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.

Sources: www.nasa.gov

news.nationalgeographic.com

Image Credit:  www.worldatlas.com

 

 

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El Nino 101


Climate change discusses, of course, changes in Earth’s climate. This includes things like warmer ocean temperatures and fiercer storm systems. Meteorologists on local news broadcasts attribute these destructive storms to something called “El Nino”. The gringa has been hearing this term for years and finds herself often saying, “Oh, yeah, El Nino.” But, when I actually take a moment to define what the heck El Nino is, um, I’m at a loss. Being familiar with climate change terminology doesn’t mean a person actually knows what that term means. So, here’s “El Nino 101” for some clarification.

El Nino is actually a weather system caused by oceanic temperature anomalies. El Nino specifically affects the equatorial Pacific region of Earth. It is defined by unusually warm ocean temperatures shifting eastward, traveling toward the coastal regions of South America. When trade winds shift from east to west, they drag warm surface waters westward. The warmer waters collectively pool in the waters east of Indonesia and northeast of Australia. As this is going on in the western Pacific, cooler waters are surfacing in the eastern Pacific which creates what is known as a “thermocline tilt”, an east to west ocean temperature gradation. This is Earth’s normal, healthy cycle of ocean agitation, much like stirring a pot to keep it from boiling over.

As spring breaks in the northern hemisphere, the trade winds abate, thus no more “stirring the pot” cooling effect. This causes the eastern Pacific to begin warming up, leveling out the thermocline tilt. If Asian monsoons do not restore the delicate temperature balance of the thermocline tilt, El Nino begins to happen. The warmer Indonesian waters begin to move eastward and the central Pacific waters continue to warm throughout summer and fall. The thermocline tilt disappears and warm surface waters prevent cooler, deeper waters from rising. This is called a “capping effect”. Capping results in central and eastern Pacific ocean regions warming by almost 5 degrees Fahrenheit, possibly even 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Eastern Pacific warming causes ocean water to “expand” which means sea levels rise. This rise could be a few inches or even up to a foot. However, the opposite happens in the western Pacific. As warmer surface waters flow eastward, the western Pacific experiences lower sea levels that can expose upper levels of coral reefs, resulting in their bleaching and destruction.

All of this warmer water feeds the moisture in the air which collects in cloud systems. This extra moisture being added to Earth’s normal “rainfall” budget then results in massive storm systems. And that, in a nutshell, is the story of El Nino.

Source: www.nasa.gov

Image source: en.wikipedia.org

Improving The World Has Gone Glam… GEOGlam That Is


Food security in the world is critical to the security of the world in general. When populations become vulnerable due to famine and food shortages, terrible things can happen. Things like wars, massive migrations, malnutrition related disease epidemics, etc. With climate change posing a real threat to the future of food security worldwide, what the heck is being done about this problem?

The international community has come together to go “glam”. No, there is nothing glamorous about hunger. Rather, a group of government leaders, as well as NGO leaders, have formed and call themselves the Group on Earth Observation’s Global Agricultural Monitoring, or, to avoid saying that mouthful, GEOGLAM. They plan to take full advantage of Earth images provided by NASA’s satellites, along with data provided by the space agencies of other nations, to monitor weather and how it will affect the security of crops.

Satellites are not the only hi-tech hardware being put to use. While out in the field, GEOGLAM workers collect data on smartphones and relay it via the internet to GEOGLAM partners. This makes data collection much more efficient and stream lined. No more need to do all that pesky paperwork. The gringa likes that. The gringa likes even better the name for this mobile system of data collection, “MAGIS”. The gringa looks at her smartphone, smiles, and says, “It’s MAGIS!”

Rice is first on the list of crops GEOGLAM monitors. It is the staple grain for not only the largest portion of Earth’s population, but also it’s most vulnerable populations. And it is no easy grain to cultivate. Flood or drought could cause a worldwide starvation catastrophe. Other key crops being monitored are wheat, corn (maize), cotton and sugarcane.

Orbiting satellites provide thermal images of crops that enable GEOGLAM agricultural experts to determine if crop stress is occurring. These hi-tech images can relay such details as moisture and temperature levels of the surface of the land the crop is planted in. This can help create models to protect the viability of critical crops.

Images also provide data that help scientists predict weather patterns. This enables measures to be taken to protect crops in the event of the approach of severe weather. Although it is fine to love your local weatherman who reminds you to take an umbrella with you to work, GEOGLAM’s weathermen are the weathermen that are helping to save the world. The gringa holds them high upon the meteorological pedestal.

GEOGLAM’s eyes in the skies have begun their rice monitoring projects in the nations of Pakistan, Indonesia, Vietnam and Java. In the U.S., Arkansas, and agricultural areas such as Sacramento Valley in California, are also being watched because their water resources are rapidly being depleted. Data processed by GEOGLAM is used to create growing season plans as well as help farmers in these areas manage their local resources, primarily the precious resource of water that is used to irrigate the crops.

A visit to GEOGLAM’s website puts a smile on the gringa’s face. There’s nothing the gringa likes more than solutions. The gringa’s a fixer, a problem-solver, a get ‘er done kind of gal. It’s okay to complain but then you’ve got to get off your bum and FIX IT!

GEOGLAM officially launched in Paris, 2011, with the participation of 20 Agricultural Ministers from the world community. This group is setting out to monitor regions that “… are responsible for over 80% of global crop production…”. As data is gathered regarding these areas, GEOGLAM uses proven scientific methods to analyze weather and other evidence to create consensus based models that work toward the most favorable outcome of crop production and yield.

Although many countries have their own agricultural monitoring systems, GEOGLAM aims to lead the way into the global era. This is the future. Nations no longer live as islands but, rather, as part of a world community. Data is shared. Technologies are shared. Standardized methods are being implemented. It is the recognition that one nation’s food security is the concern of every other nation. The gringa loves this philosophy.

Never before has the world needed scientists and agricultural experts like it does today. These are the fields philanthropic, young students should be encouraged to pursue. If your child wants to change the world, encourage them to be a farmer or meteorologist!

 

Sources: www.nasa.gov and  www.geoglam-crop-monitor.org

Photo credit:  www.en.wikipedia.org