to sample smoke plumes and their changing chemistry along with weather dynamics, tracking the plumes from combustion to destinations often several states away. NASA’s DC-8 flying laboratory—a long-distance-traveling scientific workhorse—will be joined by two NOAA Twin Otters. NASA’s stratosphere-reaching ER-2 aircraft will also be flying out of Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California. In mid-August, the base of operations will move to Salina, Kansas, with flights directed at smoke from agricultural fires in the U.S. southeast. There are hundreds of these fires every year and they are closely situated to population centers, but their small size relative to satellite observational capability means they often go undetected by the satellites that provide the basis for many estimates of smoke emission amounts. The aircraft observations also are critical for understanding small-scale plume dynamics and their scientific impacts. NASA’s DC-8 flying laboratory will carry the FIREX-AQ science team and a suite of state-of-the-art instrumentation to observe different components of fire smoke in varying altitudes and weather. Credit: NASA/Ken Ulbrich Smoke forecasts are based on several different forecast models that use as inputs satellite and other data, such as the amount of area burned in agricultural fires. NASA and NOAA satellites provide information, such as fuel type, fire intensity and burn scar area, along with wind, temperature and other weather variables, that feed into models that predict smoke amount, direction and speed. Smoke chemistry starts with the fuel type, whether pine forests, oak forests or sage brush. In addition to gases such as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, burning will release different types and amounts of short-lived gases called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which combine with other gases and sunlight to produce ground-level ozone—a gas that is harmful to humans and damages crops. Besides fuel type, the temperature of the burn also affects the resulting chemistry; in general, cooler, smoldering fires produce more VOCs, carbon monoxide and particulate matter, all of which are harmful to human health. Hotter, flaming fires produce less VOCs, carbon monoxide and total particulates but more black carbon—an aerosol material with negative health consequences and additional climate warming potential. “What’s burning matters, but how it’s burning matters maybe even more,” said Carsten Warneke, University of Colorado and NOAA mission scientist for FIREX-AQ. In 2016, he and his colleagues at NOAA burned different fuels at varying temperatures in the Missoula Fire Science laboratory to gain a more detailed understanding of those factors. “Now, with this campaign, we’re taking our understanding from the laboratory to smoke from large fires happening in the field where the atmospheric dynamics change greatly over time and distance. From here, we can continue our work to improve the models.” Resolving those uncertainties in fuel chemistry also plays into another focus area for the campaign: plume injection height. Plume injection heights depend on a complex interaction of fire dynamics with the surrounding weather conditions and geography. Cooler fires, which more often occur at nighttime, inject smoke low in the atmosphere, where it poses a health risk to communities downwind. Hotter fires will inject smoke into higher altitudes, where it may travel farther laterally but are more likely to stay clear of populated areas. Given the importance of their data to forecasting models, several satellites are used to retrieve plume injection heights. A few satellites with lidar instruments could be used to measure injection height directly, but these satellites do not observe the fires very frequently. Infrared instruments on other satellites are used to derive a measure of the fire’s intensity, which is in turn used to estimate injection height as well as the amount of smoke emitted, but clouds and other smoke cover often hinder detection. The aircraft are observing plume injection heights directly and will compare them to other direct measurements such as fire radiative power, smoke chemistry and atmospheric conditions at varying altitudes. This will provide a clearer understanding of plume height as a function of chemistry and other factors such as weather. “We’re growing the compendium of observations that can give us confidence that, when we estimate plume rise for the sake of smoke forecasting, we’re going to create a more accurate model that will lead to better air quality forecasts,” said NASA Langley’s Jim Crawford, FIREX-AQ NASA mission scientist. The Berry Fire burns actively and puts up a large column of smoke in the Grand Teton National Park on July 24, 2016. FIREX-AQ is investigating the materials responsible for light absorption in smoke, such as black carbon and brown carbon. Credit: NIFC Longer-term improvement of air quality forecasting is a major focus of the campaign, but FIREX-AQ will also address broader impacts of smoke on weather and climate. For example, smoke particles can act to help initiate clouds. Smoke also affects how much sunlight clouds reflect back into the atmosphere. The optical properties of the smoke particles—how much light smoke absorbs and scatters—depends on their sizes and composition and determines their climate effects. FIREX-AQ will help address one of the major uncertainties about fire emissions, namely the materials responsible for light absorption in smoke. Traditionally, all light absorption has been attributed to black carbon. NOAA research scientist Joshua Schwarz is focused on supporting these aerosol-relevant aspects of the mission. “In recent years, there has been recognition of non-black carbon, light-absorbing aerosol species such as brown carbon,” said Schwarz, who is a co-mission scientist for FIREX-AQ. “Biomass burning is a major source of brown carbon, and this is a really exciting opportunity in FIREX-AQ because we’ve got the instrumentation necessary to answer the question of fire-smoke brown carbon and how it changes in the atmosphere.” The improvements that FIREX-AQ brings to understanding the satellite retrievals of aerosol properties over North America will also improve the value of those observations over other areas of the globe. “If we can improve our understanding of fire emissions in North America, we’ll help take a big step forward on biomass burning’s net global climate impact.” For more information on FIREX-AQ, visit: https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/csd/projects/firex-aq/ To follow NASA’s fires news, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/fires/main/index.html
  • First Data from NASA's OCO-3 Mission: 'CO2, I See You'
    NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3), the agency's newest carbon dioxide-measuring mission to launch into space, has seen the light. From its perch on the International Space Station, OCO-3 captured its first glimpses of sunlight reflected by Earth's surface on June 25, 2019. Just weeks later, the OCO-3 team was able to make its first determinations of carbon dioxide and solar-induced fluorescence - the "glow" that plants emit from photosynthesis, a process that includes the capture of carbon from the atmosphere. The first image shows carbon dioxide, or CO2, over the United States during OCO-3's first few days of science data collection. These initial measurements are consistent with measurements taken by OCO-3's older sibling, OCO-2, over the same area - meaning that even though OCO-3's instrument calibration is not yet complete, it is right on track to continue its (currently still operational) predecessor's data record. OCO-3 was also able to make its first measurements of solar-induced fluorescence. The second image shows solar-induced fluorescence in western Asia. Areas with lower plant glow - indicating lower photosynthesis activity - are shown in light green; areas with higher photosynthesis activity are shown in dark green. As expected, there is significant contrast in plant activity from areas of low vegetation near the Caspian Sea to the forests and farms north and east of the Mingachevir Reservoir (near the center of the image). Preliminary solar-induced fluorescence (SIF) measurements from OCO-3 over western Asia. