Archives for category: Earth Matters

chesapeake_reference_map
Note: This is the first story of a multi-part series exploring the natural splendor and environmental issues of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
Read about the Bay headwaters here.

People who track water quality issues in the Chesapeake Bay are accustomed to bad news. But lately some glimmers of hope have begun to emerge amidst the polluted streams, dead zones, fish kills, and algae blooms.

In April 2016, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences published its annual Chesapeake Bay report card and found clearer water, lower levels of algae, and a resurgence of sea grasses. In the same month, the Maryland Department of Environment announced that it had mapped 53,000 acres of submerged aquatic vegetation—a record amount and a clear sign of the ecosystem’s improving health. In July 2016, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources reported that the size of the dead zone in the Bay in late June was the second smallest since 1985.

Other data sets also show progress. U.S. Geological Survey measurements of water quality in several rivers that flow into the Bay show improvements over the previous three decades. And the late-summer dead zone in the Bay seems to be shrinking, even as the early-summer dead zone remains stubbornly large.

“The big-picture trends are moving in the right direction,” said Mark Dubin, a University of Maryland Extension scientist who focuses on how agricultural practices affect water quality. “But this is a large and complex watershed. If you focus on certain areas and watersheds, we still see plenty of indicators going in the wrong direction, such as increasing urban growth and storm water runoff, and persistent areas of high soil phosphorus.”

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NASA Earth Observatory, August 2016

The atmosphere was electric at Providence Landing Park in Lompoc, California as the first stage of an Atlas 5 rocket ignited in the distance on February 11, 2013.

Cheers erupted at 10:02 a.m. from the hundreds of people gathered there as the rocket rose, gathered itself, then surged into a perfect blue sky over Vandenberg Air Force Base. As the cheers subsided, it was surprisingly quiet for a moment as awe sank in, save for the patter of scores of cameras clicking in unison.

A full 30-or-so seconds later, the sound arrived. You could feel the roar in the ground. The Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), the latest satellite in the world’s longest-running series of Earth-observing satellites, was on its way to space.

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Earth Observatory, Earth Matters blog, February 2013

A Less Hardy Hardiness Map

The USDA has unveiled a new version of its plant hardiness map, which gardeners use to gauge which plants will survive in which climate zone. (Check your nearest seed packet.)  In the newest iteration, many zones have shifted northward because winters aren’t as cold as they were 22 years ago when the agency last updated the map — good news if you’re trying to grow, say, figs in Boston. On the new map, most parts of the United States are a half-zone warmer — about 5 degrees Fahrenheit (2.7 Celsius). Global warming surely underlies much of the change, but theUSDA points out that more sophisticated mapping techniques, plus the inclusion of data from additional weather stations, has also affected the distribution of the zones.

Why the Arctic Ocean Isn’t Freshening
Rapid freshening on the North American side of the Arctic Ocean in recent decades has prompted speculation that rapid melting of sea ice might be causing a slowing of the “conveyor belt” that keeps water circulating through the world’s oceans. New research led by scientists at the University of Washington helps allay such fears. The researchers conclude that freshwater from the Eurasian part of the Arctic Ocean, which comes originally from rivers in Russia, has simply found a new route that brings more of it toward Canada. The cause for the new freshwater route: changes in winds associated with a weather patternknown as the Arctic Oscillation. In fact, the analysis of satellite and oceanographic data shows that overall salinity in the Arctic Ocean remained constant between 2005 and 2008; as the Canadian portion became fresher, the Eurasian portion grew saltier. The shifting path of the fresh water is shown in red in the animation below.

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Temperature Ranking-palooza
There’s always a flurry of media activity in January when scientists at NASANOAA, and the UK Met Office tally up the year’s temperature measurements and rank how warm the past year was. This January was no exception. In NASA’s analysis, 2011 came in as the 9th warmest year on the modern meteorological record. However, the longer-term trends are what really matter. Look at the whole record – and here are a fewinteractive charts that are useful for doing that – and it’s clear that the last decade has been the hottest on record. Another remarkable stat: 9 of the 10 hottest years have occurred since 2000. For more details, the science team that manages NASA’s analysis has published a thorough temperature update here.

Earth Observatory, January 2012

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During a recent event that highlighted the intersection of art and science, NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt offered an intriguing pitch (see 5:15 in the video above) for a climate change symphony that would use music to tell the story of Earth’s long and varied geologic history. “There are trends in the tides of the planet that come from the changes in the continents, the wobbles in the Earth’s orbit,” he said, emphasizing Earth’s many rhythms, crescendos, and cataclysms that lend themselves to music. Schmidt’s comment came during a panel discussion that included former New York Times reporter Andy Revkin and EPA climatologist Irene Nielson, and followed a unique  Antarctica-inspired performance from a string quartet arranged by Paul Miller (aka DJ Spooky). Schmidt isn’t alone in thinking along these lines. NPR recently interviewed composer Andre Gribou about creating musical scores for films shown on spherical visualization system called Science on a Sphere. A new SOS film….

Earth Matters, NASA Earth Observatory, October 2011

For the second straight year, torrential monsoon-driven rains have swamped portions of Pakistan. The AFP reports that more than 200 people have been killed and thousands have fled their homes. Researchers associated with the MODIS instrument on the Terra satellite recently posted an eye-opening set of images that shows the condition of the swollen Indus River in early September in comparison to more normal conditions. Meanwhile, NASA researcher William Lau has published an interesting new study that shows last year’s floods in Pakistan were closely linked to large fires that occurred in western Russia around the same time….

Earth Matters, September, 2011