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Showing posts with label Earth. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Earth. Show all posts

The Future of Earth - Global Warming

Video - The Future of Earth with Global Warming

Abbreviated version of the visualization 'Heating Up,' which depicts climate model projection of 21st century global temperatures. Credit: NASA Scientific Visualization Studio.

“Do we think about the aerosol propellant in our underarm deodorant every day?” Gavin Schmidt, climatologist and director of The Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), asked me. “I don’t think we even have aerosols anymore,” I answered, wondering where he was going with this.

“That’s the point,” he continued, “and nobody cares. Nobody cares where your energy comes from; nobody cares whether your car is electric or petrol. People confuse energy supply with where the energy is supplied from.” He was trying to make the point that as long as people have the things they want, it doesn’t matter, to the vast majority of us, how we get them. This means that as long as the light switch still turns on the lights, most people would barely notice if we were to shift from burning fossil fuels to energy sources with less impact on Earth’s climate (just as people don’t notice that ozone-depleting propellants aren’t used in aerosol cans any more).

I was eager to speak with Dr. Schmidt because of his passion for communicating climate science to public audiences on top of his work as a climatologist. Schmidt is a co-founder and active blogger at Real Climate and was also awarded the inaugural Climate Communications Prize, by the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in 2011. “My goal in communicating,” he explained, “is a totally futile effort to raise the level of the conversation so that we actually discuss the things that matter.”

Since the mere mention of a computer model can cause an otherwise normal person’s face to glaze over, I thought Schmidt, a leader in climate simulations and Earth system modeling, would be the ideal candidate to explain one of the most important, yet probably one of the most misunderstood, instruments scientists have for studying Earth’s climate. See, people commonly confuse climate and weather, and this confusion is perhaps most pronounced when it comes to understanding the difference between a weather forecast and a climate simulation.
Numerical laboratory

Schmidt’s work routine is much like that of any other scientist. He spends a few months preparing experiments, then a few more months conducting the experiments, then a few more months refining and improving the experiments, then a few more months going back and looking at fine details, then a few more months … you get the idea. Climate scientists use complex computer simulations as numerical laboratories to conduct experiments because we don’t have a bunch of spare Earths just lying around. These simulations model Earth’s conditions as precisely as possible. “A single run can take three months on up on super computers,” Schmidt said. “For really long runs, it can take a year.” NASA scientists can reserve time at the NASA Supercomputer Center with High-End Computing Capability to run simulations. Like an astronomer who reserves time on a large telescope to run her experiments, Schmidt books time on these computers to run his.

Schmidt asks the computer to calculate the weather in 20-minute time steps and see how it changes. Every 20 minutes it updates its calculation over hundred-year or even thousand-year periods in the past or the future. “The models that we run process about three to four years of simulation, going through every 20 minute time step, every real day.”

A typical climate simulation code is large, as in 700,000 lines of computer code large. For comparison, the Curiosity Rover required about 500,000 lines of code to autonomously descend safely on Mars, a planet 140 million miles away with a signal time delay of about 14 minutes. The size of a typical app, such as our Earth Now mobile app, is just over 6,000 lines of code. Climate simulations require such a large quantity of code because Earth’s climate is so extraordinarily complex. And, according to Schmidt, “Complexity is quite complex.”

Like a scientist who runs an experiment in a science lab, climate modelers want code that’s consistent from one experiment to another. So they spend most of their time developing that code, looking at code, improving code and fixing bugs.

The model output is compared to data and observations from the real world to build in credibility. “We rate the predictions on whether or not they’re skillful; on whether we can demonstrate they are robust.” When models are tested against the real world, we get a measure of how skillful the model is at reproducing things that have already happened. Then we can be more confident about the accuracy in predicting what’s going to happen. Schmidt wants to find out where the models have skill and where they provide useful information. For example, they’re not very useful for tornado statistics, but they're extremely useful on global mean temperature. According to Schmidt, the credible and consistently reliable predictions include ones that involve adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. “You consistently get increases in temperature and those increases are almost always greater over land than they are in the ocean. They’re always larger in the Arctic than in the mid-latitudes and always more in the northern hemisphere than the southern, particularly Antarctica. Those are very, very robust results.”

Lately, his team has been working on improving the code for sea ice dynamics to include the effects of brine pockets (very salty fluid within the ice matrix) as well as the wind moving the ice around. For example, to understand the timeline for Arctic sea ice loss, his team has to work on the different bits of code for the wind, the temperature, the ocean and the water vapor and include the way all these pieces intersect in the real world. After you improve the code, you can see the impact of those improvements.

I asked Schmidt what people’s behavior would look like “if they understood that burning fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide, which causes global warming.” He replied, “People would start focusing on policies and processes that would reduce the amount of fossil fuels without ruining the economy or wrecking society.” Then he added, “I think, I hope! that people will get it before it’s too late.”

