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  • richardmitnick 2:48 pm on May 26, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Earth Observation, , , Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology   

    From Eos: “A Sea Change in Paleoceanography’ 

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    22 May 2017
    Ellen Thomas

    After 32 years of existence, the journal Paleoceanography is changing its name. On January 1, 2018, it will become Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology. This reflects the growth, expansion and evolution of a field of research over the years, and is not a major change of course, nor a break with the journal’s history.


    In 1986, Jim Kennett, Paleoceanography’s founding editor, asked for contributions dealing with all aspects of understanding and reconstructing Earth’s past climate, biota and environments, while emphasizing global and regional understanding. At the time, such research papers were based dominantly on the marine sedimentary record, with study materials commonly supplied by scientific ocean drilling.

    Since then, the technologies of sampling, sample analysis, data analysis and model development have evolved greatly and rapidly. Articles in Paleoceanography today routinely compare and combine proxy records from ice cores, speleothems, terrestrial sediments and/or lake deposits with multiple stacked proxy records from marine sediment cores, while data are integrated into a broad spectrum of geochemical, earth system, ecosystem and climate models.

    The process of recognition of this de-facto expansion in scope of Paleoceanography has taken a few years. It was started in 2014 by then Editor-in-Chief, Chris Charles, who announced in Eos that the journal was expanding to ‘embrace all aspects of global paleoclimatology’. The journal’s name was amended (informally) to “Paleoceanography: An AGU Journal exploring Earth’s Paleoclimate.” New Associate Editors with a broad variety of expertise joined the editorial board.

    Finally, after discussions at the 2016 AGU Fall Meeting, the leadership of the AGU Focus Group Paleoceanography & Paleoclimatology, together with the journal editors, organized a survey to gauge the community’s opinion. A large majority (~65%) of the 751 respondents was in favor of a change in the name of the journal.

    Inserting the word ‘climate’ into the name allows us to celebrate the growth and evolution of our scientific undertaking. Understanding climates of the past has been an integral part of earth sciences since their early days. Lyell (1830–1833) devoted three chapters in ‘Principles of Geology’ to cyclically changing climates (as shown by fossil distributions), influenced by the position of the continents: the present as key to the past. Chamberlin (1906) wondered how Earth’s climate could have remained sufficiently stable to allow life to persist, ‘without break of continuity’, writing that ‘On the further maintenance of this continuity hang future interests of transcendent moment’. With foresight, he argued that for such continuity to persist ‘a narrow range of atmospheric constitution, notably in the critical element carbon dioxide, has been equally indispensable’.

    In the near future, we may move outside the range of concentrations of atmospheric CO2 as they have been for tens of millions of years, as documented in a number of papers using various proxies, with quite a few of these published in Paleoceanography. We now use, in addition to fossils, a broad and growing range of stable isotope compositions, trace element concentrations and organic biomarkers in fossils and sediments as quantitative proxies for a growing number of environmental properties (e.g., temperature, oxygenation, pH, pCO2).

    In our present time of environmental change, it is, more than ever, important to use proxy data on Earth’s past in order to evaluate Earth’s future, thus making our past a key guide to our future.

    Paleoceanography has always aimed to publish thorough, innovative studies which add to our understanding of the planet on which we live, and the past variability in its environments over the full range of Earth history. It will continue to do so under its new name. Any paper submitted after July 1, 2017 will be considered under the new title, and all papers accepted after December 1, 2017 will be published under the new title.

    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 7:30 am on May 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Earth Observation, , IDEAS.TED.COM, The amazing world that scientists are uncovering beneath the Earth’s crust   

    From IDEAS.TED.COM: “The amazing world that scientists are uncovering beneath the Earth’s crust” 



    May 24, 2017
    Hailey Reissman

    There are continents to explore right below our feet — including two giant blobs 100 times as tall as Everest. Here’s how seismologist and geophysicist Ed Garnero is studying this unseen and largely uncharted territory.

    For most people, everything they know about the composition of the Earth is what they were taught in elementary school: that our planet is made up of an eggshell-like crust over a thick mantle surrounding a super-hot core. In the last decade, scientists have made some super-interesting — and even strange or profound — discoveries that can add detail to that picture. Among their recent subterranean findings are a river of liquid metal that moves more swiftly than the tectonic plates, “bubbles” at the crust-mantle boundary, a new species of mineral that is somehow capable of holding water hundreds of miles within the mantle, chambers of magma where rocks are heating up like popcorn and expelled.

    A visualization of the seismic waves from six Gulf of California earthquake events, over the years of 2007 to 2013, created by a team led by Manochehr Bahavar of the IRIS Data Management Center.

    Like the deep oceans, our planet’s innards are extremely difficult to study. Since humans can’t travel very far into the Earth (and certainly not the 3,963 miles to its core), investigation has largely depended upon the development of technology that can sense what lies below. The existence of tectonic plates was confirmed only around fifty years ago when sonar was used to map the ocean floor. Why is venturing below so difficult? For starters, the pressure. Just eight miles down, you’d feel the equivalent of 131 elephants of force pressing down on your head. And it’s unbearably hot. The temperature at the bottom of the top layer of the crust is roughly 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s breezy compared to the Earth’s core, which is thought to be about 10,800 degrees (as hot as the surface of the sun). So far, the farthest down that humans have tunneled is 7.6 miles.

    Scientists have found two enormous, mysterious blobs of super-hot material that lie under the earth’s crust. In this visualization, seismic wave paths are shown passing through the blob. The blue and red features represent, respectively, high- and low-velocity material, discovered from tomography. Visualization by Ed Garnero.

    Geophysicists use seismometers to “see” inside the Earth, similar to how X-rays see inside our bodies. We tend to think of the Earth as fairly solid, except perhaps when hit by an earthquake. In reality, though, we live on chunks of crust that are constantly doing a dance that we can’t feel but scientists are always monitoring. For example, Phoenix, Arizona, rises and falls by about 40 centimeters twice a day, due to the sun’s and moon’s gravitational pulls. And Southern California has about 10,000 earthquakes a year, most a magnitude two or less. Each of these quakes — and every rise and fall — creates seismic waves that are recorded by instruments called seismometers. Like an X-ray machine, a seismometer assesses how energy moves through an object to infer what’s happening inside that object. Right now, the Global Seismographic Network (GSN) has more than 150 seismic stations distributed throughout the world, while the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) network includes over 250 stations.

    In 2016, Ed Garnero from Arizona State University’s School of Earth & Space Exploration (TEDxManhattanBeach talk: An amazing look into the center of the earth) and a team used this trove of seismological data to delve into an ongoing mantle mystery. For decades, geophysicists had observed seismic waves slowing down in two areas beneath the crust on roughly opposite sides of the Earth: one below the Pacific Ocean and the other below Africa. They discerned that the masses were huge — each the size of a continent, 100 times the height of Mount Everest, and around 1,800 miles beneath the surface. And they assumed the areas were extra-warm, since unusually hot zones can cause waves to slow down. Garnero and his researchers were determined to find out more. “They are the largest parts of our Earth that we [have identified but] know nothing about,” he says.

    Garnero’s team looked at the data — and made a major discovery. The giant blobs are not just a different temperature from the rest of the mantle; the researchers think they have a distinctly different chemical composition too. “We see from the seismic waves that go near the boundaries of the blobs that they split into a wave that goes into the blob and slows down, while a wave that continues along the blobs’ outside margin goes at normal speed,” Garnero says. “Scientists believe temperature alone cannot do that, so the blobs being compositionally distinct is the easiest explanation.” Researchers don’t know what the blobs are made of — yet — but they can tell the masses are denser and more stable than what’s around them. And they’re most likely feeding volcanoes. “On Earth above the blobs, there are volcanoes past and present, from small to massive,” Garnero says. For example, the hotspots that formed Hawaii, Samoa and Iceland are all fed by extremely deep plumes of magma that appear to be connected to the blobs.