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech "The team is so excited to see how well OCO-3 is performing," said Project Scientist Annmarie Eldering, who is based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "These preliminary carbon dioxide and solar-induced fluorescence retrievals look fantastic and will only improve as calibration improves." OCO-3 launched to the space station on May 4. Although one of its main objectives is to continue the five-year data record started by OCO-2, it has two unique capabilities. First, OCO-3 is equipped with a new pointing mirror assembly that will allow scientists to map local variations in carbon dioxide from space more completely than can be achieved by OCO-2. Second, the space station's orbit will allow OCO-3 to see the same location on Earth at different times of day, which will allow scientists to study how carbon dioxide fluctuates throughout the day. OCO-2, not mounted on the space station, is in a near polar orbit that only allows it to see the same location at the same time of day. OCO-3's data will complement data from two other Earth-observing missions aboard the space station - ECOSTRESS, which measures temperature stress and water use by plants, and GEDI, which assesses the amount of above-ground organic plant material present particularly in forests. The combined data from all of these instruments will give scientists both an unprecedented level of detail about how plants around the globe are responding to changes in climate and a more complete understanding of the carbon cycle. The mission team expects to complete OCO-3's in-orbit checkout phase - the period where they ensure all instruments and components are working and calibrated correctly - next month. They are scheduled to release official carbon dioxide and solar-induced fluorescence data to the science community a year later; however, given the quality of the measurements that OCO-3 is already making, the data will likely be available sooner. The OCO-3 project is managed by JPL. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. News Media Contact Esprit Smith Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. 818-354-4269 esprit.smith@jpl.nasa.gov
  • Through Smoke and Fire, NASA Searches for Answers
    Follow the space agency this summer to learn how NASA investigates fires to improve lives and safeguard the future. The effects of fires linger long after they’re extinguished: They can upend ecosystems, influence climate and disrupt communities. While NASA keeps an eye on today’s fires, it also tackles the big-picture questions that help fire managers plan for the future. Credit: NASA/LK Ward NASA satellites reveal a world marked by fire: a global patchwork of flame and smoke driven by the seasons and people. Summer wildfires rage across the western United States and Canada, Australia and Europe. In early spring, agricultural fires blanket the breadbasket regions of Southeast Asia as they do throughout the dry season in central and southern Africa and Brazil. For years, NASA has used the vantage point of space, combined with airborne and ground-based field campaigns, to decipher the impact of fires—from first spark to final puff of smoldering smoke— and help other agencies protect life and property. But the effects of fires linger long after they’re extinguished: They can upend ecosystems, influence climate and disrupt communities. While NASA keeps an eye on today’s fires, it also tackles the big-picture questions that help fire managers plan for the future. This summer, NASA is embarking on several field campaigns across the world to investigate longstanding questions surrounding fire and smoke. Aircraft will fly through smoke and clouds to improve air quality, weather and climate forecasting, and investigate fire-burned forests to capture ecosystem changes that have global impact. “The Tallest Fire Towers” The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured a natural-color image of the County Fire in Northern California on the afternoon of July 1, 2018. MODIS images often provide disaster management with the initial snapshot of a fire’s location and progression. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using MODIS data from LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response and Suomi NPP VIIRS data from NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). Last year’s U.S. wildfire season was the most deadly and costly in California history. It’s become a trend: Longer, hotter dry seasons brought on by climate change combined with superabundant vegetation due to aggressive fire suppression practices over the last century have resulted in 16 of the 20 largest fires in the state’s history occurring in the last 20 years. Under these conditions, early detection is key for disaster responders to formulate strategies for managing wildfires of increasing size and severity and for carrying out evacuations. Instruments on NASA Earth-orbiting satellites often provide the initial snapshot of a fire’s location and progression. “We are, in essence, the tallest fire towers,” said Doug Morton, chief of the biospheric sciences laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Real-time transfer of those satellite data into the hands of forest managers, protected area managers and firefighters about the locations of new blazes—that’s where NASA’s initial role is critically important.” Ground and airborne observations track daytime fire activity. To track fires at night, the U.S. Forest Service uses two aircraft fitted with NASA-developed thermal sensors and onboard automated data processing systems that deliver fire detection maps via cellular signal to the incident command center (the nerve center for fire operations across responding government agencies) in a matter of a few minutes. “We’re talking about incident command getting crucial information in 5 to 20 minutes versus several hours with older technology,” said Vince Ambrosia, a wildfires remote-sensing scientist at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “Those numbers speak for themselves on the value of critical, timely information.” In addition to monitoring active fires, NASA is also working to improve fire forecasting. Anticipating a fire’s next move relies on reconciling the complex exchange between topography, vegetation and weather. One area of focus is the development of models that account for moisture content in fuel sources such as desiccated, fallen trees that are more prone to catching fire and spreading it. Another is remote detection of ladder fuels—tall grasses, bushes and tree branches that can carry flames from the ground into higher tree branches to create fast-spreading crown fires. NASA scientists are working to develop maps of ladder fuel for both active fire forecasting and fire mitigation using data from space. Second-Hand Fire Hazard: Smoke NASA’s ER-2 aircraft, based at Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California, flies above the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, California, on Dec. 7, 2017. The aircraft was equipped with instrumentation to observe and measure everything from smoke aerosols to the combustion process as fuel burns and fire temperatures. The ER-2 will also make those observations and more during this year’s Fire Influence on Regional to Global Environments and Air Quality (FIREX-AQ) campaign. Credit: NASA/Tim Williams Anyone living downwind from a wildfire knows that communities don’t have to be in the direct path of a fire to feel its effects. Smoke can travel thousands of miles, blanketing towns and cities with noxious chemicals and fine particles that cause respiratory distress and other health issues. Regular smoke forecasts for the United States using satellite data are produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service. Smoke forecasts are critical to local health managers for planning school and other closures, and for giving communities time to acquire face masks and find suitable shelter. This month, NOAA and NASA begin a major field campaign to improve its ground- and satellite-based forecasting models by taking a closer look at the smoke. The joint Fire Influence on Regional to Global Environments and Air Quality (FIREX-AQ) campaign will employ a fleet of science aircraft packed with instrumentation for analyzing smoke chemistry at varying altitudes from the point of combustion to hundreds and possibly thousands of miles downwind. The first leg of the mission, which begins in late July, will focus on wildfires in the western United States; the second, in August, will cater to agricultural fires in the U.S southeast. “Not all smoke is the same,” said Barry Lefer, tropospheric composition program manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Pine, grasses, deciduous trees, shrubs—their chemistries are different, so when they burn each of those smoke species reacts differently with the weather and atmosphere. We want to observe those interactions and how they change as they travel downwind. This will give more nuance to our models and improve forecasts.” Altering Clouds, Climate, and Weather An astronaut looked toward the horizon from the International Space Station and shot this photograph of cloud cover over the Philippine Sea on June 25, 