Planet Earth is currently experiencing an unprecedented warming trend. Average global temperatures are rising at an accelerated rate in response to greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activity. These rising temperatures, in turn, result in the release of additional greenhouse gases (like methane), leading to positive feedback loops that threaten to compound the problem further.
This scientific consensus is based on multiple lines of evidence, all of which indicate the need for swift action. According to new research led by members of the NASA Sea Level Change Science Team (N-SLCT) at the University of Hawaii at Manao (UHM), a new Lunar cycle that will begin by the mid-2030s will amplify sea levels already rising due to climate change. This will mean even more coastal flooding during high tides and coastal storms in the near future.
NASA and the NOAA just announced that 2019 was the second hottest year on record. It barely edged out 2016, the previous warmest year. And both 2019 and 2016 are part of the global warming trend: the last five years have been the warmest five years on record. And the last decade was the warmest decade.
There are a handful of major science institutions around the world that keep track of the Earth’s temperature. They all clearly show that the world’s temperature has risen in the past few decades. One of those institutions is NASA.
The purpose of this new generation of satellites is to improve the forecasts of weather, oceans, the environment and space weather by providing faster and more detailed data, real-time images, and advanced monitoring. Recently, the satellite’s Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) made its debut by releasing its “first light“, which just happened to be some beautiful and breathtaking images of Earth from space.
The image featured above was taken on May 20th, 2018, where GOES-17 captured the sunset over Earth’s Western Hemisphere. This image was taken when the satellite was at a distance of 35,405 km (22,000 miles) from Earth and was presented in “GeoColor”, which captures features of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere in vivid detail and colors that are familiar to the human eye.
Compared to previous GOES satellites, GOES-17 can collect three times more data at four times the image resolution, and scan the planet five times faster than previous probes. These abilities were put to the test as the ABI created its beautiful images of Earth using two visible bands (blue and red) and one near-infrared “vegetation” band, and one of the ABI’s “longwave” infrared bands.
When combined as a “GeoColor” image, these bands provide valuable information for monitoring dust, haze, smoke, fog, clouds and winds in the atmosphere – which allows meteorologists to monitor and forecast where severe weather events will take place. It also allows scientists to monitor vegetation patterns to see how weather conditions can lead to increased drought or the expansions of greenery.
It also results in pictures depicting Earth in vivid and colorful detail, as you can plainly see! The satellite is currently in its post-launch checkout testing phase, where controllers on Earth are busy calibrating its instruments and systems and validating them for use. The imagery acquired by the ABI is one such example, which served as a preliminary check to ensure that the imaging instrument will function properly.
Other images included the picture of a series of dynamic marine stratocumulus clouds (shown above), which was captured by the satellite’s ABI off the western coast of Chile in the the southeastern Pacific Ocean. Once again, the improved resolution and sensitivity of the GOES-17 allows it to monitor clouds in our atmosphere with amazing detail and clarity.
GOES-17 also captured a deck of low level stratus clouds covering the southern California coast (above) and smoke plumes created by wildfires in central and northern Saskatchewan, Canada (below). These two images were also acquired by the ABI on May 20th, 2018, and demonstrate how effective GOES-17 will be when it comes to monitoring weather patterns, events that can trigger fires (i.e. lighting), and the resulting fires themselves.
Alongside GOES-17, NOAA’s operational geostationary constellation also consists of GOES-16 (operating as GOES-East), GOES-15 (operating as GOES-West), and GOES-14 – operating as the on-orbit spare. This satellite constellation is currently in good working order and is monitoring weather across the US and the planet each day.
While this data is still preliminary and non-operational, it does provide a good preview of what the GOES-17 can do. In the coming years, it and its third and fourth-generation cousins – GOES-T and GOES-U – will allow Earth observers to monitor weather, climate change and natural disasters with far greater detail, allowing for better early warning and response efforts.
To see more full-resolution images from the GOES-17 ABI, go to the NOAA page.
When it comes to technology and the environment, it often seems like it’s “one step forward, two steps back.” Basically, sometimes the new and innovative technologies that are intended correct for one set of problems inevitably lead to new ones. This appears to be the case with the transition to solid-state lighting technology, aka. the “lighting revolution”.
Basically, as nations transition from traditional lights to the energy-saving Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs), there is the potential for a rebound effect. According to an international study led by Christopher Kyba from the GFZ German Research Center for Geoscience, the widespread use of LED lights could mean more usage and more light pollution, thus counter-acting their economic and environmental benefits.
To put it simply, the cost-saving effects of LED lights make them attractive from a consumer standpoint. From an environmental standpoint, they are also attractive because they reduce our carbon footprint. Unfortunately, as more people are using them for residential, commercial and industrial purposes, overall energy consumption appears to be going up instead of down, leading to an increased environmental impact.