    Which leads to the question: Where did these blobs come from? One intriguing theory is that they’re leftovers from our planet’s formation — remnants of some primordial layer of the Earth that eroded away over billions of years through the power of convection. “Our core ‘cooks’ the mantle rock, which makes up about half of the Earth, from below, causing it to slowly turn and move,” Garnero says. “If you did a timelapse of millions of years of Earth’s rocky mantle, you’d see it swirl around just like smoke moving around a bonfire.” And perhaps some of the material was swirled into forming the continent-sized blobs. Garnero and his team have used the seismic data to construct intriguing images of the Earth that include the mantle blobs, essentially giving us an MRI of our planet.

    Inside the Earth’s mantle, heat from the core (in red) cooks the mantle rock (in blue), causing the rock to move like smoke around a bonfire. The motions visualized here would happen over a few million years. Visualization by Dr. Allen K. McNamara of Arizona State University.

    Garnero wants to share with the public the thrill of searching inside the Earth. Recently, he and a group of artists from Arizona State University, led by Lance Gharavi, created Beneath: a journey within, a film-music-dance performance designed to immerse the public in seismic data. Garnero says the cross-disciplinary collaboration has been exhilarating: “The scientists give the artists a platform to create, and then the artists give the scientists a new way to see their data.” The performance, which featured artists including a bass-playing geophysicist interacting with his data through trip-hop bass-lines and a belly-dancing theoretical astrophysicist embodying seismic waves, is being held inside a 3D theater on campus.

    Next for geophysicists: Combing through data from the world’s seismometers to add to the expanding pool of subterranean knowledge. In 2017, an extremely detailed map of the inner Earth was created by a team from Princeton University with the help of one of the world’s fastest supercomputers, Titan, which can perform over 20 quadrillion calculations per second.

    ORNL Cray XK7 Titan Supercomputer

    This visualization provides another view of the two continent-sized blobs of unknown material, deep within the Earth. Created by geophysicists Scott W. French and Barbara Romanowicz of the Physique du Globe and the Collège de France and UC Berkeley.

    As for Garnero, his ambitions are galactic. He and his students are now working “to get the most detailed information out of seismic data,” he says, including revisiting an earlier study of the moon that confirmed it has a solid, iron-rich core. His department is also developing a tiny seismometer for NASA to take on a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa; it would measure tremors on Europa’s crust and possibly locate as-yet-undiscovered bodies of water beneath its icy exterior. Designing such a device is not easy, according to Garnero. Seismometers are ultra-sensitive pieces of equipment, and this machine would need to be sturdy enough to handle a rough spacecraft landing and the other extremes that come with extraterrestrial travel.

    The key to future discoveries, either here on or on other spheres, lies in increasing the variety, amount and sensitivity of seismometers. “The more sensors we have, the more we study things like the blobs, and the more other things we can see,” Garnero says. “That’s good for me because that means there are more things to discover.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 3:04 pm on May 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Earth Observation, , Taiwan,   

    From Temblor: “M=5.0 Taiwan earthquake preceded by foreshock sequence” 



    May 24, 2017
    David Jacobson

    Southwestern Taiwan was hit by a M=5.0 earthquake today. This quake was preceded by a foreshock sequence that lasted approximately 33 hours. (Photo from: holidayssg.com)

    At 9:10 p.m. local time today (24 May), a M=5.0 earthquake struck western Taiwan near the city of Chiayi, which is home to over 250,000 people. This earthquake was preceded by a foreshock sequence of five earthquakes beginning approximately 33 hours earlier. The foreshock sequence began with a M=3.6, and culminated with another M=3.6 five minutes before the M=5.0. Most earthquakes are not preceded by a foreshock sequence, making this quake rare. At this stage, there have been no reports of damage, and according to the Taiwan Central Weather Bureau, moderate shaking was felt in the M=5.0, which can rock buildings, and cause slight damage. So, close to the epicenter, it is possible that minor damage was sustained. Should we hear any reports of damage, we will update this post.

    This Temblor map shows the location of the M=5.0 earthquake in Taiwan. In addition to the location from EMSC, the USGS location is also shown to illustrate the discrepancy in the catalogs. One of the earthquakes in the foreshock sequence is also shown.

    At this stage, there is a discrepancy between where the USGS and EMSC plot the location of today’s quake. The USGS has it in a stepover between the Chiuchiungkeng and Muchiliao-Liuchia faults, while EMSC has it just to the east of the Chiuchiungkeng Fault. The USGS location has been added to the Temblor map above so that this discrepancy can be seen (For any location outside the United States, Temblor shows EMSC data). The USGS has also produced a focal mechanism for this earthquake, which suggests both strike-slip and extensional components of slip, which is not consistent with the regional geology. Should a Taiwan focal mechanism come out, we will update this post.

    Based on the location shown in Temblor, this earthquake was likely associated with the Chiuchiungkeng Fault, a thrust fault within the southwestern foothills of Taiwan. Because of high slip rates associated with this fault, the region is believed to have a high probability of experiencing a large magnitude earthquake. This is verified when we look at the Taiwan Earthquake Model (see below). This model shows the likelihood of strong ground motion in the next 50 years.

    This figure shows the Taiwan Earthquake Model with recent earthquakes shown. This colors in the figure represent ground motion values (g) with a 10% likelihood in 50 years. This is the spectral acceleration at a period of 0.3 seconds (3.3 Hz).

    In addition to the Taiwan Earthquake Model, we can also consult the Global Earthquake Activity Rate (GEAR) model, to see what the likely earthquake magnitude is for this portion of Taiwan. This model, which uses global strain rates and seismicity since 1977, forecasts what the likely earthquake magnitude in your lifetime is for any location on earth. From the Temblor map below, one can see that a M=7.5 earthquake is likely in your lifetime. Such a quake could be devastating to the country, as a significant portion of the country’s agriculture is grown in southwestern Taiwan, and a large earthquake could damage valuable resources. Should anything change regarding the location or focal mechanism from today’s earthquake, we will update this post.

    This Temblor map shows the Global Earthquake Activity Rate (GEAR) model for Taiwan. What can be seen from this figure is that the area around today’s earthquake is susceptible to M=7.5+ quakes. Such an earthquake would be devastating to the area.

    European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC)
    Taiwan Earthquake Model (TEM)
    Taiwan Central Weather Bureau

    See the full article here .

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    You can help many citizen scientists in detecting earthquakes and getting the data to emergency services people in affected area.
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    Quake-Catcher Network

    The Quake-Catcher Network is a collaborative initiative for developing the world’s largest, low-cost strong-motion seismic network by utilizing sensors in and attached to internet-connected computers. With your help, the Quake-Catcher Network can provide better understanding of earthquakes, give early warning to schools, emergency response systems, and others. The Quake-Catcher Network also provides educational software designed to help teach about earthquakes and earthquake hazards.

    After almost eight years at Stanford, and a year at CalTech, the QCN project is moving to the University of Southern California Dept. of Earth Sciences. QCN will be sponsored by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) and the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC).

    The Quake-Catcher Network is a distributed computing network that links volunteer hosted computers into a real-time motion sensing network. QCN is one of many scientific computing projects that runs on the world-renowned distributed computing platform Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC).


    BOINC WallPaper

    The volunteer computers monitor vibrational sensors called MEMS accelerometers, and digitally transmit “triggers” to QCN’s servers whenever strong new motions are observed. QCN’s servers sift through these signals, and determine which ones represent earthquakes, and which ones represent cultural noise (like doors slamming, or trucks driving by).

    There are two categories of sensors used by QCN: 1) internal mobile device sensors, and 2) external USB sensors.

    Mobile Devices: MEMS sensors are often included in laptops, games, cell phones, and other electronic devices for hardware protection, navigation, and game control. When these devices are still and connected to QCN, QCN software monitors the internal accelerometer for strong new shaking. Unfortunately, these devices are rarely secured to the floor, so they may bounce around when a large earthquake occurs. While this is less than ideal for characterizing the regional ground shaking, many such sensors can still provide useful information about earthquake locations and magnitudes.