2016. In August, the Cloud, Aerosol, and Monsoon Processes Philippines Experiment (CAMP2Ex) will convene two science aircraft and a research vessel to study how aerosols from nearby fires and other sources interact with clouds in the region of the Philippines to influence weather and climate. Credit: NASA Smoke and cloud interactions have a profound impact on weather and climate. Like other aerosols, smoke particles can act as cloud seeds; water vapor can coalesce around them to form cloud water droplets. Smoke also affects how much sunlight clouds reflect back into the atmosphere. Quantifying these mechanisms is crucial for improving global climate forecast models. Yet aerosol-cloud interactions are notoriously difficult to observe in the field, said Hal Maring, radiation sciences program manager at NASA Headquarters. “Some clouds have very short lifetimes while others have very long ones, and they’re all located in radically different parts of the skies. Getting a quantitative look at these processes is a tall order.” Another major NASA-sponsored field campaign this summer and fall, this time in the Philippines, will tackle this scientific challenge. In August NASA, the Manila Observatory and the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), in partnership with the Philippine government, will converge on the skies surrounding the country with several instrumented aircraft, along with the ocean research vessel Sally Ride, to take more than a month’s detailed account of aerosol-cloud interactions. A decade in the making, the Cloud, Aerosol, and Monsoon Processes Philippines Experiment (CAMP2Ex) mission will take measurements to help improve monitoring and long-range weather and climate forecasting. The Maritime Continent—Indonesia, Borneo, New Guinea, the Philippine Islands, the Malay Peninsula and the surrounding seas—has long been an area of scientific inquiry. Agricultural and other fires from the region, along with air pollution from cities, provide a ready supply of aerosols that influence major weather processes; besides the torrential monsoons over the Asian archipelago, the region also produces moisture that provides rainfall over the Pacific Ocean and can even influence weather in the continental United States. “The region is the perfect natural laboratory,” said NRL research meteorologist Jeff Reid, who, along with Maring, is co-leading CAMP2Ex. “The region has just the right mixture of meteorological and aerosol variability. Numerous satellite remote sensing and modeling studies have linked the presence of pollution and biomass-burning smoke to changes in cloud and storm properties, but we lack the observations of the actual mechanisms taking place. CAMP2Ex provides a much-needed crucible for satellite observing systems and model predictions to monitor and understand how atmospheric composition and weather interact.” Fueling a Carbon Imbalance In the summer of 2014, record-setting wildfires raged across the Northwest Territories, Canada. Pictured are fires as they ravaged forests along the many lakes northeast of Great Slave Lake. NASA’s Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) is studying how fires in the northern latitudes are changing ecosystems and influencing climate. Credit: NASA Carbon is a building block for all life on Earth; it’s also a key factor in climate change. Starting from the Industrial Age, the burning of carbon-containing fossil fuels for energy needs has released an excess of heat-trapping carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere. Forest fires also contribute as they release carbon dioxide. In the northern latitudes there’s another source of carbon emissions that scientists are studying, in the form of thawing soil. In 2014 the summer fires in the Northwest Territories, Canada, claimed 7 million acres of boreal forest—an area larger than Massachusetts—making it one of the most severe fire seasons in the country’s history. Those fires emitted approximately 94 tera-grams of carbon, offsetting half of all the carbon removed from the atmosphere through annual tree growth across all of Canada’s vast forests. “We expect that carbon stocks will start to recover after this loss because vegetation will regrow and take carbon out of the atmosphere, which is a good thing,” said NASA Goddard Earth scientist Peter Griffith. “But it will take 75 to 100 years to make up for that carbon loss.” Fires are essential for many forests, as they return nutrients to the soil and encourage the growth of essential tree species, such as Black Spruce in Canada’s boreal forests. But because the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, resulting in longer, warmer, drier summers, evidence suggests that more frequent, more intense fires—and the substantial carbon loss and ecosystem consequences that come with fire—are there for the long haul. NASA’s Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) is in the middle of a 10-year airborne field campaign to investigate the social and ecological impacts of the rapidly changing climate in Alaska and northwestern Canada. These include impacts to and from wildfires, changes to wildlife habitats and the thawing of permafrost: perennially frozen ground that contains ice, rocks and sand along with organic material. A warming Arctic is thawing permafrost, which allows decomposition to set it in, releasing more carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. Fires speed up that process by burning away many inches of the insulating layer of unfrozen organic soil, exposing frozen soil to the warmer air. For the last few years, ABoVE has been flying aircraft equipped with radar and lidar instrumentation to the Northwest Territories to monitor permafrost loss in burned areas. The data reveal that the ground in burned areas is sinking faster year by year as the ground thaws, Griffith said. The airborne data taken over carefully measured ground locations will help to connect those changes at sites to what NASA researchers observe across North America from landcover and ice-measuring satellites. As the scorched boreal forests recover, the once dominating conifers—tree species that retain their leaves year-round—are being replaced by deciduous trees, which can have follow-on ecosystem effects that scientists are still trying to understand. “It’s clear that birds and animals, as well as people who live in or around these forests and who depend on wildlife for food, will have to adapt,” Griffith said. “The climate changes and other environmental changes that are impacting northern ecosystems and the people who live there are happening because of decisions that are being made far, far away. We are all truly connected.”
  • A Drier Future Sets the Stage for More Wildfires
    This article is part of a series that explores NASA research into Earth's fresh water and surveys how those advances help people solve real world problems. Learn more. November 8, 2018 was a dry day in Butte County, California. The state was in its sixth consecutive year of drought, and the county had not had a rainfall event producing more than a half inch of rain for seven months. The dry summer had parched the spring vegetation, and the strong northeasterly winds of autumn were gusting at 35 miles per hour (56 kilometers per hour) and rising, creating red flag conditions: Any planned or unplanned fires could quickly get out of control. Sure enough, just before daybreak, strong winds whipped a stray spark from a power line into an inferno. The Camp Fire became the most destructive fire in California’s history, scorching approximately 240 square miles (622 square kilometers), destroying nearly 14,000 buildings, causing billions of dollars in damage and killing 88 people. Later the same day, the Woolsey Fire broke out in Los Angeles County, burning 150 square miles (about 390 square kilometers) and killing three. Droughts can create ideal conditions for wildfires. Lack of rain and low humidity dry out trees and vegetation, providing fuel. In these conditions, a spark from lightning, electrical failures, human error or planned fires can quickly get out of control. Global climate change is predicted to change precipitation and evaporation patterns around the world, leading to wetter climate in some areas and drier in others. Areas that face increasingly severe droughts will also be at risk for more and larger fires. Several NASA missions collect valuable data to help scientists and emergency responders monitor droughts and fires. Some instruments monitor water in and below the soil, helping to assess whether areas are moving toward dangerous droughts. Others watch for heat and smoke from fires, supporting both research and active disaster recovery. Understanding how fires behave in dry conditions can help firefighters, first responders and others prepare