Anyone Can Be A NASA Scientist

If the gringa were to attend a NASA recruitment conference, she would be sitting front and center. When the question was asked who would like to work for NASA the gringa would be the first to raise her hand and wave it like a madwoman. When the next question was asked, which would most certainly have something to do with appropriate qualifications and credentials, the gringa would then have to shamefacedly shrink into the background. No prestigious college degree here. But do all of us science fans have to live a life of utter disappointment and complete disenfranchisement of being a contributor to the world’s bank of scientific studies? The gringa is happy to announce that, no, we science buffs who, for whatever reasons, never achieved the glory of a diploma can still participate. NASA has many “citizen scientist” programs from astronomy observances to laboratory inventions of innovative technology. Take your pick. And, if you happen to live in the northeastern United States, you can be a part of a program that monitors algae blooms that develop in Lake Erie.

Your point of contact would be NASA’s senior scientist, Dr. Rafat Ansari. As the originator of the citizen science campaign, Ansari, along with airplane pilot Terry Schubert, work to mobilize citizen volunteers to monitor Lake Erie’s water quality as well as its coastline and conditions in related tributaries and waterways.

The goal of the program is to alert the coastal communities surrounding Lake Erie of conditions that contribute to algae blooms when they are in the early stages of development. Who could be a citizen scientist and participate in scientific service to their community?

  • Pilots
  • Folks handy with a GPS
  • People who can operate wing mounted, infrared cameras
  • Detail whizzes that can collate data
  • Computer savvy geeks for uploading data
  • Anyone who has a cellphone with a camera and likes to take nature walks

Who, in particular, uses the data collected from the images?

  • Students
  • Teachers
  • Researchers
  • Water quality experts
  • Legislators

What’s the point? I mean, the gringa likes to look at cool pictures and read interesting facts and trivia, but how is the data actually useful?

  • Determine quality of a community’s water source
  • Predict if fish and game need protective measure to be taken to preserve environmental integrity and their survival
  • Alert the public if water conditions are unsafe for recreational use

Why is a citizen scientist program preferred to the amazing technology of satellites in orbit? The real time factor is the main reason. It takes data about three days to travel from satellites to Earth. Then there is more time involved in disseminating the data into usable information. Citizen scientists in low flying aircraft and on the ground can provide usable information within hours. They can also obtain images at lower altitudes that escape the abilities of orbiting satellites. Volunteers can also reach areas in rivers and streams that are simply not on a satellites “radar”, so to speak.

So, if you feel the need to contribute, this is a great opportunity. Even if you are not a pilot and don’t know any pilots to partner with, if you have a cellphone with photo capability, you are sufficiently equipped to engage. If you have snorkeling or scuba gear along with an underwater camera, that, too, is an angle of participation. For more information visit the NASA page for this program. Dear readers can take their time and read all the interesting information posted and then scroll down to the bottom for contact information to begin your new adventure as a citizen scientist.

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Warming Lakes & Rivers = Trouble

It’s pretty easy to find climate change articles discussing the changes that are taking place in the world’s oceans. But, the gringa asks, what about the lakes and rivers of the Earth?

I grew up on a river. I love rivers. I love canoeing and floating down rivers on tubes and camping out alongside the banks of a river. What’s happening with these rivers I love? And what about lakes? Every summer we take a traditional three day weekend family trip to one of the most beautiful lakes in Texas. What’s happening to this fabulous lake? Unfortunately, the research shows that these are all changing as well.

NASA’s response to this change is to create a “global water cycle budget”. It covers a ten year period of the Earth’s freshwater concerns. This will be the baseline by which future “global water cycle budget’s” will be compared.

The water cycle involves the entire environmental process of how water moves, in all forms, around this big, blue planet. As depicted in the image posted it is easy to trace how water evaporates from the surface of the Earth. As it rises into the atmosphere it cools, condenses into clouds, then returns to the Earth as precipitation (rain, snow, hail,  or sleet). This is the kind of science the gringa learned in elementary school but it is, perhaps, the most critical environmental cycle for the continuation of life on Earth.

From the year 2000 until 2010 NASA collected satellite data  to estimate how much energy from the sun was required to move water. Hotter days means more evaporation of water within the soil. More evaporation means more moisture in the winds that transport this moisture throughout the world. Because the Earth is a closed system, any water that evaporates from its surface can be accounted for in the water vapor that eventually accumulates in the atmosphere. It’s kind of like taking a jar of pennies to the bank and getting dollars in return. It’s an even exchange of the same thing, money, but it exists in two different forms, pennies or bills. Water on Earth is the same. It’s either here on Earth as water or in the atmosphere as a form of precipitation.

