January 1, 2020
As 2019 comes to an end and a new decade approaches, we look back at all the important Earth science NASA has revealed. This is a time to take stock in all that we have learned and to use those insights to better understand and reliably predict the many ways our planet is changing in the coming decades.
Our planet is an interconnected system, and every new discovery leads to new understandings and new avenues of exploration. Our climate is changing, and NASA spacecraft and science over the past decade have studied it from numerous angles and perspectives. Below are highlights of the science NASA spacecraft have enabled over the past decade, and important topics to study over the decades to come.
In 2012, the Arctic sea ice cover reached the smallest point observed from space yet, and in the years since, scientists have watched it shrink further. Studying the sea ice loss has brought new insights to the feedback loops that climate change has set in motion. The sea ice cover in the Arctic has, in the past, protected that area of the world from warming. Because ice is a much brighter surface than the dark ocean, it reflected more light and heat. With the loss of that ice, the ocean now absorbs that heat and speeds up warming in the Arctic.
This sea ice loss has also been found to affect the average age of the sea ice, with less and less of the seasonal cover lasting multiple years. Now that much of the multiyear ice has been lost, further changes in ice thickness and age will happen more slowly, as the majority of the sea ice now is seasonal, melting with the summer. Continuing to monitor the Arctic sea ice in the coming years, from airborne and spaceborne platforms, will be critical to understanding the effects of climate change in that region.
In May of 2013, the average global CO2 concentration broke the 400 parts per million (ppm) level, and has since continued to rise. In 2017, the annual minimum CO2 concentration also reached the 400 ppm level, further cementing the importance of tracking the carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere. Satellite missions like the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2) have added space-based global measurements of atmospheric CO2 with the precision, resolution, and coverage needed to characterize sources and sinks (fluxes) on regional scales. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (OCO-3) was launched in 2019 to expand the horizons of OCO-2 , focusing its instrument on large cities.
When OCO-2 and OCO-3 aren’t studying carbon dioxide, they’re still hard at work measuring plant growth! The OCO-2 science team found that their instrument could also be used to track the tiny amount of glow plants give off when they photosynthesize, and have been studying the health and stress of plants in tandem with the project’s other science objectives
For a student-friendly explanation of the greenhouse effect and how that contributes to rising carbon levels in the atmosphere, visit Climate Kids!
NASA has been continuously studying the ozone hole since it was first discovered, and 2019 has shown the smallest hole yet. Typically, it grows to a size of 8 million square miles, but this past year its maximum was 6.3 million miles. While this is good news for the ozone hole, it is not caused entirely by the repair that began with the signing of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. With no other systems at play, a decrease in chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the atmosphere after they were banned in 1897 would result in the ozone hole reaching its past levels around 2070.
The Antarctic ozone hole forms during the Southern Hemisphere’s late winter as the returning Sun’s rays start ozone-depleting reactions. These reactions involve chemically active forms of chlorine and bromine derived from man-made compounds. The chemistry that leads to their formation involves chemical reactions that occur on the surfaces of cloud particles that form in cold stratospheric layers, leading ultimately to runaway reactions that destroy ozone molecules. In warmer temperatures, fewer polar stratospheric clouds form and they don’t persist as long, limiting the ozone-depletion process.
The smaller hole is in part because of the decrease in CFCs in the atmosphere, but also because of warming temperatures. In warmer temperatures, fewer polar stratospheric clouds form, and they don’t persist as long, limiting the ozone-depletion process.
NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study the ozone hole in complementary methods. A trio of NASA satellites measure ozone from space, and Aura’s Microwave Limb Sounder instrument estimates levels of chlorine in the atmosphere. NOAA staff, meanwhile, launch weather balloons from the ground that carry ozone-measuring instruments, providing another set of data to pair with the space-based record.
Both agencies will continue to study the ozone hole and how it is affected by climate change in the coming years.
From a 2015 study showing that fire seasons are growing longer, to the satellite record displaying the similar effects from space, it is becoming clear that the longer and fiercer fire seasons are also an effect of climate change. The satellite record of the past 20 years has shown a large-scale trend of increased fire activity in places experiencing warming temperatures and a drying climate. A drier climate leads to an increase in burning fuel as plants die out and dry up. Further, warmer temperatures at night result in fires lasting multiple days, where cooler temperatures may have suppressed the fire and kept it from spreading as drastically.
NASA is continuing to study fires from space, and has also launched airborne and ground-based Earth Expeditions, such as FIREX-AQ to further study the effects of more frequent fires on our planet and on human health.
Looking for a student-friendly explanation of wildfires? Check out this video: https://scijinks.gov/wildfires/
In May 2019, after the wettest 12 months ever recorded in the Mississippi River Basin, the region was bearing the weight of 8 to 12 inches (200 to 300 millimeters) more water than average. New data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission, which launched in May 2018, showed that there was an increase in water storage in the river basin, extending east around the Great Lakes.
