NASA

A third of the world’s biggest groundwater basins are in distress

June 17, 2015

Two new studies led by UC Irvine using data from NASA Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites show that civilization is rapidly draining some of its largest groundwater basins, yet there is little to no accurate data about how much water remains in them. The result is that significant segments of Earth’s population are consuming groundwater quickly without knowing when it might run out, the researchers conclude. The findings appear today in Water Resources Research. “Available physical and chemical measurements are simply insufficient,” said UCI professor and principal investigator Jay Famiglietti, who is also the senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Given how quickly we are consuming the world’s groundwater reserves, we need a coordinated global effort to determine how much is left.” The studies are the first to characterize groundwater losses via data from space, using readings generated by NASA’s twin GRACE satellites that measure dips and bumps in Earth’s gravity, which is affected by the weight of water. For the first paper, researchers examined the planet’s 37 largest aquifers between 2003 and 2013. The eight worst off were classified as overstressed, with nearly no natural replenishment to offset usage. Another five aquifers were found, in descending order,

New tool could predict large solar storms more than 24 hours in advance

June 10, 2015

Large magnetic storms from the Sun, which affect technologies such as GPS and utility grids, could soon be predicted more than 24 hours in advance. Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are eruptions of gas and magnetised material from the Sun that have the potential to wreak havoc on satellites and Earth-bound technologies, disrupting radio transmissions and causing transformer blowouts and blackouts. These mass ejections can cause problems with GPS technology – used by all kinds of vehicles, from cars to oil tankers to tractors. For example, they can affect the ability of aircraft systems to judge precisely a plane’s distance from the ground for landing, leading to planes being unable to land for up to an hour. However, not every mass ejection from the Sun that travels past the Earth causes this much disturbance; the power depends on the orientation of magnetic fields within the mass ejection. Currently, satellites can only tell the orientation of a mass ejection’s magnetic field with any certainty when it is relatively close to the Earth, giving just 30-60 minutes’ notice. This is not enough time to mitigate the impacts on utility grids and systems operating on GPS. Now, a new measurement and modelling tool could

It Takes HOW Much Water to Make That Smoothie?! – Maddie Oatman

June 2, 2015

In March, amid a worsening drought, California barred restaurants from serving water to customers except upon request. Though the Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that most of a restaurant’s water usage takes place in the kitchen or bathroom instead of at the table, the policy is “more of a reminder to people that we’re in a drought, as opposed to saving millions of millions of gallons of water,” as a San Francisco water conservation manager told the San Francisco Chronicle. Which got me thinking: What about other beverages you might order along with brunch or dinner? There’s a good chance their raw ingredients include crops like grapes, oranges, barley, or apples harvested in California. The state produces 105 million gallons of craft beer and 729 million gallons of wine every year—90 percent of the country’s native vino. In the past, we’ve shown you how many gallons of water go into irrigating crops like almonds, tomatoes, and alfalfa. The chart below shows the amount of water needed to irrigate the California-grown raw ingredients in common drinks. (We chose common serving sizes for each beverage: 8 ounces for juice, 12 ounces for beer, and 4 ounces for a glass of wine.) Read

America to be brought down by junk food? 69% of youth too fat to fight for the military – Daniel Barker

May 11, 2015

Great nations have often been subject to being brought down by an “enemy within.” In the case of America, that enemy might well prove to be be obesity. If this generation is too fat to fight, who will be there to defend our country in its time of need? That’s the question posed by a group of retired military personnel who have formed an organization called “Mission: Readiness.” Made up of “more than 500 retired generals, admirals and other senior retired military leaders,” Mission: Readiness is focused on investing in the youth of America to ensure that our nation remains secure and prosperous in the 21st century. The Minnesota branch of the organization has prepared a report titled “Too Fat, Frail, and Out-of-Breath to Fight.” It contains a critical look at the state of health among young people in America, particularly those living in Minnesota. According to the group, 69 percent of Minnesota’s young people are unfit to serve in the military, and obesity is one of the major reasons why. Many of the health issues affecting eligibility for military service, such as asthma – which disqualifies individuals from enlisting unless they have a waiver – are directly or indirectly

US Ranks Worst Among Rich Nations in Maternal Death Rates – Nadia Prupis

May 6, 2015

In a “rapidly urbanizing world,” the poorest mothers and children living in urban centers—in developing countries and Western nations alike—face similar obstacles and high risk of death, a new report by Save the Children has found. State of the World’s Mothers: The Urban Disadvantage, published Monday, details the hardships faced by impoverished families living in urban areas around the globe that have contributed to a growing survival gap between the world’s rich and poor. “Our report reveals a devastating child survival divide between the haves and have-nots, telling a tale of two cities among urban communities around the world, including the United States,” Save the Children president and CEO Carolyn Miles said while announcing the findings. The U.S. ranked the worst among all developed nations for maternal risk of death. Using five indicators, the annual report also indexes the best and worst countries for mothers, ranking 172 nations on maternal health, children’s well-being, educational status, economic status, and women’s political status. The U.S. fell two slots from last year’s index, dropping from 31st to 33rd in the world. It also performed poorly on political representation, ranking 89th overall with a total 19.5 percent of national government seats being held by women. Further,

