The Eastward Wobble, The Dance of the Earth

In April of this year NASA released findings related to the Earth’s melting ice sheets. Often when the gringa things about climate change, warming temperatures and melting ice sheets, the only thing I consider is how sea levels will rise. It never occurred to me that ice sheet disintegration may result in a more wobbly world.

Think about the traditional children’s toy, the spinning top. It’s a bit like our world. As it slows its spin it begins to wobble. As ice sheets melt and the balance of Earth begins to shift, we will, indeed, experience a global wobble. Scientists officially define this as a “periodic wobble and drift of the poles”. All the gringa wants to know is, “What exactly does this mean for me? Am I going to fall on my patootie trying to walk to my car?”

NASA asserts that over the past sixteen years Antarctica and Greenland, combined, have averaged about 400 billion tons of ice loss annually. Before the year 2000, as Earth spun on its axis it had a gentle drift toward Canada (westward). Because of ice loss, now the drift is about 75 degrees in the opposite direction, eastward. This happens because as ice converts to water and moves elsewhere, the distribution of Earth’s mass changes. What this means exactly is that the location of the North and South poles will change. In other words, Earth’s axis is relocating.

Now, the traditional location of Earth’s North Pole may have to be renamed to the Northeastern Pole. Earth’s axis is like an invisible pin stuck through the Earth from North to South. The Earth spins on the tip of the pin, rotating with a slight wobble that is normal. However, if the geographic location of the Poles change, complete topographical and satellite telemetry systems have to be adjusted to accommodate this change. For the average person, this means that your GPS is going to deliver you to the wrong place!

Scientists have long known that the Poles shift by a few centimeters from time to time as a part of Earth’s natural climate adjustment cycles. But what we are dealing with now is much more dramatic. Experts estimate that the shift is averaging about ten centimeters Eastward annually. Our great-great-grandchildren may have to adjust Christmas stories to have Santa Claus living in Russia or Norway.

Although scientists understand that as ice continues to melt the Earth will adjust by shifting its axis to the place where it has lost mass, even their best predictions are really just a guess. This is an extremely complex problem. It’s not just melting ice sheets that affect the process but also loss of groundwater in above ground reservoirs and underground aquifers (which underground aquifers cannot be accurately measured) as well as glacier melt and glacier movement. Many glaciers float about the ocean as they please.

The Earth’s ice and water storage formula affects polar drift. Yet many of the variables in the formula cannot be measured or can change their individual affect. So, scientists are left scratching their heads, doing the best with what they’ve got, and hazarding their best guess on what humanity can expect.

Ice melt is not the only thing that can bump the North Pole to a different location. Enormous earthquakes and devastating tsunamis can do the job as well. Indonesia’s great earthquake moved the North Pole eastward by about 2.5 centimeters and also lengthened Earth’s day cycle by 2.68 microseconds. No wonder I’ve been so tired lately! The gringa is filled with wonder at how humans remain at the mercy of nature despite all of our technological advances.


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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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Jason & the Argonauts… and NASA, Too

Who remembers the story of Jason and the Argonauts? You know, that ancient Greek myth of seafaring Jason and his crew, the Argonauts, who embarked upon the high seas in search of the Golden Fleece. Well, Jason is back! And this time he is orbiting Earth’s high seas and measuring their levels.

SpaceX may have had a bitter disappointment a couple of days ago, but the gringa prefers to focus on their accomplishment that went unnoticed. Sunday, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched Jason into outerspace, well, the Jason-3 spacecraft, that is. Jason-3 is the product of NASA collaboration with France’s CNES and Europe’s Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites. Jason-3 is on a mission to track the rise of sea levels all around the world.

The goal of this intelligence gathering is to improve forecasting of Earth’s weather, climate and oceans. The data will also help scientists expand their knowledge on the ocean’s role in the world’s climate. Jason-3 will be working in tandem with Jason-2 that is already in a locked in orbit. Jason-2 has been in operation since 2008. Jason-3 will officially clock in and report for duty after a six-month phase of calibration and system checks. Once on duty, every ten days Jason-3 will report precise measurements of the height of 95% of Earth’s ice free oceans, this is called ocean-surface topography.