GRACE-FO is a follow-on mission from GRACE, which built a 15-year data record of tracking water mass movement, studying floods, droughts, and ice melt. Some of GRACE’s findings include measuring the melting of both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. The Greenland mass loss trend from April 2002-March 2009 (7 years) is -219 Gigatonnes/year (Gt/yr). The Greenland mass loss trend for the next 7 years, from 2009 to 2016, is -319 Gt/yr. Antarctica’s melt is smaller in magnitude, but there is a more distinct acceleration happening there. For the same seven years, between 2002 and 2009, Antarctica’s trend is -73 Gt/yr. Then, between 2009 and 2016, the trend is -165 Gt/yr. If you’d like to explore and see GRACE’s work yourself, you can access and download the data here.
The twin GRACE-FO spacecraft are used to measure the change in the mass of water across the planet, providing scientists, decision makers and resource managers with an accurate measure of how much water is retained – not only on Earth’s surface, but also in the soil layer and below ground in aquifers. Monitoring these changes provides a unique perspective of Earth’s climate and has far-reaching benefits for humankind, such as understanding both the possibility and the consequences of floods and droughts.
The continuing work from GRACE-FO will be important in the coming decade as climates around the world change, helping scientists monitor the movement of water around the globe.
2020 and Beyond: Upcoming Missions
NASA’s Earth Science program is ever-evolving, and there are many missions being currently built. Of the many in development, two to keep an eye on are the Surface Water and Topography (SWOT) and NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) Missions, both of which will be launching in the next few years. Each new mission being developed will provide a new angle on Earth science, and will help provide a better understanding of the complicated and interconnected systems that govern our planet.
Want to see how your home planet is changing? Explore NASA’s “Images of Change” gallery to see different locations on Earth, showing change over time periods ranging from days to decades.
Source: NASA, By Kalina Velev
A year-round acoustic study of marine mammals in the northern Bering Sea is providing scientists with a valuable snapshot of an Arctic world already under drastic pressure from climate change.
Climate change, with more and more storms and heat waves, also has consequences for our energy supply. An international research team has now developed a new method for calculating how extreme weather affects energy systems.
Plants that break some of the 'rules' of ecology by adapting in unconventional ways may have a higher chance of surviving climate change, according to researchers.
A study finds for the first time that as levels of aridity increase due to climate change, abrupt changes are experienced on dryland ecosystems.
The Gulf Coast, especially New Orleans, is particularly vulnerable to storm surge. As the climate warms, the region will be even more susceptible to extreme storm surges, according to new research.
Scientists found that while all regions of the country can expect an earlier start to the growing season as temperatures rise, the trend is likely to become more variable year-over-year in hotter regions.
By Ayurella Horn-Muller, Climate Central This story was produced through a partnership between Climate Central, a non-advocacy science and news group, and WVLT, a CBS-affiliated television station in Knoxville. WVLT meteorologist Ben Cathey contributed local reporting. Click here for the Climate Central report, “POLLEN PROBLEMS: Climate Change, the Growing Season, ...
A statement from Tom Gilbert, campaign director for New Jersey Conservation Foundation and ReThink Energy NJ On Thursday, May 23, New Jersey legislature passed a bipartisan bill that requires the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to set benchmarks for reducing emissions and adopt measures to ensure we meet them. May ...
Research has revealed the effect of climate warming on the complex interactions between tree masting and the insects that eat their seeds.
Institutional investors are factoring climate risks into their investment decisions.
Climate scientists propose that massive amounts of melting sea ice in the Arctic drained into the North Atlantic and disrupted climate-steering currents, thus playing an important role in causing past abrupt climate change after the last Ice Age, from about 8,000 to 13,000 years ago.
Aerosol emissions from burning coal and wood are dangerous to human health, but it turns out that by cooling the Earth they also diminish global economic inequality, according to a new study.
Statement of Tom Gilbert, Campaign Director for New Jersey Conservation Foundation & ReThink Energy NJ The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) yesterday told PennEast that it hadn’t met the minimum legal requirements for the agency to be able to begin application review. “It is not surprising that NJDEP ...
Researchers have decoded the genetic map for how maize from tropical environments can be adapted to the temperate US summer growing season. They believe that if they can expand the genetic base by using exotic varieties, they might be able to counter stresses such as emerging diseases and drought associated ...
When it comes to adapting to the effects of climate change, scientists and policymakers are thinking too small, according to a new research review.
An analysis of the so called climate spectrum shows why the ice ages have not behaved precisely as the models predict. A large element of coincidence is involved when an ice age begins or ends, the analysis shows. The results imply we should maybe use a more conservative risk assessment ...
A statement from Tom Gilbert, campaign director for New Jersey Conservation Foundation and ReThink Energy NJ March 25, 2019 — “Today, the Senate cast a welcome bipartisan vote for a healthier, safer, cleaner New Jersey. “These amendments will ensure that the state takes the steps necessary to reduce emissions as ...
In a new study, scientists with NASA's Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) used planes equipped with the Airborne Visible Infrared Imaging Spectrometer -- Next Generation (AVIRIS -- NG), a highly specialized instrument, to fly over some 20,000 square miles (30,000 square kilometers) of the Arctic landscape in the hope of ...
