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

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 www.nesdis.noaa.gov/jason-3.

Source & Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov

 

 

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

 

 

The Federal Space Agency AKA Rocosmos


The Russian Federal Space Agency has an illustrious history managing the space assets of Russia as well as being a cooperating partner with many other nations involved in space exploration. Russia has played a significant leadership role in advancing the technologies and capabilities of exploring space safely.

Although the Russian Bear has historically been depicted by American literature as the “enemy”, and there certainly are Defense Ministry aspects to Russia’s space program, this should not overshadow the fact that Rocosmos is dedicated to the purpose of developing space technologies for socioeconomic and scientific purposes. In fact, their website expressly states that Rocosmos is committed to maintaining “coordination and cooperation with foreign states under cooperation agreements in the field of peaceful space exploration and research…”

Areas of activity Rocosmos is committed to using its space technologies for are:

  • Environmental monitoring of natural disasters and emergencies, natural resource exploration, gathering hydro and meteorological data
  • Improving current space navigation system and creating a unified data transmission system
  • Global communication support over Russian territories
  • Support International Space Station missions
  • Research and development of space technologies and microgravity medical research
  • Research and development of space vehicles, launching systems, experimental facilities and infrastructure

If you happen to be in the neighborhood, visitors are welcome at Rocosmos. Simply write a letter to:

Russian Federal Space Agency (Rocosmos)

42 Schepkina st.

Moscow, Russia  107996, GSP-6

Or, you can send your visitor request by fax to: (495) 688-90-63, (499) 975-44-67. After you send your fax, call (495) 631-94-44 or (495) 631-94-48 to confirm that it was received. A digital request can also be made online through their website:  http://en.federalspace.ru/

Online requests will receive a written response via snail mail. If you do a digital visit request, make sure you use the Rocosmos website form and do it correctly. Boo-boos are rejected.

A brief recap of Russia’s accomplishments in space begin even before World War I:

  • In 1929 Konstantin Tsjolkovsky introduced the concept of the multi-staged rocket
  • 1933 the first Soviet rocket launched
  • 1951 the first Soviet rocket with animals aboard launched with successful recovery of live crew
  • 1957 the first intercontinental ballistic missile launched
  • 1961 the first human, Yuri Gagarin, safely completed a single orbit
  • 1961-1963 six manned spaceflights, including the longest flight up to that date, 34 hours
  • 1963 first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova
  • 1968 first living creatures reach the moon & successfully return, Russian tortoises
  • 1971 first space station, Salyut 1
  • 1980 first Hispanic and Black person in space, Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez, Soyuz 38
  • 1984 first woman to walk in space, Svetlana Savitskaya, Salyut 7
  • 1987 first crew to spend over one year in space, Vladimir Titov & Musa Manarov, Soyuz TM-4, Mir space station

So, the dear reader asks the gringa, “What are they up to today?” Well, they are the only space agency that currently has space flight capabilities. Since the United States scuttled the shuttle program, all astronauts around the world have to rely on Russia to ferry them back and forth between Earth and the ISS.

They also manage an orbiting remote sensing system (RSS). Its mission objective is to monitor the Earth and provide images used to manage natural resources, monitor atmospheric/water/soil pollution, monitor natural and man-made disasters, and conduct research.

There are the Meteor-M No. 1 Spacecraft and ELEKTRO Geostationary Hydrometeorological Spacecraft. These spacecrafts observe Earth’s atmosphere and provides hydrometeorological data used for scientific and socioeconomic purposes.

The Kanopus-V spacecraft and Resurs-P spacecrafts are devoted to monitoring natural and man-made disasters. It does this by providing high quality imaging of Earth.

The gringa is a big fan of Rocosmos and grateful that the Russians do not mind letting American astronauts hop aboard and hitch a ride to outer space. It is my greatest hope that this type of cooperative relationship will spill over into all aspects of international dialogue and engagement because the gringa continues to dream a dream of cosmic proportions.

Source:  en.federalspace.ru

 

“Back Up Life…”


SpaceX is the private company that is contracted with NASA to supply the space agency with the “Dragon”, a crew transport spacecraft designed for large crew capabilities as well as deep space missions. Elon Musk, the creator of SpaceX, recently gave an interview with GQ magazine. In that interview he voiced his concerns regarding accomplishing the Mars mission in light of the fact that this world’s nations just can’t seem to grow up and stop all of this war mess.

Musk’s big dream is to colonize Mars. Considering his accomplishments, the gringa believes he can achieve his dream. I mean, just think about it: he leads a company that has managed to develop technology that can design and build rockets at a fraction of the cost as NASA. SpaceX is also the first private company, ever, in all of the world, to have launched a spacecraft into orbit and have it successfully return to Earth. SpaceX has impressed NASA so much that it is contracted to manage resupply missions to the International Space Station as well as transport the astronauts between the ISS and Earth.

