Hey! There are People in the Earth System Too!

Figure 1. Satellite image of Cairo, Egypt, acquired by the Landsat 7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper-Plus (ETM+) instrument on July 31, 2009. This image shows one of the world’s megacities with the Nile River running through it. Green areas to the North and West are agricultural fields in the Southern portion of the nutrient-rich Nile River Delta. Bright areas to the East and West are bare surfaces and soils/sand.

Figure 1. Satellite image of Cairo, Egypt, acquired by the Landsat 7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper-Plus (ETM+) instrument on July 31, 2009. This image shows one of the world’s megacities with the Nile River running through it. Green areas to the North and West are agricultural fields in the Southern portion of the nutrient-rich Nile River Delta. Bright areas to the East and West are bare surfaces and soils/sand.

As we celebrate Earth Science Week 2014 and its theme of “Earth’s Connected Systems,” we begin to think a little more about the five “spheres” that make up the Earth system: atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, lithosphere and cryosphere. Continue reading

Atmospheric Aerosols in the Earth System

Satellite-derived aerosol data

Satellite-derived aerosol data

When I tell people I research aerosols, I sometimes get funny looks.  “So you study hairspray?” I may get asked. My answer is, “Not quite.”  I study atmospheric aerosols, or minute particles suspended in Earth’s atmosphere.

Aerosol cans, such as those used for hairsprays and spray paint, do produce aerosol in that they create a mist of the liquid products they contain.  While the gases (chloroflorocarbons) sometimes used to create the mists can have a notable impact on the environment, the aerosol mist droplets themselves are too large and heavy to stay suspended for very long, and instead fall to Earth. The aerosols I study, however, are much smaller solid particles or liquid droplets, with diameters less than that of a human hair.  Because of this, these aerosols can stay suspended in the atmosphere for longer periods of time and impact the atmosphere, climate, and other components of the Earth system. Continue reading

One Day Tour of the Antarctic Cryosphere

Glaciers flowing down steep valleys transport ice from the interior of Antarctica to the Larsen Ice Shelf near the coast.

Glaciers flowing down steep valleys transport ice from the interior of Antarctica to the Larsen Ice Shelf near the coast.

I am Michael Studinger, Project Scientist for NASA’s Operation IceBridge. This mission involves a team focused on the study of glaciers, ice sheets and sea ice both in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, using scientific instruments mounted on aircraft. We use radar systems to “look” through the ice, in order to see the bedrock below the ice sheets, and very precise lasers to measure the elevation of the ice surface. These measurements allow us to determine the thickness of the ice sheet. By comparing this data to earlier measurements, we can see changes that take place over the course of a year, which shows us how quickly the ice sheets and glaciers are losing ice. Continue reading

Looking at Clouds from Both Sides

Photograph of clouds taken by the author from the NASA DC-8 (airborne flying laboratory) during the "Tropical Composition, Cloud and Climate Coupling" aircraft field experiment.

Photograph of clouds taken by the author from the NASA DC-8 (airborne flying laboratory) during the “Tropical Composition, Cloud and Climate Coupling” aircraft field experiment.

Clouds have long fascinated artists, scientists and dreamers, constantly moving and changing shape. They are interesting to watch, but difficult to capture, either in a painting or as scientific data. As a professional scientist and an amateur artist, I am endlessly fascinated by the variety of shapes, sizes, colors and moods that clouds add to the sky. Back in 1969, the singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell wrote a popular song about clouds and life called, “Both Sides, Now.” This is a fitting description of how scientists at NASA and other agencies study clouds – from above and below, and from the inside out. Continue reading

From the Field: NASA ARISE

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In flight science team

Eielson Air Force Base, Fairbanks, Alaska, day 9 of deployment:

Our NASA science team is huddled together in the mission support and flight planning room, next door to the Thunderdome Hangar that rumbles and roars at all hours as F-16 and F-18 jets come and go in a storm of activity. We have appropriately named this room the WAR room. We often invest up to 10 hours at a time here passionately discussing which ARISE science objectives to attempt each day.  Our broad instrument suite provides us with a great number of options for interesting science flights, yet ironically poses additional challenges, as each instrument requires meteorological conditions that often conflict with one another. It is here where we follow the C-130 as it flies our science trajectories, a combination of radiation cloud studies and cryospheric sciences. We can communicate with the science team onboard via a basic chat system, send them occasional updated satellite imagery, track their flight, and talk on a satellite-based phone system. Continue reading

Weather, Water, a Satellite, and Me

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Before I was the host of Weather Geeks on The Weather Channel or a professor at the University of Georgia, I was a NASA scientist.

Like many of you taking part in Earth Science Week, at an early age I took a special interest in learning about our planet and the many things that live on it.   Originally, I wanted to be an entomologist, but an allergy to bee stings helped me to broaden my horizons.   What I soon learned is that “broadening your horizons” takes on a whole new meaning at NASA.   Let me explain. Continue reading

Satellites: The Tallest Fire Towers Around

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Cruising at 17,000 miles per hour, NASA satellites detect millions of fires each year as they orbit the Earth. You can think of these Earth observing satellites as the tallest fire towers around, scanning the planet every day for signs of burning. No matter when you read this, someplace on Earth is burning right now. Continue reading

Water – Connecting the Spheres

VIIRS Blue Marble

Water is, as far as we know, the one ingredient absolutely essential for life. When we look beyond our home planet to see if there could be life anywhere else in space, we focus on planets that might have water. As we take a look at Earth from space, swirling clouds and beautiful blue oceans help us identify our own watery home planet. To monitor this precious natural resource, NASA studies Earth’s water as only NASA can – from orbit!
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Weather, Climate, and Clouds

Earth Right Now

As a child, I frequently found myself gazing at the clouds, wondering how they form, why they looked that way on that day, and why some produce hazardous weather, such as lightning, hail, and heavy snow. The weather segment was my favorite part of the news, especially when the meteorologist would show colorful animations of radar and satellite imagery when a storm was near. I was the only one I knew who got excited when the weather was at its worst. So when the time came to choose a career, I knew that meteorology was right for me.
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Help NASA do #SkyScience during Earth Science Week

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Studying the energy budget of the entire Earth is a big job, and that’s why NASA would like your help! NASA has a suite of five instruments orbiting the Earth aboard three different satellites to measure the energy entering and leaving the Earth system. These five instruments all work together as part of the CERES experiment. The instruments take measurements of cloud cover, light, and heat as they orbit overhead at 17,000 miles an hour. Linking all of these data together requires NASA’s famous mathematic and scientific know-how.

But all of that hard work doesn’t mean much if the scientists can’t be completely sure that the data coming back from the satellites is accurate. In order to calibrate the sensors, scientists need to collect “ground truthing” data. That’s where citizen scientists, like you, can help.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it, requires synchronizing with the observational satellites in orbit. Thankfully, NASA provides you with a tool to coordinate your observations with the satellite overpasses, so all you need to do is plan your schedule. Just as one of NASA’s CERES instruments passes overhead, look up and record your observations about cloud cover, sky color, and surface conditions.
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