However, the water model is a bit more complicated. Consider that each penny represents a different data set concerning where the water is specifically located, formed, or used. Such as: ocean, lake, evaporation from soil and plants, streams, rivers, human consumption. To help scientists manage all of this data they divide the Earth into seven land masses (Eurasia, South America, North America, Africa, Antarctica, Mainland Australia, Oceania/New Zealand/Tasmania) and nine ocean basins (North Pacific, South Pacific, Indian, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Arctic, Black Sea).

Over two dozen satellites provide scientists with data concerning precipitation and evaporation over the land masses and oceans. Researchers can track the movement of atmospheric water vapor, river runoff, groundwater reservoirs, soil moisture and snowpacks.

These important studies have already determined that lakes around the world are warming. This warming trend is affecting the ecosystems they are a part of as well as threatening the security of adequate freshwater supplies.

To come to the conclusion that lakes are warming, NASA used a twenty-five year compilation of data of ground measurements of over 200 lakes on six separate continents. On average, the lakes are warming about half a degree Fahrenheit every decade. Some lakes, the ones at higher latitudes, are warming even faster, one whole degree Fahrenheit per decade. That means that freshwater lakes are warming faster than the oceans.

As lakes warm, algal blooms increase. These rob the oxygen in the water from the fish. NASA’s models predict a twenty percent increase in these toxic algal blooms over the next century. Not only will this result in a chain reaction within the ecosystem wiping out the fish, as well as the wildlife and fauna that depend on those fish, but the blooms will also increase greenhouse gas emissions. Algal blooms are expected to produce methane emissions that will increase four percent over the next decade unless we Earthlings come up with a solution.

Solving the lake warming problem is a very important component of solving the climate change problem because methane emissions are 25 times more powerful than carbon emissions. A massive worldwide increase of algal blooms in freshwater lakes is a disaster we cannot allow to happen.

If the world’s lakes become a casualty of climate change, it won’t just be an environmental disaster, it will be a humanitarian disaster. These are important sources for drinking water, crop irrigation, and the production of food fish that are an important protein source for vulnerable populations around the world. Some researchers are already detecting evidence that productivity in warming lakes is already declining.

Out of the 37 largest aquifers on Earth, 21 are already past the sustainability tipping point and are being depleted. Another 13 are classified as “significantly distressed”. Eight are classified as “overstressed”. “Distressed” and “overstressed” means that these water sources have no natural replenishment to offset consumption. Five more were classified as “extremely stressed”, being depleted but with some replenishment occurring.

These were the conclusions of NASA’s study of ten years of data from the GRACE satellites. The GRACE satellites measure how Earth’s gravity is affected by existing masses of water. What NASA reports is alarming and difficult for the gringa to swallow, even with a glassful of water. That means that almost one third of our world’s groundwater is rapidly disappearing. And what’s even scarier is there is no reliable data that can predict just exactly when these wells will run dry. Yet, we continue to consume rather than conserve.

One of these overstressed reservoirs is the Arabian Aquifer System. It sustains over 60 million people. If we think there’s trouble in the Middle East right now over regional power struggles and the global fight to dominate the oilfields for profit, what the heck can we expect to see when these people have nothing left to drink? What kind of mass exodus will occur when that happens? This is a problem that must be solved. When climate change deniers scoff at the idea that climate change is the single most issue that threatens the national security of all peoples, they have no idea what they are talking about.

If Americans thought the California and Texas droughts were painful, consider what could occur in India and Pakistan, home to the second-most overstressed aquifer, the Indus Basin. Then there’s the third most overstressed water source, the Murzuk-Djado basin in north Africa. These regions are home to almost two billion people! Think about the Syrian refugee crisis. We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

While working toward a solution, scientists cannot agree on any projected timeline of “time to depletion”. And when the gringa says they cannot agree, I’m talking about discrepancies of warnings of ten years to twenty-one THOUSAND years! However, one thing that these scientists DO agree on is that in a water-scarce society that is water dependent, this kind of ignorance is intolerable. Well, the gringa is glad to hear that.

Because groundwater reservoirs are so deep beneath the surface of the Earth, the only method to accurately measure just how much is down there is to drill, baby, drill. It’s gonna cost a lot of money, but the experts say it has to be done. NASA is committed to using its technology, personnel and data to help secure mankind’s future and improve lives around the world. By sharing knowledge freely with scientists around the world, the agency hopes to increase understanding that will lead to solutions.

The gringa waits to hear NASA’s announcement of a challenge like “Dig A Hole, Save The Planet”. The gringa has every confidence that NASA will continue to lead the charge to save us Earthlings from ourselves and the messes we continue to make. These challenges are simply a way for us to redeem ourselves after making such awful messes.

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