The Politics Of Saving Us


“Extreme space weather”… what the heck does that even mean? The gringa sees that President Obama has demanded that a plan be made in the event of “extreme space weather”. She is hoping this indicates that he takes very seriously the imminent threat that climate change poses. Is that what he’s talking about or is he worried about astronauts getting fried by extreme solar rays or blown to bits with gale force cosmic winds?

Specifically he is addressing the possibility of catastrophic solar flares that could destroy important infrastructure we humans rely on.  He wants a back-up plan for the nation’s electrical power grids, satellites, medical services and aviation industry. But he wants to do more than just protect the Americans he serves as president. He wants America’s plan to benefit the people of every other continent on Earth. And he’s not messing around. His demand was made through an executive order.

That means no messing about with Senate or House approval that could result in lengthy delays as legislators negotiate and jockey with power plays or, quite possibly, strike down any measure altogether. The gringa is perfectly OK with the president circumventing the legislative process with an issue so critical. You see, in this crazy system we call a democratic republic, at this moment in time we have a Democratic party President and a Republican party controlled legislature and we are less than a month away from electing what the gringa hopes will be another Democratic party president.

At a time like now, with climate change disasters real, one would think that everyone would be on board with doing the right thing and creating plans to save us all. Unfortunately, in politics, the number one priority for the Republican party is always power. They are more concerned with political strategies that will help them retain the power they have and create opportunity to gain more. If they allow any measure to pass that ends up being a good thing for the people of our nation, with a Democrat as president, his administration will get all the glory.

That is why practically every single bill that has been presented in Congress for the past four years has been defeated by power hungry Republicans who hold the voting majority. Even if the bill was something our nation desperately needed, Congress didn’t care. They would rather wait, hope for a new Republican president, and then pass all the good stuff so their party can get the pats on the back. But with an executive order President Obama has signaled that the security of humanity is more important than the Republican party’s desire for political gain. Thanks, prez.

His executive order implies cooperation between all government agencies, NASA, the media, academic organizations, and relevant organizations in the private and non-profit sector. As for insurance companies, they are not going to be able to give citizens a hard time if a rash of claims are filed after a solar flare related disaster. President Obama specifically mentioned the insurance industry as well.

We may be in for a wild ride. Who knows? The world hasn’t really seen anything like what happened in 1859 when the Carrington Event happened. The telegraph system of old failed throughout North America and Europe. All communication was temporarily cut off. So homeland security is testing devices and technologies that are hoped to protect the world’s communication systems and satellite networks so we can all encourage one another through a trying time and stay updated with just what the heck is going on.

Sources:

www.whitehouse.gov

www.newsweek.com

www.history.com

Image Credit:  earthsky.org

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Oysters & Fortunetellers


Where the gringa lives in the gulf coast of Texas, oyster farming is big business. The gringa’s farming experience is limited to my father’s cattle ranch and my own egg farming. Is that how oyster farming works? Do you just leave the little guys alone most of the time to do what oysters do? Toss them a bit of feed, protect them from predators, stuff like that? Well, actually oyster farming has gone hi-tech. For young people who are interested in a beach bum lifestyle with the edge of technology, oyster farming or working with the technology related to the industry may be your thing if you love science as much as beach bumming.

Oysters don’t need their human overseers to bring them a bale of hay or toss out some nutrient enriched scratch. They are living filters that live on the bottom of a bay. Oyster farmers really don’t have that much to do, it would seem, unless it is harvest time. Sounds like the perfect beach bum job.

However, there is one thing that can happen that can interrupt an oyster farmer’s hiatus between harvests. If storm clouds gather, oyster farmers have to get out of their hammocks, put away the surfboard and forego the margaritas and head out for some serious relocating work in the estuaries.

You see, as bottom feeding filters, rain in this polluted day and age can be deadly for oysters. And even if contaminants in run off don’t kill the slimy, little buggers they could, in turn, kill a human if eaten. A local thunderstorm with a heavy downpour means one of two things:

  • Completely relocate their stock, or,
  • Quarantine the area and delay harvest until it is safe.