    USB Sensors: MEMS sensors can be mounted to the floor and connected to a desktop computer via a USB cable. These sensors have several advantages over mobile device sensors. 1) By mounting them to the floor, they measure more reliable shaking than mobile devices. 2) These sensors typically have lower noise and better resolution of 3D motion. 3) Desktops are often left on and do not move. 4) The USB sensor is physically removed from the game, phone, or laptop, so human interaction with the device doesn’t reduce the sensors’ performance. 5) USB sensors can be aligned to North, so we know what direction the horizontal “X” and “Y” axes correspond to.

    If you are a science teacher at a K-12 school, please apply for a free USB sensor and accompanying QCN software. QCN has been able to purchase sensors to donate to schools in need. If you are interested in donating to the program or requesting a sensor, click here.

    BOINC is a leader in the field(s) of Distributed Computing, Grid Computing and Citizen Cyberscience.BOINC is more properly the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, developed at UC Berkeley.

    Earthquake safety is a responsibility shared by billions worldwide. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) provides software so that individuals can join together to improve earthquake monitoring, earthquake awareness, and the science of earthquakes. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) links existing networked laptops and desktops in hopes to form the worlds largest strong-motion seismic network.

    Below, the QCN Quake Catcher Network map
    QCN Quake Catcher Network map

  • richardmitnick 7:49 pm on May 23, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Earth Observation, Georgia Straight, Rain Forest destruction by logging,   

    From UBC ia Georgia Straight: “Alys Granados: We have to protect all of the world’s rainforests, not just tropical rainforests” 

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    University of British Columbia


    Georgia Straight

    May 19th, 2017
    Alys Granados

    Logging on southern Vancouver Island. TJ Watt

    Most of us have heard about how rainforests are in trouble and the rapid rate at which we are losing these spectacular ecosystems, along with the incredible diversity of species that depend on them. Globally, most of these reports focus on tropical rainforests and there has been too little awareness about the fate of temperate rainforests. Close to home, very few know that the remaining old-growth forest on Vancouver Island is disappearing faster than natural tropical rainforests.

    Few of us have the opportunity to visit tropical forests in person, which can make us feel disconnected from the problems of deforestation and degradation of tropical countries. I am extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to work in tropical rainforests over the past seven years as part of my graduate work in wildlife ecology. Most of this has been in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, where I investigated how selective logging disrupts interactions between trees and mammals.

    The loss of intact tropical forests continues to be a serious threat. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently estimated that, globally, 10 percent of the remaining primary forests in tropical rainforest countries were lost between 1990 and 2015. These forests are home to many species that exist nowhere else on the planet and protecting their habitats is critical to their survival. Further, the livelihood of millions of people depends on intact forests and they play an important role in mitigating the effects of climate change by storing massive amounts of carbon.

    While all of this may be well known to many, few of us in Canada realize just how fast old-growth rainforest is being logged on Vancouver Island. I was very shocked to learn from recent Sierra Club B.C. data that over that same period (1990 to 2015), 30 percent of the remaining old-growth forest on Vancouver Island was logged. In other words, the rate of loss of so-called primary forests (forests that were largely undisturbed by human activity) on Vancouver Island is actually three times greater than in the tropics. In the past few years, the rate of old-growth logging on the Island has actually increased by 12 percent to 9,000 hectares per year (25 hectares a day).



    So what’s behind this forest loss? Similar to the tropics, logging plays a central role. One difference is that in many tropical countries logging often results in deforestation, while in other countries, such as Canada, logging generally leads to the replacement of rich ancient forests with even-aged young forest. Much of the old-growth forest on Vancouver Island has already been lost to clearcut logging and the remaining patches of old-growth (called variable retention by foresters) are too small to maintain enough habitat for species that depend on old-growth forest.

    In response to the Sierra Club data, the B.C. government stated that it is misleading to compare the problem in tropical countries to Vancouver Island because in British Columbia, logging companies are required by law to reforest logged areas. Although this is true, old-growth ecosystems with trees that are many hundreds of years of age are not growing back at a meaningful timescale and climate change means we will never see the same type of forest grow back in the first place.

    Species that rely on old-growth forest such, as the marbled murrelet, are negatively affected by the loss of old forest stands. In addition, the resulting large areas of young trees are not offering the type of habitat that most of the typical plants and animals on Vancouver Island depend on.

    Similar to tropical forests, coastal temperate forests play an important role storing carbon dioxide. In fact a single hectare of temperate rainforest can store up to 1,000 tonnes of carbon, a much greater amount than most tropical rainforests. Even if replanting is carried out, along the coast it can take centuries for reforested areas to reach a similar capacity in carbon-storage potential as that of intact old-growth forest stands.

    Tropical-forest loss rightfully deserves the attention it gets, and we are lucky here in B.C. to have equally amazing rainforest habitat. Given that we are living in a relatively rich part of the world compared to many tropical countries, it is remarkable that we are failing to do a better job of protecting the remaining rare and endangered ancient forests on Vancouver Island and inspire other parts of the world.

    (There is growing international pressure on the B.C. government to protect Vancouver Island’s endangered old-growth rainforest; see this release.)

    Coastal temperate rainforests exist only in very small areas on the planet and very little intact areas are left. Solutions exist, for example, in the Great Bear Rainforest north of Vancouver Island. Increasing the area of forest protected and halting destructive logging practices are both vital to ensuring the continued survival of these ecosystems and for a diverse economy. They should be a primary concern to us all.

    See the full article here .

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    U British Columbia Campus

    The University of British Columbia is a global centre for research and teaching, consistently ranked among the 40 best universities in the world. Since 1915, UBC’s West Coast spirit has embraced innovation and challenged the status quo. Its entrepreneurial perspective encourages students, staff and faculty to challenge convention, lead discovery and explore new ways of learning. At UBC, bold thinking is given a place to develop into ideas that can change the world.

  • richardmitnick 1:37 pm on May 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Earth Observation, How Thousand-Year-Old Trees Became the New Ivory,   

    From Smithsonian: “How Thousand-Year-Old Trees Became the New Ivory” 


    Lyndsie Bourgon

    Ancient trees are disappearing from protected national forests around the world. A look inside $100 billion market for stolen wood.

    Torrance Coste of the Wilderness Committee illustrates the immensity of the missing Carmanah cedar in 2012. (Courtesy Torrance Coste)

    I. The Case of the Missing Cedar

    It was a local hiker who noticed, during a backwoods stroll in May 2012, the remains of the body. The victim in question: an 800-year-old cedar tree. Fifty meters tall and with a trunk three meters in circumference, the cedar was one of the crown jewels in Canada’s Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park. Now all that remained was a minivan-sized section of its trunk, surrounded by shards of wood and dust, with broken heavy equipment chains lying nearby.

    This park is firmly rooted, filled with centuries old Sitka spruce and cedar that impose a towering permanence. These trees are also an integral part of the forest ecosystem: moss and lichen grow on them, mushrooms sprout from the damp bark at their base. Their branches are home to endangered birds like the tiny grey and white marbled murrelet, which scientists presumed regionally extinct until they found a lone bird in the Carmanah.

    But lately, these living ecosystems have been disappearing across the province. In the past decade, forest investigators have found themselves fielding cases in which more than 100 trees were stolen at once.

    The Carmanah hiker, Colin Hepburn, happened to be a member of the activist group Wilderness Committee. He called Torrance Coste, the protection group’s regional campaigner, who alerted British Columbia Parks and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). A week later, Coste travelled from Victoria to the Carmanah. Coming upon the old growth’s stump was “overwhelming,” he says. He demonstrated its immense size by lying down on it, sitting on it and standing on it in news photos.