The Jason duo measurements will provide information about coastal tides, shallow seas, open ocean tides, currents and eddies. This type of topography also tells scientists how much energy from the sun is stored within the ocean which is the key to understanding how sea level rise affects climate change.

Jason’s official mission began in 1992 along with Topex/Poseidon. Since then scientists have discovered that the world’s seas are rising, on average, about 3 millimeters every year. As humans continue to make industry and lifestyle decisions that cause global warming, mankind is actually reshaping the surface of our home planet.

The gringa wants to know exactly what kind of shape we are getting ourselves into. What the heck is going to happen if sea levels keep rising?  But first, the gringa needs to know how this happens. What I’ve found out is:

  • Climate Change Causes Thermal Expansion: Water heats up, it expands, therefore it occupies more space
  • Glacial & Polar Ice Cap Melts: These natural ice formations experience a natural summer cycle of ice melt that is usually replaced in winter by evaporated seawater that creates snow. Climate change creates consistently warmer temperatures. This creates warmer Summers where more ice than usual melts. Summer usually lasts longer, Spring arrives earlier, thus winter is shorter and unable to keep up with replacing all the extra ice that is lost. Thus, all of this extra melt runoff causes sea levels to rise.
  • Greenland & West Antarctica: Climate change creates warmer temperatures that is causing the accelerated melt of massive ice sheets in these critical regions. Meltwater & seawater may also be seeping beneath these ice sheets which is causing them to slip out to sea quicker. Warmer sea temperatures are compromising the stability of underwater ice shelves causing them to weaken and break. All this contributes to rising sea levels.

Here are some of the things that happen as sea levels rise and the geography and coastlines of Earth transform:

  • Coastal habitat erosion
  • Coastal wetlands flooding
  • Contamination of coastal aquifers and agricultural land
  • Habitat loss for coastal fish, birds and plants
  • Larger, more powerful storms
  • Vulnerability to flooding for coastal dwelling people
  • Eventual mass migration of island and coastal dwelling people

The gringa wants to know, “What can we do?” Scientists seem to think that it’s a done deal with a relatively slow timeline (depending on how you look at it). So, mankind has until about the year 2100 to relocate folks from the future swamplands of the world’s coastlines. That’s the year they predict the world’s oceans could be about six feet higher than they are now, or possibly even 20 feet higher if the Greenland ice sheet bites the dust.

The gringa, however, has a plan. I’m near enough the Texas Gulf Coast that, by the time I’m in my golden years, my low rent apartment could be prime ocean front property. Sweet. My one hour drive to the beach could become a ten minute stroll when I’m too darn old to drive. So, over the next couple of decades I’ll be stocking up on fishing supplies and sunblock. I tell ya, timing is everything!

If you want to know more about Jason’s mission and follow along with the tracking of the seas, visit

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1990 Immigration and Nationality Act – It’s The Lottery, Baby!

Let’s play the lottery and see who gets to enter the country! Yes, the 1990 Immigration and Nationality Act introduced a lottery program. But, don’t be fooled. Lottery is just a fun way of saying “quota”. Quota was a bad word in the history of United States immigration policies. I guess legislators thought this was a pretty slick maneuver.

November 29, 1990, President George Bush, Sr., spoke to the nation and made these points about the bill he signed into law:

  • He respected immigrants: “… the fundamental importance and historic contributions of immigrants to our country…”
  • He appreciated the need for family unity: “… our tradition of family reunification… support for the family as the essential unit of society…”
  • He acknowledged the economic benefit of the immigrant, “… immigration of skilled individuals to meet our economic needs… cultivation of a more competitive economy… encourage the immigration of exceptionally talented people, such as scientists, engineers, and educators… promote the initiation of new business… and the investment of foreign capital in our economy…”
  • He was honest about the “bad” element among immigrants: “… swift and effective punishment for drug-related and other violent crime… aliens who, by their violent criminal acts, forfeit their right to remain in this country… jeopardize the safety and well-being of every American resident… improves this Administration’s ability to secure the U.S. border…”

Annually, the Attorney General would review statistics that had been gathered for five years from all over the country. Nations would be designated as “High Admission” or “Low Admission”.  High admission countries had at least 50,000 immigrants that had become permanent residents. Immigrant hopefuls of these nationalities would not be permitted entry unless the “lottery” was unable to be fulfilled by immigrants from the “Low Admission” nations who received preference. The purpose of this was to achieve more ethnic diversity within the United States. The gringa supposes this seems okay on the surface. Let’s dig a little deeper and see how it all works out.