Now, even if an oyster farmer was willing to relocate their oysters, often weather conditions can change rapidly and unexpectedly in coastal regions.  Usually an oyster farmer simply doesn’t have enough time to respond. So, the oysters bide the storm and everyone hopes for the best. But considering how heavily polluted most of the soil is in populated areas around the world, it’s usually not good news when it’s all over.

The gringa doesn’t have the numbers for industry loss or farm closures in the Gulf of Mexico area I call home. However, I can tell you about what’s been going on in Tasmania. Since 2013 industry research has recorded a loss of over $4.3 million (Australian currency!) for Tasmanian oyster farmers due to contamination related farm closures, caused by pollutants in rainfall water runoff that entered estuaries.  This sounds awful, right? Well, take heart, dear readers. There is good news for Tasmanians as well as oyster farmers everywhere thanks to an agriculture technology start-up company, The Yield.

The Yield has designed a system of sensors that were tested in 14 Tasmanian oyster farm estuaries. This comprised about 80% of the entire oyster industry for the state. The technology measured:

  • Water depth
  • Salinity
  • Temperature
  • Barometric pressure

Oyster farmers use their smartphone, or other device, to access the handy little app that is updated every five minutes with new data about their squishy, little, hard-shelled babies. Access is also available to food safety regulators so everybody that matters is in the loop.

But the gringa wants to know if this has made oyster farming better. I mean, it’s always fun to have new gadgets but where business is concerned, is there a point to the expense? Here are the benefits of this new technology:

  • Reduces paperwork between farmers & food service regulators.
  • Food quality and safety has improved.
  • Accurate measurements has resulted in fewer farm closures.
  • Fewer farm closures has resulted in higher production, yields and profits.

Well, it looks like this technology is worth the investment for oyster farmers. It also looks like the investment of time and effort of scientists and meteorologists for more than a century was also a worthy investment. That is the backbone of the information that went into designing this system. If you have a habit or hobby of recording weather related “stuff”, who knows, one day what you may consider a hobby or pre-occupation could change the world! More than a hundred years worth of weather and tidal related data helped developers understand weather and tidal patterns, how they changed with the seasons, and how this would affect the performance of the technology to predict weather events. So, basically, Tasmania’s oyster farmers are more successful because of digital fortunetellers.

Sources:

www.techrepublic.com

www.theyield.com

oysterstasmania.org

Image Credit: oysterstasmania.org

 

 

Let It Rain, Let It Rain, Let It Rain


Although Olympic focus has been trained on Rio, the gringa would like to take the dear reader back in time and to the other side of the globe to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. When China was preparing to host this historical event, pollution was high on the list of problems to solve. Although everyone is probably familiar with the tactic of temporary bans on driving & factory operations as drastic measures to help reduce smog. What many may not be aware of is China’s ambitious plans to control the weather, a $30 million dollar plan that they are still working on today. A plan to shoot into the heavens special “bullets” filled with salt and other minerals. What in the world are those crazy Chinese scientists up to? Apparently, nothing new! They’re just trying to make it rain.

Officially called “weather modification”, China helped clear their smog-filled skies during the Olympic games by making it rain, rain, rain. They are not alone in being rainmakers. Fifty-two other countries have developed their own rainmaking strategies. Ten of these countries joining the rainmaking team only five years ago. Rainmaking countries include: Canada, United States, Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Australia, India, Senegal, South Africa, Russia and the list goes on. You can see the map created by the World Meteorological Organization to see who all is in on the rainmaking game.

The gringa is rather ashamed to admit that as for the United States, the origins of its weather modification program is not as noble as China’s. For the U.S., it all started with Operation Popeye which was a top secret program that weaponized weather during the Vietnam War. Although I’m sure the scientists who worked for General Electric had noble intentions, they probably had no idea that the U.S. government was going to take their technology and rain down silver iodide on the poor Vietnamese people.

