Trump Budget Dumps Climate Science, Innovation

Al Gore didn’t really claim to invent the Internet in 1999, but he did champion a NASA mission that installed a deep space webcam pointed at Earth in 2015. And yesterday President Trump put a bullseye on that mission. Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint asks Congress to defund the Earth-facing instruments on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR). Selectively deep-sixing well-functioning instruments on a satellite 1.5 million kilometers from Earth is one of the stranger entries in President Trump’s first pass at a budget request. But it fits a pattern: Throughout the document programs aimed at comprehending or addressing climate change take deep cuts, even where there is no obvious fiscal justification. Continue reading “Trump Budget Dumps Climate Science, Innovation”

NASA Launches its First Carbon-Tracking Satellite

It’s been a rough birthing process for NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) satellite program, which promises global tracking of carbon dioxide entering and leaving the atmosphere at ground level. Five years ago the first OCO fell into the Antarctic Ocean and sank, trapped inside the nose cone of a Taurus XL launch vehicle that failed to separate during launch. The angst deepened yesterday when NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) scrubbed a first attempt to launch a twin of the lost $280-million satellite, OCO-2, after sensors spotted trouble with the launch pad’s water-flood vibration-damping system less than a minute before ignition.

Continue reading “NASA Launches its First Carbon-Tracking Satellite”

Satellites and Simulations Track Missing Methane

In the April 2014 issue of IEEE Spectrum:

Methane emissions from oil and gas extraction, herding livestock, and other human activities in the United States are likely 25 to 75 percent higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency currently recognizes, according to ameta-analysis of methane emissions research published recently in Science. While experts in remote sensing debate the merits of this and other recent challenges to the EPA’s numbers, definitive answers are already on order via a high-precision Earth observation satellite to be launched next year.

The intensifying methane emissions debate has profound implications for climate and energy policy. Natural gas consumption is rising, and methane’s global warming impact is more than 30 times as much as that of carbon dioxide, molecule for molecule, and second only to carbon dioxide’s in today’s net climate impact …

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A Mighty Extreme Wind for Offshore Turbines

In January we reported that winds across the Northern continents were losing some of their punch, and that climate change threatened to weaken them further — altogether bad news for wind power. In stark contrast, Australian researchers report today in the journal Science that gusts are accelerating over Earth’s oceans.

Unfortunately the trend offers offshore wind power a mixed bag: stronger but also more dangerous winds. “Mean wind conditions over the oceans have only marginally increased over the last 20 years. It is the extreme conditions where there has been a larger increase,” says Ian Young, vice chancellor at the Australian National University in Canberra and principal author of today’s report. Continue reading “A Mighty Extreme Wind for Offshore Turbines”

Biodiversity Hangs in the Energy Balance

Jo Mulongoy CBDThe newly elected president of the Maldives wants to build a contingency fund to buy land elsewhere so that the island country can literally move to higher ground to escape rising sea levels. But what of the rest of the island’s biodiversity? According to Jo Mulongoy, chief scientist for the Convention on Biological Diversity’s secretariat in Montreal, the island ecosystems will never be reconstructed if they’re swamped – powerful motivation for capping greenhouse gas emissions and blunting climate change.

Overall, however, Mulongoy is more hopeful. Partly because governments are moving to act on biodiversity (says the scientific diplomat). But also because the power of information technology is informing smarter decision making and thus making it easier to do the right thing and preserve biodiversity (at least on higher ground).

The Congolese microbiologist needs to look no further than his homeland, where satellite imagery is helping the government protect its equatorial forests from over-harvesting by refugees displaced by years of civil war.

For more, in his own words, see my Q&A with Mulongoy that posted to Earthzine on Friday.

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Earthzine: Widening the scope

Time to introduce to another web portal launched this month, this one called Earthzine. It’s a webzine created by dedicated volunteers involved in Earth observation offering fresh perspective on the state of the planet. Fostering Earth observation & global awareness

My contribution to the launch is an interview with Rob Adam, who emerged from political incarceration during Apartheid to help lead South Africa’s scientific and technological renaissance. I spoke to Adam primarily about his role in GEO, an international collaboration to foster global sharing of oceanic, terrestrial and satellite-based Earth observations. Among other things, GEO could be a critical step towards better modeling of climate change.

Adam made two noteworthy observations on the energy challenge. One was the fact that coal has lost some of its shine even in South Africa, which needs energy to meet its development goals. Some of the many new coal-fired power projects in the offing there are being converted to nuclear projects (which he oversees as CEO of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation). Adam explains that South Africa wants to pull its weight in the fight against climate change, but also that its leadership recognized that at some point in the future even this developing nation would have to pay the full price of coal — including its environmental costs. The net result, says Adam, is “a profound effect on the thinking on energy production and energy generation in South Africa.”

More profound to me was another comment by Adam, this time on the value of better modeling of weather and climate for renewable energy. Why? Because most renewable energy, as he points out, depends on the weather. How do you project where to put a wind farm or how much energy a solar park will produce if historic patterns of wind flow and cloud cover no longer hold? “The biggest challenge for renewables,” says Adam, “is climate change.”

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