    The province took the case seriously. The theft was jointly investigated by BC Parks, the RCMP and the province’s Conservation Officer Service, but with no promising leads, the RCMP dropped the case within a few months. BC Parks keeps the file open; Don Closson, the area’s supervisor, says they are waiting to breathe new life into it. But if history is any indication, that isn’t likely to happen: When it comes to the underground world of black market timber, the case of this 800-year-old cedar is just the tip of the iceberg.

    Global timber theft has grown into a “rapidly escalating environmental crime wave” according to a 2012 report by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) and Interpol, titled Green Carbon, Black Trade. The report estimates that somewhere between 15 to 30 per cent of the global timber trade is conducted through the black market and linked to organized crime outfits that wouldn’t balk at trading weapons or humans. Now with armed “timber cartels” as part of their operation, these groups have identified profit in the immense value of ancient nature.

    Every summer, Interpol and the UNEP hold a conference in Nairobi where they convene over issues in international poaching and black market trade. In the past couple of years, the conference has been focused on elephant poaching and timber theft. Wood, says the UNEP, is the new ivory: a natural resource valued for its scarcity and beauty, which takes decades to grow but just moments to destroy.

    “Our parks are comparable to cathedrals or castles in Europe,” says Coste. “But they are not protected. There is no security.”

    Globally, poached trees are estimated to be worth somewhere between $30 and $100 billion. The U.S. claims about $1 billion of that in its borders. But it’s impossible to truly measure what all that stolen wood is worth.

    That’s because the worth of timber is generally only considered in market value—how much you can sell it for in the form of boards or shake blocks—says Matthew Diggs, an attorney in Seattle who has dealt with many timber theft cases. That number doesn’t take into account the fact that, in parks like Washington state’s Olympic National Forest, there are natural ecosystems that can only exist in an untouched environment.

    “Honestly, there is really no way to put a value on that,” says Diggs. “[It robs] our region of one of its most precious resources—trees which will take centuries to return.”

    Cedar boardwalk through valley bottom with a (naturally) fallen tree, Carmanah Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. (Chris Cheadle / Alamy)

    II. The Perfect Crime

    Two main factors have made timber so appealing in recent years. First, the pay-off: One massive old growth cedar can fetch close to $20,000. A report released in 2000 from the Canadian Forest Service’s Pacific Forestry Centre noted theft of Canada’s timber as a growing problem, costing B.C. $20 million annually. Red cedar is especially at risk, with thieves often specifically targeting its ‘high grade’ old growth. Even smaller parts of trees can be incredibly valuable: In 2014 there were 18 cases of thieves hacking out chunks of burl from 1000-year-old California redwoods.

    Second, stealing trees is low-risk. In a globalized economy, timber is exceptionally easy for thieves to get their hands on, says Cameron Kamiya, Canada’s only full-time forest crime investigator. And the Carmanah is the perfect place to commit a crime: a remote rainforest sanctuary on the Canadian west coast, thick with damp air and spearmint canopies of moss. It is so vast and so sparingly visited that park wardens only patrol the area about four times a year.

    Kamiya runs a two-person outpost for the whole of British Columbia. In his first case on the job, he charged two men with the theft of broadleaf maple trees from the small town of Abbotsford, which they had been poaching and selling to guitar manufacturers. “Maple is an ongoing problem,” he says. “It isn’t your standard kind of tall, straight tree. It branches off and forks and they lean and tilt, but if you know what you’re doing and you have someone to buy it, it’s quite lucrative.”

    That rare successful case illustrates a common theme in timber theft: When thieves are caught, it’s almost entirely thanks to luck. In this case, a group of mountain bikers were forging a path through the woods when they came across three people with a chainsaw and a tree at their feet. The bikers had a GoPro video camera on them, which they used to record the faces of the thieves. Then, they reported the interaction to the Forestry Department, who called Kamiya. Together, Kamiya and Forestry decided to take a hike to the area where the meeting happened.

    As they were walking, they heard a tree fall.

    The pair snuck up to the top where they found two people they recognized from the video, and who eventually took them to a spot with two others that was dotted with gear: an axe, some jackets, rope. One of the people was covered in dust and was wearing gumboots, making the group’s excuse—“We’re on a hike!”—seem unlikely. A chainsaw was buried amongst some ferns nearby. “They did a really lousy job of it,” says Kamiya. “I don’t know why they bothered.”

    Kamiya and the Forestry Department took their culprits down to the main road, but the location was remote and they didn’t have enough room to transport them all back to the station. The group agreed to provide a statement later and, “of course afterwards they all recanted,” Kamiya recalls. In the end only one was charged with the theft. He was given a conditional discharge, six months’ probation and was ordered to pay a $500 fine.

    In this field, even charging one thief is unusual, says Kamiya. “It was coincidence and luck,” he says. “It’s like a needle in a haystack when you’re walking around looking for one tree out of a pile.”

    Wildlife biologist Terry Hines stands next to a scar where poachers hacked a large burl from an old growth redwood tree in the Redwood National and State Parks near Klamath, CA, in 2013. (National Parks Service / Redwood National and State Parks / Laura Denn)

    III. Wood Without a Name

    On paper, a number of government groups are hard at work to reduce illegal logging. The problem is, none of them are equipped to effectively combat a global trade of this magnitude—let alone an organized crime network.

    There are the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and its European contemporary, the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreements. But these groups are just what the names suggest: That is, voluntary agreement systems for countries and companies to participate in if they choose. Plus, they’re mostly focused on generating incentives for legal trade.

    CITES, a convention that many countries follow, regulates the trade of plants and animals, including about 600 timber species. About 400 of these species—including rosewood, bigleaf mahogany and Asian yews—are actively, commercially exploited. In theory, countries that participate in CITES agree to subject exporters to trade regulations, including requiring that they show a permit for the wood they are trading.

    But Chen Hin Keong, head of the Global Forest Trade Programme at the wildlife trade monitoring organization TRAFFIC International, says that permits often aren’t requested. “There is a good chance that they won’t ask. No one bothers,” says Keong. “If I’m a retailer selling furniture, I can ask my supplier if it’s legal, but he might buy the materials from 10 different sources and he’ll have to check. He might buy his plywood from one place, his dowels from another, planks from somewhere else.”

    The hands that a felled log passes through have been greased by the ease of globalized trade. The sheer volume of wood threaded through the world’s largest ports makes it easy to move a single container full of poached wood, or a container full of wood that was both legally and illegally logged. “If you deal drugs or kill an elephant, you are constantly at risk,” says Christian Nellemann, head of rapid response assessments at UNEP. “If you deal with timber, nobody really cares.”

    Most timber travels first to busy ports in Malaysia and China, where it is manufactured into finished product before heading to North America and Europe. The pace at these ports is harried. “If you deal with natural resources you generally deal with large volumes of relatively low-value laundered goods. It breaks with the traditional mindset of smuggling,” Nellemann explains. “It would be like trying to check all the fruit and toothpaste in supermarkets.”

    Keong likens a piece of furniture to a cell phone—minerals are extracted from one place, everything cobbled together piecemeal in another. Often, when an inspecting officer opens a container of cargo, he or she is sorting through legally sourced items to find the illegal material buried in the middle or hidden underneath. But even if they suspect the wood within may be illegally traded, how are they to know the species of a tree by looking at a piece of plywood?

    Right now, the answer is that there’s no way to know for sure. That’s why, in a case like the Carmanah cedar, investigations rarely make it further than the discovery of a stump. After all, a tree’s vanished body is both the victim and the evidence. Even if someone is pulled over with suspicious wood in the back of a truck, the challenge then becomes linking that wood with the tree it once was.

    To create a body of proof from the shards left behind, they must be matched to the exact stump it came from. “You have to use other ways,” says John Scanlon, the secretary general of CITES. “You have to look more closely at the texture of the timber. Or sometimes you need forensics.”