But I digress. Back to China. In addition to creating rain to saturate polluted air and get rid of smog, they also wanted to prevent rain from spoiling events taking place in the stadium that was dubbed the “Bird’s Nest”. To achieve this amazing god-like feat, the Chinese implemented a 3 stage weather modification strategy:

  1. Officials tracked weather patterns with satellites, planes, radar and supercomputer.
  2. 2 aircraft, 20 rocket launcher & artillery sites sprayed silver iodide and dry ice into remote cloud systems that might approach the stadium so they would dump their rain before arrival.
  3. Nearby cloud systems filled with rain were seeded with chemicals that shrink the water droplets thus ensuring that the clouds would have time to pass over the Bird’s Nest without dropping their rain.

Now was all of this really necessary? The Beijing Olympics were held in August which is a high precipitation season for China so, yes, the gringa supposes that it was necessary. Consequently, China’s success in being a master rainmaker or rainstaller has resulted in China being the world leader in the weather modification sciences. They have more than 1,500 professionals devoted to all things necessary in controlling the weather: scientists, pilots, flight crews. Also proudly serving in the program are tens of thousands of peasant farmers who are more than happy to help their government blast away a cloud when crops have been inundated or have clouds seeded during times of drought. Peasants are on call to operate more than 7,000 aircraft guns and almost 5,000 rocket launchers when called to report to rainmaking duty.

The gringa is not too sure what to make of all this. For the most part I am the type to believe that the less we interfere with nature, the better. However, considering how bad mankind has screwed things up where climate change is concerned, it may just be that Mother Nature could use a few rainmakers. So, I say to the Chinese:

Let it rain. Let it rain. Let it rain.

 

Sources:

www.technologyreview.com

www.wmo.int

uspto.gov

fas.org

wikipedia.org/OperationPopeye

Image Credit:  cloudfront.net

 

 

A Challenge That Could Help Save The World


Who is up for a NASA challenge? The gringa hopes that many dear readers are because NASA can always use new talent. And the talent they need is not just limited to scientists. Here are the details for a summer challenge, perfect for anyone who considers themselves a videographer:

Challenge – “CineSpace – NASA Imagery Your Vision 2016”

Description – Film competition designed to expand knowledge through space exploration, drawing off past, present and future inspirations. Use NASA sourced imagery in original cinematic creations to bring art and science together.  NASA challenge partner and sponsor, Houston Cinema Arts Society, will be primary host of the SpaceCom convention (there will be simultaneous venues worldwide). Finalists and winners will be announced by Houston Cinema Arts Society.

Prizes: Grand Prize $10,000; 2nd Prize $5,000; 3rd Prize $3,000; Awards for special categories.

Opens: June 1, 2016 Submissions begin to be received

Closes: July 31, 2016 Deadline for submissions

If this challenge has great appeal for you, dear reader, but you simply do not have the time to get your submission ready, don’t be disheartened. This is an annual event. So, take your time and perfect your craft! For more information on this event log on to www.cinespace16.org.

Another NASA challenge that is open to all and ongoing is “The GLOBE Program”. This is a worldwide environmental learning and observation initiative inclusive of students, teachers, scientists and citizens. To participate, simply engage in the following investigative fields:

  • Atmosphere
  • Biosphere
  • Hydrosphere
  • Soil (pedosphere)
  • Earth as a system

Examples of environmental measurements: clouds, soil moisture levels, rainfall, temperatures, weather systems, soil contaminants, lake levels, etc.

Local observation data is submitted to the GLOBE data information system which is accessible online and available to the public.  This program boasts over 10 million student participants from over 100 countries, participating since 1995. 2016 will be the first year the program will expand to include participation from all citizens. To join, log on to www.globe.gov.

Despite the fact that climate change seems painfully obvious to the gringa, the reality is that there are many climate change deniers, resistors of necessary change, people who simply have no knowledge and folks who are apathetic and just don’t care. Anyone can contribute to NASA’s effort to strengthen public understanding of climate change.

Participants of “I See Change Community Climate & Weather Journal” have very simple tasks for such an important mission. Citizens contribute to the “I See Change” weather journal with photographs and text messages. How simple is that? How many times throughout the day do you text a loved one or upload a photo from your smartphone to social media? Well, now those common actions can help change the world and save the Earth!

