In 2013, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) had reached four-hundred parts per million (ppm) for the first time since the Pliocene Era (ca. three million years ago). According to the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), “excess carbon dioxide” in our atmosphere will result in a global average temperature increase of between 1.5 and 2 °C (2.7 and 3.6 °F) by 2030. This will significantly affect ecological systems worldwide, including species extinction, droughts, wildfires, extreme weather, and crop failures.
Aside from curbing emissions, these changes call for mitigation and adaptation strategies and climate monitoring. This is the purpose of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) 2 and 3 missions, twin satellites that make space-based observations of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere to understand the characteristics of climate change better. Using the world’s fifth-largest coal-fired power plant as a test case, a team of researchers used data from OCO 2 and 3 to detect and track changes in CO2 and quantify the emissions produced below.
It’s winter here on Earth, for those living in the northern hemisphere. This means snow, rain, colder temperatures, and all the other things we associate with “the festive season.” Much the same is true for Mars (aka. “Earth’s Twin”), which is also experiencing winter in its northern hemisphere right now. This means colder temperatures, especially around the polar regions where it can get as low as -123 °C (-190 °F), as well as ice, snow, frost, and the expansion of the polar ice caps – which are composed of both water ice and frozen carbon dioxide (“dry ice”).
While Mars does not experience snowfall the same way Earth does, seasonal change results in some very interesting phenomena. Thanks to the many robotic explorers NASA and other space agencies have sent to Mars in the past fifty years, scientists have been able to get a close-up look at these phenomena. These include the Vikingorbiters and landers that studied the planet in the 1970s (with groundbreaking results) to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity), and the Curiosityand Perseverance rovers exploring the surface today.
The “Blue Marble” was one of the most iconic pictures of the Apollo era. Taken by the astronauts of Apollo 17 on their return trip from the moon, the first fully illuminated image of the Earth taken by a person captured how the world looked on December 7th, 1972, just over 50 years ago. Now, a team from the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology has recreated that iconic image using a climate model.
Can we build an enormous umbrella to dim the Sun? Such a feat would be a megaproject on a scale like no other. It would take at least 400 dedicated rocket launches a year, for ten years (There have been 172 rocket launches by all nations so far in 2022). The project would weigh in at 550,000 tons: at its lightest. And it would be an ecological experiment that puts us all – the entire planet – in the petri dish, with high risk and high reward. But could such a project actually reverse climate change and bring us back from the brink of global disaster?
The answer seems to be yes, it could work. But there are consequences, and with the planet at stake, it seems wise to examine them before committing to such a thing.
Everybody’s heard of methane. It’s a major part of the atmosphere in places like Uranus and Neptune. On Earth, it’s also part of our atmosphere, where it works to warm things up. Some of it gets there from natural causes. But, a lot of it comes from industrial super-emitters and other human-caused processes. That’s not good because too much methane works, along with other greenhouse gases (like carbon dioxide, or CO2) to “over warm” our atmosphere.
Recent climate research, published in the Nature Climate Change journal has confirmed that melting icecaps in Greenland will contribute a minimum of 27cm rise in ocean levels even if we collectively stop burning fossil fuels immediately. We have reached a “point of no return”. And what makes it worse is that this is the most conservative estimate, as it only factors the contribution made by the ice shelf in Greenland. Projections have also confirmed that overall planetary warming has exceeded the original estimates for global heating, and that we are in for a difficult millennium if drastic action isn’t taken immediately.
A NASA scientist is finding newly formed lakes in Alaska that are belching greenhouse gases at a high rate. The main one is methane, a gas many people use in their natural gas-fueled grills. She’s tracking these emissions in one of Earth’s most remote regions—the Arctic. It has millions of lakes, many of them hundreds or thousands of years old. But, only the youngest of them are releasing high amounts of methane. And that is due to the effects of climate change on these delicate environments.
Light pollution. Satellite trains and radio frequency interference. Encroaching civilization. These all pose threats to ground-based astronomy. But, did anyone ever think that global climate change might wreak havoc on observatories? It turns out the answer is “yes.”
Climate change is a real problem. Human caused outputs of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane are the main driver of an unprecedented rise in global average temperatures at a speed never before seen in the Earth’s geologic record. The problem is so bad that any attempts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions may be too little and too late. And so a team based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have proposed a radical new solution: bubbles…in space.
People often seem surprised when they learn that NASA doesn’t just look out to the other planets, stars, and galaxies. It’s also an agency that studies our own home planet—from space! And why not? Earth is part of the solar system, too. So, to that end, there’s a new Earth studies mission called EMIT on its way to the International Space Station. It’s designed to track dust as it moves from one place to another on our planet through through our atmosphere.
The official name of the mission is the Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT, for short). It will use a high-tech imaging spectrometer to study dust around the globe over the next year.