    Coast Redwoods in Stout Grove, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, California. (Radius Images / Alamy )

    IV. Fingerprinting the Forest

    As global tree researchers get more savvy, they’re figuring out how to fingerprint wood products back to the ancient trees they came from.

    Eleanor White, a retired molecular biologist with the Canadian Forest Services, was the first to develop a way to “fingerprint” trees. In the late 1990s, she developed a method that has since played a key role in advancing a database of red and yellow cedar DNA in British Columbia. White’s method uses a mixture of solvents to isolate short, repeated DNA segments “microsatellites” from samples of wood. Like fingerprints, each tree has a unique pattern of these microsatellites.

    Tree fingerprints are just one promising innovation in a relatively new field: forest forensics. New scientific developments are being used to raise the stakes of this kind of lucrative, difficult-to-trace theft. The goal is to dissuade both individual poachers—those who take trees for firewood, or harvest a Christmas tree from preserved land—and large-scale timber thieves alike.

    In Oregon, U.S. Fish and Wildlife has developed its own forensics lab to investigate cases of poaching and timber theft. Ken Goddard, the lab’s director, has been working in park crime since 1979. He wrote a manual for environmental crime scene investigation and is also a bestselling serial novelist, having written books like Double Blind, which follows a U.S. Fish & Wildlife special agent into the wilderness.

    Today he runs the only lab in the world dedicated to crimes against wildlife—“though we sure don’t want to be,” he says. They tackle some of the most bizarre crimes in America: illegally imported caviar, poached bear gall bladder, plants coated in banned pesticides, and of course, tree poaching.

    “When we first started looking at it”—tree theft—“we were stunned,” says Goddard. “We were starting to hear stories from agents in other countries, about entire forests being clear-cut and ships filled with raw trees in containerized cargo. At that point we couldn’t make an identification if it was milled into planks, so we had to come up with something.” Right now they spend a lot of time handling the illegal import of agarwood, which most often makes its way to the lab in the form of wood chips or incense sticks. Known for its dark, aromatic resin that provides the musky, earthy smell common in manufactured scents, a kilo of agarwood can sell for up to $100,000.

    The lab guides investigators who intercept these shipments on how to get samples. It isn’t exactly glamorous. The work includes digging through shipping containers filled with raw material and extracting single logs or planks to take back to the lab. “It’s pretty horrendous work, the mechanics and science of it,” says Goddard. “You’re supposed to take a random sampling for results, but imagine a container full of 2x4s and you’re supposed to take the 412th 2×4 in the bunch. It’s a tremendous amount of physical work, to get that sample.”

    Very little of the work that the lab’s criminologists, Ed Espinoza and Gabriela Chavarria, do is actually based in the forest. Rather, they most often examine evidence that has already been manipulated; that is, the tree has already been turned into a product. The team will receive boxes of wood chips or shipments of milled, kiln-dried planks from Fish & Wildlife agents or border inspectors, and get to work hunting around for specific ions to determine the species of wood.

    They use chemistry to nab tree poachers after the act, because by the time the samples get to them, the wood is almost unrecognizable. On rare occasions, they have been asked to study full logs or planks that have been misleadingly labeled or declared. “With all the shows today, they mix up CSI with forensics and it really isn’t,” says Espinoza.

    Espinoza has done groundbreaking work when it comes to developing a method to identify tree genuses: “Up until a few months ago, as far as anyone in the world could go was family,” says Goddard. Espinoza’s work has since been applied to a species of trees called aguilaria, in which agarwood falls. “It’s a mind-boggling discovery,” says Goddard.

    Espinoza uses mass spectrometry to identify chemical compounds, essentially by turning an unknown liquid (in this case, oils from bark) into a gas and then injecting it into the dart instrument. The chemical compounds then show up on a screen a few seconds later.

    An ancient cedar tree like this one can grow for nearly hundreds of years, but be felled in less than a week. (Courtesy Torrance Coste)

    In addition to forensics, there have been some attempts by non-governmental organizations to push for a customer-driven solution. The World Wildlife Foundation is working with companies like Kimberly Clarke, Hewlett-Packard and McDonald’s to help identify places in their supply chain where they may be inadvertently part of the world’s illegal timber trade. McDonald’s, for instance, is focusing entirely on the origins of its paper packaging.

    “We can offer real time information to these companies, about sourcing from a certain area,” says Amy Smith, a manager for wood products at the WWF. “We want to keep traceability visible.” But they are also not a regulating body. They essentially provide a service and country profiles, for interested clients.

    Yet if there is no political will, Keong fears consumer activism. “People are poor,” he says. “If consumers are put off buying timber then you might affect a lot of livelihoods in other countries. It’s not a simple solution.” Nellemann believes in the power of halting criminal networks is through pressing tax fraud charges. “This is about security, but it’s also about governments losing vast amounts of revenues that leave the country with illegal logging,” he says.

    Scanlon agrees: “We need to up the ante here.”

    When the poet Seamus Heaney was perched at his mother’s deathbed, he wrote in “Clearances”: “The space we stood around had been emptied/ Into us to keep, it penetrated/ Clearances that suddenly stood open/ High cries were felled and a pure change happened.” “I was thinking of when a tree is cut,” he said, in a later interview. “For a moment it’s as if the air is shaken and there is new space in the world. An emptiness.”

    Trees are not immortal. They live and die, with the average cedar tree in Canada reaching 800 years or so before cracking, disintegrating and falling down of their own accord. Today, in a ring surrounding the base of the cedar stump in the Carmanah, saplings have begun to sprout. If the earth is lucky, a missing tree will leave a clearing in the canopy, a window into sky and sun, a funnel with enough room for a new tree to grow in its place.

    The cedar in the Carmanah was near the end of its life. But tree theft investigators want to ensure that none of these ancient giants meetings a similar fate before its time. Their goal is to make the risks for poaching these trees before their time too high—to treat the theft of plant life like you might the trade of drugs or arms. It’s also to make the act of corruption within government and private business so difficult to pull off that customs agents can do their jobs. The goal can seem impossible.

    “I’ve been working on this for awhile now and I still do not…” Keong sighs. “Sometimes I think we are not there yet. We are only in early days. The political will that we are all in this one world … we are not there yet.”

    See the full article here .

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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 1:19 pm on May 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Earth Observation, , Exploring Underground with a Colliding Drone   

    From ESA: “Exploring Underground with a Colliding Drone” 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    European Space Agency

    22 May 2017
    NO writer credit found

    No image credit found

    ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano last weekend helped to explore the caverns under Sicily using a drone that deliberately bumped into its surroundings in order to build a map.

    ESA has been testing equipment, techniques and working methods for missions with astronauts in inner space for many years. Delving inside Earth and exploring caves often parallels the exploration of outer space, from a lack of sunlight to working in cramped spaces and relying on equipment for safety.

    An extension of ESA’s Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behaviour and performance Skills course, this CAVES-X1 expedition saw Luca join a scientific expedition organised by La Venta Association and the Commissione Grotte Eugenio Boegan in the La Cucchiara caves near Sciacca, Sicily.

    Collecting samples

    Whereas such activities are arranged specifically for training astronauts, course designer Loredana Bessone says, “We now want astronauts to take part in existing scientific caving and geological expeditions – scientific exploration does not get more real than this.”

    The team arrived on 19 May and spent two days exploring the area, which includes a 100 m-deep abyss. As this cave reaches 37°C, the explorers also tried out cooling vests – another similarity to astronauts in spacesuits.

    Launching the drone

    Luca took geological samples and tried a new way of probing hard-to-reach spaces: a Flyability drone deliberately bumped into walls to learn how to navigate and to map tight areas that are too dangerous for humans.

    ESA’s course coordinator, Francesco Sauro, an experienced caver and field geologist, remarks: “The drone used its thermal camera to map how the cave continued all the way to an unexplored area featuring water, impossible to reach for humans.

    “These tests will help us understand which technologies can be used in future exploration of lava tubes on Mars, for example.”