For the sake of their study, the team relied on satellite radiometer data calibrated for nightlights collected by the Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), an instrument on the NOAA’s Suomi-NPP satellite that has been monitoring Earth since October of 2011. After examining data obtained between 2012 and 2016, the team noted a discernible increase in power consumption associated with LED use. As they explain in their study:
“[F]rom 2012 to 2016, Earth’s artificially lit outdoor area grew by 2.2% per year, with a total radiance growth of 1.8% per year. Continuously lit areas brightened at a rate of 2.2% per year. Large differences in national growth rates were observed, with lighting remaining stable or decreasing in only a few countries.”
This data is not consistent with energy reductions on a global scale, but rather an increase in light pollution. The increase corresponded to increases in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the fastest-growing developing nations. Moreover, it was also found to be happening in developed nations. In all cases, increased power consumption and light pollution has natural consequences for plants, animals, and human well-being.
“The great hope was that LED lighting would lead to lower energy usage, but what we’re seeing is those savings being used for increased lighting. We’re not just seeing this in developing countries, but also in developed countries. For example, Britain is getting brighter. You now struggle to find anywhere in Europe with a natural night sky – without that sky glow we’re all familiar with.”
The team also compared the VIIRS data to photographs taken from the International Space Station (ISS) which showed that the Suomi-NPP satellite sometimes record a dimming of some cities. This is due to the fact that the sensor can’t pick up light at wavelengths below 500 nanometers (nm) – i.e. blue light. When cities replace orange lamps with white LEDs, they emit more radiation below 500 nm.
The effect of this is that cities that are at the same brightness or have experienced an increase in brightness may actually appear dimmer. In other words, even in cases where satellites are detecting less radiation coming from the surface, Earth’s night-time brightness is actually increasing. But before anyone gets to thinking that it’s all bad news, there is a ray of light (no pun!) to be found in this research.
In previous studies, Kyba has shown that light emissions per capita in the US are 3 to 5 times higher than that in Germany. As he indicated, this could be seen as a sign that prosperity and conservative light use can coexist:
“Other studies and the experience of cities like Tucson, Arizona, show that well designed LED lamps allow a two-third or more decrease of light emission without any noticeable effect for human perception. There is a potential for the solid state lighting revolution to save energy and reduce light pollution, but only if we don’t spend the savings on new light”.
Reducing humanity’s impact on Earth’s natural environment is challenging work; and in the end, many of the technologies we depend upon to reduce our footprint can have the opposite effect. However, if there’s one thing that can prevent this from continually happening, it’s research that helps us to identifies our bad habits (and fix them!)
Have you noticed that weather forecasting has gotten much better in the last few years? Thanks to weather satellites, weather stations, and better forecasting techniques. How do scientists predict the weather with any kind of accuracy days or even weeks in the future.
What’s the weather doing? Is it going to rain today? How much? What about temperatures? We depend on modern weather forecasting, thanks, in part to the vast network of weather satellites. What instruments do they have, what orbits do they use.
“It will be like high-definition from the heavens,” says NOAA.
“Today’s release of the first images from #GOES16 signals the start of a new age in satellite weather observation!!!”
Thus the newly obtained and published imagery has been anxiously awaited by scientists, meteorologists and ordinary weather enthusiasts.
“This is such an exciting day for NOAA! One of our GOES-16 scientists compared this to seeing a newborn baby’s first pictures — it’s that exciting for us,” said Stephen Volz Ph.D. director of NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service, in a statement.
“These images come from the most sophisticated technology ever flown in space to predict severe weather on Earth. The fantastically rich images provide us with our first glimpse of the impact GOES-16 will have on developing life-saving forecasts.”
An especially eye-popping image taken by GOES -16 from its equatorial vantage point situated in geostationary orbit 22,300 miles (35,800 kilometers) above Earth and published today, shows both the Earth and the Moon together – as the lead image here.
The Earth/Moon combo shot is not only fantastically pleasing to the eye, but also serves a significant scientific purpose.
“Like earlier GOES satellites, GOES-16 will use the moon for calibration,” say NOAA officials.
“GOES-16 will boost the nation’s weather observation network and NOAA’s prediction capabilities, leading to more accurate and timely forecasts, watches and warnings.”
GOES-16 is the most advanced and powerful weather observatory ever built and will bring about a ‘quantum leap’ in weather forecasting.
“Seeing these first images from GOES-16 is a foundational moment for the team of scientists and engineers who worked to bring the satellite to launch and are now poised to explore new weather forecasting possibilities with this data and imagery,” said Volz.