I hope so, too...

Gavin Schmidt

Communications Specialist                                           NASA Climate - Earth Right Now
Laura Faye Tenenbaum is a science communicator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and teaches oceanography at Glendale Community College.           Contact Laura

The Florida Peninsula at Night from Space

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station took this photograph of Florida in October 2014. The peninsula is highly recognizable even at night, especially when looking roughly north, as our map-trained brains expect.

Astronaut photograph ISS041-E-74232 was acquired on October 13, 2014, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 24 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 41 crew. It has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by M. Justin Wilkinson, Jacobs at NASA-JSC.

Florida at Night

acquired October 13, 2014 download large image (2 MB, JPEG, 2128x1416)

Illuminated areas give a strong sense of the size of cities. The brightest continuous patch of lights is the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metropolitan area, the largest urban area in the southeastern U.S. and home to 5.6 million people. The next largest area is the Tampa Bay region (2.8 million people) on the Gulf Coast of the peninsula. Orlando, located in the middle, has a somewhat smaller footprint (2.3 million). A nearly straight line of cities runs nearly 560 kilometers (350 miles) along the Atlantic coast from Jacksonville, Florida, to Wilmington, North Carolina.

South of Orlando, the center and southern portions of the peninsula are as dark as the Atlantic Ocean, vividly illustrating the almost population-free Everglades wetland. The lights of Cocoa Beach trace the curved lines of Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, an area well known to astronauts. Dim lights of the Florida Keys extend the arc of the Atlantic coast to the corner of the image. The small cluster of lights far offshore is Freeport on Grand Bahama Island (image right). The faint blue areas throughout the image are clouds lit by moonlight.
ISS - Digital Camera
NASA Earth Observatory

Digital Town Planning by Night

“Here!” exclaimed Jebediah as he nosed his schooner onto a fan of fertile loam. Come sundown, a makeshift corral encircled his livestock, and by Sabbath eve, the crown of a crude barn rose above the neighboring hummock.

Next spring, a steady procession of ships yielded a healthy crop of farmhouses. Wagon wheels burned a double track to the river landing, where itinerant capitalists soon repurposed a cluster of spartan shacks:

Dispell ill humours at Rodger’s Saloon!

 Satisfy your homestead needs with Trusty Mercantile!

 Every fifth horseshoe free at The Irony!

Forthwith straightened and graded, Main Street ran east to west, land astride platted into tidy rectangles. Soon, Washington and Jefferson joined in parallel, crossed at even intervals by perpendicular First, Second, and Third Streets.

A crystal in saturated solution, this grid grew: shooting southeast into open country along Telegraph Road, doglegging left around Miller’s Swamp, and crossing the river at Monroe Street Bridge, which lensed the opposite shore into a different orientation…

And so on, until some time ’round the Depression, when town planners discovered:
Oh my golly, curves! By George, a city block doesn’t necessarily need to be a rectangle, right? And, three way intersections, yeah, they’re pretty darn tootin’ okay…

Thereafter, new streets came, but in more pear-shaped and less grid-like arrangements than before.
Now, to Yours Truly, nirvana is a sunny day, strolling well-worn sidewalks past the wide-windowed storefronts of an old downtown. Some people might call me a Main Streetaholic – I’ve been known to scour maps for quaintness, and on a road trip, I’ll happily choose the Byzantine route just to experience the charms of a bygone Broadway.

And I thought I knew about every one between Ukiah and Scotts Valley.

Until, out of the blue, a friend informed me: “I’m moving to Graton!
Graton…? California? Uh… Why? Up came the Street View, and there, west of Santa Rosa, it was: a pocket-sized downtown decorated by a handful of adorable “Old West”-style buildings. OMFG.

What other treasures had I missed?!

I made these maps to help me find out.

Above is San Francisco, and below, New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Tokyo, and five other interesting metros:

New York
New York
Los Angeles
Los Angeles
Washington DC
Washington DC
That’s every public street, colored by the predominant orientation of itself and its neighbors, thickened where the layout is most “grid-like” – to use an old-school woodworking metaphor, it’s as if we brushed some digital lacquer over the raw geographic transportation network data to make the grain pop.

For the detail-oriented, these are 100%-algorithmic images generated from MapZen’s Migurski-inspired October 2014 OpenStreetMap Metro Extracts as follows. First, we assign each linear street segment a compass-heading-based tone from a modified sinebow, where a 90 degree directional difference corresponds to a full color revolution, so that roads at right angles to each other have the same hue. Then, to render each point on the map, we use Proximatic, my custom high-performance k-NN engine, to calculate the length-weighted average of the colors assigned to the nearest 500 meters of street, keying render weight to the local degree of parallelism/orthogonality (derived in a similar mod-90° vector space), with rolloffs for outlying roads and territory.
Pan and zoom via Vladimir Agafonkin’s excellent Leaflet viewer, and click the “Acme” button for a more conventional map of the current view, kudos to Poskanzer.