    ESA’s strategy sees humans and robots working together to explore and build settlements on planetary bodies, as well as improving our understanding of our origins, and the origins of life in our Solar System.

    The short expedition ends today with a conference on the use of novel technologies in underground exploration and scientific research of extreme environments at the University of Palermo in Sicily.

    See the full article here .

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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 8:51 am on May 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , CSHOR-Centre for Southern Hemisphere Oceans Research, , Earth Observation, Oceans of the Southern Hemisphere, Our new research centre focuses on the ‘ocean hemisphere’, QNLM- Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology   

    From CSIRO: “Our new research centre focuses on the ‘ocean hemisphere’” 

    CSIRO bloc

    Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

    22nd May 2017
    Dr Steve Rintoul (CSIRO)
    Dr Wenju Cai (CSIRO)
    Dr Helen Cleugh (CSIRO)
    Dr Gongke Tan (QNLM)

    Australia is uniquely placed as a centre for southern hemisphere oceans research. Image: Flickr/NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre

    More than 80 per cent of the southern hemisphere is covered by oceans. Until recently, these vast oceans were largely unmeasured and poorly understood.

    New tools like satellites and profiling floats have helped to fill the gap in observations. These measurements have shown that the southern hemisphere oceans play a pivotal role in shaping the climate of Australia and the rest of the globe.

    If we want to know how climate works, and how it may change in the future, we need to better understand the “ocean hemisphere” of our planet.

    Why are the southern hemisphere oceans so important?

    Oceans influence global climate by absorbing and transporting vast amounts of heat and carbon dioxide. More than 93 per cent of the extra heat stored by the Earth since 1970 is found in the ocean – when we say global warming, we’re really talking about ocean warming.

    The oceans have also taken up about 30 per cent of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities in that time. By storing heat and carbon dioxide, the oceans have acted to slow the rate of climate change. Of course, this ‘service’ comes at a cost: Warming of the oceans causes sea level rise and other impacts, while the absorbed carbon dioxide makes the ocean more acidic.

    Ocean covers 80 per cent of the Southern Hemisphere.

    The southern oceans make a particularly important contribution. The oceans south of 40°S take up more heat and carbon dioxide than any other latitude band of the ocean. The Southern Ocean, where water rises from depths of more than 3 km and later sinks again after exchanging properties with the atmosphere, acts like a window to the deep sea.

    The warmest waters in the entire ocean are found in the maritime region just north of Australia. This ‘warm pool’ affects patterns of rainfall over Australia and much of the globe, including the monsoons and El Niño – La Niña, which drives cycles of floods and droughts.

    Australia sits at an ocean cross-roads. To the north, warm water flows from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean through the Indonesian archipelago. To the south, the largest band of strong current in the global ocean circulates cold water from west to east between Australia and Antarctica. These major currents influence regional and global climate by carrying heat, carbon and other properties around the globe.

    What will happen in the future?

    Changes in the southern hemisphere oceans may have widespread consequences. If the oceans become less efficient at taking up heat and carbon dioxide, this would likely accelerate the pace of climate change.

    Changes in the southern oceans may also alter the climate processes that control rainfall over Australia, China and other parts of the globe. These processes include the El Niño – Southern Oscillation in the Pacific and other vacillations of sea temperatures in the Indian Ocean like the Indian Ocean Dipole.

    Southern Ocean change will also impact the Antarctic Ice Sheet and sea level. Warming of the oceans will cause sea level rise. But warming may also drive melting of the floating ice shelves around the edge of Antarctica, allowing more ice to flow from the continent to the ocean, contributing to additional sea level rise.

    While we have made rapid progress in recent decades in understanding the influence of the southern oceans on climate, much remains unknown. We need to know how the southern oceans will change in the future and the consequences of those changes for climate variability, climate change and sea level rise.

    A new research centre for southern hemisphere ocean research

    Australia and China have joined forces to establish the first research centre with a focus on the southern hemisphere oceans.

    The Centre for Southern Hemisphere Oceans Research (or CSHOR – yes, you got it, ‘sea shore’) will tackle the challenge of improving our understanding of the southern oceans and how they influence regional and global climate. CSHOR will help to inform an effective response to the challenges of climate change and variability, in Australia, China and the rest of the world.

    CSHOR is a long-term research collaboration between Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology (QNLM) in China and CSIRO. QNLM and CSIRO have entered into an initial five year Agreement together with CSHOR Australian partners, the University of New South Wales and University of Tasmania.

    The melting of Antarctic ice sheets and how this impacts future sea level rise is one of six priority research areas of the new Centre.

    The melting of Antarctic ice sheets and how this impacts future sea level rise is one of six priority research areas of the new centre. No image credit.

    QNLM is a relatively new research institution, founded in 2013, and is the dominant player in marine science in China. As part of the QNLM strategy to become a global leader in marine science, they are establishing partnerships with overseas researchers. CSHOR is the first such collaboration to get off the ground.

    China is investing in the collaboration because they, like Australia, are exposed to climate variability and change driven by the southern hemisphere oceans. They chose Australia as a partner because of Australia’s standing as a leader in southern hemisphere ocean research.

    CSHOR has a budget of $20 million over five years, including funding for seven new positions in Australia, and will be based at the CSIRO Climate Science Centre in Hobart.

    The new centre will begin by focusing research on a number of questions:

    How will the El Niño – La Niña cycles that bring floods and drought to Australia change with climate change?
    How will changes in the ocean, including interaction with Antarctic ice shelves, impact sea level rise?
    How do the El Niño, the Indian Ocean Dipole and the Southern Annual Mode interact to drive variability in the climate of Australia, China and the rest of the globe?
    Will the southern oceans continue to slow the pace of climate change by taking up heat and carbon dioxide at the same rate in the future?
    How do the oceans north of Australia influence regional and global climate, and how will these regions change in the future?

    Recent research has highlighted the profound influence of the southern oceans on climate variability and change, but much remains unknown. This new partnership between Australia and China – the first in the world to focus on the southern hemisphere oceans – aims to fill this gap, providing decision-makers with the knowledge they need to respond to the challenges of a variable and changing climate.

    Find out more about our climate research on our website.

    See the full article here .

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    CSIRO campus

    CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

  • richardmitnick 9:37 pm on May 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Detecting sodium, Earth Observation, Earth's Mesosphere, Heliophysics Technology and Instrument Development for Science, Lidar instruments, , World’s first space-based sodium lidar to study Earth’s poorly understood mesosphere   

    From Goddard: “NASA Aims to Create First-Ever Space-Based Sodium Lidar to Study Poorly Understood Mesosphere” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    [Dedicated to J.L.T. in the hope that he will keep Goddard and JHUAPL in view for his future.]

    May 16, 2017
    Lori Keesey
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    Mike Krainak (left) and Diego Janches recently won NASA follow-on funding to advance a spaceborne sodium lidar needed to probe Earth’s poorly understood mesosphere. Credits: NASA/W. Hrybyk

    A team of NASA scientists and engineers now believes it can leverage recent advances in a greenhouse-detecting instrument to build the world’s first space-based sodium lidar to study Earth’s poorly understood mesosphere.

    Scientist Diego Janches and laser experts Mike Krainak and Tony Yu, all of whom work at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, are leading a research-and-development effort to further advance the sodium lidar, which the group plans to deploy on the International Space Station if it succeeds in proving its flightworthiness.

    NASA’s Center Innovation Fund and the Heliophysics Technology and Instrument Development for Science programs are now funding the instrument’s maturation. However, the concept traces its heritage in part to NASA’s past investments in promising lidar instruments, called Sounders, originally created to measure carbon dioxide and methane in Earth’s atmosphere.

    From its berth on the orbiting outpost, the instrument would illuminate the complex relationship between the chemistry and dynamics of the mesosphere that lies 40-100 miles above Earth’s surface — the region where Earth’s atmosphere meets the vacuum of space.