“The incredibly sharp images are everything we hoped for based on our tests before launch. We look forward to exploiting these new images, along with our partners in the meteorology community, to make the most of this fantastic new satellite.”
It’s dramatic new imagery will show the weather in real time enabling critical life and property forecasting, help pinpoint evacuation zones and also save people’s lives in impacted areas of severe weather including hurricanes and tornadoes.
And the huge satellite can’t come online soon enough, as demonstrated by the severe winter weather and tornadoes that just wreaked havoc and death in various regions of the US.
Another breathtaking image product (seen below) produced by the GOES-16 Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) instrument, built by Harris Corporation, shows a full-disc view of the Western Hemisphere in high detail — at four times the image resolution of existing GOES spacecraft.
The 11,000 pound satellite was built by prime contractor Lockheed Martin and is the first of a quartet of four identical satellites – comprising GOES-R, S, T, and U – at an overall cost of about $11 Billion. This will keep the GOES satellite system operational through 2036.
This next generation of GOES satellites will replace the currently operating GOES East and GOES West satellites.
NOAA will soon decide whether GOES-16 will replace either the East or West satellites. A decision from NOAA is expected in May. GOES-16 will be operational by November 2017 as either the GOES-East or GOES-West satellite. Of course everyone wants it first.
The next satellite is nearing assembly completion and will undergo about a year of rigorous environmental and acoustic testing before launch. It will go to whichever slot was not selected this year.
The six instrument science suite includes the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) built by Harris Corporation, the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) built by Lockheed Martin, Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI), Extreme Ultraviolet and X-Ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS), Space Environment In-Situ Suite (SEISS), and the Magnetometer (MAG).
ABI is the primary instrument and will collect 3 times more spectral data with 4 times greater resolution and scans 5 times faster than ever before – via the primary Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) instrument – compared to the current GOES satellites.
“The higher resolution will allow forecasters to pinpoint the location of severe weather with greater accuracy. GOES-16 can provide a full image of Earth every 15 minutes and one of the continental U.S. every five minutes, and scans the Earth at five times the speed of NOAA’s current GOES imagers.”
The reality of Climate Change has become painfully apparent in recent years, thanks to extended droughts in places like California, diminishing water tables around the world, rising tides, and coastal storms of increasing intensity and frequency. But perhaps the most measurable trend is the way that average global temperatures have kept rising year after year.
And this has certainly been the case for the year of 2016. According to independent analyses provided by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), 2016 was the warmest year since modern record keeping began in 1880. This represents a continuation of a most alarming trend, where 16 of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001.
Based in New York, GISS conducts space and Earth sciences research, in support of the Goddard Space Flight Center’s (GSFC) Sciences and Exploration Directorate. Since its establishment in 1961, the Institute has conducted valuable research on Earth’s structure and atmosphere, the Earth-Sun relationship, and the structure and atmospheres of other planets in the Solar System.
Their early studies of Earth and other solar planets using data collected by satellites, space probes, and landers eventually led to GISS becoming a leading authority on atmospheric modeling. Similarly, the NOAA efforts to monitor atmospheric conditions and weather in the US since 1970s has led to them becoming a major scientific authority on Climate Change.
Together, the two organizations looked over global temperature data for the year of 2016 and came to the same conclusion. Based on their assessments, GISS determined that globally-averaged surface temperatures in 2016 were 0.99 °C (1.78 °F) warmer than the mid-20th century mean. As GISS Director Gavin Schmidt put it, these findings should silence any doubts about the ongoing nature of Global Warming:
“2016 is remarkably the third record year in a row in this series. We don’t expect record years every year, but the ongoing long-term warming trend is clear.”
The NOAA’s findings were similar, with an average temperature of 14.83 °C (58.69 °F) being reported for 2016. This surpassed last year’s record by about 0.004 °C (0.07 °F), and represents a change of around 0.94 °C (1.69 F) above the 20th century average. The year began with a boost, thanks to El Nino; and for the eight consecutive months that followed (January to August) the world experienced record temperatures.
This represents a consistent change since 2001, where average global temperatures have increased, leading to of the 16 warmest years on record since 1880 in a row. In addition, on five separate occasions during this period, the annual global temperature was record-breaking – in 2005, 2010, 2014, 2015, and 2016, respectively.
With regards to the long-term trend, average global temperatures have increased by about 1.1° Celsius (2° Fahrenheit) since 1880. This too represents a change, since the rate of increase was placed at 0.8° Celsius (1.4° Fahrenheit) back in 2014. Two-thirds of this warming has occurred since 1975, which coincides with a period of rapid population growth, industrialization, and increased consumption of fossil fuels.
