The Environment

Some Topics


  • Earth Monitoring

    Rapid advances in the second half of 20th century in electronics, satellite observation, digital photography and internet networking changed the way we see and understand our world. Film and video images made time seem flexible. The sequence of frames can be reversed so that time appears to move backward and forward, faster and slower. Using Google Earth you can traverse the planet and zoom into any region of interest. Satellite imaging using a range of light frequencies, scanners, and computer image processing provide a steady stream of data that reveal what is really going on out there. For me, one the great innovations of the 20th century is the availability of earth observation in real time. One of the most encouraging achievements is an expanded worldview and international cooperation in global understanding. Monitoring the dynamics of planet earth has become an international project. Some practical considerations motivated this effort. The task of achieving and then maintaining international cooperation is not for ordinary mortals.

    The global temperature data come from three independent records maintained by NASA , the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the UK Met Office. All three data sets document unprecedented high temperatures.

    Conrad Lautenbacher who led the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for seven years, stated before retirement: “ I only wish I were three or four people. I wish I had the stamina to work 48 hours a day instead of 16 hours a day, as more might have been done.”He championed the development of a Global Earth Observation System, an international network that links Earth-monitoring systems in 75 countries. The goal was to better understand and provide current information about climate, water and natural disasters. Europe is pioneering the systematic application of science in space to societal needs. In 2008, 18 member states of European Union budgeted 10 billion Euros for the European Space Agency to deliver tangible benefits of space activity to citizens and society, and to address key challenges such as climate change and natural disasters, with Earth monitoring as its flagship. Earth observation satellites, scheduled for launch over the next decade, will deliver a wealth of real-time data and maps of planet. A new allotment of 72 million USD was allocated to data analysis and publication of essential climate variables.

    In September 2009, 155 nations met at a World Climate Conference in Geneva, Switzerland to discuss establishing a global climate prediction service, a giant step beyond weather forecasting. As one would expect, yet another attempt at international cooperation met with different kinds of resistance: local interests always trump international cooperation. The scientific challenge is to develop more reliable methods of climate forecasting that can be confirmed empirically. Schmidt of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies stated: "People are experimenting in lots of different ways to improve seasonal to decadal predictions but there's no guarantee that it will be possible." Pope, head of climate change advice at Britain's Met Office confirmed: "We'll never be able to produce absolute predictions of what will happen." In the US, NASA has launched a series of earth-observing satellites that report often in real time conditions in the atmosphere, oceans and land.

    Global data show that a powerful El Niño in 2016, marked by warmer waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean, helped to drive atmospheric temperatures well past 2014's record highs. Some researchers suggest that broader Pacific trends could spell even more dramatic temperature increases in years to come. Released on 20 January, the global temperature data come from three independent records maintained by NASA, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the UK Met Office. All three data sets document unprecedented high temperatures in 2015, pushing the global average to more than 1 ºC above pre-industrial levels. The year 2016 was hotter.

    NASA’s Global Climate Change website announced in August 2016: ”Two key climate change indicators — global surface temperatures and Arctic sea ice extent — have broken numerous records through the first half of 2016, according to NASA analyses of ground-based observations and satellite data. Each of the first six months of 2016 set a record as the warmest respective month globally in the modern temperature record, which dates to 1880, according to scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. The six-month period from January to June was also the planet's warmest half-year on record, with an average temperature 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.4 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the late nineteenth century.”

    NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies reported that January 2017 was the third warmest January in 137 years.[i] 
    Extreme weather in 2017 was a stark reminder that global warming is advancing quickly with widespread devastation and costs. Dell summarized our predicament:” Neighborhoods burned in northern California during the fall of 2017 with more than 30 people reported dead and 2,000 buildings destroyed. Downtown San Francisco is hazy with smoke from wildfires covering 465 square kilometers, more than 30 kilometers north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Whatever the proximate cause, these should serve as reminders that climate change is not a future problem, nor a hazard just for tiny island nations. It is a problem now, and our land-management plans need to do a better job of incorporating it. The US government’s move to pull out of the Paris climate accord and the home-grown Clean Power Plans are dangerously short-sighted. Municipalities’ efforts to cut their own emissions are laudable. But it’s not enough. We have to manage the effects of climate change that are already here. That means recognizing that threats are increasing.” [ii]

    [i] NASA Global Climate Change. March 8, 2017
    [ii] Kathie Dello. Prepare for larger, longer wildfires. Climate change makes land management more urgent than ever. Nature 13 October 2017.

  • Discussions of Environmental Science and Human Ecology were developed by Environmed Research Inc. Sechelt, B.C. Canada. Online Topics were developed from the book, The Environment. You will find detailed information about the sun, weather, soils, forests, oceans, atmosphere, air pollution, climate change, water resources, air quality, energy sources, and preserving habitats.

    The Environment is available from Alpha Online as a Printed book or as an eBook Edition for Download. The 2018 edition is 286 pages.
    The Author, Stephen Gislason MD

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