Lots of stories in there: of cities waxed, towns waned, territory absorbed, and terrain negotiated (or, ala San Francisco, ignored completely).

Enjoy, and I’ll see you in the grids!       Data Pointed

Ai Ais and the Richtersveld

If you have not been to the Ai Ais and Richtersveld Transfrontier Park then it should be on your bucket list! The area is nothing like anything else on this planet and in fact at times you feel like you are not on earth at all. The only thing that makes you realize that you are indeed still grounded is the familiar sounds of birds chirping, the sun embracing your shoulders and the bright blue sky above your head.
I could not count the amount of times I mumbled “gosh” and then had to remember to breathe as my brain struggled to make sense of my surroundings.
The Richtersveld is regarded as the only Arid Biodiversity Hotspot on Earth with an astonishing variety of plant, bird and animal life of which much is endemic. The Fish River Canyon is the largest canyon in the southern hemisphere and a wonderful sight to behold. We sat on the edge of the canyon eating lunch and telling stories of wild horses and a German war grave.
The German war grave is that of Second Lieutenant Thilo von Trotha who died in the canyon in 1905 during a confrontation between German soldiers and native Namas (one of South Africa’s earliest known people). We discussed the origins of the wild horses and some speculated that they were left by the German Soldiers after the war however it seems a more plausible explanation was that the origins of the Fish River Canyon horses can be traced back to a farm in the canyon area that I believe was called Kochas. It is said that the farmer, a Mr Pieters, brought horses into the canyon in the ’70s and as it was impossible to fence off the area, the horses soon escaped and became wild. Some forty years later approximately thirty horses live in the Fish River Canyon. They live as their long lost ancestors did, wild and free.
The area is a favourite amongst nature lovers and much of it is only accessible by 4×4 vehicles, something that is a blessing as you trundle along alone in the wilderness. In fact at first glance you do not see anything other than the vast and beautiful landscape. Though barren and desolate, closer examination reveals the area to be rich in desert life forms, with an array of unique species specially adapted for survival.
It’s as important to look down at one’s feet, as it is to look out into the horizon. When one does look down the ground is littered with animal spore. We saw the tracks of leopard, wild cat, antelope, mongoose, monkey, baboon and then a what looked like the drunken party of numerous smaller critters. I could not help but sit and wonder where each was going and what their story was.
At night I would setup my camera trap to see who would come and visit. At the Kokerboomkloof campsite I placed the camera, on some boulders, right next to our tent and that evening we had a visit from an African wild cat that we had no idea was in the area. How much we miss.
Sitting and looking at the landscape I would often wonder how these 650 something plant species manage to survive. One can see from the unusual shapes and colours that the plants in the Richtersveld have developed the most extraordinary adaptation strategies to the harsh climate. The kokerboom or quiver tree is just the most wonderful plant and is known as Choje to the indigenous San people. The quiver tree gets its name from the San’s practice of hollowing out the tubular branches to form quivers for their arrows. Then there is the rather bulbous butter tree or botterboom that looks like a miniature baobab and always brought a smile to my face. If it had cheeks you would want to pinch them!
The other unique and rather special “tree” is the halfmens. Legend has it that the Richtersveld halfmens derives its name from the ancestors of the Bushmen who were driven south by warlike tribes from the north. Some turned to look back across the Orange River and were turned into halfmens or half people, forever gazing northwards. It is said that when the spines on the halfmens stem are stroked, the plant produces a series of clicking sounds that is said to mimic the clicks of the Nama language. I tried this but think the sounds I heard were more as a result of my imagination, as just sitting by one of these trees and considering the legend conjures up a whole host of images and feelings.
As wonderful and awe inspiring as the nature is, the added joy of the journey was the people we shared it with. Friends and strangers, we shall all hold this time together in a special place in our hearts. You also realise after punctures, breakdowns and getting stuck in deep sand that this is an area in which one should not travel alone. Not only for the reason that you may need to be towed or share water, but also to be able to say “gosh look at that….” and then hear the chorus of murmurs.
Find a way to go and if you need a traveling companion to come with to help you find firewood, give me a call. We will have stories to tell around many a campfire.
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Mike Visagie
I am an explorer, poet and photographer who's passion is not only to explore the world in which we live but also our own inner world's. I do the later by working within the field of organisational psychology and human development. My own exploration is done either by sitting still, deep in thought or moving forward, camera in hand and a smile on my face. I know no better place on earth than the African bush shared with friends. See my website here.
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