And while there is always a degree of uncertainty when it comes to atmospheric and temperature modelling, owing to the fact that the location of measuring stations and practices change over time, NASA indicated that they were over 95% certain of these results. As such, there is little reason to doubt them, especially since they are consistent with what is at this point a very well-documented trend.
To see an animated graph of average global temperature increases since 1880, click here. To see the full data set and learn about the methods employed by GISS, click here.
And be sure to check out this NASA video that shows these changes on a global map:
Since the election of Donald Trump, NASA has had its share of concerns about the future. Given the President-elect’s position and past statements on climate science, there has been speculation that his presidency will curtail funding to some of their research efforts, particularly those that are maintained by the Earth Science Directorate.
Things took another turn on Monday (Dec. 5th) as Trump met with former Vice President and environmental activist Al Gore to discuss his administration’s policy. This meeting was the latest in a series of gestures that suggest that the President-elect might be softening his stances on the environment. However, there is little reason to suspect that this meeting could mean any changes in policy.
The meeting was apparently arranged by the President-elect’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, to coincide with the former VP’s attendance of a conference in New York on Monday. Said conference was the 24 hour live broadcast titled “24 Hours of Reality”, an event being put on by the Climate Reality Project – a non-profit organization founded by Gore to educate the public on climate change and policy.
The meeting lasted 90 minutes, after which Gore spoke to reporters about the discussion he and the President-elect had. As he was quoted as saying by The Washington Post:
“I had a lengthy and very productive session with the president-elect. It was a sincere search for areas of common ground. I had a meeting beforehand with Ivanka Trump. The bulk of the time was with the president-elect, Donald Trump. I found it an extremely interesting conversation, and to be continued, and I’m just going to leave it at that.”
While this meeting has led to speculation that Trump’s administration might be softening its stance on environmental issues, many are unconvinced. Based on past statements – which include how Climate Change is a “hoax invented by the Chinese” – to his more recent picks for his cabinet, there are those who continue to express concern for the future of NASA programs that are centered on Earth sciences and the environment.
For instance, after weeks of remaining mute on the subject of NASA’s future, the Trump campaign announced that it had appointed Bob Walker – a former Pennsylvania Congressman and the chair of the House Science Committee from 1995 to 1997. A fierce conservative, Walker was recently quoted as saying that NASA should cease its climate research and focus solely on space exploration.
“My guess is that it would be difficult to stop all ongoing Nasa programs but future programs should definitely be placed with other agencies,” he said in an interview with the Guardian in late November. “I believe that climate research is necessary but it has been heavily politicized, which has undermined a lot of the work that researchers have been doing. Mr Trump’s decisions will be based upon solid science, not politicized science.”
From statements such as these, plus things said during the campaign that emphasized NASA’s important role in space exploration, the general consensus has been that a Trump administration will likely slash funding to NASA’s Earth Science Directorate while leaving long-term exploration programs unaffected. According to David Titley, who recently wrote an op-ed piece for The Conversation, this would be a terrible mistake.
As he noted in his piece, NASA’s Earth science and Earth observation efforts are vital, and the shared missions they have with organizations like the NOAA have numerous benefits. As he explained:
“There’s a reason why space is called ‘the ultimate high ground’ and our country spends billions of dollars each year on space-based assets to support our national intelligence community. In addition to national security, NASA missions contribute vital information to many other users, including emergency managers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), farmers, fishermen and the aviation industry.”
In the past, NASA’s Earth Science Directorate has contributed vital information on how rising temperatures could affect water tables and farmlands (such as the ongoing drought in California), and how changes in oceanic systems would affect fisheries. On top of that, FEMA has been working with NASA in recent years in order to develop a disaster-readiness program to address the fallout from a possible asteroid impact.
This has included three tabletop exercises where the two agencies worked through asteroid impact scenarios and simulated how information would be exchanged between NASA scientists an FEMA emergency managers. As Melissa Weihenstroer – a Presidential Management Fellow in FEMA’s Office of External Affairs and who works with NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office – recently wrote about this inter-agency cooperation:
“Since FEMA doesn’t have direct experience with asteroids or their impacts, we’ve turned to some people who do: our partners at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). While FEMA will be the agency in charge of the U.S. government efforts in preparing for and responding to any anticipated asteroid-related event here on Earth, NASA is responsible for finding, tracking, and characterizing potentially hazardous asteroids and comets while they are still in space.
Whenever a transition occurs between one presidential administration and the next, there is always some level of concern about the impact it will have on federal organization. However, when an administration is unclear about its policies, and has made statements to the effect that federal agencies should cease conducting certain types of research, NASA can be forgiven for getting a little nervous.
In the coming years, it will be interesting to see how the budget environment changes for Earth science research. One can only hope that a Trump administration will not see fit to make sweeping cuts without first considering the potential consequences.