These were the regions that comprised the “High Admission” and “Low Admission” zones considered in the new visa lottery system: Africa; Asia; Europe; North America (Canada and Greenland); Oceania (the geographical area including Micronesia, Fiji, all Polynesia, New Zealand, New Guinea, Melanesia, and Australia); South America; Mexico; Central America; and the Caribbean. In order for an immigrant hopeful to get a visa, not only do they have to come from a “Low Admission” country, but they also have to have a high school diploma and two years of work experience. If an immigrant hopeful was lucky enough to get a visa, their children and spouses were included. The United States considered family unity in this immigration reform policy and the gringa is happy ‘bout dat!

To get down to the specific numbers, America would issue about triple the number of visas than it did prior to the passage of this act. Most of these visas were issued to immigrants who were sponsored by employers. Guess what was required of these employers? They had to show documentation that they were unable to fill the position with an existing American citizen worker. Now, when will all these people stop griping about immigrants coming over here and stealing American jobs? It just ain’t so! Funny how the politicians know these laws exist to protect American jobs yet when an election year comes around some will campaign on headline grabbing, voter stimulating issues that are absolute lies, such as, “We’ve got to do something about immigration! Unemployment is so high and Joe Bob can’t get a job because those damn immigrants are pouring over the border and taking jobs away from good ol’ Americans!” Liar, liar, pants on fire. There are so many jobs that an humble immigrant is grateful to get paid to do that a spoiled American will turn their nose up at. That’s why most of these visas were issued!

For the first five years of this law, maximum limits were put in place. A total of 700,000 would be allowed in annually during this first five year period. Family based immigration was preferred so 465,000 visas were set aside for this type of immigrant. 55,000 visas were designated for spouses and aliens who had spouses or parents who had been legalized in the U.S. under the amnesty plan of 1986. 140,000 visas were set aside for skilled laborers to enter. 40,000 immigrants from “adversely affected” countries were given their own special group.

An example of “adversely affected” people would be the 1,000 displaced Tibetans who entered the country in 1991. On April 30, 1990, China announced the end of martial law in Tibet’s capital. For thirteen months Tibetans had suffered under military rule, harshly silenced and oppressed from any protest against the Chinese government. Military rule had existed in Tibet for decades but China cracked down in 1989 when Tibetans started getting too big for their britches and actually wanted a little freedom and independence, particularly in the area of practicing their religion, and began protesting in public. Too bad it was only 1,000 that made their way here. The gringa wishes all of them could have made it.

Did this immigration reform achieve its goal of creating more diversity in the American population? Prior to this bill, Asia and Latin America were the source nations for the majority of immigrants entering the United States. Under the provisions of this act, the American workforce was primarily supplied with Mexican and Filipino laborers. Indians, Canadians, Chinese and Africans made up the balance. Even today the Latin and Asian immigrants are the predominant ethnicities represented in the immigrant population. So it seems the goal of diversity wasn’t achieved. The most significant change was that fewer of these immigrants were poor.

However, the ethnic fabric of American medicine, science, education and sports was enriched as the result of this immigration reform. To keep these skilled workers in the country, deportation laws were relaxed as well as many stipulations that otherwise would have excluded an immigrant hopeful for qualifying for entry. One of these stipulations, which really seems to get xenophobes all worked up, is that the requirement to speak English was passed over. It makes no difference to the gringa. The gringa likes a challenge, especially a challenging conversation.

The ultimate culmination of the aftermath of this legislation is what we have today. For those who are not threatened by cultural and language differences of other people, the gringa being one those people, we shrug and say, “Who cares. Let ‘em stay as long as they’re minding their own business, working and caring for their family and community.” For the xenophobes, this is their worst nightmare. They have to suffer the indignity of pushing the number one button on their phones to select English. It’s all just so much more damn work and inconvenience that’s been created by these non-English speaking foreigners. It seems American government was socially evolving (except during campaign years when they regressed for the sake of garnering votes). Now the work is to help these hard-headed, scaredy-cat xenophobes evolve.


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