Most of the time when the name NASA pops up images of stars and far flung planets and rocket ships come to mind. We often forget that NASA is interested in studying life on ALL planets, including our own. Yesterday, November 12, NASA officially launched their airborne laboratory on a C-130H Hercules. It headed north to St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada to begin its earthbound mission “North Atlantic Aerosols and Marine Ecosystems Study” (NAMES). The Hercules was accompanied by sea by the research ship “Atlantis” that is operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Together, these two research vessels will study the yearly cycle of phytoplankton and the effect small airborne particles produced by the ocean have on the North Atlantic’s fragile climate. Data will be collected throughout early December. This location has been chosen to study because this is the where the Earth’s largest phytoplankton bloom occurs each year.
The organic compounds the bloom releases can be detected as far away as the waters surrounding Ireland. By studying the plankton’s ecological and biological processes year after year, the ocean’s health and biology can be documented and the relationship between the ocean and its gaseous exchange with the air, which in turn influences clouds and climate, can be better understood.
The Atlantis is in for a four week cruise on the Atlantic Ocean where it will routinely rendezvous with the Hercules so that the two laboratories can coordinate and share computer models, satellite data, and the input of all of the scientists on board each vessel. They hope that their efforts will help improve readiness and response to the changes predicted to occur in Earth’s ecosystems due to aerosol changes within our world’s warming ocean.
Plankton, one of the smallest organisms on Earth, are, ironically, strongly connected with climate change. Plankton is the first stage of the ocean’s food chain. Changes there create a chain reaction that affects everything else in the world. At present, there are conflicting scientific theories as to the details of how plankton’s aerosol emissions create changes. One goal of these missions are to coalesce the arguments into one sound approach.
NASA is committed to leadership in tackling the serious environmental issues that affect the entire world today. NASA makes the gringa’s little heart swell with pride by freely sharing their knowledge with institutions worldwide. In fact, over twenty different research and academic facilities are involved in the research operations of this mission. NASA doesn’t just see the earth as interconnected environmentally, it also understands the interconnectedness of humanity. That’s one reason the gringa is their biggest cheerleader.