for a hotter, drier future. Climate Change: Not Just Wet Earth’s warming climate is forecasted to make global precipitation patterns more extreme: Wet areas will become wetter, and dry areas will become drier. Areas such as the American Southwest could see both reduced rainfall and increased soil moisture evaporation due to more intense heat, and in some cases, the resulting droughts could be more intense than any drought of the past millennium. Ben Cook of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City researches “megadroughts” — droughts lasting more than three decades. Megadroughts have occurred in the past, like the decades-long North American droughts between 1100 and 1300, and the team used tree ring records to compare these droughts with future projections. He and his team examined soil moisture data sets and drought severity indices from 17 different future climate models, and they all predicted that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at their present rate, the risk of a megadrought in the American Southwest could hit 80 percent by the end of the century. Additionally, these droughts will likely be even more severe than those seen in the last millennium. Such severe droughts will affect the amount and dryness of fuel such as trees and grass, Cook said. Droughts can create ideal conditions for wildfires. Dry trees and vegetation provide fuel. Low soil and air moisture make it easier for fires to spread quickly. In these conditions, a spark from lightning, electrical failures, human error or planned fires can quickly get out of control. As Earth’s climate warms and precipitation patterns change, increasingly severe droughts will leave some areas of the world vulnerable to increasingly severe fires. Credit: NASA/ LK Ward. This video can be downloaded for free at NASA's Scientific VIsualization Studio. “Fire depends on two things: having enough fuel and drying that fuel out so it can catch fire. So in the short term, more droughts probably mean more fire as the vegetation dries out,” said Cook. “If those droughts continue for a long period, like a megadrought, however, it can actually mean less fire, because the vegetation will not grow back as vigorously, and you may run out of fuel to burn. It’s definitely complicated.” Current and future NASA measurements of soil moisture and precipitation will help to evaluate climate models’ predictions, making them even more accurate and useful for understanding Earth’s changing climate. Cook and his GISS colleague Kate Marvel were the first to provide evidence that human-generated greenhouse gas emissions were influencing observed drought patterns as long ago as the early 1900’s. By showing that human activities have already affected drought in the past, their research provides evidence that climate change from human-generated greenhouse gas emissions will likely influence drought in the future. Staying Ahead of the Fire If the future does hold megadroughts for the southwestern United States, what might this mean for its fire seasons? “Once we change the climatology and get drier and drier fuels, we should expect more intense fires and higher fire severity,” said Adam Kochanski, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Utah, referring to the size and impact of the fires. If fuels are moist, the fire is more likely to stay close to the ground and be less destructive, he said. Dry trees and plants make it more likely that flames will reach the forest canopy, making the fire more destructive and harder to control. Kochanski and Jan Mandel of the University of Colorado Denver used data from NASA and other sources to simulate the interactions between wildfires, soil moisture and local weather. They built on previous work by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and others to develop the SFIRE module for the widely used Weather Research and Forecasting model (WRF). This module uses data from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard its Aqua and Terra satellites, and the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) aboard the Suomi National Polar-Orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) spacecraft. Weather influences fires, but fires also influence local weather by producing heat, water vapor and smoke, Kochanski said. The winds from large fires can alter local weather patterns, and in extreme conditions, generate firestorms and fire tornadoes. “It’s not uncommon for people involved in wildland fires to report that although the wind is not very strong, the fires propagate very fast,” Kochanski said. “If it isn’t that windy, but your fire is intense and releases a lot of heat, it has the potential to generate its own winds. Even if the ambient winds are weak, this fire will start moving as if it were really windy.” Better modeling of these interactions not only helps firefighters better predict where and how a wildfire might spread, but also helps forest managers know whether a planned burn is safe. A Tale of Fire and Snow Fires’ effects persist long after they are extinguished, and the availability or lack of fresh water plays an important role in vegetation regrowth and recovery. Dry conditions may prevent new seeds from germinating in the burned areas. Vegetation loss can lead to erosion and sediment blocking waterways, and firefighting chemicals may contaminate water sources. Forest fires can have impacts on future winter snowpacks as well, said Kelly Gleason, a snow hydrologist and assistant professor at Portland State University. “Snowpack” refers to the snow that accumulates over an entire winter, rather than a single snowfall. Here too, NASA data are key to understanding the processes involved. Gleason and her team used 16 years of data from NASA’s MODIS instrument to investigate wildfires’ effects on snow melt in forests in the American West. They discovered that soot and debris from fire makes snow darker and less reflective for up to 15 years after a fire. “It’s like wearing a black T-shirt on a sunny day,” Gleason said. “It primes the snowpack to absorb more sunlight energy. And there’s more energy anyway, because the forest canopy was burned, so more sun comes through.” Their survey of roughly 850 fires between 2000 and 2016 showed that snow in burned forests melted, on average, five days earlier than snow in unburned forests. In some areas the snow melted weeks or months earlier than normal, Gleason said. “Every year we experience earlier snow melt, there are strong relationships with big, hot, long-lasting fires the following summer,” she said. “It creates this vicious cycle where snow melts earlier due to climate change, which extends the summer drought period where the soil dries out, and when the fuels dry out, you get these big fires. This further accelerates snowmelt, further extending the summer drought period and fire potential.” Modeling a Safer Future Mandel and Kochanski’s fire-atmosphere model is already in operational use in Israel and Greece. While the software requires computing expertise to use, it is available for free, consistent with NASA's mission to freely provide its data and other products to the public. Branko Kosović, program manager for Renewable Energy for the Research Applications Laboratory and director of the Weather Systems and Assessment Program at NCAR, also used WRF to develop the fire prediction system for the state of Colorado’s Division of Fire Prevention and Control. This model uses a related module called FIRE and produces a fire, weather and smoke forecast useful for both wildfires and planned fires. Kosović is also using the WRF system for his research, which uses NASA remote sensing data and machine learning to estimate fuel moisture daily over the contiguous Unites States. “Measuring live fuel moisture [currently] has to be done manually,” Kosović said. “People have to go out, take the live fuel, and essentially cure it in ovens to see how much moisture there is. It’s very labor intensive. And you can imagine that, because of that, the data is sparse, both in space and in frequency and time.” Kosović, Mandel and Kochanski hope to build systems that will give forest managers better information to plan controlled fires and help improve resource allocation during wildfires, leading to better risk assessment and recovery. NASA scientists monitor both fresh water and fires constantly, from space, the air and the ground, collecting short- and long-term data as Earth’s climate continues to change. Programs such as the NASA Earth Science Disasters Program use satellite data to track active fires, monitor their effects on air quality and perform research that helps communities be more prepared before disasters strike. And looking to the future, modeling plays a key role in preparing for changing drought and fire seasons around the world.
