After British Columbia’s Record-Breaking Heatwave, Here Come the Wildfires

Image taken by the Landsat 8 OLI on June 30th, 2021. Credit: NASA EO

Every day, there are more indications that show how anthropogenic factors are causing uncomfortable changes in our climate. Here in beautiful British Columbia, this means that wildfires are once again threatening countless acres of forests, communities, and wildlife. By the end of June 2021, more than 40 wildfires were raging across the province, including a rather substantial cluster around the town of Lytton.

Located just 150 km (about 93 mi) northeast of the city of Vancouver, Lytton, had to be evacuated on June 30th after an extreme heatwave led to wildfire sweeping through the area. These wildfires and the impact they were having at the time was being monitored by some of NASA’s Earth Observatory satellites. In a series of images recently shared on their website, they show the fires that were raging near Lytton just hours before the evacuation.

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A Lake in a Martian Crater was Once Filled by Glacial Runoff

Artist's impression of Mars during the Noachian Era. Credit: Ittiz/Wikipedia Commons

All across the Martian surface, there are preserved features that tell the story of what Mars once looked like. These include channels that were carved by flowing water, delta fans where water deposited sediment over time, and lakebeds where clay and hydrated minerals are found. In addition to telling us more about Mars’ past, the study of these features can tell us about how Mars made the transition to what it is today.

According to new research led by Brown Ph.D. student Ben Boatwright, an unnamed Martian crater in Mars southern highlands showed features that indicate the presence of water, but there is no indication of how it got there. Along with Brown professor Jim Head (his advisor), they concluded that the crater’s features are likely the result of runoff from a Martian glacier that once occupied the area.

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Maybe Mars Didn’t Lose its Water After All. It’s Still Trapped on the Planet

Credit: Daein Ballard/ESA

Roughly 4 billion years ago, Mars looked a lot different than it does today. For starters, its atmosphere was thicker and warmer, and liquid water flowed across its surface. This included rivers, standing lakes, and even a deep ocean that covered much of the northern hemisphere. Evidence of this warm, watery past has been preserved all over the planet in the form of lakebeds, river valleys, and river deltas.

For some time, scientists have been trying to answer a simple question: where did all that water go? Did it escape into space after Mars lost its atmosphere, or retreat somewhere? According to new research from Caltech and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), between 30% and 90% of Mars’ water went underground. These findings contradict the widely-accepted theory that Mars lost its water to space over the course of eons.

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2020 Ties for the Hottest Year on Record

Credit: NASA/GISS

According to multiple sources – which includes NASA, the NOAA, the Berkeley Earth research group, and the Met Office Hadley Centre (UK) – global temperatures over the past few years have been some of the hottest on record. This is the direct result of anthropogenic factors like overpopulation, urbanization, deforestation, and increased greenhouse gas emissions (like carbon dioxide and methane).

According to a recent press release from NASA, in terms of global temperatures, 2020 was the hottest year on record – effectively tying it with 2016 (the previous record-holder). The release includes a dramatic video that illustrates average temperature increases since 1880 and the ecological crises that have taken place just this past year. This is yet another warning of how human agency is impacting the very systems we depend upon for our continued survival.

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Iceland is a Similar Environment to Ancient Mars

Credit: NASA/Michael Thorpe

Mars is often referred to as “Earth’s Twin” because of the similarities the two planets have. In fact, Mars is ranked as the second most-habitable planet in the Solar System behind Earth. And yet, ongoing studies have revealed that at one time, our two planets had even more in common. In fact, a recent study showed that at one time, the Gale Crater experienced conditions similar to what Iceland experiences today.

Since 2012, the Curiosity rover has been exploring the Gale Crater in search of clues as to what conditions were like there roughly 3 billion years ago (when Mars was warmer and wetter). After comparing evidence gathered by Curiosity to locations on Earth, a team from Rice University concluded that Iceland’s basaltic terrain and cool temperatures are the closest analog terrain to ancient Mars there is.

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Climate Change is Making the Atmosphere Worse for Astronomy

ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) has recently received an upgraded addition to its suite of advanced instruments. On 21 May 2019 the newly modified instrument VISIR (VLT Imager and Spectrometer for mid-Infrared) made its first observations since being modified to aid in the search for potentially habitable planets in the Alpha Centauri system, the closest star system to Earth. This stunning image of the VLT is painted with the colours of sunset and reflected in water on the platform. While inclement weather at Cerro Paranal is unfortunate for the astronomers using it, it lets us see ESO's flagship telescope in a new light.

Modern astronomical telescopes are extraordinarly powerful. And we keep making them more powerful. With telescopes like the Extremely Large Telescope and the Giant Magellan Telescope seeing first light in the coming years, our astronomical observing power will be greater than ever.

But a new commentary says that climate change could limit the power of our astronomical observatories.

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This Giant Iceberg Has Been Sailing the Southern Seas for Three Years Now

The iceberg A-68A floating in open waters about 1050 km from its birthplace. It's been floating for three years. Image Credit: contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

An iceberg that calved off of from a larger ice formation has spent three years floating on the ocean near Antarctica. The iceberg broke off of the Larsen Ice Shelf in mid-July 2017. It’s been battered and split up into three pieces, but it’s still going.

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Even If We Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions Tomorrow, it Would Take Decades for the Earth to Start Cooling Again

Our beautiful, precious, life-supporting Earth as seen on July 6, 2015 from a distance of one million miles by a NASA scientific camera aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory spacecraft. Credits: NASA
Our beautiful, precious, life-supporting Earth as seen on July 6, 2015 from a distance of one million miles by a NASA scientific camera aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory spacecraft. Credits: NASA

If—or hopefully when—we cut our Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, we won’t notice much difference in the climate. The Earth’s natural systems take time to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. We may have to wait decades for the temperatures to drop.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. It’s just that we have to temper our expectations a little.

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The Coast of Antarctica is Starting to Turn Green

A bloom of green algae on the snow on Anchorage Island, Antarctica. Image Credit: Davey et al, 2020

The Antarctic Peninsula is the northernmost part of Antarctica, and has the mildest climate on the continent. In January, the warmest part of the year, the temperature averages 1 to 2 °C (34 to 36 °F). And it’s getting warmer.

Those warm temperatures allow snow algae to grow, and now scientists have used remote sensing to map those algae blooms.

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