Amazing Grace and the Conveyor Belt

Is there a way to stem the tide of sea level rise due to climate change? I mean, if we can’t build a seawall around the coast of every continent and island, what other option is there other than an eventual mass human migration inland? Well, NASA thinks there very well may be a solution.

The Earth may be saving herself. Climate change researchers have been collecting data from NASA satellites to determine where all this extra liquid water from melted ice sheets and glaciers is ending up. It seems the Earth has absorbed over three trillion tons of water (that’s about the equivalent of what’s in Lake Huron) that are replenishing depleted lakes and underground aquifers. Now, this is great news but not a permanent fix. Researchers estimate this temporary band-aid will slow sea level rise by about twenty percent. Earth is buying us Earthlings some more time to get our you-know-what together and fix this mess we have created.

So, how does this “band-aid” work? The Earth’s regular water budget is provided by annual amounts of water evaporated from the oceans. This becomes precipitation that returns to the Earth through rainfall or snow. It then recycles back into the oceans as runoff or through rivers. As mankind’s use of groundwater has dramatically increased, the Earth has become quite thirsty as reservoirs are depleted. It has become a sponge, compensating for this unprecedented loss by absorbing what is melting from ice sheets and glaciers. This has served to curb rising sea levels despite the fact that glaciers and ice sheets continue to melt.

Now scientists are scrambling to recalculate future models and adjust previous projections of sea level rise as a result of the Earth’s warming oceans. So, although sea levels are still expected to rise, Earthlings have a little bit more time to solve the problems that will cause. But, once the Earth has slated her thirst, all that meltwater will then become a problem.

NASA is using a twin satellite system, GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment), to measure how much water is being stored within the Earth. Since scuba divers can’t delve into these underground reservoirs, just what kind of digital dipstick is being used? The satellites use gravity to measure liquid. The gringa scratches her head and says, “Um, what? A gravity yardstick? How does that work?”

As the twin satellites orbit the Earth, they measure the distance between themselves. Their measurements are so accurate and precise, they can get as close as a strand of human hair. Amazing! But, I digress. GRACE then transmits the data to Earthling researchers who use the information to measure any gravitational change in the Earth that is the result of any change Earth’s water distribution.

By using this method, scientists have measured how much water has been stored within Earth’s continents as a result of ice sheet and glacier melt. This is the first study of its kind. And, according to NASA’s mission to use technology to safeguard the future of Earth and the lives of Earthlings, the agency has shared this knowledge with other scientific communities around the world.

And GRACE is proving her mettle in other areas of climate change data as well. The satellites are tracking circulation and current patterns within the Atlantic Ocean. The typical current pattern of the Gulf Stream carries warm, tropical water northward to Greenland. By the time it arrives at its northern destination, the water has cooled significantly. Colder water is denser so the water that originated from the tropics, and was riding at the surface. has sunk as deep as two miles within the ocean by the time it gets to Greenland. The colder, heavier, bottom water is then dragged back South.

In this way the waters of the Atlantic Ocean are consistently agitated, cooled, oxygenated and nutritionally refreshed. Oceanographers call this pattern the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). However, the gringa prefers the common name, the “Conveyor Belt” of the Atlantic.

The Atlantic’s “Conveyor Belt” effect is like an air conditioner for the world’s oceans. It is critical to modulating the temperature of the Earth. Data collected from GRACE has revealed that the “Conveyor Belt” is slowing down. Researchers are uncertain if this is directly caused by climate change or if other factors are at play.

GRACE is going to help answer these questions. One way is by measuring gravity data from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Changes in the ocean’s currents will result in pressure changes that GRACE can detect with gravitational measurements.

And GRACE is also contributing to the development of practical solutions that can be implemented right now, helping the people of Brazil. 2015 was the worst year in over three decades for drought in Brazil.

Hydrologists were able to use data collected from GRACE to calculate that in a three year period Brazil lost about fifteen trillion gallons of water each year. Water levels of aquifers and rivers were also analyzed.

Brazil is heavily dependent on the country’s rivers to provide water for their people, electricity production and for critical agriculture. The data provided by GRACE enables the Brazilian government to create models that will simulate future expected droughts. This makes it possible for the nation to plan effectively, monitor their water resources responsibly and continue to provide for the water needs of over 200 million Brazilians.

And those are just some of the facts about “Amazing GRACE”.



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A barrio gringa with a dream of cosmic proportions: writing to satiate my insatiable curiosity, worldwide literacy beginning with our youth, and to be the first barrio gringa to explore outer space!

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