And, for citizens with a science background, you can step up your participation level a notch. NASA also has a citizen science corps that shares spaced based experiences and observations of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and how they vary seasonally and from year to year. To sign up visit www.iseechange.org.

Source:  www.nasa.gov

Image Credit:  www.nasa.gov, http://www.photoxels.com

 

How Climate Change Affects Vacation Priorities


So, when the climate change poop hits the fan, who is going to be in for the worst ride? What parts of the world should I vacation at now because they will be uninhabitable in the future? Exactly where will be the safest place for the gringa and the caveman to diddle away their golden years?

Well, we better get busy and visit all the beach hotspots that are alive and kicking right now. With sea levels rising, the coastal cabanas of today will be reef material tomorrow. And, considering that climate change creates erratic and extreme weather patterns such as: heavy rain here, drought there, devastating tornadoes everywhere; well, there is no uniform model of what’s going to change where or when. The only concrete expectation right now is what models predict about low elevation islands and coastal beachlands. They are pretty much going to be history, some maybe within my lifetime.

Other areas scientists expect to change dramatically are regions that have a delicate ecosystem balance and are already experiencing hyper-sensitivity to environmental stressors. These areas include:

  • Arctic, specifically the tundra region
  • Boreal forest belt – This is the conifer forest that stretches across North America, particularly dense in the Pacific Northwest
  • Tropical Rainforest
  • Alpine regions
  • Steppes of Asia and the Americas
  • Prairies of Asia and the Americas
  • Deciduous forests of South America and Australia

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the Earth. The permafrost layer is melting. Glaciers are getting smaller and sea ice is disintegrating. The wildlife of the Arctic will probably be a loss to the world. They depend on a habitat that is going to grow too warm to support their needs. The indigenous people of this region will experience a loss of their culture that is strongly dependent on the wildlife and natural geography. The humans will have the adaptation advantage that the wildlife and fauna do not have. But the loss of their culture is still something to mourn over.

The boreal forests of North America are important carbon sponges for the earth. What will a degree or two warmer mean? As temperatures warm the center of the United States, the boreal forest will shift northward. Predictive models sees the United States losing its boreal forest as it relocates to Canada and Alaska. So, we won’t lose them, they will relocate. That’s good news in the aspect that at least the Earth will retain a critical carbon filter.

Researchers in tropical rainforests mark trees and track them for years, measuring them to see how they are responding to climate change. A group in the Bolivian Andes are studying a swath of diverse trees and plants that thrive in a limited temperature range. As temperatures rise, so do the trees. New, baby trees are growing uphill. Just as the North American model predicted a forest migration, the same is expected of the tropical rainforests. They will abandon the lowland jungle regions and migrate up the mountainsides, seeking cooler temperatures.

Alpine regions are going to experience the same forest creeping phenomena. As glaciers continue to recede, alpine plants will continue to move upwards looking for cooler temperatures and water. However, eventually, when all the glacier water has melted and run off or evaporated, this critical component of the annual water budget will be gone forever. Plants and trees dependent upon it will eventually be extinct. So Alpine ecosystems will not only migrate, they will migrate to a slow death.

The upside of forest migration is that the Earth is trying to compensate and save herself. The downside is that the migration process is slower than the warming process. This means there will still be catastrophic loss of tropical rainforest and alpine habitat. This will affect the wildlife dependent on these ecosystems as well as their indigenous people.

Experts predict the possibility of losing over half of the steppe habitats due to the effects of climate change. They are not modeling a migration of fauna, but a loss. Steppes are critical grazing areas. As the steppes experience habitat loss, growing smaller, overgrazing occurs on the remaining areas. The effects then are coupled: climate change related drought and overgrazing. Things look dire for the future of the steppes and the animals and shepherds and ranchers who depend on them. The steppes could become the Earth’s future Sahara’s.