  • Managing Fresh Water Across the United States
    This article is part of a series that explores NASA research into Earth's fresh water and surveys how those advances help people solve real world problems. Learn more. The varied landscapes of the United States have unique relationships with water. On the East Coast, rain is a regular occurrence. In the West, drought is a constant threat. Rivers and lakes fed by rainfall, snowmelt or a mix of both provide two-thirds of the country's drinking water while also supporting agriculture. The varied landscapes of the United States have unique relationships with water. On the East Coast, rain is a regular occurrence. In the West, drought is a constant threat. Rivers and lakes fed by rainfall, snowmelt or a mix of both provide two-thirds of the country's drinking water while also supporting agriculture. Managing these water resources requires balancing growing demand for water in the face of shifting availability and changing climate. Credit: NASA/Jefferson Beck Managing these water resources requires balancing growing demand for water in the face of shifting availability and changing climate. Many state and federal agencies and other organizations turn to NASA research, satellite data and analytical tools to help tackle these issues. Since the 1960s, NASA has been steadily expanding its view of how fresh water moves around the planet. Early satellites that imaged clouds and snow cover evolved to more recent missions that quantify rain and snowfall worldwide every half-hour, make daily observations of global snow cover, detect changes in aquifers deep underground, and monitor moisture in soils every few days. These observations are some of the most powerful assets scientists have when studying the water cycle, how it affects people and their water supplies, and how it may change in a warming climate. At NASA, researchers maintain and refine these data sets, providing them to the public at no cost. NASA researchers also help to interpret the information with sophisticated computer programs that integrate the disparate data sets and fill gaps to create a coherent picture of where and how water moves around the planet every day. To put these tools in the hands of decision makers, NASA funds a robust set of projects that connects researchers with local water managers to address location-specific water issues. These needs range from drought and crop forecasts in the Midwest, to estimating available water from snowpack and rainfall in California, to dealing with climate change, which affects water decisions everywhere. Filling in the Gaps One of the challenges of studying water in its many forms is tying together all the satellite observations into a continuous stream of information. That's where hydrology models come in. Models fill in gaps in the satellite observations, said Matt Rodell, chief of the Hydrological Sciences Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. These can be gaps in time and space, for instance when the satellite wasn't overhead, or gaps where satellites can't directly observe a process, such as water infiltrating the soil into an aquifer below ground. These gaps can be represented in the model with equations that use soil and vegetation properties and satellite-observed weather conditions as a starting point. Modeling projects using NASA data include: The Global Land Data Assimilation System, developed and maintained by Rodell's lab, is a computer model that predicts what happens to rain, snow and sunlight after they hit land. One project, with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, develops drought indicator products used in the U.S. Drought Monitor’s weekly maps. Rodell's team is currently seeing promising results in a new effort to provide 3-month drought forecasts by integrating data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow On (GRACE-FO) satellites, which measure water stored above and below ground. To monitor growing conditions and forecast crop yields, both in the United States and abroad, NASA collaborates with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to apply hydrology models that ingest data from NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite. At the local level, understanding drought and crop conditions can help farmers and water managers decide where they need to allocate more water for irrigation. In the Colorado River basin, the majority of water consumption comes from irrigation – but there is a lot of competition for those resources. Jonathan Quebbeman and Gerald Day at RTI International in Fort Collins, Colorado, are leading a project to help managers allocate the overcommitted water supply. Working with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, Colorado State University and Utah State University, their project integrates satellite rainfall data from NASA's Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission, snow cover data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and other inputs into high-resolution water forecast models. The model forecasts provide monthly and seasonal forecasts of water availability to help managers make decisions for reservoir operations and allocation to farms and other users. A follow-on research project funded by NASA and led by Quebbeman and partners from the University of Colorado, Boulder, will quantify the economic value of these improved forecasts and decisions. Crop irrigation is the largest human demand on water resources in the world, accounting for 93 percent of water consumption globally. In the United States depending on the region, irrigation water comes from both the river systems fed by rain and snow and from aquifers, which are crucial sources of water in arid regions and when droughts occur. Accounting for irrigation itself in modeling, however, is an open area of research. Observations from satellites and the ground capture a partial picture for irrigation when water moves from rivers, lakes, reservoirs or groundwater to the soil. Modeling is not straightforward, because it depends on simulating water management decisions. The decision to irrigate, for how long and how much belongs to the farmer, and it can’t be solved by a simple equation, said Sujay Kumar,head of model development for NASA's Land Information System at Goddard. Nevertheless, irrigation impacts on the water cycle are important enough that modelers are developing methods to represent them and capture them from remote sensing. Facing a Changing Climate Snowmelt is an important part of the freshwater system in Colorado, so government agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency’s (NOAA) Colorado Basin River Forecast Center have increasingly turned to satellite and airborne snow measurements for better runoff forecasting. In addition to using NASA information that shows the percentage of land covered by snow, the center also incorporates satellite data about snow surface conditions that can speed up its melt rate—such as the presence of dust, soot, and other materials that absorb solar energy. Incorporating data like this, helps narrow discrepancies between computer model estimates and ground observations of streamflow, giving greater confidence to the forecasts. Credit: NASA/Thaddeus Cesari Climate change can increase the demand for water while limiting its availability, according to the U.S. National Climate Assessment. As warming causes snowfall to change to rain, water flows into reservoirs, lakes and rivers at different times of the year than it has historically, said Jeff Arnold, a scientist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Arnold is part of a NASA-funded project team led by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, that is creating tools to make global climate change predictions relevant to specific regions of the United States. The Army Corps wants to know how much change to expect across the country in the next 50-100 years, Arnold said, since that can affect how the corps operates its infrastructure, such as dams and hydropower plants. “Water security is having the right amount of water at the right time and at the right place,” Arnold said. The tools developed by the project will enable water managers to create strategies to modernize and maintain their infrastructure, said Andy Wood, the lead scientist at NCAR. Wood's team has been working closely with water managers across the United States and incorporating their feedback into tools that use NASA's Land Information System model to monitor and predict seasonal changes in water supplies at the watershed scale. Noah Molotch, a hydrologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has also taken a user-first approach to a NASA-funded project using satellite observations to improve tools for California water managers. California's water supply is heavily dependent on the Sierra Nevada snowpack and managing its meltwater through the spring. To assess the status of their water supply, managers use tools based on forecasts of streamflow volumes for 20 major river basins across the state. Originally developed during years with normal rain and snowfall, these tools were not as accurate during the recent drought when climate conditions were abnormal. Molotch's team is using satellite observations, particularly estimates of the amount of water in snow derived from MODIS snow cover observations, to improve the forecast models so managers have better information during droughts. At the other end of the water spectrum, a project led by Jennifer Jacobs at the University of New Hampshire in Durham integrates soil moisture data from SMAP to assess the flood potential of the Red River in North Dakota and Minnesota. And, in partnership with the National Weather Service’s North Central River Forecast Center, the team is working to improve operational flood forecasting for people in the region. Step by Step The upcoming 2021 launch of the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission will add another important piece to the freshwater puzzle: data on surface water height and slope, which will enable estimation of river flows. With the addition of these observations all major parts of the water cycle will be seen from space: precipitation, evaporation, runoff and water storage. Variations in water availability is the key question that the models at all levels try to answer, Kumar said, whether they are answering specific questions about stream flow or snowpack or crop conditions. In addition to supporting specific applications, NASA's satellite observations and data-integrating model outputs are available to the public at no cost at a variety of resolutions and time scales, supporting educators, academics, and public and private institutions.