    Given the progress the researchers have made with the Earth-observing sounding instruments, coupled with Goddard’s legacy in laser technology, they are optimistic about the instrument’s ultimate success.

    With NASA technology-development funding, a Goddard team of scientists and engineers will advance a sodium lidar instrument for use in space. This image shows the laboratory breadboard. Credits: NASA/W. Hrybyk

    The Big Leverage

    “What we’re doing is leveraging what we learned with the CO2 and Methane Sounders,” Krainak said. Both instruments have demonstrated in multiple aircraft campaigns that they accurately measure greenhouse gases using lidar.

    Lidar involves pulsing a laser light off Earth’s surface. Like all atmospheric gases, carbon dioxide and methane absorb the light in narrow wavelength bands. By tuning the laser across those absorption lines, scientists can detect and then analyze the level of gases in that vertical path. The more gas along the light’s path, the deeper the absorption lines.

    “The same principle applies here,” Janches said. “Instead of carbon dioxide and methane, we’re detecting sodium because of what it can tell us about the small-scale dynamics occurring in the mesosphere.”

    Sodium — the sixth most abundant element in Earth’s crust — is a useful tracer for characterizing the mesosphere. Though this atmospheric layer contains other granules of metals, including iron, magnesium, calcium, and potassium — all produced by the evaporation of extraterrestrial dust when it encounters Earth’s atmosphere — sodium is easiest to detect. Literally, a layer of sodium exists in the mesosphere.

    Because of its relative abundance, sodium provides higher-resolution data that can reveal more information about the small-scale dynamics occurring in the upper atmosphere. From this, scientists can learn more about how weather in the lower atmosphere influences the border between the atmosphere and space.

    The group has begun developing its instrument, which is electronically tuned to the 589-nanometer range, or yellow light. While in orbit, the lidar would rapidly pulse the light at the mesospheric layer, down one to three kilometers over a swath measuring four to eight kilometers in width.

    The light’s interaction with sodium particles would cause them to glow or resonate. By detecting the glow-back, the lidar’s onboard spectrometer would analyze the light to determine how much sodium resided in the mesosphere, its temperature, and the speed at which the particles were moving.

    Scientists have used sodium lidars in ground-based measurements for at least four decades, but they never have gathered measurements from space. As a result, the data is limited in time and space and does not offer a global picture of the dynamics. With a specially designed spaceborne sodium lidar, however, scientists would be able to illuminate specific areas, revealing the small-scale dynamics that currently are the biggest unknown, Janches said.

    The team will use NASA’s funding to fine-tune the technology that locks the lidar onto the sodium lines. “It’s like a guitar string,” Krainak explained. “If you want a certain tone, you need to lock down the string at a particular length. It’s the same thing with the laser cavity length.”

    The team also plans to demonstrate an environmentally tested engineering test unit of the laser, thereby improving its technology-readiness level to six, which means that the technology is ready for flight development.

    “We’ve made significant progress on the laser,” Krainak said. “If we win, we could be the first space-based sodium laser spectrometer for remote sensing.”

    For more technology news, go to https://gsfctechnology.gsfc.nasa.gov/newsletter/Current.pdf

    See the full article here.

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    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.

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  • richardmitnick 1:01 pm on May 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Earth Observation, , Yellowstone supervolcano   

    From LiveScience: “What Would Happen If Yellowstone’s Supervolcano Erupted?” 


    [I usually pass up articles on Yellowstone, but this is compelling, even if they are late with it to social media.]

    May 2, 2016
    Becky Oskin

    Hot springs in Yellowstone National Park are just one of the types of thermal features that result from volcanic activity. Credit: Dolce Vita / Shutterstock.com

    Although fears of a Yellowstone volcanic blast go viral every few years, there are better things to worry about than a catastrophic supereruption exploding from the bowels of Yellowstone National Park.

    Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Yellowstone Volcano Observatory always pooh-pooh these worrisome memes, but that doesn’t mean researchers are ignoring the possible consequences of a supereruption. Along with forecasting the damage, scientists constantly monitor the region for signs of molten rock tunneling underground. Scientists scrutinize past supereruptions, as well as smaller volcanic blasts, to predict what would happen if the Yellowstone Volcano did blow.

    Here’s a deeper look at whether Yellowstone’s volcano would fire up a global catastrophe.

    Yellowstone Supervolcano is Roaring Back to Life

    Probing Yellowstone’s past

    Most of Yellowstone National Park sits inside three overlapping calderas. The shallow, bowl-shaped depressions formed when an underground magma chamber erupted at Yellowstone. Each time, so much material spewed out that the ground collapsed downward, creating a caldera. The massive blasts struck 2.1 million, 1.3 million and 640,000 years ago. These past eruptions serve as clues to understanding what would happen if there was another Yellowstone megaexplosion.

    An example of the possible ashfall from a month-long Yellowstone supereruption. Credit: USGS

    If a future supereruption resembles its predecessors, then flowing lava won’t be much of a threat. The older Yellowstone lava flows never traveled much farther than the park boundaries, according to the USGS. For volcanologists, the biggest worry is wind-flung ash. Imagine a circle about 500 miles (800 kilometers) across surrounding Yellowstone; studies suggest the region inside this circle might see more than 4 inches (10 centimeters) of ash on the ground, scientists reported Aug. 27, 2014, in the journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems.

    The ash would be pretty devastating for the United States, scientists predict. The fallout would include short-term destruction of Midwest agriculture, and rivers and streams would be clogged by gray muck.

    People living in the Pacific Northwest might also be choking on Yellowstone’s fallout.

    “People who live upwind from eruptions need to be concerned about the big ones,” said Larry Mastin, a USGS volcanologist and lead author of the 2014 ash study. Big eruptions often spawn giant umbrella clouds that push ash upwind across half the continent, Mastin said. These clouds get their name because the broad, flat cloud hovering over the volcano resembles an umbrella. “An umbrella cloud fundamentally changes how ash is distributed,” Mastin said.

    But California and Florida, which grow most of the country’s fruits and vegetables, would see only a dusting of ash.

    A smelly climate shift

    Yellowstone Volcano’s next supereruption is likely to spew vast quantities of gases such as sulfur dioxide, which forms a sulfur aerosol that absorbs sunlight and reflects some of it back to space. The resulting climate cooling could last up to a decade. The temporary climate shift could alter rainfall patterns, and, along with severe frosts, cause widespread crop losses and famine.

    The walls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone are made up predominantly of lava and rocks from a supereruption some 500,000 years ago.
    Credit: USGS

    But a Yellowstone megablast would not wipe out life on Earth. There were no extinctions after its last three enormous eruptions, nor have other supereruptions triggered extinctions in the last few million years.

    “Are we all going to die if Yellowstone erupts? Almost certainly the answer is no,” said Jamie Farrell, a Yellowstone expert and assistant research professor at the University of Utah. “There have been quite a few supereruptions in the past couple million years, and we’re still around.”

    However, scientists agree there is still much to learn about the global effects of supereruptions. The problem is that these massive outbursts are rare, striking somewhere on Earth only once or twice every million years, one study found [Springer Link]. “We know from the geologic evidence that these were huge eruptions, but most of them occurred long enough in the past that we don’t have much detail on what their consequences were,” Mastin said. “These events have been so infrequent that our advice has been not to worry about it.”

    A far more likely damage scenario comes from the less predictable hazards — large earthquakes and hydrothermal blasts in the areas where tourists roam. “These pose a huge hazard and could have a huge impact on people,” Farrell said.

    Supereruption reports are exaggerated

    Human civilization will surely survive a supereruption, so let’s bust another myth. There is no pool of molten rock churning beneath Yellowstone’s iconic geysers and mud pots. The Earth’s crust and mantle beneath Yellowstone are indeed hot, but they are mostly solid, with small pockets of molten rock scattered throughout, like water inside a sponge. About 9 percent of the hot blob is molten, and the rest is solid, scientists reported on May 15, 2015, in the journal Science. This magma chamber rests between 3 to 6 miles (5 to 10 km) beneath the park.