Musk believes colonizing Mars is more than just a glamorous adventure. He believes this mission is critical to the ultimate survival of the human species. Considering how mankind has been consistently annihilating one another since a caveman first created a club to sock it to his romantic rival, the gringa has no trouble at all believing Musk’s worst-case scenario of a natural or man-made disaster destroying life as we know it on Earth and the survivors starting over somewhere else. Why not Mars? Musk’s philosophy can be summed up in this statement, “You back up your hard drive… Maybe we should back up life, too?”

In addition to reusable rocket technology and personnel space ferries, SpaceX is developing “Mars colonial transport architecture” to further advance toward the ultimate goal. The gringa asks, “What the heck is that?”

A critical piece of this architecture is commonly called the BFR rocket (it has a technical name but Musk and the developers refer to it as BFR). Now, the gringa likes to keep things family friendly on these blog posts, but, just so you know, BFR actually stands for Big F*#@ing Rocket. I MEAN IT! No kidding! I love that! Scientists that have a sense of humor are right up the gringa’s alley.

The BFR is a two part rocket, booster rocket + spaceship. The booster is to break through the gravity and atmosphere of Earth. Once free, the spaceship is designed to travel through deep space to Mars. The gravity of Mars is weaker than Earth’s and also has a thinner atmosphere. Because of this the spaceship does not need a rocket booster to blast off from Mars for a return trip home.

In order for Martian colonists to create a self-sustaining environment on the Red Planet, what must be done? The planet has to be terraformed to create a warmer environment that will lead to ice melts so that it becomes a “watery” planet. Then fauna can be introduced that will help to create a breathable atmosphere. Musk considers Mars to be a “fixer-upper”. The gringa likes that term.

Nuclear energy could be used to help warm the planet. By converting technology that has been used to destroy life, the fusion bomb can be repurposed into technology that creates and sustains life (now, the gringa LOVES that!). As tiny pulsing suns at each Martian pole, this technology would create a warming effect without radiation and fallout. Mars would then experience the same benefits Earth has from its proximity to the Sun.

Now, NASA is devoted not only to preserving life on the planet Earth, but any life that may possibly be present throughout the cosmos. It has a Mars directive in place forbidding any mission landing near any area containing the potential for liquid water. That is because of the possibility of the presence of bio-organisms, life, causing cross-contamination, whether those organisms are of Earth and contaminate Mars or vice versa.

The good news, as far as the colonial mission goes, is that NASA’s research has not detected any life present on Mars, even on the microscopic level. So, if it is eventually determined that no life at all exists on Mars, the moral dilemma of invading, contaminating and/or destroying it is resolved and colonization can get the green light. The only life on Mars that might exist that NASA’s current research methods are unable to detect is subterranean microbial life.

So, who would like to give the pioneering life a shot and actually become a MARTIAN?  The gringa says, “Where’s the sign up sheet?”

Now, it’s pretty clear that Musk is the type of personality that is driven. There is very little that seems to get in his way when he has set a goal. His biggest concern regarding achievement of colonizing Mars is the very real reality of war. The Earth has never seen a single day in modern history where there has not been an active war somewhere. War could be the very thing that prevents progress.

War stood in the way of progress in the early 1900’s. It was supposed to be a golden era with no more war. Then, guess what? BAM! World War I started. Then World War II. Then the Cold War. However, the Cold War eventually led to the space race, so progress did come of that mess.

How possible is it, then, for progress toward colonizing Mars be disrupted? Pretty darn possible. So, the gringa says to all the religious zealots and war profiteering warmongers everywhere, “JUST STOP IT! KNOCK IT OFF! WE ARE SICK OF IT!”

Now, I know you must be itching to see just how much more fantastic Musk’s dream can get. Well, just check out his timetable. He is determined for all of this to be accomplished within his lifetime. If Musk gets his way (and he seems very apt at always getting his way) the world could see the first boots on the ground on Mars within the next ten to fifteen years.

In fact, before the end of 2015, or early in 2016, he plans to make a big announcement regarding his Mars-colonization plan. The gringa cannot wait to hear this crazy plan because I’m a crazy gringa who is his biggest fan!

 

Source: www.gq.com

Photo Credit: www.joserojas.org

The “Little Green Men” Star


If you happen to be a writer looking for fodder for a great science fiction story, you may want to delve into NASA reports regarding star KIC 8462852. NASA is fascinated by the strange goings on about this star and bears much resemblance to a pulsar named LGM-1 (Little Green Men). This pulsar emitted strange signals that created a stir within NASA and were ultimately determined to be a natural phenomenon. The strange events involving star KIC 8462852 have yet to solved.