  • NASA's ECOSTRESS Maps European Heat Wave from Space
    Europe's massive heat wave is on its way out — and it's leaving a slew of broken temperature records in its wake. Many countries were gripped by temperatures above 104 Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) between June 26 and June 30. According to the World Meteorological Organization, June 2019 is now the hottest month on record for the continent as a whole. NASA's Ecosystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) measures Earth's surface temperature from the International Space Station at different times of day. Although its primary objective is to monitor the health of plants, ECOSTRESS can also detect heat events such as the one much of Europe just experienced. ECOSTRESS mapped the surface, or ground temperature, of four European cities — Rome, Paris, Madrid and Milan — during the mornings of June 27 and June 28. In the images, hotter temperatures appear in red and cooler temperatures appear in blue. They show how the central core of each city is much hotter than the surrounding natural landscape due to the urban heat island effect — a result of urban surfaces storing and re-radiating heat throughout the day. The fact that surface temperatures were as high as 77-86 degrees Fahrenheit (25-30 degrees Celsius) in the early morning indicates that much of the heat from previous days was stored by surfaces with high heat capacity (such as asphalt, concrete and water bodies) and unable to dissipate before the next day. The trapped heat resulted in even higher midday temperatures, in the high 40s (Celsius) in some places, as the heat wave continued. ECOSTRESS launched to the space station last summer and began collecting its first heat data just days after installation. The instrument measures variations of ground temperatures to within a few tenths of a degree, and it does so with unprecedented detail: It's able to detect temperature changes at various times of day over areas the size of a football field. These measurements help scientists assess plant health and response to water shortages, which can be an indicator of future drought. They can also be used in observing heat trends, spotting wildfires and detecting volcanic activity. ECOSTRESS provides a wide range of image products for studying the land surface and recently made all these products publicly available through the NASA Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center (LPDAAC). JPL built and manages the ECOSTRESS mission for NASA's Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. ECOSTRESS is an Earth Venture Instrument mission; the program is managed by NASA's Earth System Science Pathfinder program at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. For more information on ECOSTRESS visit: https://ecostress.jpl.nasa.gov For more information on Earth science activities aboard the International Space Station, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/issearthscience News Media Contact Esprit Smith Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. 818.354.4269 esprit.smith@jpl.nasa.gov
  • When Drought Threatens Crops: NASA's Role in Famine Warnings
    This article is part of a series that explores NASA research into Earth's fresh water and surveys how those advances help people solve real world problems. Learn more. NASA’s satellite imagery and model forecasts regularly help agricultural and aid agencies to monitor the performance of crops worldwide and prepare for food shortages. “In the 1970’s the U.S. realized that drought impacts on global agriculture were severely affecting trade and food aid decisions, while ground based information and forecasting of drought was very limited,” said Brad Doorn, water resources program manager in the Earth Science Division at NASA Headquarters, Washington. “Earth observations from space provide the persistent, global information needed to detect precipitation, temperature, soil moisture, and vegetation conditions that give us a more complete picture of conditions that lead to drought, as well as its impacts.” One of the areas of the planet that NASA and its partner agencies have been keeping a close eye on is southern Africa, which has experienced a year of extremes. Overly dry conditions developed across parts of the region around the start of the 2018-2019 maize crop season in October and persist until today, putting millions of people at risk of famine. Countries like Namibia, Zimbabwe and Angola are facing some of the worst droughts on record. To make matters worse, two tropical cyclones hit areas of Mozambique and surrounding regions in March and April, causing flooding and high levels of crop loss in the affected region. The drought is tied to El Niño, a weather pattern tied with persistent warming in the central and eastern tropical Pacific, which is expected to last until the end of 2019. El Niño brings high temperatures and a dearth of rainfall to southern Africa. When the shortages in rainfall persist, they evolve into deficits in soil moisture, which can decimate rainfed crops – the most predominant type in southern Africa, where less than 10% of the arable land is irrigated. Each of the steps leading to agricultural drought can be seen from space. As drought conditions develop, NASA computer models that use satellite measurements provide an outlook for the upcoming months. Measuring Moisture NASA's satellite imagery and model forecasts play an important role in monitoring the performance of crops worldwide and preparing for food shortages. NASA's view from space helps government agencies forecast food insecurity, like during the drought in southern Africa in 2018. Credit: NASA/ Katy Mersmann. This video is available for download at NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio. A team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, has developed a data assimilation system that takes observations from NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite and ingests them into the US Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) crop forecasting system, which is used by the agency to monitor regional droughts and floods and forecast crop yield. SMAP, launched in 2015, measures the water content of soils and can give a first warning on crop stress. “The FAS crop analysts use the enhanced soil moisture information we provide them to predict the impact of drought on crop growth and estimate expected end-of-season yield. Crop yield forecasts are updated monthly and are presented relative to last year’s yield and last month’s estimates,” said Iliana Mladenova, a research scientist at Goddard. The USDA FAS’s soil moisture model also incorporates precipitation and temperature observations to derive soil moisture. But there are areas of the world where rain gauges are scarce or don’t get properly maintained, like southern Africa. Direct satellite measurements of soil moisture in these places may be used to correct the model for precipitation errors and improve the model estimates of the soil water content at the surface and the root zone – the soil region where plants extract water from. NASA’s Applied Sciences Program has been collaborating with FAS since 2005. Back then, the soil moisture measurements came from NASA’s Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E) satellite mission. Mladenova expects to eventually be able to combine the measurements from different satellite missions into a “soil moisture almanac” of sorts. Famine Early Warnings NASA is also part of an interagency effort funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that provides early warning and analysis on instances of acute food insecurity around the world. NASA contributes to the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET), by running seasonal forecasting models to predict the evolution of temperature and precipitation, as well as other hydrological variables, for up to half a year in advance. “FEWS NET’s mission is to inform the U.S. where we might need to send aid,” said Christa Peters-Lidard a hydrologist and Deputy Director for Hydrosphere, Biosphere, and Geophysics at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “If a country is in a situation where they are unable to mitigate the drought because they don’t have the ability to irrigate or access to alternative food markets, that’s where the U.S. and our partners across the world have to make decisions about whether to send aid.” NASA has been involved in FEWS NET since its launch, in 1985. This longstanding collaboration has evolved from one focused primarily on remote sensing of vegetation conditions to one that takes advantage of NASA’s Land Information System, a software framework that integrates satellite and ground-based observations with models. NASA’s efforts to monitor agricultural drought will only become more important in the future, with droughts expected to become more frequent and intense as the climate warms. “There is a lot of uncertainty about what the future holds for Southern Africa with respect to rainfall, but there is observational evidence that air temperatures are increasing across the region,” said Amy McNally, a researcher at Goddard and the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland. “Higher temperatures are associated with greater aridity meaning more evaporation from reservoirs and drier soils.”