In 50-49 vote, US Senate says climate change not caused by humans – Sean Cockerham

May 4, 2015

The Senate rejected the scientific consensus that humans are causing climate change, days after NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared 2014 the hottest year ever recorded on Earth. The Republican-controlled Senate defeated a measure Wednesday stating that climate change is real and that human activity significantly contributes to it. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, offered the measure as the Senate debated the Keystone XL pipeline, which would tap the carbon-intensive oil sands in the Canadian province of Alberta. The Senate voted 50-49 on the measure, which required 60 votes in order to pass. “Only in the halls of Congress is this a controversial piece of legislation,” Schatz said. The chairman of the environment committee, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., is an enthusiastic denier of climate change, saying it is the “biggest hoax” perpetrated against mankind. “The hoax is there are some people so arrogant to think they are so powerful they can change the climate,” Inhofe said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “Man can’t change the climate.” Read

Anti-Science GOP ‘Eviscerates’ NASA Spending on Climate Change Research – Deirdre Fulton

May 4, 2015

Reinforcing the GOP’s reputation as anti-science, Republicans in the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology on Thursday voted to slash NASA spending on the branch that studies climate change issues. According to news reports, the NASA authorization proposal, passed along party lines, would cut between $300-500 million in funding to NASA’s Earth Sciences division, which researches the planet’s natural systems and processes—including climate change, severe weather, and glaciers. The bill will now go to the full House for a vote. “When you vote for people who publicly and loudly spout nonsense about science, and go against the overwhelming 97 percent consensus among climate scientists, what do you expect?” —Phil Plait, Slate As Ars Technica notes, “This vote follows the committee’s decision to cut the [National Science Foundation]’s geoscience budget and comes after a prominent attack on NASA’s Earth sciences work during a Senate hearing, all of which suggests a concerted campaign against the researchers who, among other things, are telling us that climate change is a reality.” Unsurprisingly, NASA pushed back against this latest attempt to stymie climate research. Read

Overlooked evidence – global warming may proceed faster than expected – Dana Nuccitelli

May 1, 2015

It’s known as “single study syndrome”. When a new scientific paper is published suggesting that the climate is relatively insensitive to the increased greenhouse effect, potentially modestly downgrading the associated climate change threats, that sort of paper will generally receive disproportionate media attention. Because of that media attention, people will tend to remember the results of that single paper, and neglect the many recent studies that have arrived at very different conclusions. Clouds Point to a Sensitive Climate For example, there have been several recent studies finding that the global climate models that most accurately simulate observed changes in clouds and humidity over the past 10–15 years also happen to be the ones that are the mostsensitive to the increased greenhouse effect. For example, a 2012 paper by Kevin Trenberth and John Fasullo concluded, These results suggest a systematic deficiency in the drying effect of either subsident circulations or spurious mixing of moister air into the region in low-sensitivity models that directly relate to their projected changes in cloud amount and albedo … the results strongly suggest that the more sensitive models perform better, and indeed the less sensitive models are not adequate in replicating vital aspects of today’s climate. A 2014

Here’s the Real Problem With Almonds – Tom Philpott and Julia Lurie

April 16, 2015

Almonds: crunchy, delicious, and…the center of a nefarious plot to suck California dry? They certainly have used up a lot of ink lately—partly inspired by our reportingover the past year. California’s drought-stricken Central Valley churns out 80 percent of the globe’s almonds, and since each nut takes a gallon of water to produce, they account for close to 10 percent of the state’s annual agricultural water use—or more than what the entire population of Los Angeles and San Francisco use in a year. As Grist’s Nathanael Johnson put it, almonds have become a scapegoat of sorts—”the poster-nut for human wastefulness in California’s drought.” Or, as Alissa Walker put it in Gizmodo, “You know, ALMONDS, THE DEVIL’S NUT.” It’s not surprising that the almond backlash has inspired a backlash of its own. California agriculture is vast and complex, and its water woes can’t hang entirely on any one commodity, not even one as charismatic as the devil’s nut almond. And as many have pointed out, almonds have a lot going for them—they’re nutritious, they taste good, and they’re hugely profitable for California. In 2014, almonds brought in a whopping $11 billion to the state’s economy. Plus, other foods—namely, animal products—use a whole lot more water per ounce than almonds. Read

What is the source of mysterious methane emissions at Four Corners?

April 9, 2015

This is a joint release of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder), NOAA, NASA and the University of Michigan (U-M). A team of scientific investigators is now in the Four Corners region of the U.S. Southwest, aiming to uncover reasons for a mysterious methane hotspot detected from space by a European satellite. The joint project is working to solve the mystery from the air, on the ground, and with mobile laboratories. “If we can verify the methane emissions found by the satellite, and identify the various sources, then decision makers will have critical information for any actions they are considering,” says Gabrielle Pétron, a scientist from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, working in NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) and one of the mission’s investigators. Part of President Obama’s recent Climate Action Plan calls for reductions in U.S. methane emissions. NOAA is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Read
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