Unlike a conifer boreal forest or tropical rainforest that are green year round, a deciduous forest becomes barren in the winter season as the trees lose their leaves. Deciduous forests exist in tropical and temperate climates. Climate change models predict warmer winters affecting deciduous forests. This could lead to tree loss from pests and disease. In regions where devastating drought occurs, there will be higher tree loss. When a tree dies in the forest it also becomes fuel. In regions experiencing drought related tree loss, the dry conditions and increased fuel of more dead trees makes conditions ripe for voracious wildfires. So, if the drought or the bugs don’t wipe out the deciduous forests, the wildfires probably will.

The gringa thinks the list of vacation priorities should go something like this:

  • Arctic expedition
  • Steppe pack-mule trip
  • Deciduous and Alpine forest camp outs
  • Beach parties around the world
  • Tropical rainforest excursion
  • Bigfoot safari in the boreal forests of the Pacific Northwest

I don’t think climate change is going to sound the death knell for planet Earth and mankind. The gringa does believe it will be the end of many species of animals and plants that are with us today. It is also highly likely that entire cultures will be wiped out when they lose the habitats they rely upon. And usually species loss does not mean a gaping hole is left behind. Usually, another species fills the gap or a species evolves and adapts. So, the key word to focus on is “change”. It’s climate “change” not climate “loss”. But the change is as significant as the past disappearances of entire civilizations such as the Maya or entire animal classes like the dinosaurs.

At this point, I believe the consensus among scientists is that we have passed the tipping point. There is no going back and “fixing” things. We simply have to ride the lightning and deal with it. So, if a person is able and so inclined, they need to enjoy the world as we know it today and document it for the children of the future.

 

Source:  www.nasa.gov

Image Credit: http://www.notenoughgood.com

 

The Moon Balloon


There is a former NASA astronaut who is partnering with a private company to bring the concept of hot air ballooning to a whole new level. And the gringa is fascinated. If any of my dear readers are familiar with the annual hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico, think of that but on steroids.

Former astronaut Ron Garan and spaceflight company, World View, want to provide the ultimate thrill ride out to the edges of space with passengers gliding peacefully into the heavens aboard a giant space balloon. Garan, of course, is the ace pilot of the airship.

When Garan left NASA almost three years ago, it was for just such a purpose as this. He wanted to share space travel with regular folks on a full-time basis. And what a way to make his dream come true! He will be the first pilot ever to achieve such a mission. But why is he doing this? Is it for glory? Well, actually, Garan has more philosophical reasons behind his career move.

Garan believes that such an experience changes a person’s perspective. He believes he can help contribute to changing the world for the better by providing an experience that changes individuals for the better. The gringa quotes Garan’s own words:

“I left NASA… for really one reason. That was to share the perspective that we have of our planet from space and to do that full-time… I truly believe that perspective has profound implications for how we tackle the problems we face, how we deal with each other, politics, for every aspect of human life.”

Now his sentiment may sound rather lofty, but there is actually medical evidence that supports his reasoning. It’s called the “overview effect” and is defined as being a “cognitive shift in awareness” that occurs when an individual observes Earth from orbit. This causes a person’s perspective to change from seeing people categorized by national boundaries to seeing that mankind is one united race, the human race, and Earth is home to us all.

Passengers of the “moon balloon” (the gringa understands it doesn’t really go to the Moon, but, the name is catchy so please humor me, dear readers) won’t have the weightlessness experience of those who have a suborbital ride. It will be a gentler experience, a quiet ride above the Earth’s atmosphere. From take off to touch down, the ride will last about five to six hours, two of those hours being a cruise at maximum altitude for the viewing pleasure of the crew and passengers.

A test flight without paying passengers has already been successfully staged. Although the opening date has not yet been set for tourists to begin booking a seat, that may be good news. It will probably take folks a bit of time to set aside the $75, 000 a ticket will cost.

In addition to space tourism, World View also wants to engage in the science and technology of Earth observation, weather models and using data to help prevent devastating wildfires. This can be done by incorporating a satellite system into the balloon vehicle model being used for passenger payloads.

$75,000 is a bit steep for the gringa to think she’ll be floating in the atmosphere anytime soon. However, I always try to look on the bright side so I’m holding out for a coupon.

 

Source & Image Credit: www.worldviewexperience.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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