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  • richardmitnick 3:50 pm on March 25, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Earth Observation, , , WOVO-World Organization of Volcano Observatories   

    From Eos: “Data from Past Eruptions Could Reduce Future Volcano Hazards” 

    From AGU
    Eos news bloc

    From Eos

    Fidel Costa
    Christina Widiwijayanti
    Hanik Humaida

    Optimizing the Use of Volcano Monitoring Database to Anticipate Unrest; Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 26–29 November 2018.

    Java’s Mount Merapi volcano (right), overlooking the city of Yogyakarta, is currently slowly extruding a dome. Mount Merbabu volcano (left) has not erupted for several centuries. Participants at a workshop last November discussed the development and use of a volcano monitoring database to assist in mitigating volcano hazards. Credit: Fidel Costa

    In 2010, Mount Merapi volcano on the Indonesian island of Java erupted explosively—the largest such eruption in 100 years.

    Mount Merapi, viewed from Umbulharjo
    16 April 2014
    Crisco 1492

    Merapi sits only about 30 kilometers from the city of Yogyakarta, home to more than 1 million people. The 2010 eruption forced more than 390,000 people to evacuate the area, and it caused 386 fatalities. In the past few months, the volcano has started rumbling again, and it is currently extruding a dome that is slowly growing.

    Will Merapi’s rumblings continue like this, or will they turn into another large, explosive eruption? Answering this question largely depends on having real-time monitoring data covering multiple parameters, including seismicity, deformation, and gas emissions. But volcanoes can show a wide range of behaviors. A volcanologist’s diagnosis of what the volcano is going to do next relies largely on comparisons to previous cases and thus on the existence of an organized and searchable database of volcanic unrest.

    For over a decade, the World Organization of Volcano Observatories (WOVO) has contributed to the WOVOdat project, which has collected monitoring data from volcanoes worldwide. WOVOdat has grown into an open-source database that should prove very valuable during a volcanic crisis. However, there are many challenges ahead to reaching this goal:

    How do we standardize and capture spatiotemporal data produced in a large variety of formats and instruments?
    How do we go from multivariate (geochemical, geophysical, and geodetic) signals to statistically meaningful indicators for eruption forecasts?
    How do we properly compare periods of unrest between volcanic eruptions?

    Participants at an international workshop last November discussed these and other questions. The workshop was organized by the Earth Observatory of Singapore and the Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation in Yogyakarta. An interdisciplinary group of over 40 participants, including students and experts from more than 10 volcano observatories in Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Japan, France, Italy, the Caribbean, the United States, Chile, and Singapore, gathered to share their expertise on handling volcano monitoring data, strategize on how to improve on monitoring data management, and analyze past unrest data to better anticipate future unrest and eruptions.

    Participants agreed on the need for a centralized database that hosts multiparameter monitoring data sets and that allows efficient data analysis and comparison between a wide range of volcanoes and eruption styles. They proposed the following actions to optimize the development and use of a monitoring database:

    develop automatic procedures for data processing, standardization, and rapid integration into a centralized database platform
    develop tools for diagnosis of unrest patterns using statistical analytics and current advancement of machine learning techniques
    explore different variables, including eruption styles, morphological features, eruption chronology, and unrest indicators, to define “analogue volcanoes” (classes of volcanoes that behave similarly) and “analogue unrest” for comparative studies
    develop protocols to construct a short-term Bayesian event tree analysis based on real-time data and historical unrest

    Volcano databases such as WOVOdat aim to be a reference for volcanic crisis and hazard mitigation and to serve the community in much the same way that an epidemiological database serves for medicine. But the success of such endeavors requires the willingness of observatories, governments, and researchers to agree on data standardization; efficient data reduction algorithms; and, most important, data sharing to enable findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable (FAIR) data across the volcano community.

    —Fidel Costa (fcosta@ntu.edu.sg), Earth Observatory of Singapore and Asian School of the Environment, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; Christina Widiwijayanti, Earth Observatory of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; and Hanik Humaida, Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation, Geological Agency of Indonesia, Bandung

    See the full article here .


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    Eos is the leading source for trustworthy news and perspectives about the Earth and space sciences and their impact. Its namesake is Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, who represents the light shed on understanding our planet and its environment in space by the Earth and space sciences.

  • richardmitnick 11:21 am on March 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "What Was It Like When Life Began On Earth?", , , Earth Observation, , The death of the Martian magnetic field caused its atmosphere to be stripped away rendering it solid and frozen, The planet Earth has had life on it in some form or another for nearly as long as it has existed, While Venus and Mars may have had similar chances radical changes to Venus’ atmosphere rendered it a searing hothouse world after just 200–300 million years   

    From Ethan Siegel: “What Was It Like When Life Began On Earth?” 

    From Ethan Siegel
    Mar 20, 2019

    A planet that is a candidate for being inhabited will no doubt experience catastrophes, collisions, and extinction-level events on it. If life is to survive and thrive on a world, it must possess the right intrinsic and environmental conditions to allow it to persist. Here, an illustration of early Earth’s environment may look fearsome, but life somehow still found a way. (NASA GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER)

    The planet has had life on it, in some form or another, for nearly as long as Earth has existed.

    If you came to our Solar System right after it formed, you would have seen a completely foreign-looking sight. Our Sun would have been about the same mass it is today, but only about 80% as luminous, as stars heat up as they age. The four inner, rocky worlds would still be there, but three of them would look extremely similar. Venus, Earth, and Mars all had thin atmospheres, liquid water on their surface, and the organic ingredients that could give rise to life.

    While we still don’t know whether life ever took hold on Venus or Mars, we know that by the time Earth was only 100 million years old, there were organisms living on its surface. After billions of years of cosmic evolution gave rise to the elements, molecules, and conditions from which life could exist, our planet became the one where it not only did, but where it thrived. To the best of our scientific knowledge, here’s what those first steps were like.

    A micron-scale view of very primitive organisms. Whether the first organisms formed on Earth or predate the formation of our planet is still an open question, but evidence favors the scenarios where life arises on our world. (ERIC ERBE, DIGITAL COLORIZATION BY CHRISTOPHER POOLEY, BOTH OF USDA, ARS, EMU)

    Life as we know it has a few properties that everyone agrees on. While life on Earth involves carbon-based chemistry (requiring carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and many other elements like phosphorous, copper, iron, sulfur, and so on) and relies on liquid water, other combinations of elements and molecules may be possible. The four general properties that all life shares, however, are as follows:

    Life has a metabolism, where it harvests energy/resources from an external source for its own use.
    Life responds to external stimuli from its environment, and alters its behavior accordingly.
    Life can grow, adapt to its environment, or can otherwise evolve from its present form into a different one.
    And life can reproduce, creating viable offspring that arise from its own internal processes.

    The formation and growth of a snowflake, a particular configuration of ice crystal. Although crystals have a molecular configuration that allows them to reproduce and copy themselves, they do not utilize energy or encode genetic information. (VYACHESLAV IVANOV / VIMEO.COM/87342468)

    All four of these must be in place, simultaneously, for a population of organisms to be considered alive. Snowflakes and crystals may be able to grow and reproduce, but their lack of a metabolism prevents them from being classified as alive. Proteins may have a metabolism and be able to reproduce, but they do not respond to external stimuli or alter behavior based on what they encounter. Even viruses, which are the most debatable organism on the line between life and non-life, can only reproduce by infecting other successfully living cells, casting doubt on whether they’re classified as living or non-living.

    Many organic materials — chemical compounds like sugars, amino acids, ethyl formate, and even complex ones like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons — are found in interstellar space, in asteroids, and were abundant on early Earth. But we do not have evidence that life began prior to Earth’s formation.

    The early Solar System was filled with comets, asteroids, and small clumps of matter that struck practically every world around. This period is historically known as the “late-heavy bombardment”, and is thought to have brought many of the ingredients for life, but not living organisms themselves, to Earth. (NASA)

    Instead, the leading thought is that the Earth was formed with these raw ingredients on it, and perhaps many more. Perhaps nucleotides were common; perhaps proteins and protein fragments came pre-assembled; perhaps lipid layers and bilayers could spontaneously arise in an aqueous environment. In order to go from precursors to life to actual life, however, it’s believed that we needed the right environment.

    These three favorable planets — Venus, Earth, and Mars — all likely had a reasonable level of surface gravity, thin atmospheres, liquid water on their surfaces, and these biochemical precursor molecules. The one thing Earth had that the other two planets likely didn’t, however, was a Moon. While all three worlds likely had a chance to form life for the first time, our Moon helped give us chances that the other worlds may not have had.

    The Earth and Sun, not so different from how they might have appeared 4 billion years ago. In the early stages of the Solar System, Venus and Mars may have looked quite similar. (NASA/TERRY VIRTS)

    The amount of water present on these early planets was very likely enough to create oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers, but not enough to completely cover them in liquid water. This means they all had continents and oceans, and at the interface of the two, there were tidepools: regions where water can stably exist on dry land and be subject to all sorts of energy gradients.

    Sunlight, shadow and night, cycles of evaporation and concentration, porous fluid flow in the presence of minerals, and gradients of water activity could all provide opportunities for molecules to bind together in novel and interesting ways. The effects of tides may be enhanced by the Moon, but all these worlds possess tides due to the Sun. However, there’s an additional energy source that the Earth possesses that likely contributed to life’s origin, that may not have been as spectacular on Venus or Mars.

    Tidal pools, like the ones shown here from Wisconsin, occur at the interface of land and large bodies of water, like lakes, seas, or oceans. A pool with the right conditions and precursor molecules is one candidate for where life could have possibly arisen on Earth.(GOODFREEPHOTOS_COM / PIXABAY)

    That latter factor is thermal activity from the interior of the planet. At the bottom of the oceans, hydrothermal vents are geological hotspots that are excellent candidate locations for life to arise. Even today, they are home to organisms known as extremophiles: bacteria and other lifeforms that can withstand the temperatures that typically break the molecular bonds associated with life processes.

    These vents contain enormous energy gradients as well as chemical gradients, where extremely alkaline vent water mixes with the acidic, carbonic-acid-rich ocean water. Finally, these vents contain both sodium and potassium ions, as well as calcium carbonate structures that could serve as a template for the first cells. The fact that life exists in environments like this points to worlds like Europa or Enceladus as potential homes for life elsewhere in the Solar System today.

    Deep under the sea, around hydrothermal vents, where no sunlight reaches, life still thrives on Earth. How to create life from non-life is one of the great open questions in science today. If life can exist down here, at the bottom of Earth’s oceans, perhaps there’s a chance for life in the deep subsurface oceans of Europa or Enceladus, too. (NOAA/PMEL VENTS PROGRAM)

    But perhaps the most likely location for life to begin on Earth is the best of all worlds: hydrothermal fields. Volcanic activity doesn’t solely occur beneath the oceans, but also on land. Beneath areas of fresh water, these volcanically-active areas provide an additional heat and energy source that can stabilize temperatures and provide an energy gradient. All the while, these locations still allow evaporation/concentration cycles, provide a confined environment that enables the right ingredients to accumulate, and allow a sunlight/night cycle of exposure.

    On Earth, we can be confident that tidepools, hydrothermal vents, and hydrothermal fields were all common. While the precursor molecules certainly originated beyond Earth, it was likely here on our planet that the transformation of non-life into life spontaneously occurred.

    This aerial view of Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park is one of the most iconic hydrothermal features on land in the world. The colors are due to the various organisms living under these extreme conditions, and depend on the amount of sunlight that reaches the various parts of the springs. Hydrothermal fields like this are some of the best candidate locations for life to have arisen on Earth. (JIM PEACO, NATIONAL PARKS SERVICE)

    Over time, the Earth has changed tremendously, as have the living organisms on our planet. We do not know if life arose once, more than once, or in disparate locations. What we do know, however, is that if we reconstruct the evolutionary tree of every extant organism found on Earth today, they all share the same ancestor.

    By studying the genomes of the extant organisms found on our world today, biologists can reconstruct the timescale of what’s known as LUCA: the Last Universal Common Ancestor of life on Earth. By time the Earth was less than 1 billion years old, life already had the ability to transcribe and translate information between DNA, RNA, and proteins, and these mechanisms exist in all organisms today. Whether life arose multiple times is unknown, but it is generally accepted that life as we know it today descended from a single population.

    Scanning electron microscope image at the sub-cellular level. While DNA is an incredibly complex, long molecule, it is made of the same building blocks (atoms) as everything else. To the best of our knowledge, the DNA structure that life is based on may even predate the fossil record. (PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGE BY DR. ERSKINE PALMER, USCDCP)

    Despite the fact that geological processes can often obscure the fossil record beyond a few hundred million years, we have been able to trace back the origin of life extraordinarily far. Microbial fossils have been found in sandstone dating to 3.5 billion years ago. Graphite, found deposited in metamorphosed sedimentary rock, has been traced back to having biogenic origins, and dates back to 3.8 billion years ago.

    Trilobites fossilized in limestone, from the Field Museum in Chicago. All extant and fossilized organisms can have their lineage traced back to a universal common ancestor that lived an estimated 3.5 billion years ago. (JAMES ST. JOHN / FLICKR)

    At even earlier, more extreme times, the deposits of certain crystals in rocks appear to originate from biological processes, suggesting that Earth was teeming with life as early as 4.3 to 4.4 billion years ago: as soon as 100–200 million years after the Earth and Moon formed. To the best of our knowledge, life on Earth has existed almost as long as Earth itself has.

    Graphite deposits found in Zircon, some of the oldest pieces of evidence for carbon-based life on Earth. These deposits, and the carbon-12 ratios they show in the inclusions, date life on Earth to more than 4 billion years ago. (E A BELL ET AL, PROC. NATL. ACAD. SCI. USA, 2015)

    At some point on our planet, in the very early stages, the molecules that are abundant and precursors to life, under the right energy and chemical conditions, began to simultaneously metabolize energy, respond to the environment, grow, adapt, evolve, and reproduce. Even if it would be unrecognizable to us today, that marks the origin of life. In a radically unbroken string of biological success, our planet has been a living world ever since.

    Hadean diamonds embedded in zircon/quartz. You can find the oldest deposits in panel d, which indicate an age of 4.26 billion years, or nearly the age of Earth itself. (M. MENNEKEN, A. A. NEMCHIN, T. GEISLER, R. T. PIDGEON & S. A. WILDE, NATURE 448 7156 (2007))

    While Venus and Mars may have had similar chances, radical changes to Venus’ atmosphere rendered it a searing hothouse world after just 200–300 million years, while the death of the Martian magnetic field caused its atmosphere to be stripped away, rendering it solid and frozen. While asteroid strikes may send Earth-based life off-world, throughout the Solar System and galaxy, all the evidence suggests that we are where it started.

    By 9.4 billion years after the Big Bang, Earth was teeming with life. We’ve never looked back.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    “Starts With A Bang! is a blog/video blog about cosmology, physics, astronomy, and anything else I find interesting enough to write about. I am a firm believer that the highest good in life is learning, and the greatest evil is willful ignorance. The goal of everything on this site is to help inform you about our world, how we came to be here, and to understand how it all works. As I write these pages for you, I hope to not only explain to you what we know, think, and believe, but how we know it, and why we draw the conclusions we do. It is my hope that you find this interesting, informative, and accessible,” says Ethan

  • richardmitnick 3:21 pm on March 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Bezymianny volcano, , Earth Observation, Sheveluch volcano, The Kamchatka Peninsula in far eastern Russia is one of the most active volcanic areas on Earth.,   

    From Discover Magazine: “Two Russian Volcanoes Erupting in Tandem” 


    From Discover Magazine

    March 19, 2019
    Erik Klemetti

    The long ash plume from Bezymianny seen stretching across the Pacific Ocean on March 17, 2019 by Terra’s MODIS imager. The smaller plume from Sheveluch can be seen just above the darker Bezymianny plume. NASA.

    NASA Terra MODIS schematic

    NASA Terra satellite

    The Kamchatka Peninsula in far eastern Russia is one of the most active volcanic areas on Earth. It isn’t surprising to find multiple volcanoes erupting each week and this week is no exception. Two side-by-side volcanoes — Bezymianny and Sheveluch — were simultaneously erupting over the weekend (above). The eruption at Bezymianny was big enough to cause some air travel over the peninsula to change their flight paths to avoid the ash, but that’s business-as-usual in Kamchatka.

    Bezymianny volcano

    Sheveluch volcano

    Kamchakta is remote and fairly sparsely populated. Only about 1600 people live within 30 kilometers of Sheveluch and only 47 within 30 kilometers of Bezymianny. The monitoring of the volcanoes in Kamchatka is done by KVERT (Kamchatka Volcanic Eruption Response Team) with help from the Alaska Volcano Observatory. The low hazard for people on the ground is balanced by higher hazard for people in aircraft that traverse the airspace over and near the peninsula.

    Most of this traffic is from the Americas and Europe to eastern Asia, so someone flying from Seattle to Hong Kong might be in the path of an erupting volcano even if their destinations are thousands of kilometers from the action. Ash is very bad for jet aircraft, so avoiding ash plumes is vital, which means the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers have to use satellite data and ground observations to warn airlines and air traffic controllers about potential ash plumes.

    That makes Kamchatka a real problem. Not only are the volcanoes remote and challenging to monitor, but they also tend towards explosive eruptions. Case in point the eruption of Bezymianny on March 16. That blast sent ash to 15 kilometers (50,000 feet), well above where commercial air traffic flies. The ash drifted east over the Pacific Ocean and ended up causing flights in the Aleutians as far east as Unalaska (2000 kilometers away!) to be cancelled. Trans-Pacific flights had to follow some different routes as well to avoid the ash.

    Although Kamchatka doesn’t have a lot of people to watch the volcanoes erupt, KVERT does operate a bunch of webcams to watch the eruptions. Bezymianny has three pointed at the volcano as does Sheveluch. This means you can see some of their giant explosions while sitting across the globe. Even at night you can spot activity, like a glowing lava dome on Sheveluch (below). Both the eruption at Bezymianny and Shiveluch are caused by lava domes forming and then getting destroyed as the pressure building underneath the dome gets to high, causing the dome to “pop” like a cork (if the cork also shattered into tiny pieces). The sticky lava erupted at these volcanoes leads to these explosive eruptions.

    There aren’t many truly “remote” places on Earth these days, so volcanoes in areas where people are rare can still be a big hazard. 100 years ago, we might not have even known eruptions like these at Bezymianny and Sheveluch were even happening unless someone happened to be nearby or notice ash falling on their town. Thanks to all the satellites watching the planet, we now know a lot more about how volcanically active the Earth is.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 8:59 am on March 14, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Flooding Creates a 10-Mile-Long Lake in Death Valley", , Earth Observation, , The rare ephemeral lake was caused when the compacted dry desert soil wasn’t able to absorb the .87 inches of rain that recently fell on the national park.   

    From smithsonian.com: “Flooding Creates a 10-Mile-Long Lake in Death Valley” 

    From smithsonian.com

    March 13, 2019
    Jason Daley

    The rare ephemeral lake was caused when the compacted, dry desert soil wasn’t able to absorb the .87 inches of rain that recently fell on the national park.

    (Elliot McGucken, http://www.mcgucken.com)

    Most of the time, visitors to Death Valley National Park in southern California don’t expect to see much water. The area is the hottest and driest spot in North America. So it was surprising when, after a massive storm last week, a winding 10-mile-long lake appeared in the park.

    The shallow body of water was discovered by photographer Elliott McGucken on March 7, reports Amy Graff at SFGate.com. After the storm moved through the area, McGucken was planning to visit Badwater Basin to take some photos, hoping that an ephemeral lake had formed in the area. But he couldn’t reach the spot because the other, larger lake along Salt Creek blocked the way.

    It actually turned out to be even better than Badwater Basin. McGucken was able to shoot some once-in-a-lifetime images of the flooding with the surrounding Panamint Mountains reflected in the water. “Nature presents this ephemeral beauty, and I think a lot of what photography is about is searching for it and then capturing it,” he tells Graff.

    While it’s difficult to pin down just how large the lake is, the National Park Service estimates that it stretches about 10 miles. “I believe we would need aerial photos to accurately determine the size. From the road, it looks like it stretched from approximately Harmony Borax Works to Salt Creek right after the rain, which is a little less than 10 road miles,” the park said in a statement emailed to McGucken. “But, the road does curve a bit, so it’s not an entirely accurate guess.”

    According to Pam Wright at Weather.com, the flooding occurred because on March 5 and 6, the Park received .87 inches of rain, almost three times the average for March. The deluge represents about one-third of Death Valley’s total annual precipitation.

    The parched, compacted soil of the desert can be like concrete, and is unable to suck up such a large amount of rain quickly. “Because water is not readily absorbed in the desert environment, even moderate rainfall can cause flooding in Death Valley,” Weather.com meteorologist Chris Dolce explains. “Flash flooding can happen even where it is not raining. Normally dry creeks or arroyos can become flooded due to rainfall upstream.”

    Park officials tell Graff the lake is still present, though it is gradually getting smaller.

    (Elliot McGucken, http://www.mcgucken.com)

    Sadly, the rains have come too late to power a superbloom in Death Valley, reports the NPS. Superblooms occur when the desert gets above average rainfall at the right time in the winter months, leading to an irruption of desert flowers. Currently, a superbloom, the second in two years, is taking place in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the state’s largest, which received the right amount of rain early on. Fields of orange poppies, purple sand verbena, white and yellow primroses and other desert wildflowers are blossoming in unison.

    Death Valley experienced a major superbloom in 2005 and it’s latest superbloom was in 2016. Those flowers, however, came with a price. In October 2015, the park experienced the largest flood event in the Valley’s recorded history when between 1 to 2 inches of rain fell over the park. At that time, Badwater Basin, normally a dry lake bed, filled with water. The road to the Scotty’s Castle area of the park was closed, and it is still not expected to reopen until 2020.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Smithsonian magazine and Smithsonian.com place a Smithsonian lens on the world, looking at the topics and subject matters researched, studied and exhibited by the Smithsonian Institution — science, history, art, popular culture and innovation — and chronicling them every day for our diverse readership.

  • richardmitnick 4:19 pm on March 13, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Earth Observation, NASA budget cuts enumerated   

    From Geospatial World: “NASA budget cut for Earth Science missions, third year in a row” 

    From Geospatial World

    Aditya Chaturvedi


    The US president has allocated $21 billion for the fiscal year 2020 to NASA. In accordance with the Space Policy Directive-1, the budget emphasizes on the formation of a national exploration campaign that will use the experience of NASA workforce for developing an open and agile architecture. One of the main focuses of this year’s budget is to send an astronaut to moon again by 2028.

    $10.7 billion has been earmarked to continue building the key components of the Exploration campaign.

    However, the budget has drastically downsized the allocations for three major Earth Science projects.

    The funding for WFIRST space telescope has been withheld till NASA completes the development of James Webb Space Telescope in 2021, whose funding has been increased from $304.6 million in 2019 to $352.6 million.

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    There have also been significant budget cuts on the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission and the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO).

    NASA PACE spacecraft

    NASA CLARREO spacecraft and mission coverage

    Data gathered from the PACE enables us to better understand the ocean and atmospheric exchange carbon dioxide, and also reveals how aersols fuel phytoplankton growth. It helps us in identifying extent of harmful blooms. PACE has been crucial in long-term Earth observation.

    CLARREO has been instrumental in monitoring the pulse of Earth for better understanding of climate change. It produces highly accurate and reliable climate records, enabling climate change monitoring and mitigation.

    Overall, the budget for Earth Sciences has been reduced to $1,779.8 million from 1,931 million in 2019. This has been the third consecutive year when there has been a reduction in funding of Earth Science projects. Last year also the budget proposed to cut the funding of the NASA Earth Science program, but it was restored by the US Senate. The Senate bill provided The Senate bill provides $1.921 billion for NASA’s Earth science program, similar to what it recieved in 2017.

    In yet another contentious move, the funding for STEM Engagement has also been scrapped. The allocation for STEM Engagement stood at $110 million in 2019, an increase of $10 million as compared to 2018.

    NASA budget briefing statement for this year says, “The Budget provides no funding for the Office of STEM Engagement, redirecting those funds to NASA’s core mission of exploration.”

    Trump administration has also proposed to restore funding to two other Earth science missions that it attempted to cancel last year: The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), a satellite that monitors climate and space weather; and the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (OCO-3) [no image available], an instrument that would study the distribution of carbon dioxide on Earth from the International Space Station.

    NASA DSCOVR spacecraft

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 11:15 am on March 12, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Scientists Track Deep History of Planets' Motions and Effects on Earth's Climate", , , , Earth Observation, , Paleogeology   

    From Columbia University: “Scientists Track Deep History of Planets’ Motions, and Effects on Earth’s Climate” 

    Columbia U bloc

    From Columbia University

    March 4, 2019
    Kevin Krajick

    Newly Forming Map of Chaos in the Solar System.

    Geologist Paul Olsen at Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park, where 200 million-year-old rocks are helping reveal the long-ago motions of other planets. (Kevin Krajick/Earth Institute)

    Scientists have long posited that periodic swings in Earth’s climate are driven by cyclic changes in the distribution of sunlight reaching our surface. This is due to cyclic changes in how our planet spins on its axis, the ellipticity of its orbit, and its orientation toward the sun — overlapping cycles caused by subtle gravitational interplays with other planets, as the bodies whirl around the sun and by each other like gyrating hula-hoops.

    But planetary paths change over time, and that can change the cycles’ lengths. This has made it challenging for scientists to untangle what drove many ancient climate shifts. And the problem gets ever more difficult the further back in time you go; tiny changes in one planet’s motion may knock others’ askew — at first slightly, but as eons pass, these changes resonate against each other, and the system morphs in ways impossible to predict using even the most advanced math. In other words, it’s chaos out there. Up to now, researchers are able to calculate the relative motions of the planets and their possible effects on our climate with reasonable reliability back only about 60 million years — a relative eyeblink in the 4.5 billion-plus life of Earth.

    This week, in a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers has pushed the record way back, identifying key aspects of the planets’ motions from a period around 200 million years ago. The team is led by geologist and paleontologist Paul Olsen of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Last year, by comparing periodic changes in ancient sediments drilled from Arizona and New Jersey, Olsen and colleagues identified a 405,000-year cycle in Earth’s orbit that apparently has not changed at all over at least the last 200 million years — a kind of metronome against which all other cycles can be measured. Using those same sediments in the new paper, they now have identified a cycle that started out lasting 1.75 million years, but is now operating every 2.4 million years. This, they say, allows them to extrapolate long-term changes in the paths of Jupiter and the inner planets (Mercury, Venus and Mars), the bodies most likely to affect our own orbit.

    Olsen’s ultimate aim: to use Earth’s rocks to create what he calls a “Geological Orrery” — a record of climatic changes on Earth that can be extrapolated back into a larger map of solar system motions over hundreds of millions of years. He says it would open a window not just onto our own climate, but the evolution of the solar system itself, including the possible existence of past planets, and its possible interactions with invisible dark matter.

    We spoke with Olsen about the Geological Orrery, his work, and the new paper.

    Most people have probably never even heard the word “orrery.” What is it, and how does it fit with our evolving understanding of celestial mechanics?

    In the early 1800s, mathematician Pierre-Simon de Laplace took Newton’s laws of gravitation and planetary motion and published his idea that it should be possible to develop a single great equation that would allow all the universe to be modeled. With only knowledge of the present, all the past and future could be known. This idea is embodied in the orrery, a mechanical model of the solar system. Clockwork mechanisms like this for predicting eclipses and the like go back to the ancient Greeks, but it’s now clear the problem is far more complicated, and interesting.

    We’ve since discovered that the solar system not a clockwork. It is in fact chaotic over long time scales, so Laplace’s grand equation was a mirage. This means you cannot unpack its history from calculations or models, no matter how precise, because the motions of the real solar system are incredibly sensitive. Varying any factor even a tiniest bit results in a different outcome after millions of years — even what the major asteroids, or minor planets, such as Ceres and Vesta, are doing. One of my coauthors, Jacques Laskar, has shown that computations can project forward or backward only 60 million years. After that, the predictions become utterly unreliable. Since Earth is about 4.6 billion years old, this means that only about 1.6 percent of its past or future orbit can be predicted. Over billions of years, the best calculations reveal many possible terrific events, such as one of the inner planets falling into the sun or being ejected from the solar system. Maybe even that Earth and Venus could collide one day. We can’t tell if any of these actually happened, or might happen in the future. So we need some other method to limit the possibilities.

    View looking east toward the U.S. East Coast, Oct. 7, 2015, when the three planets most influential to Earth’s orbit lined up with the Moon. Lower left near Earth’s horizon, Jupiter (greenish); slightly higher, Mars (reddish); slightly higher and to right, Venus (bright white); and the Moon. On Earth’s surface, lights of the New York-Philadelphia metro region trace the area where scientists took rock cores revealing these planets’ motions. Inspired by a photo taken by U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly. (Painting by Paul Olsen; acrylic on clay board, digitally modified)

    So, what is the “Geological Orrery?” Are you trying again to boil everything down to one equation, or is this something different?

    The Geological Orrery is the opposite of an equation or model. It’s designed to provide a precise and accurate history of the solar system. We get that history right here on Earth, from the history of our climates, which is recorded in the geological record, especially in large, long-lived lakes.

    Earth’s orbit and axis orientation are constantly changing because they are being deformed by the gravitational attractions of other bodies. These changes affect the distribution of sunlight hitting our surface, which in turn affects climate, and the kinds of sediments that are deposited. That gives us the geological record of solar system behavior.

    Many scientists have used sediments to determine the effects of orbital deformations. That’s how we know that the ice ages of the last few million years were paced by them. Some researchers have tried to go back much further in time. What is new here is the systematic approach of taking rock cores spanning tens of millions of years, looking at the cyclical sedimentary record of climate and accurately dating those changes over multiple sites. That allows us to capture the full range of solar system-driven deformations of our orbit and axis over long time periods.

    A mechanical orrery presented in 1713 by English inventor John Rowley to Charles Boyle, the Fourth Earl of Orrery — origin of the modern name. (Engraving from The Universal Magazine, 1749)

    What are the rocks telling you about how such cyclic changes affect our climate?

    With two major coring experiments to date, we’ve we learned that changes in tropical climates from wet to dry during the time of early dinosaurs, from about 252 to 199 million years ago, were paced by orbital cycles lasting about 20,000, 100,000 and 400,000 years. On top of that is a much longer cycle of about 1.75 million years. The shorter cycles are about the same today, but the 1.75 million year cycle is way off —it’s 2.4 million years today. We think the difference is caused by a gravitational dance between Earth and Mars. This difference is the fingerprint of solar system chaos. No existing set of models or calculations precisely duplicates these data.

    How far do you think we’re going to get with this problem during your lifetime?

    Next step is to combine our two finished coring experiments with cores taken at high latitudes. While our core data do a really good job of mapping some aspects of planetary orbits, they tell us nothing about others. For those, we need a core from an ancient lake above the paleo-Arctic or Antarctic circles. Such deposits exist in what are now China and Australia. We also would like to include deposits that extend the record up 20 million years or so towards the present, and another low-latitude core that we can precisely date. With those, we would be able to determine what if any changes have taken place in that Mars-Earth gravitational dance. That would be a full proof of concept of the Geological Orrery. I plan to certainly be around for that.

    Digital elevation map of sediment strata formed on a lake bottom some 220 million years ago, near present day Flemington, N.J. The lakebed was later tilted so that its cross section now faces the sky. Purple sections are ridges — remains of hard, compressed sediments formed when climate was wet and the lake deep; alternating greenish sections are lower areas made of eroded-out softer sediments from dryer times. Each pair represents 405,000 years. Groups of ridges in lower part of image manifest a separate 1.7 million-year cycle that has today grown to 2.4 million years. Thee 40-square-mile area is dissected by parts of the modern Raritan and Neshanic rivers (blue). (LIDAR image by U.S. Geological Survey; digital colorization by Paul Olsen)

    Your paper mentions that this work might offer insights into the evolution of the solar system — maybe the even wider universe.

    If all this works out, we could plan the grand mission to use the Geological Orrery for at least the rest of the time between 60 and 190 million years age. This mission would be expensive by geology standards, because rock coring is expensive. But the results would have far-reaching implications. For sure we would have data to produce high-quality climate models for Earth. And there is no doubt we would have the parameters for past climates on Mars or other rocky planets. But more excitingly and more speculative is the possibility of exploring how we might need to tweak gravity theory, or test some controversial theories, such as the possible existence of a plane of dark matter in our galaxy that our solar system passes through periodically.

    We’re talking deep time here. Does this have any application to questions about modern-day climate change?

    It does have relevance to the present. in addition to the way climate is tuned to our orbit, it’s also affected by the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Now we’re heading into a time when CO2 levels may be as high as they were 200 million years ago, early dinosaur times. This gives us a potential way to see how all the factors interact. It also has resonance with our search for life on Mars, or for habitable exoplanets.

    The paper is coauthored by Jacques Laskar, Observatoire de Paris; Dennis Kent and Sean Kinney, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory; David Reynolds, ExxonMobil Exploration; Jingeng Sha, Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology; and Jessica Whiteside, University of Southampton.

    See the full article here .


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    Columbia U Campus

    Columbia University was founded in 1754 as King’s College by royal charter of King George II of England. It is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York and the fifth oldest in the United States.

  • richardmitnick 11:11 am on March 11, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "The US Is Only Decades Away From Widespread Water Shortages, , Earth Observation, Much of the United States could be gripped by significant water shortages in just five decades' time according to predictions made in a new study., , Scientists Warn"   

    From Science Alert: “The US Is Only Decades Away From Widespread Water Shortages, Scientists Warn” 


    From Science Alert

    11 MAR 2019

    Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona. (John Gibbons/Unsplash)

    Much of the United States could be gripped by significant water shortages in just five decades’ time, according to predictions made in a new study.

    From the year 2071 on, scientists say the combined effects of climate change and population increases are projected to present “serious challenges” [Earth’s Future] in close to half of the 204 watersheds covering the contiguous US.

    In the researchers’ projections, water supply is likely to be under threat in watersheds in the central and southern Great Plains, the Southwest and central Rocky Mountain States, California, and areas in the South (especially Florida) and the Midwest.

    “There’s a lot of the US over time that will have less water,” one of the researchers, economist Thomas Brown from the US Forest Service told Reuters.

    To reach their estimates, Brown and his team used a number of global climate models to project future climate scenarios, while factoring in data on expected population growth.

    According to the scientists, water stability in the US was achieved in the 1980s, after decades of increased demand which saw water usage surge ninefold since the turn of the 20th century.

    Thanks to advances in dams, tunnelling, and pipelines, stability in water usage has been maintained since then despite a growing population, the team says, but with reservoir construction peaking in the 1960s, those adaptations won’t keep delivering the same way in the future.

    “Although studies show that climate change is likely to bring increasing precipitation in many areas of the contiguous 48 states of the [US], especially in northern regions, other areas are expected to receive less,” the authors write [Earth’s Future] above.

    “Furthermore, increasing temperatures, which are expected everywhere in the US, will tend to lower streamflow via the effect of temperature on evaporative demand, in some areas completely negating the positive effect of increasing precipitation and leading to decreasing streamflow.”

    In the study, the researchers modelled water supply and demand for 14 alternative climatic futures, using two future greenhouse gas emission scenarios with seven global climate models, and assuming water use efficiency will continue to improve as it has in the past.

    While the findings are only projections and inherently uncertain, as the researchers acknowledge, they are nonetheless grim.

    “In future periods, as population and economic growth plus the changing climate alter water yield and demand, shortages are projected to increase substantially, in the absence of adaptation measures, with many of the 14 futures we examined,” the researchers explain [Earth’s Future] above.

    “Averaging across the 14 futures, 83, 92, and 96 basins are projected to incur some level of monthly shortage in the near [2021–2045], middle [2046–2070], and far future periods [2071–2095].”

    The team is eager to emphasise that these projected water shortages are not locked in, though, and could be mitigated by ongoing and future adaptations to water usage – especially in agriculture (which accounts for 75 percent of annual water consumption in the US) and industry.

    In previous decades, reservoir construction has been a massive boon to water stability, but as the world gets hotter and drier, the researchers say it will be less useful compared to other 21st century adaptations, such as boosting irrigation efficiency.

    “Where water is the limiting factor, a reservoir enlargement is unlikely to store any water,” Brown says.

    Tapping into groundwater is another option, but given that it is a limited and threatened resource itself, it’s not something we should be too reliant on, the researchers say.

    Instead, our water usage as a whole has to be looked at, and we particularly need to look at increasing the efficiency of usage among the primary users of this limited and precious resource.

    “In reality, irrigated agriculture is unlikely to bear the full burden of accommodating future water shortages,” the authors write.

    “Nevertheless, given the large quantities of water used in agriculture and the fact that most of that water is used to grow relatively low‐value crops, the agriculture sector is likely to face serious challenges, all else equal.”

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 11:37 am on March 4, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "How Creatures End Up Miles Below the Surface of Earth and Maybe Mars Too", An inevitable and most interesting question that arises is this: If there was robust and adaptable life on early Mars might it have been transported underground in water too?, At the Kopanang mine they had found the roundworm Poikilolaimus oxycercusin in water about a mile underground. What appeared to be the same nematode was also collected from the the Vaal river a few mi, “M. parvella does not have a hibernation stage and cannot survive in fresh water thus it must have been and must be in brackish water all the time” Borgonie said. “The question is did this happe, , Earth Observation, Ecosystems can survive in scalding temperatures in the absence of sunlight at high pressure and without oxygen. Yet they have been found as far down as almost three miles below the surface though in f, H. mephisto, , , Recent reports of another nematode species unaffiliated with South African mines suggests just how robust and adaptable individuals can be — in this case regarding deep freeze hibernation., Round worm Poikilolaimus oxycercus, Salese and colleagues explored 24 deep enclosed craters in the northern hemisphere of Mars with floors lying roughly 4000 meters (2.5 miles) below Martian ‘sea level’ (a level that given the plane, Some potential early Martian life could have migrated into the more protected depths is often discussed as a plausible if at this point untestable possibility   

    From Many Worlds: “How Creatures End Up Miles Below the Surface of Earth, and Maybe Mars Too” 

    NASA NExSS bloc


    Many Words icon

    From Many Worlds

    Marc Kaufman

    Poikilolaimus oxycercus is a microscopic nematode, or roundworm, found alive and well more than a mile below the surface in South Africa, where its ancestors had lived for hundreds or thousands of years. (Gaetan Borgonie)

    When scientists speculate about possible life on Mars, they generally speak of microbial or other simple creatures living deep below the irradiated and desiccated surface. While Mars long ago had a substantial period that was wetter and warmer when it also had a far more protective atmosphere, the surface now is considered to be lethal.

    But the suggestion that some potential early Martian life could have migrated into the more protected depths is often discussed as a plausible, if at this point untestable possibility. In this scenario, some of that primitive subsurface life might even have survived the eons in their buried, and protected, environments.

    This thinking has gotten some support in the past decade with the discovery of bacteria and nematodes (roundworms) found as far down as three miles below the surface of South Africa, in water dated as being many thousands or millions years old. The lifeforms have been discovered by a team that has regularly gone down into the nation’s super-hot gold and platinum mines to search for life coming out of boreholes in the rock face of deep mine tunnels.

    Borgonie setting up a water collector for a borehole at the Driefontein mine in the Witwatersrand Basin of South Africa. (Courtesy of Borgonie)

    Now a new paper [below] describes not only the discovery of additional deep subsurface life, but also tries to explain how the distant ancestors of the worms and bacteria and algae might have gotten there.

    Their conclusion: many were pulled down when fractures opened in the aftermath of earthquakes and other seismic events. While many lifeforms were swept down, only a small percentage were able to adapt, evolve and thus survive.

    The is how Gaetan Borgonie, lead author of the paper in Scientific Reports, explained it to me via email:

    “After the discovery of multicellular animals in the deep subsurface up to 3.8 km (2.5 miles) in South Africa everyone was baffled and asked the question how did they get that deep? This question more or less haunted us for more than a decade as we were unable to get our head around it.

    “However during the decade as we made more observations of multicellular organisms we captured in borehole water we found that these were nearly all animals associated with fresh water and not the soil. This indicated the passage to the deep was from a fresh water source on the surface and that animals did not crawl all the way down through the topsoil over millennia.”

    This makes sense because the deepest soil inhabitants live at about six feet below the surface, said Borgonie, formerly of the University of Ghent in Belgium and now with ELi, a Belgian nonprofit that studies extreme life. So another route to their deep subterranean homes was necessary.

    One of six hibernating nematodes found in biofilms from a borehole in the Kopanang mine. Four of the six in this “dauer” or survival state were taken, placed in a petri dish and came back to active life. Several were mated with worms of the same Poikilolaimus oxycercus species and the offspring survived. (Gaetan Borgonie)

    Borgonie and his team conducted a variety of tests — seismic, geological, genetic — but one stands out as most conclusive.

    At the Kopanang mine, they had found the roundworm Poikilolaimus oxycercusin in water about a mile underground. What appeared to be the same nematode was also collected from the the Vaal river, a few miles from the mine.

    The two appeared to be genetically similar, but the best test was to see if they could successfully reproduce. And the answer was that they could.

    It was a smoking gun, though not necessarily a common one. Nematodes from other surfaces and subsurfaces were placed together and were not able to produce young that survived. As explained in the Scientific Reports paper, this may be a function of the once companionable subsurface nematodes having adapted to their environment in ways that broke their connections with surface nematodes of the same species.

    While nematodes can hibernate for long periods in what is called their dauer stage, when they wake up they survive for only 20 to 30 days. Their lines, however, can last in the subsurface for those very long periods.

    Tunnels in South Africa’s Beatrix mine close to where H. mephisto was found. The deeper one goes in the mine, the hotter it gets. And yet life survives in the fracture water and other often tiny pockets of liquid. (Gaetan Borgonie)

    The nematodes collected and tested for this most recent article were but a small part of the zoo of creatures that have been collected from deep underground in South Africa’s Witwatersrand Basin. There was also algae, fungi, bacteria, a crustaceans and even a few insects, the paper reports. The bacteria is important for the nematodes in particular because they are a food source.

    These ecosystems survive in scalding temperatures, in the absence of sunlight, at high pressure and without oxygen. Yet they have been found as far down as almost three miles below the surface, though in far more isolated conditions at that depth.

    Borgonie with Esta van Heerden, who helped gain access to South African mines for researchers including Borgonie and Princeton University geomicrobiologist Tullis Onstott more than a decade ago is part of their research team. She is founder of the mine water remediation company iwatersolutions and was formerly a professor with the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, where she was a specialist in extremophiles. (Courtesy of Borgonie)

    The age of that life is difficult to determine. While methods exist to determine the age of the fracture water, scientists cannot definitively say when the lifeforms arrived. Still, Borgonie reports that the worms found at the Kopanang mine had been present for between 3,000 and 12,000 years, or rather their ancestors had been there.

    Borgonie and his colleagues had earlier discovered the first multicellular creature at great depth, Halicephalobus mephisto, in mine fracture water .6 to 3 miles down. That discovery, announced in 2011, helped establish that the deep subsurface was more able to support life, even complex life, than expected.

    Often the creatures were living in biofilms, loose collections of bacteria and other life held together in the water by secretions that encase them.

    Another aspect of the deep subsurface nematode story involves specimen found in salty stalactites at the Beatrix gold mine. The worms identified, Monhystrella parvella, are associated with salty environments and so the group inferred that the water and creatures may have come from a sea. There were such seas in what is now South Africa, but it was very long ago.

    “M. parvella does not have a hibernation stage and cannot survive in fresh water, thus it must have been and must be in brackish water all the time,” Borgonie said. “The question is did this happen long ago when that area of South Africa was covered by a sea or did it happen via the salt pans surrounding the Beatrix mine?

    “There is no way to know for now. But the fact is and remains that you have a worm in the subsurface in the middle of South Africa that can only survive in salty water.”

    Recent reports of another nematode species, unaffiliated with South African mines, suggests just how robust and adaptable individuals can be — in this case regarding deep freeze hibernation.

    The longest recorded nematode hibernation was 39 years until Russian scientists announced the discovery of frozen nematodes in deep Siberian permafrost. The worms had been asleep for 42,000 and 34,000 years respectively. A Science Alert article raises the possibility of contamination as an issue, but the scientists maintain they took all possible precautions and are convinced the frozen hibernations were as recorded.

    Using an electron microscope, we see the inside of a stalactite in the Beatrix gold mine, about 1 mile below the surface. The nematodes are of the species Monhystrella parvella. (Gaetan Borgonie)

    That the South African deep subsurface life appears now to have come from the surface — via seismic fractures that could bring rushes or trickles of water filled with life many miles down — does have possible implications for Mars. While no signs of early life on Mars have been discovered, research in recent years has proven that the planet once had substantial water and warmer temperatures. In other words, conditions that might be hospitable to life.

    That theory of a once quite watery Mars was taken a significant step further last week in an article in the Journal of Geophysical Research — Planets , which found evidence of an earlier planet-wide groundwater system. Such a system had been predicted before by models, but now there was significant hard evidence that it had indeed existed.

    “Early Mars was a watery world, but as the planet’s climate changed this water retreated below the surface to form pools and ‘groundwater’,” says lead author Francesco Salese of Utrecht University, the Netherlands.

    “We traced this water in our study — as its scale and role is a matter of debate — and we found the first geological evidence of a planet-wide groundwater system on Mars.”

    Salese and colleagues explored 24 deep, enclosed craters in the northern hemisphere of Mars, with floors lying roughly 4000 meters (2.5 miles) below Martian ‘sea level’ (a level that, given the planet’s lack of seas, is arbitrarily defined on Mars based on elevation and atmospheric pressure).

    The scientists found features on the floors of these craters that could only have formed in the presence of water. Many craters contain multiple features, all at depths of 2.5 to 3 miles – indicating that these craters once contained pools and flows of water that changed and receded over time.

    Researchers said flow channels, pool-shaped valleys and fan-shaped sediment deposits seen in dozens of kilometers-deep craters in Mars’ northern hemisphere would have needed water to form. (European Space Agency)

    So an inevitable and most interesting question that arises is this: If there was robust and adaptable life on early Mars, might it have been transported underground in water too?

    The planet does have seismic activity — some are called Marsquakes — that can open fractures. It seems plausible that if life existed in water on the Martian surface, it would have flowed or trickled down fractures and other porous features to substantial depths.

    Given this hypothetical, many would have died but some may have lived and adapted. Rather like what can be seen on Earth in the South African mines.

    With this possibility in mind, the Borgonie paper recommends that the presence of surface fractures be kept in mind when landing sites are chosen on other planets or moons.

    See the full article here .


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    About Many Worlds
    There are many worlds out there waiting to fire your imagination.

    Marc Kaufman is an experienced journalist, having spent three decades at The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer, and is the author of two books on searching for life and planetary habitability. While the “Many Worlds” column is supported by the Lunar Planetary Institute/USRA and informed by NASA’s NExSS initiative, any opinions expressed are the author’s alone.

    This site is for everyone interested in the burgeoning field of exoplanet detection and research, from the general public to scientists in the field. It will present columns, news stories and in-depth features, as well as the work of guest writers.

    About NExSS

    The Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) is a NASA research coordination network dedicated to the study of planetary habitability. The goals of NExSS are to investigate the diversity of exoplanets and to learn how their history, geology, and climate interact to create the conditions for life. NExSS investigators also strive to put planets into an architectural context — as solar systems built over the eons through dynamical processes and sculpted by stars. Based on our understanding of our own solar system and habitable planet Earth, researchers in the network aim to identify where habitable niches are most likely to occur, which planets are most likely to be habitable. Leveraging current NASA investments in research and missions, NExSS will accelerate the discovery and characterization of other potentially life-bearing worlds in the galaxy, using a systems science approach.
    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

  • richardmitnick 4:58 pm on March 2, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Earth Observation, , So many recent successes for NASA ansd ESA it is astounding great science,   

    From SPIE: “Lasers make the grade in Earth observation and space exploration” 


    From SPIE

    1 March 2019
    Mike Hatcher

    Astronomers, weather forecasters, and Earth scientists are among those now benefiting from the application of solid-state lasers in space.

    Laser equipment for cooling atoms in space arrived at the International Space Station in July 2018 on board a Cygnus supply vehicle – seen here being collected by robotic arm. Photo: NASA.

    Even by stellar historic standards, it has been a remarkable few months for space probes and their on-board optical instrumentation. Late 2018 saw the erstwhile Voyager 2 probe – complete with interferometer, ultraviolet spectrometer, photo-polarimeter, and dual-camera imaging science system – finally leave the solar system.

    NASA/Voyager 2

    We’ve also witnessed some extraordinary imagery and data acquisition carried out by missions such as the Parker Solar Probe, the close encounter between OSIRIS-REx and asteroid Bennu, and ozone monitoring by the Earth-observing Sentinel-5P satellite.

    NASA Parker Solar Probe Plus named to honor Pioneering Physicist Eugene Parker

    NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft

    ESA Copernicus Sentinel-5P

    Just weeks before Photonics West opened its doors the imaging instruments on NASA’s New Horizons mission captured the unusual “lumpy snowman” form of Ultima Thule, and a couple of days later China’s Chang’e 4 probe touched down on the far side of the Moon.

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    China’s Chang’e 4 moon lander

    Recent months have also seen the launch of the Bepi Colombo mission to Mercury, its payload featuring a laser altimeter and an ultraviolet (UV) spectroscopy probe, a laser-cooled atom experiment delivered to the International Space Station (ISS), and the deployment of laser terminals to quickly transmit huge data sets back to Earth from imaging satellites.

    ESA-JAXA BepiColombo

    In terms of photonics equipment, perhaps most satisfying of all has been the recent arrival of a couple of solid-state lasers on board Earth-orbiting spacecraft. Last August, the European Space Agency (ESA) finally launched its wind-monitoring Aeolus satellite.

    ESA ADM-Aeolus satellite

    The first wind lidar instrument in space, it is based around a UV laser and is set to provide far more accurate and detailed monitoring of wind speeds than was previously possible.

    Attempts to understand and forecast the wind date back as far as Aristotle in the 4th century BC. Today, wind profiles sampled down through the atmosphere are needed for accurate medium- to long-term weather forecasting, and are critical for modelling climate change. But until Aeolus, this information was not available from direct measurement: the best equivalent came from ground sensors and balloon monitors giving localized point measurements, followed by extrapolation through cloud tracking or computer simulations. Aeolus being in orbit changes that, and for the first time global wind fields can be mapped directly, in three dimensions.

    Challenging development

    “Using revolutionary laser technology, Aeolus will measure winds around the globe and play a key role in our quest to better understand the workings of our atmosphere,” announced ESA following the launch of the 1.4-tonne satellite aboard a Vega rocket last year. “Importantly, this novel mission will also improve weather forecasting.”

    But the mission has also proved to be one of ESA’s most technologically demanding. Problems with the “Aladin” UV laser, in particular the damage caused to its system optics over an extended operating period, had delayed the original launch schedule by more than a decade. Thanks in part to technical breakthroughs made with a similar source – the green laser at the heart of NASA’s similarly delayed ICESat-2 mission – the Aeolus mission now looks set for major success.

    NASA ICESat 2

    A couple of weeks after launch, Aeolus sent back its first data, and in November Errico Armandillo, the retired head of ESA’s optoelectronics section, reflected on the development. “Today Aeolus is returning more wind data than all ground-based measuring systems put together,” he remarked. “But it took the sustained efforts of ESA labs and technical experts – in close cooperation with the Aeolus team – to make it fly.”

    In fact ESA set up two new laboratories to solve its laser issues. It called in additional support from the German Aerospace Center to produce entirely new technical standards, which are now being applied to all subsequent laser missions.

    “The commercial space industry by itself could not have gone to the lengths we took,” Armandillo pointed out.

    The idea of flying a wind-surveying lidar in orbit was nothing new. In fact it had been explored as long ago as the early 1980s, considered at one time for the ISS. And in fact the technology developed back then is now used to help guide rendezvous and docking operations with ISS-supplying cargo spacecraft.

    Initially a high-energy carbon dioxide gas laser was earmarked for the lidar role, before the mid- 1990s development of space-worthy pump laser diodes opened the door to far more compact solid-state designs. The Aeolus mission was pencilled in for a launch some time after 2000.

    The Aladin laser is at the heart of the Aeolus satellite

    Based around a conventional Nd:YAG solid-state laser crystal, the UV wavelength selected is seen as essential for achieving the high level of back-scatter from both molecular and aerosol components to provide reliable lidar signals. But ESA saw the first signs of trouble in NASA’s ICESat mission, which was using a UV laser to map ice. Around the same time, ground tests on Aladin began to show laser-induced contamination of optics.

    The key problem was then identified: out-gassing of organic molecules from Aladin’s laser equipment was accumulating on system lenses, before being carbonized by the high-energy UV laser pulses. As they grew, those deposits further absorbed the laser’s heat, distorting and darkening the optical components.

    It meant that the original performance of the UV laser within Aladin was nowhere close to requirements. ESA says that when it ran a prototype version of the lidar system, its laser optics degraded by 50% in less than six hours of operations – not much use for a proposed three-year mission.

    “The first solution was to take extreme precautions to remove all organics,” Armandillo said. “But this did not prove entirely possible. Even at just a few parts per billion of organics, contamination was still introduced.”

    For more clues the team approached users of high-energy UV lasers in terrestrial applications. That included working closely with two German optics companies, LaserOptik and LayerTec, as well as experts at France’s Mégajoule facility – where lasers are employed to ignite nuclear fusion reactions – and the semiconductor industry. In principle, the answer proved remarkably simple. Injecting a small amount of oxygen allowed the contamination to burn up under the heat of the laser, in the process cleaning the lens. In tests, the ESA team says it saw this approach work in a matter of minutes.

    Laser breathing

    Rather than redesigning Aladin to work on a fully pressurized basis, small amounts of oxygen are released from a pair of 30-liter tanks. The oxygen gas flows close to the optical surfaces that are exposed to the UV laser, and gradually leaks out of the instrument enclosure.

    “Just like us, the laser has to breathe,” explained laser engineer Linda Mondin in a report by ESA. “It’s very elegant because the burnt-up contaminants flow out of the instrument along with this oxygen, in the form of carbon dioxide and water.” Only 25 Pascals of residual oxygen pressure is needed – just one four-thousandth of standard atmospheric pressure.

    Though contamination was the key issue facing the Aladin team, it was far from the only problem. Heat produced within the volume of the laser transmitter also needed removal. This was solved using ‘heat pipes’, which cool the laser by evaporating liquid and moving it to a space-facing radiator.

    Solving the various problems has ultimately created new technology that is set to benefit a range of future missions. Aladin’s development has yielded ESA some world-leading optics and optoelectronics capability, along with a set of ISO-certified laser development standards for other laser-based missions – starting with the “EarthCARE” mission for clouds and aerosol monitoring.

    ESA/JAXA EarthCARE satellite

    Pencilled in for launch in 2021, this will carry an atmospheric lidar instrument based around a 355 nm laser source to profile aerosols and thin clouds.

    “It’s proved an extremely complex mission, and we’ve learnt an awful lot about lasers,” concluded Rondin, with Aeolus’s instrument manager Denny Wernham adding: “The fact we have a high-power UV laser instrument now working in space is testament to all of the hard work, ingenuity, and inventiveness of many dedicated engineers in industry, ESA, and elsewhere.

    “Aeolus is a world-first mission that will hopefully lead to many active laser missions in the future, and shows the true value of close collaboration between industry and ESA to find innovative solutions to very tough technical challenges.”

    “There were so many ways it could go wrong, we were worried,” recalled Armandillo following the 2018 launch. “And then it worked! Those first wind profiles felt like Christmas coming early, a really amazing gift.”

    ICESat-2 [above]: up and running
    Just as Aeolus and its Aladin laser were starting to return those initial wind profiles from space, NASA launched its ‘ICESat-2′ satellite from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base.

    Like Aeolus, the mission – comprising a single-instrument laser altimeter payload – was delayed and significantly over its original budget. But it has now deployed its Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS), flying in a polar orbit at an average altitude of 290 miles.

    ATLAS – Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System by Newton LLC

    Its job is to monitor annual changes in the height of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, to a precision of just 4 mm.

    Developed by the Virginia-based photonics and engineering services company Fibertek, the two flight lasers aboard ICESat-2 emit millijoule-scale nanosecond pulses at 532 nm and a repetition rate of 10 kHz. In continuous operation over the three years of the mission, that equates to around a trillion pulses in all – with Fibertek saying that the tough performance metrics represented a significant increase in the complexity and reliability requirements for a space-based laser system.

    The optical design of ATLAS splits the laser source into three separate pairs of beams that are fired towards Earth at different angles, such that at ground level there is a 3.3 km gap between the beam pairs. This contrasts with the approach used on the original ICESat mission that flew between 2003 and 2009 but whose laser only operated at 40 Hz, and provides much denser cross-track sampling.