  • The Water Future of Earth's 'Third Pole'
    This article is part of a series that explores NASA research into Earth's fresh water and surveys how those advances help people solve real world problems. Learn more. Himalaya. Karakoram. Hindu Kush. The names of Asia's high mountain ranges conjure up adventure to those living far away, but for more than a billion people, these are the names of their most reliable water source. Snow and glaciers in these mountains contain the largest volume of fresh water outside of Earth's polar ice sheets, leading hydrologists to nickname this region the Third Pole. One-seventh of the world's population depends on rivers flowing from these mountains for water to drink and to irrigate crops. Rapid changes in the region's climate, however, are affecting glacier melt and snowmelt. People in the region are already modifying their land-use practices in response to the changing water supply, and the region's ecology is transforming. Future changes are likely to influence food and water security in India, Pakistan, China and other nations. Rapid changes in the region's climate are affecting glacier flows and snowmelt. Local people are already modifying their land-use practices in response to the changing supply, and the region's ecology is transforming. Scientists estimate that by 2100, these glaciers could be up to 75 percent smaller in volume. Credit: NASA/ Katie Jepson. This video is available for download at NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio. NASA is keeping a space-based eye on changes like these worldwide to better understand the future of our planet's water cycle. In this region where there are extreme challenges in collecting observations on the ground, NASA's satellite and other resources can produce substantial benefits to climate science and local decision makers tasked with managing an already-scarce resource. The most comprehensive survey ever made of snow, ice and water in these mountains and how they are changing is now underway. NASA's High Mountain Asia Team (HiMAT), led by Anthony Arendt of the University of Washington in Seattle, is in its third year. The project consists of 13 coordinated research groups studying three decades of data on this region in three broad areas: weather and climate; ice and snow; and downstream hazards and impacts. All three of these subject areas are changing, starting with climate. Warming air and alterations in monsoon patterns affect the regional water cycle – how much snow and rain falls, and how and when the snowpack and glaciers melt. Changes in the water cycle raise or lower the risk of local hazards such as landslides and flooding, and have broad impacts on water allocation and crops that can be grown. Making Impossible Science Possible For most of human history, a detailed scientific study of these mountains was impossible. The mountains are too high and steep, and the weather too dangerous. The satellite era has given us the first opportunity to observe and measure snow and ice cover safely in places where no human has ever set foot. "The explosive growth of satellite technology has been incredible for this region," said Jeffrey Kargel, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, and leader of a HiMAT team studying glacial lakes. "We can do things now that we couldn't do ten years ago – and ten years ago we did things we couldn't do before that." Kargel also credited advances in computer technology that have enabled far more researchers to undertake large data-processing efforts, which are required to improve weather forecasting over such complex topography. Arendt's HiMAT team is charged with integrating the many, varied types of satellite observations and existing numerical models to create an authoritative estimate of the water budget of this region and a set of products local policy makers can use in planning for a changing water supply. A number of data sets by HiMAT teams have already been uploaded to NASA's Distributed Active Archive Center at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Collectively, the suite of new products is called the Glacier and Snow Melt (GMELT) Toolbox. Debris Dam Dangers and Other Impacts There's some urgency in completing the toolbox, because changes in melt patterns appear to be increasing the region's hazards – some of which are found only in this kind of terrain, such as debris dam "failures" on glacial lakes and surging glaciers blocking access to mountain villages and pastures. In the last few decades, towns and infrastructure such as roads and bridges have been wiped out by these events. Kargel's team is studying catastrophic flooding from glacial lakes. These lakes start as melt pools on the surfaces of glaciers, but under the right conditions they may continue to melt all the way to ground level, pooling behind a precarious pile of ice and debris that was originally the front end of the glacier. An earthquake, rockfall or simply the increasing weight of water may breach the debris dam and create a flash flood. Lakes like this were almost unknown 50 or 60 years ago, but as most high mountain Asian glaciers have been shrinking and retreating, glacial lakes have been proliferating and growing. The largest one Kargel has measured, Lower Barun in Nepal, is 673 feet (205 meters) deep with a volume of almost 30 billion gallons (112 million cubic meters), or about 45,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools full. The HiMAT team has mapped every glacial lake larger than about 1,100 feet (330 meters) in diameter for three different time periods – about 1985, 2001 and 2015 – to study how the lakes have evolved. As the size and number of glacial lakes increase, so does the threat they pose to the local population and infrastructure. Dalia Kirschbaum of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, leads a group that is using satellite data to predict what areas are most susceptible to landslides in high mountain Asia, which can then inform the placement of new infrastructure of the region. Darker Snow, Faster Snowmelt One critical factor in future rates of snow and ice melt is the role of dust, soot and pollution that settle on the frozen surfaces. Pristine white snow reflects more than 90% of incoming solar radiation back into the atmosphere. But when snow is blanketed by darker-colored particles of soot or dust, this coating absorbs more heat and the snow melts faster. Research has shown that the reason the Little Ice Age ended in Europe was the coating of soot deposited on the Alps by the Industrial Revolution. In Asia, the last 35 years have seen significant increases in the amount of soot settling on mountain snow. Whether these Asian ranges will react the same way the Alps did centuries ago is an important question. When soot and dust settle on snow, the darker-colored particles absorb more heat and the snow melts faster. Credit: NASA/Bailee DesRocher Several HiMAT teams are focused on this issue. Si-Chee Tsay of NASA Goddard is using satellite data to gain a better understanding of the properties of snow, ice, and dust and soot particles in this region. His group is also working in collaboration with regional researchers in Nepal to install sensors at ground level on glaciers located on Mt. Everest, Annapurna and Dhaulagiri, among other sites. These sensors will allow researchers to check the accuracy of satellite readings obtained over the same sites. Tom Painter of the University of California, Los Angeles, is leading a team using satellite data from NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and the NOAA/NASA Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) in the community Weather Research and Forecasting model to quantify past and possible future variations in snow cover and other factors as soot and dust change. Another team, led by Sarah Kapnick of NOAA, is accounting for dust and soot within global climate models, to improve understanding of both historical and predicted future regional changes. The tallest mountains in the world make for unique challenges in weather forecasting. A team led by Summer Rupper of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City has addressed one of these challenges by developing a model that differentiates between ice and snow that were deposited on the region during the monsoon season and those that came from winter storms, so that scientists can study where and when snow is likely to fall throughout the year. Early Conclusions In the HiMAT survey's final year, Arendt said, the research is coming together and the teams' scientific papers are heading for publication. One of the more alarming conclusions is that the glaciers will be 35 to 75% smaller in volume by 2100 due to rapid melting. A paper published on June 19 in Science Advances by HiMAT team members supports this conclusion with an analysis of 40 years of satellite data on glaciers in the Himalayan range. (The early years of data that researchers used for this study come from declassified spy satellites.) Not only are all glaciers in the Himalayan Range losing ice, the average rate of ice loss doubled between the first 25 years of satellite data, 1975-2000, and the most recent 16 years, 2000-2016. Whether rain and snowfall will also change, and whether changes would compound or mitigate the effects of ice loss, are not yet clear. Precipitation already varies considerably from one range to another in this region, depending on the monsoon and the flow of winter storms into the area. For example, precipitation is currently increasing in the Karakoram Range, where glaciers are either stable or advancing, but in every other range in this region, nearly all glaciers are retreating. Whether that anomaly will continue, grow stronger, or reverse as the climate continues to change is not yet clear. "Global climate dynamics will dictate where storms end up and how they intercept the mountains," Arendt said. "Even small changes in the tracking of the storms can create significant variability." Findings like these are why the HiMAT teams are eager to complete their GMELT toolbox, Arendt noted. The new products will offer decision-makers the best compilation of knowledge that can currently be made of how high mountain Asia has been changing in recent decades, along with a new set of resources to help them plan how best to prepare for the future of this hard-to-predict region.