    Estimates vary, but a magma chamber may need to reach about 50 percent melt before molten rock collects and forces its way out. “It doesn’t look like at this point that the [Yellowstone] magma reservoir is ready for an eruption,” said Farrell, co-author of the 2015 study in the journal Science.

    How do researchers measure the magma? Seismic waves travel more slowly through hot or partially molten rock than they do through normal rock, so scientists can see where the magma is stored, and how much is there, by mapping out where seismic waves travel more slowly, Farrell said.

    The magma storage region is not growing in size, either, at least for as long as scientists have monitored the park’s underground. “It’s always been this size, it’s just we’re getting better at seeing it,” Farrell said.

    Watch out for little eruptions

    As with magma mapping, the science of forecasting volcanic eruptions is always improving. Most scientists think that magma buildup would be detectable for weeks, maybe years, preceding a major Yellowstone eruption. Warning signs would include distinctive earthquake swarms, gas emissions and rapid ground deformation.

    Someone who knows about these warning signals might look at the park today and think, “Whoa, something weird is going on!” Yellowstone is a living volcano, and there are always small earthquakes causing tremors, and gas seeping from the ground. The volcano even breathes — the ground surface swells and sinks as gases and fluids move around the volcanic “plumbing” system beneath the park.

    But the day-to-day shaking in the park does not portend doom. The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory has never seen warning signs of an impending eruption at the park, according to the USGS.

    What are scientists looking for? For one, the distinctive earthquakes triggered by moving molten rock. Magma tunneling underground sets off seismic signals that are different from those generated by slipping fault lines. “We would see earthquakes moving in a pattern and getting shallower and shallower,” Farrell said. To learn about the earthquake patterns to look for, revisit the 2014 eruption of Bardarbunga Volcano in Iceland.

    Pictures taken by Peter Hartree between 14.30 and 15.00 on September 4th 2014. I’m sorry for the less than ideal quality of these – this wasn’t a professional photo shoot.
    All photos are unedited. I have a bunch more (fairly similar) shots – if you’d like to see them, write to peter@reykjavikcoworking.is.
    Many thanks to pilot Siggi G for the ride.
    Date 4 September 2014,
    Source http://www.flickr.com/photos/41812768@N07/15146259395/
    Author peterhartree

    Both amateurs and experts “watched” Bardarbunga’s magma rise underground by tracking earthquakes. The eventual surface breakthrough was almost immediately announced on Twitter and other social media. As with Iceland, all of Yellowstone’s seismic data is publicly available through the U.S. Geological Survey’s Yellowstone Volcano Observatory and the University of Utah.

    “We would have a good idea that magma is moving up into the shallow depths,” Farrell said. “The bottom line is, we don’t know when or if it will erupt again, but we would have adequate warning.”

    “We would have a good idea that magma is moving up into the shallow depths,” Farrell said. “The bottom line is, we don’t know when or if it will erupt again, but we would have adequate warning.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 12:01 pm on May 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Earth Observation, ,   

    From Eos: “Tornado Casualties Depend More on Storm Energy Than Population” 

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    Eos news bloc


    Katherine Kornei

    National Weather Service data from nearly 900 tornadoes and a principle of economics reveal the relationship between storm energy, population, and casualty count.

    A scene of destruction in Concord, Ala., after the 2011 Tuscaloosa–Birmingham tornado caused more than 1500 casualties. A new study indicates that storm intensity is a better predictor of casualty counts than the size of the local population. Credit: National Weather Service

    When a dark, swirling funnel cloud dips toward the ground, people living in a U.S. region in and near the Great Plains popularly known as Tornado Alley know to move to a safe spot. Tornadoes can destroy concrete buildings and send railcars rolling, and these violent windstorms account for roughly 20% of natural hazard–related deaths in the United States.

    Despite tornadoes’ danger, the correlations among the number of storm-related casualties, a twister’s energy, and the size of the population in its path are not well understood. Better understanding of those relationships could help scientists, policy makers, and emergency management personnel predict future tornado deaths and injuries based on trends in population growth and tornado activity. Now researchers have used a principle of economics to show that a tornado’s casualty count depends more strongly on the energy of the storm than on the size of the local population.

    This study is “likely to spur conversation and additional research,” said Todd Moore, a physical geographer at Towson University in Towson, Md., not involved in the study. “It provides a framework that can be modified to include additional risk variables.”

    Fear Becomes an Obsession

    Tyler Fricker grew up hearing his father’s stories of the 1974 Xenia, Ohio, tornado that killed 33 people and injured more than 1000 others. Fricker, now a geographer at Florida State University in Tallahassee and the lead author of the new study, has also lived through a few tornadoes of his own. He explains his fascination with tornadoes as “fear becoming an obsession.”

    In the new research, he and his colleagues analyzed 872 casualty-causing tornadoes that swept through parts of the United States between 2007 and 2015. They defined “casualty” as a death or injury related to a storm. “By understanding tornado behavior better…we get a deeper understanding of what may be causing the death and destruction we see in these storms,” said Fricker.

    The team borrowed a principle of economics known as elasticity to investigate how a tornado’s casualty toll scaled with its energy and the size of the nearby population. Elasticity is commonly used by economists to investigate how two measurements—for example, supply and demand—are related.

    The researchers used National Weather Service data to determine the energy dissipated by a tornado. They calculated this energy as proportional to the area of a tornado’s path multiplied by its average wind speed raised to the third power. Knowing this quantity for each tornado allowed the team to uniformly define the intensity of each storm. The researchers then collected population measurements in roughly 1 × 1 kilometer squares for the path of each tornado using a database of world population maintained by Columbia University.

    Predicting Casualties

    Armed with these two measurements and the published casualty counts for each of the tornadoes in their sample, Fricker and his colleagues investigated how casualties scaled with storm energy and the size of the nearby population. The scientists found that storm energy was a better predictor of the number of storm-related injuries and deaths: Doubling the energy of a tornado resulted in 33% more casualties, but doubling the population of a tornado-prone area resulted in only 21% more casualties. These results, which the team reported last month in Geophysical Research Letters, can inform emergency planning, the team suggests.

    The relatively larger impact of tornado energy on casualties might be cause for concern, Fricker and his colleagues note. If climate change is triggering more powerful tornadoes, an idea that’s been suggested and debated, emergency managers might have to contend with larger casualty counts in the future. But scientists are by no means certain that larger tornadoes are imminent. “There is no doubt climate change is influencing hazards, but for tornadoes, we just simply don’t know to what extent yet,” said Stephen Strader, a geographer at Villanova University in Villanova, Pa., not involved in the study.

    It is “far more likely” that the population will double in the future rather than the tornado energy, notes Victor Gensini, a meteorologist at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Ill., who was not involved in the study. Effective communication and good city planning might help reduce storm-related casualties, Fricker and colleagues suggest. “It’s hard to control the behavior of tornadoes, but it’s somewhat within our control to smartly advance how we organize cities and suburbs,” said Fricker.

    Many More Factors

    Of course, changes in storm energy and population can’t fully explain all variations in storm-related deaths or injuries. “There are also more factors that combine to determine a casualty, one of the most important being what type of structure a person is in when the tornado strikes,” said Gensini.

    Fricker said he and his colleagues are looking forward to examining factors such as how a victim’s age, socioeconomic status, and race might correlate with vulnerability to harm from a tornado. “Maybe we’ll be able to profile communities more susceptible to casualties based on all of these other determinants,” said Fricker.

    The team hopes that their findings will be useful to emergency personnel, who could target these most vulnerable populations when they spread information about tornado preparedness, for example. After all, “you might have only 10 or 15 minutes to get to a safe spot,” said Fricker.

    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.

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