    For Earth scientists and studies of climate change, the altimeter should yield a height measurement every 70 cm along the orbiting track, with Fibertek saying that elevation estimates in sloped areas and rough surfaces around crevasses will be much improved.

    According to the ICESat-2 team, only about a dozen of the approximately 20 trillion photons that leave ATLAS with each laser pulse return to the satellite’s telescope after a round trip that takes around 3.3 milliseconds. To detect those scarce returning photons, the system is equipped with a 76 cm-diameter beryllium telescope. A series of filters ensures that only light of precisely 532 nm reaches the detectors, eliminating any reflected sunlight that might influence the results.

    The ATLAS laser, part of NASA’s much-delayed ICESat-2 mission, was launched in September 2018. It will provide high-precision profiles of ice sheets and sea ice for climate studies. Photo by NASA

    Just three months after launch, ICESat-2 was already exceeding scientists’ expectations. NASA said that the satellite had measured the height of sea ice to within an inch, traced the terrain of previously unmapped Antarctic valleys, surveyed remote ice sheets, and peered through forest canopies and shallow coastal waters.

    “ICESat-2 is going to be a fantastic tool for research and discovery, both for cryospheric sciences and other disciplines,” said Tom Neumann, ICESat-2 project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Neumann and others shared the first results from the mission at the American Geophysical Union’s December 2018 meeting in Washington, DC.

    “It’s spectacular terrain,” reported Benjamin Smith, a glaciologist with the University of Washington, Seattle, and member of the ICESat-2 science team. “We’re able to measure slopes that are steeper than 45 degrees, and maybe even more, all through this [Transantarctic] mountain range.”

    The returning photons have shown high ice plateaus, crevasses in the ice 65 feet deep, and the sharp edges of ice shelves dropping into the ocean. Those first measurements will help fill in current gaps in maps of the Antarctic, Smith said, although the most critical science of the ICESat-2 mission is yet to come. As researchers refine their knowledge of exactly where the instrument is pointing, they can start to measure the rise or fall of ice sheets and glaciers.

    “Very soon, we’ll have measurements that we can compare to older measurements of surface elevation,” Smith said. “And after the satellite’s been up for a year, we’ll start to be able to watch the ice sheets change over the seasons.”

    Cold Atom Lab

    Cold Atom Lab NASA JPL

    Cold Atom Lab NASA JPL II

    Not long before the launch of the Aeolus and ICESat-2 sources, another laser system made its way to the ISS, where it is now carrying out quantum research inside the orbiting Cold Atom Lab (CAL). Part of a scientific payload that arrived in May 2018, it is based around commercial laser equipment and capable of trapping potassium and rubidium isotopes.

    By July, the space lab had produced Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) of rubidium atoms in orbit for the first time, controlled by scientists on the ground at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California. Robert Thompson, CAL project scientist and a physicist at JPL, said at the time. “It’s been a long, hard road to get here, but completely worth the struggle, because there’s so much we’re going to be able to do with this facility.”

    Although shrinking the BEC-making equipment to the size demanded for launch to the ISS has been a huge challenge, the advantages of the environment are enormous, from the point of view of quantum experimentation. Unlike on Earth, the persistent microgravity allows scientists to observe individual BECs for 5-10 seconds at a time, and to repeat measurements for up to six hours every day.

    In fact this was not quite the first cold atom experiment in space. In January 2017 the “MAIUS-1” sounding rocket launched a diode laser system for laser cooling and rubidium atom interferometry to an altitude of 243 kilometers, before returning to the ground.

    Maius-1 Payload Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz

    Developed by Humboldt University Berlin’s optical metrology research group, initial results confirmed that it was possible to carry out research on laser-cooled atoms in space, and in November 2018 the German consortium reported that it had carried out a remarkable 110 experiments on BECs during the six minutes of space travel that were possible.

    Another diode-pumped solid-state laser currently traversing the solar system sits inside an altimeter setup destined for the planet Mercury. Launched by the ESA in October, the Bepi Colombo probe is a collaboration with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

    Designed and built by a Swiss-German-Spanish team led by engineers at the University of Bern, the altimeter kit will be used to map Mercury’s topography and surface morphology in unprecedented detail, and is said to be the first such instrument developed for a European interplanetary mission. Based around a Q-switched, nanosecond-pulsed Nd:YAG source operating at 10 Hz, it will fire relatively high-energy (50 mJ) bursts of 1064 nm light at the planet, and collect reflections from the surface around 5 ms later using a silicon avalanche photodiode, via a narrowband filter.

    Elsewhere in the solar system, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission has just completed its approach to the asteroid Bennu, where it is now in close orbit. Ultimately, it is set to grab a sample from the surface of the orbiting rock and bring it back to Earth, but before that Bennu had to be mapped in considerable detail to ensure that the spacecraft could be maneuvered into exactly the right orbit to achieve the close fly-by.

    That operation relied on another laser altimeter featuring a lidar scanner, to generate a detailed three-dimensional map of Bennu’s shape. Built by the Canadian Space Agency, it will help the OSIRIS-REx team identify the best location from which to grab a sample. Two lasers are on board: a high-energy source to scan the asteroid at distances between 7.5 km and 1 km from the surface, and a second low-energy emitter that can be used for rapid time-of-flight imaging down to 225 m.


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    See the full article here .

  • richardmitnick 1:53 pm on February 28, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "These ice-covered Chilean volcanoes could erupt soon", , Earth Observation,   

    From EarthSky: “These ice-covered Chilean volcanoes could erupt soon” 


    From EarthSky

    February 28, 2019
    Arley Titzler

    Heightened volcanic activity in the Nevados de Chillán prompted Chilean authorities to issue an orange alert in anticipation of an eruption.

    Sernageomin. Robert Spurlock

    Stretching over 4,350 miles (7,000 km) across seven countries, the Andes are the world’s longest mountain range. They make up the southeastern portion of the Ring of Fire and are well-known for their abundant volcanoes.

    The Chilean Andes are home to 90 active volcanoes, all monitored by the Chilean National Geology and Mining Service (Sernageomin). The agency categorizes volcanic activity using four distinct alert levels: green (normal level of activity), yellow (increased level of activity), orange (probable development of an eruption in the short term), and red (eruption is ongoing or imminent). Increased volcanic activity is associated with frequent earthquakes; plumes of gas, rocks, or ash; and lava flows.

    Two areas monitored by Sernageomin are currently showing signs of increased activity: the Nevados de Chillán and Planchón-Peteroa volcanic complexes. The agency issued orange and yellow alert levels for them, respectively.

    A satellite image of the Nevados de Chillán volcano complex, showing the glacier-covered volcano peaks. Image via Sernageomin.

    Nevados de Chillán Volcanoes: Orange Alert

    The Nevados de Chillán volcano complex is composed of several glacier-covered volcanic peaks. When these volcanoes erupt, the glacial ice sitting atop them melts and mixes with lava, which can result in dangerous lahars, or mudflows. Several small earthquakes and the formation of new gas vents led Sernageomin to issue a yellow alert on December 31, 2015.

    On April 5, 2018, Sernageomin upgraded the Nevados de Chillán’s yellow alert to an orange alert, following thousands of tremors and a thick, white column of smoke rising from the area. This signaled the likelihood of an eruption in the near future.

    Nevados de Chillan volcano’s eruption on 14 July 2018. P.S. Miranda

    Sernageomin’s most recent volcanic activity report for Nevados de Chillán, issued on February 11, 2019, cited persistent seismic activity, which is directly related to increased frequency of explosions, along with the growth and/or destruction of the lava dome that lies in the crater. The expected eruption is most likely to have moderate to low explosive power, but sporadic observations over the last year have shown higher-than-average energy levels.

    On February 15, 2019, the Volcanic Ash Advisory Center in Buenos Aires documented a volcanic-ash plume reaching 12,139 feet (3,700 meters) high at Nevados de Chillán, an example of the above mentioned “higher than average energy levels.”

    Jaime S. sincioco @jaimessincioco

    Bottom line: Recent increased volcanic activity in the Nevados de Chillán prompted Chilean authorities to issue an orange alert in anticipation of an eruption.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.orgin 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. “Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers,” she says.

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