  • These Glaciers Melt at Your Fingertips
    Take control of Greenland's melting ice over the past 12,000 years with a new simulation from the Virtual Earth System Laboratory at NASA-JPL. ›Visit the simulation Icy barriers began melting away at the close of the last ice age, easing human passage into North America. Now scientists are piecing together some chilling details: how one corner of Arctic ice retreated over 12,000 years in response to a changing climate. A new set of computer simulations seeks to capture the demise of the ice on the margins of southwestern Greenland. They include a public version that allows you to take control, change environmental conditions and watch the effect on the ice. It’s an early step toward a big idea. Like workers tinkering together mechanical parts, these scientists hope eventually to create a detailed reconstruction of a vanished climate. That could shed new light on ice loss today and in decades to come. Using computer modeling to make predictions of how ice will melt over the coming century “is like going down a dark hallway with a candle,” said Joshua Cuzzone, an ice researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “We kind of know where we’re going, but we don’t know the specifics.” Part of the answer involves better understanding of the past. So Cuzzone is lead author of a new paper that seeks to illuminate ice melt since the early Holocene. The coastal terrain of southwestern Greenland offered a nearly ideal platform for Cuzzone and his team to build and test their simulation. The coast is craggy enough, but not too craggy; and the geologic history can be seen clearly in the lines of rubble, called moraines, left behind as glaciers dwindled. Modeling the Melt These geological details provided the scaffolding for a powerful simulator called the Ice Sheet System Model, or ISSM. ISSM embodies, in a computer, the equations describing the thermal and mechanical physics of ice flowing on bedrock. Such computer models face a tradeoff: if they reproduce small features well – ice streams, marine-terminating glaciers, small bumps in bedrock – they cannot be run for long periods because of the excessive computer load they impose. Earlier models had to choose between detail and long simulations. The amount of small-scale detail a model is able to reproduce is called “model resolution,” and that’s where ISSM departs from previous models. It is designed with resolution that varies spatially: more detail in areas of sharp topography, and less detail (coarser resolution) in others. Imagine draping a flexible mesh over the landscape. It settles and conforms itself to the hills, valleys, ocean inlets and flats. Now imagine this flexible mesh having variable resolution, with threads that are closer together in some regions than in others. The closer threads better adapt to small-scale details of bedrock and ice flow – in other words, the mesh is finer for the craggy, complex parts of the landscape, including fjords, and much coarser for flatter, more featureless sections. The model works in a similar fashion. The “mesh” defines the model’s variable resolution. Start the clock 12,000 years ago and the tiny, gridded spaces formed by the mesh begin to sink at varying rates, tracking contours as the ancient ice melts away. While the main driver of climate change is very different today – human emission of heat-trapping gases versus slow-working, natural processes – the mechanics of ice melt are quite similar. “If we are able to model the retreat history locked within the geological record, it might provide us with a better understanding of how sensitive these ice sheets are,” Cuzzone said. “We’ll be able to infer how anomalous our present-day ice-mass loss is compared to the past 12,000 years.” That, in turn, could help create more precise forecasts of ice melt in the future, and corresponding rates of sea level rise. Adapting the meshes, with high resolution for complex terrain and low resolution for the flats, yielded the best of both worlds: accurate modeling without a heavy burden on computer time. This approach allowed Cuzzone and his team to reproduce the large-scale, well-known retreat of the southwestern Greenland Ice Sheet during the Holocene, the geologic period that began some 11,650 years ago. The next step will involve using state-of-the-art reconstructions of past climate, derived from work by paleoclimatologists at the University of Washington, as the environmental setting for the ice model to see how it responds through time. “This will be the constraining model for past ice history across southwestern Greenland,” Cuzzone said. “We’re seeing how well it does. Using the fact that it actually does pretty well, we’ll be able to have confidence in making the claim of comparing past ice-mass loss to current ice-mass loss.”
  • Looking for Fresh Water in All the Snowy Places
    This article is part of a series that explores NASA research into Earth's fresh water and surveys how those advances help people solve real world problems. Learn more. Snowflakes that cover mountains or linger under tree canopies are a vital freshwater resource for over a billion people around the world. To help determine how much fresh water is stored in snow, a team of NASA-funded researchers is creating a computer-based tool that simulates the best way to detect snow and measure its water content from space. Snow’s water content, or snow water equivalent (SWE) is a “holy grail for many hydrologists,” said Bart Forman, the project’s principal investigator and a professor with the University of Maryland, College Park. When snow melts, the ensuing puddle of water is its SWE. In western U.S. states, snow is the main source of drinking water and water from snow is a major contributor to hydroelectric power generation and agriculture. Some changes in snowfall patterns are indicators of climate change. For instance, warmer temperatures cause water to fall as rain instead of snow. As a result, some mountains are not able to hold water in the form of snowpack like they used to, which means rain inundates rivers and floods are more intense. When flood season is over, droughts can be more severe. Forman’s new approach follows efforts by NASA to study SWE from satellites, airplanes and the field. The Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) is an instrument aboard two satellites that captures daily images of Earth. MODIS can identify snow-covered land and ice on lakes and large rivers. The Global Precipitation Measurement mission (GPM), an international constellation of satellites, can observe rain and falling snow over the entire globe every two to three hours. In addition to space-based observations, NASA runs a campaign closer to home called SnowEX. The campaign is a five-year program that includes airborne observations and then field work to reveal what satellite efforts do not. SnowEX allows researchers to examine complex terrains that can be difficult to characterize from space. Next winter’s campaign will collaborate with the Airborne Snow Observatory, which measures snow depth and snow characteristics. The Importance of Snow and Its Water “We would love to have a global map of SWE,” said Edward Kim, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. However, there is no single technique that can measure SWE globally because snow properties vary depending on where it lands, Kim said. It often forms a deeper layer in forests, where it is sheltered from the Sun, but keeps a shallower profile in the tundra and prairie, where it is exposed to wind and higher temperatures. Snow changes its shape as it falls to the surface and then continues to change in its resting place. Its shape can determine which sensor is able to observe it, Kim said, adding another complexity to estimated SWE. Forman and his team’s new tool will determine the most effective combination of satellite-based sensors to produce the most data. “The tool will show us how to make intelligent choices about how to combine sensors,” Kim said. A Tale of Different Sensors The tool evaluates three different types of Earth-orbiting sensors: radar, radiometer and lidar. The team looked at radar and radiometer information from existing sensors, such as the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2) radiometer. The sensor launched as a partnership led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to capture microwave emissions from Earth’s surface and atmosphere. It aims to identify snow cover, sea surface temperatures, soil moisture and other factors critical to understanding Earth’s climate. For radar observations, the team included data from the European Space Agency (ESA) Copernicus Sentinel 1A and 1B satellites, which monitor land and ocean surfaces. In addition to including radar and radiometer sensors, which are currently monitoring snow from space, the new tool’s simulation includes lidar; lidar has flown aboard airplanes to measure snow over specified areas. For instance, the SnowEx campaign and NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory use lidar to determine snow depth and SWE. “We can help explore the question, what if we had a snow-centric observing satellite mission in space?” Forman said. View southwestward across the Kamchatka Peninsula. The cluster of volcanoes in the middle distance are active, including Klutchevskaya whose summit reaches 15,580 feet. Credit: NASA Of Supercomputers and Satellites “In order to do all this, you have to use supercomputers,” Forman said. Specifically, the Discover Supercomputer at Goddard and Deepthought2 High-Performance Computing cluster at the University of Maryland. Once the data from the different sensors are in the simulation tool, the team is able to run experiments that include different scenarios, such as putting a satellite into one orbit versus another, or having a satellite look at a wide swath versus narrow swath of Earth. With this suite of experiments, they can compare how well a certain combination performs compared to a benchmark scenario, Forman said. As a general rule, with more satellites in orbit, scientists would have higher quality data, Forman said. However, “We can ask, what is the marginal gain if we had one more radiometer?” Forman said. The new snow-sensing simulation tool will help create a space-based snow observation strategy to better understand this vital freshwater resource. The simulator will be used to “continue to ask questions of what should be next and how we should be planning in 20 years or more,” Forman said. This new snow simulation tool is funded by NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office.

Copyright © 2019 Gail Chord Schuler. All Rights Reserved.