Monitoring this star has been the responsibility of the Kepler mission for the past four years. In 2011, and later in 2013, two significant, and as yet unexplained, events took place. What do scientists really know? They know that the star dimmed because “something” passed in front of it large enough to block its light. The gringa says, “What the heck?”

In September scientists finally reported their theory and findings on what could possibly explain these strange events. They are blaming a “swarm” or “family” of comets. The gringa’s imagination begins whirling and thinks, “Or perhaps a fleet of starships.” Another theory suggests a cluster of planetary fragments and asteroids.

Scientists are using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to probe deeper into this mystery. To learn more, scientists, who first studied the star using observations conducted in visible light, then tried using infrared light. This is because if asteroids were involved and actually impacted the star there will be a whole bunch of infrared light surrounding the star and the dusty old bits of gravel from a pulverized asteroid should be at the perfect temperature to glow like a firefly under infrared wavelengths.  And detecting infrared light is one of things the Spitzer Space Telescope is designed to do.

This year the Spitzer took a gander at star KIC 8462852 while looking at hundreds of thousands of stars in its search for planets. One thing in particular that Spitzer was looking for was infrared emission of space dust that encircled stars. Spitzer didn’t find any of this type of dust around star KIC 8462852 so scientists think the asteroid collision theory can probably be scratched.

So, the gringa wants to know just what their thinking is now. What the scientists seem to be leaning toward is the possibility of a “swarm” of cold comets. For such a theory to work, this cluster of comets would need to have an unusually long orbit around the star. They also call this theoretical comet cluster a “family” because it would require a “pack leader” to explain some of the phenomena. The larger “big daddy” that would be in the lead would have been the one to block the star’s light in 2011. In 2013 the rest of the family would have been passing through in front of the star and blocked the light again in the strange pattern that was recorded.  This would explain why in 2015, when Spitzer observed the star again, there were no infrared signatures. The comet “swarm” was long gone and probably around on the other side of the star in its orbit progression.

The gringa must confess to thinking, “Mm hmm. Scout ship shouts, ‘The coast is clear!’ and the support ships soon set a course for the coordinates.” Oh yes, what an imagination! But please don’t judge the gringa! I just couldn’t help myself when NASA itself goes and names a pulsar something like “Little Green Men-1”.

NASA admits that what is going on with this star is strange and not understood. Their interest is extremely piqued so study and research will continue until the curiosity of these scientists are satisfied. And I ask you, is that not the greatest job ever? For every little kid that has lain on their back in the grass in the dark of the night staring up at the stars and wondering if there really are “little green men” out there, is that not just the coolest job ever to grow up and get to do!

Source & Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov

 

 

 

The Girl Who Loved To Count


And who says girls are bad at math? Most definitely Katherine Johnson is not!

Born in West Virgina in 1918, she was a girl who grew up in a time when not only were women not expected to grow up and do great things, but a woman of color had the additional obstacle of racism. But that didn’t stop Katherine from counting and that is the fascination that led to her greatness that culminated in her service at NASA.

When describing her youthful obsession, she said, “I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to the church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed… anything that could be counted, I did.” And what did all that counting lead to? The 2015 National Medal of Freedom.

She was an amazing achiever. At the tender age of ten she was a freshman in high school. Imagine that in the time period and circumstances she was in! The gringa is in awe! And, apparently, her father was as well. He did what was necessary to see that his daughter fulfilled her potential.

Eventually he relocated the entire family to Institute, West Virginia so Katherine could complete her education and she graduated college at the age of eighteen.  Katherine then went on to teach, raise a family and eventually work for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1953 which would later be replaced by NASA. In the time before there were computers to do the tedious job of counting and recording, people like Katherine did the job.

As a “human computer”, Katherine completed mission assignments like calculating the trajectory for the first American in space, Alan Shepard. Once computers did exist, Katherine was the back up that double checked the computer’s accuracy on calculations. Her work was so respected that before John Glenn made his spaceflight aboard Friendship 7, he specifically asked for Katherine to do the recheck on his mission calculations.

Katherine worked on the Apollo Moon landing mission as well as the early beginnings of the shuttle program. She continued to serve the people of the United States of America, as well as the entire world, through her extraordinary work at NASA until 1986.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom medal that she was awarded on Tuesday, November 24, 2015, was not the only merit to her name. In addition to honorary doctorates, in 1967 she received the NASA Lunar Orbiter Spacecraft and Operations team award for her work in navigation.

What does NASA have to say about Katherine? The following are quoted from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s public statement:

“She’s one of the greatest minds ever to grace our agency or our country…”

“Katherine’s legacy is a big part of the reason that my fellow astronauts and I were able to get to space…”

NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman said:  “We are fortunate that when faced with the adversity of racial and gender barriers, she found the courage to say ‘tell them I’m coming’.

And the gringa will close with those simple yet bold words from a great woman.

 

 

Source & Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov