No Ordinary Sight
If you’re driving along Interstate 95 between Washington and Baltimore this July, don’t be alarmed if you see a large aircraft hurtling toward you from above. It’s not a a terrorist attack or a pilot dozing at the stick; it’s just NASA’s P-3B doing air quality research. The 117-foot plane is the workhorse for a field experiment that kicked off this week. The plane will fly along heavily-traveled roadways and make conspicuous spirals over ground stations in northeastern Maryland. “We’re trying fill the knowledge gap that severely limits our ability to monitor air pollution with satellites,” said James Crawford, the experiment’s lead scientist.
Still Warming Folks
The more things change, the more they stay the same. NOAA released its annual State of the Climate Report (PDF) this week, and the findings won’t surprise anybody who has cracked a newspaper open in the last decade. Last year was the second warmest on record since official record-keeping began. The world’s glaciers lost mass for the 20th year in a row. Arctic sea ice shrank to its third smallest area on record. I could go and on – NOAA offers details on a total of 41 global climate indicators in the report — but The Washington Post already has it covered.
Asteroid 2011 MD offered a reminder last week that catastrophe could strike unexpectedly. The asteroid arrived out of the blue – er, black – and buzzed within 7,500 miles of Earth. The good news, as the Christian Science Monitor reported, is that the asteroid was small enough that it would have burned up in the atmosphere even if it had been headed for Manhattan. Meanwhile, in other space flotsam news, the crew of the International Space Station had a close call with a hunk of debris this week.
Sea Ice Today, Gone Tomorrow
After reading this post from the “Open Mind” climate blog, I have a feeling that after regaling my future grandkids with stories of life before cell phones and Facebook, I’ll be telling them about the days when we actually had summer sea ice in the Arctic. Tamino’s post walks through what scientists know about the rapid decline in sea ice extent and volume due to satellite, aircraft, and submarine research. In sum, the trends are pretty grim. “The phrase ‘death spiral’ comes to mind,” the blogger noted.
Never a Dull Day for Science
Every field expedition has its hiccups, and this time they’ve come early and often for the Healy, the Coast Guard icebreaker conducting NASA-sponsored research in the Arctic. While still in port in Alaska, a magnitude-7.2 earthquake and subsequent tsunami warning sent the crew and scientists scrambling for high ground. A few days later, a distress signal from a sinking tugboat sent the Healy off its planned route to conduct a search-and-rescue mission. A Coast Guard helicopter rescued the tugboat’s stranded crew, and now the icebreaker is back on course. Science writer Kathryn Hansen is on board blogging about the drama.
A Mesmerizing View
The simplicity, beauty, and calming voice of the narrator in this video of Earth from the vantage point of the International Space Station makes me want to watch it again and again. And it appears I’m not alone – the clip had already registered more than a million views when this post went live in late June. Meanwhile, Popular Science reported that a Canadian company has plans to stream a high-definition video feed from the space station later this year. “The system will work as a sort of mashup between Google Earth and YouTube,” the founder of the company said. Sign me up…