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Combating climate change by observing Earth

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As part of the U.S. charm offensive at the recent Copenhagen summit on climate change, a roughly one meter-diameter orb helped display a decade’s worth of climate data collected by NASA satellites. "This is the golden age," NASA’s Jack Kaye told me. As associate research director for the agency’s Earth Science Division, he’s "reaping the benefits of the 1990s."


That’s Dr. Kaye himself narrating some of the achievements of the last decade to an intrigued Copenhagen crowd.

Of course, most of these satellites are soon to be (or already) defunct and funding for replacements has not been forthcoming. Scientists will simply have to "get very creative," Kaye says, when it comes to filling in gaps. For example, NASA scientists struggled with a gap in Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer measurements. But, by using data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as from European satellites, they could "provide continuity in total ozone data," Kaye says.

Ultimately, darkened U.S. satellites mean one thing: "We will rely on working with Europeans, Japanese. Even China and India, there are more partners than ever before," Kaye notes.

"Sea ice has been opened up, other nations are following an open data policy," adds Tony Freeman, manager of earth science research at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "NASA data has been open since 1989. This can only be positive."

There are a slew of launches planned over the next decade as well, ranging from replacements for now defunct satellites to new missions such as GLORY, which will more precisely measure soot and other aerosols in the atmosphere as well as the strength of the sunlight.

And some of the satellites that failed to make orbit, such as the Orbiting Carbon Observatory that would have given precise measures of where carbon dioxide is emitted and where it is absorbed, may be resurrected. "We’ve got all the plans and most of the people," Kaye says, and Freeman expects the next NASA budget to contain "good news for carbon monitoring."

The hope would be that at least some of the new satellites might work as well as some of their predecessors. "We’ve got satellites that are old enough to drink, old enough to vote, older than my kids," Kaye says, like Landsat 5, which has been operating for more than 25 years, or 22 years longer than initially planned. "We’ve got an opportunity to set up the next golden age."


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  1. 1. starbelle62 5:58 pm 12/30/2009

    Thank you for this insightful article and terrific video which makes it clearer what is happening on our Earth. I would never have seen it during COP19 without your feature in Scientific American Observations.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Shoshin 11:18 am 12/31/2009

    SCIAM is well on it’s way to becoming the laughingstock of the science community for it’s slavish devotion to AGW.'s-climate-lies

    Anybody remember when Penthouse Magazine decided to publish their version of sci-porn called "OMNI"?

    SCIAM is headed down that same road.

    Link to this
  3. 3. Wayne Williamson 4:22 pm 12/31/2009

    I can’t wait till google starts publishing this stuff real time(hopefullly)…I love the see for your self stuff….

    Link to this
  4. 4. lakota2012 3:15 pm 01/2/2010

    Shoshin, must you continue with your juvenile attacks and duplicate posts on every thread, while discounting all the physical evidence that proves you DENIALISTS to be so utterly wrong in such a highly-partisan way?

    I think ‘lord’ monckton is calling you on the red phone, to discuss further political propaganda and fossil fuel spin!

    Link to this
  5. 5. PhilJourdan 10:54 pm 01/2/2010

    Lakota, new thread new chance – for you.

    Please read why there are still plenty of questions on AGW since we now have established (at least the non-religious) that much of the data was doctored, the select few did manage to cook the books as far as sources and that the data now must undergo a complete non-biased review to find out if any of the data is usable or accurate.

    Honest people are either appalled by the scandal and want it cleaned up so that AGW testing can proceed – or are in demial and refuse to accept anything that does not conform to their religion. Like SciAm and others. Are you now a new denialist?

    Link to this
  6. 6. lakota2012 1:01 pm 01/3/2010

    "much of the data was doctored…"

    Aaaaaah….bringing your religion here too I see, and still living the dream of a delusional "smoking gun" from the major propagandist, glenn beck, the conspiracy theory king!

    The only ones appalled by stolen e-mails are the DENIALISTS trying to support their convoluted religion, since they are unable to open their eyes and see all the physical evidence of global warming around our planet. Observe all the changes around the Earth for once, instead of beating a dead horse and putting all your eggs into one basket of rotten delusions.

    AP IMPACT: Science not faked, but not pretty
    (AP) – Dec 12, 2009

    LONDON — E-mails stolen from climate scientists show they stonewalled skeptics and discussed hiding data — but the messages don’t support claims that the science of global warming was faked, according to an exhaustive review by The Associated Press.

    Link to this
  7. 7. PhilJourdan 3:12 pm 01/3/2010

    Lakota, I can see you are indeed one of he denialists. As a close reading of my response clearly indicates, I do not deny the possibility of AGW, I deny the fact of AGW. In science terms, that means I would like to see the hypothesis tested with reproducable results. You however are apparently threatened that anyone would try to reproduce the results – fearing correctly that with the CRU data, such tests would fail due to the doctoring of the data.

    You might want to read the following. I know you will not, nor will you learn anything. You are a denialist of the worst kind. The kind that does not want any science in science, just your brand of religion.'s-climate-lies

    Keep it up. You will destroy any hope AGW has of being incorporated into a legitimate scientific realm. Relegating it to the dust bin of the cold fusion wing of religious faith.

    Link to this
  8. 8. lakota2012 1:33 am 01/4/2010

    "You might want to read the following."

    Why? I already told you that propaganda from a British politician on an American politician’s website, funded by BIG OIL, is a complete waste of anyone’s time. You’re the one that is afraid of science, and just have a need for highly-partisan political science through ‘lord’ monckton.

    Link to this
  9. 9. PhilJourdan 8:47 am 01/4/2010

    Sadly, you are the one afraid. Afraid anyone would not blindly follow your religion to its ultimate conclusion.

    I pity you. Being so close minded is indeed an indication of one who knows it all. And there is no place in science for people with that mind set.

    I will not waste my time reading any more of your posts. It only makes me poorer for doing so.

    Link to this

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