A new study offers the most complete picture available of where life occurs on Earth and what the most critical environmental factors are for determining why it's in specific places. The study's authors envision it providing a way to adapt management practices as climate change disrupts ecosystems across the planet. ...
This new work sheds fresh light on the complicated interplay of factors affecting global climate and the carbon cycle -- and on what transpired millions of years ago to spark two of the most devastating extinction events in Earth's history.
A new study suggests that iron fertilization may not have a significant impact on phytoplankton growth, at least on a global scale.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals denied PennEast pipeline’s request for a rehearing on its ruling that PennEast lacks legal authority to seize or condemn state-owned lands for its proposed pipeline. The Third Circuit decision means PennEast no longer has authority to condemn more than 40 properties preserved by the ...
PennEast has been dealt a serious setback in its attempt to build an unsafe and unneeded pipeline through Mercer and Hunterdon Counties. Today, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower federal court decision that had allowed PennEast to seize state lands. The Third Circuit ruled that PennEast, as ...
Researchers studied recent extinctions from climate change to estimate the loss of plant and animal species by 2070. Their results suggest that as many as one in three species could face extinction unless warming is reduced.
With less than two weeks before PennEast’s requested in-service date, the pipeline company requested a two-year extension. New Jersey Conservation Foundation, The Watershed Institute, and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network submitted a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to oppose PennEast’s baseless request for an extension of time. On ...
About 55 million years ago, a rapidly warming climate decimated marine communities around the world. But according to new research, it was a different story for snails, clams and other mollusks living in the shallow waters along what is now the Gulf Coast of the United States. They were able ...
The profound threat of future climate change to biodiversity demands that scientists seek ever more effective ways to identify the most vulnerable species, communities, and ecosystems. Scientists have now shown that the most biodiverse regions on Earth are among the most vulnerable to future climate change.
A major new report highlights new and emerging policy trends in the Arctic, a region on the front lines of climate change, geopolitics, and global governance.
Insect declines and extinctions are accelerating in many parts of the world. With this comes the disappearance of irreplaceable services to humans, the consequences of which are unpredictable. A group of scientists from across the globe has united to warn humanity of such dangers.
Researchers examined the rainfall history of Central America over the last 11,000 years. The results provide context for the development of tropical rainforest ecosystems in the region, and long-sought answers to what has been controlling rainfall in Central America for several millennia.
Abrupt thawing of permafrost will double previous estimates of potential carbon emissions from permafrost thaw in the Arctic, and is already rapidly changing the landscape and ecology of the circumpolar north, a new study finds.
U.S. and Australian researchers have found a potential tool for identifying stress-tolerant 'super corals.' In experiments that simulated climate change stress, researchers found corals that best survived had symbiotic algae communities with similar features.
How can fossils predict the consequences of climate change? A research team compared data from fossil and marine organisms living today to predict which groups of animals are most at risk from climate change.
One of the ocean's loudest creatures is smaller than you'd expect -- and will get even louder and more troublesome to humans and sea life as the ocean warms, according to new research.
A team of marine biology and environmental genomics researchers have demonstrated that epigenetic modifications in reef-building corals can be transmitted from parents to their offspring.
Explore our new wind and solar forecasting tool. How much electricity did solar and wind installations generate in your area in the past 24 hours? How much power will they produce today and tomorrow? The vast majority of Americans support expanding the production of solar and wind energy. But the average person ...
Mediterranean-type climates face immediate drops in rainfall when greenhouse gases rise, but this could be interrupted quickly if emissions are cut.
Click for Larger View of Animation Climate Central examined flood risks facing NASA's active space launch complexes at the John F. Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Using our proprietary Portfolio Analysis Tool (PAT). We found that the launch pads most vulnerable to ...
As the effects of climate change become more evident, more than half of US adults (56%) say climate change is the most important issue facing society today, yet 4 in 10 have not made any changes in their behavior to reduce their contribution to climate change, according to a new ...
In several new studies, researchers explore the importance of learning and knowledge in environmental decision-making and the different ways in which scientific knowledge can become more relevant and useful for societies.
New work shows how using next-generation DNA sequencing on ancient packrat middens -- nests made out of plant material, fragments of insects, bones, fecal matter, and urine -- could provide ecological snapshots of Earth's past. The study may pave the way for scientists to better understand how plant communities -- ...
Future farming in regions that were previously unsuitable for agriculture could significantly impact biodiversity, water resources, and greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
Employing a game theory model, researchers demonstrate how strategic decisions influence the environment in which those decisions are made, alterations which in turn influence strategy. Their analysis, which identifies how incentives can tip a strategy from one extreme to another, applies to fields as diverse as fisheries dynamics to climate ...
Study of an 'extremophile' found in the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park can be used to help researchers understand climate change.
Researchers measured methane levels in ancient air samples and found that scientists have been vastly underestimating the amount of methane humans are emitting into the atmosphere via fossil fuels. The researchers indicate that reducing fossil fuel use is a key target in curbing climate change.
Land trusts are engaging in strategic conservation planning to build resilience and minimize vulnerabilities to impacts of climate change in different ways. Learn more.