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Earth Matters

News Roundup: Arctic Ice, Spacesuit Satellites and More

July 18th, 2011 by Adam Voiland

Arctic Ice Update

It’s good fun to follow the progress of our ship full of scientists cruising the Arctic Ocean and scrutinizing the health of marine ecosystems, but what do satellites show is happening to the central part of that ecosystem – the sea ice? The National Snow and Ice Data Center released an update noting that Arctic sea ice extent for June 2011 was the second lowest in the satellite record since 1979. Stay tuned: weather over the next few weeks will determine whether Arctic sea ice cover reaches record lows.


Pacific storms with waves 20 percent stronger than normal hammered the West Coast of North America in 2009-2010, causing coastal erosion rates to spike, the U.S. Geological Survey announced this week. Ocean Beach in California saw some of the most vigorous erosion, with its shoreline retreating 184 feet – 75 percent more than a typical winter. The cause: an El Niño-like phenomenon called El Niño Modoki. Warm water pooled in the central Pacific instead of the eastern equatorial Pacific, bringing stronger waves and higher sea levels to the West Coast. 

A Bit of Good News
Writing about climate science can get grim: melting ice, warming temperatures, rising sea levels.  But the weather is nothing if not variable, so there’s often good news to share as well. One hydrology example: The water level at Lake Mead, the nation’s largest freshwater reservoir, has been rising since February. Water levels are still modest, but after nearing a record low last November, it’s a welcome relief for the 35 million people who rely on the lake’s water in the short-term. The long-term, as Climate Central reports, is a whole other matter…

Thirteen Years of Aerosols
NASA’s What on Earth blog reports that measurements from a now defunct satellite called SeaWiFS have allowed researchers from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to develop the longest single-satellite global record of aerosols. (Not sure what an aerosol is or what it has to do with climate? Read this.) Why does a long aerosol record matter? Two other important records from satellite instruments — one from MODIS and the other from MISR — don’t agree well over land, so scientists hope that data from other other sensors like SeaWiFS might help resolve some of the discrepancies and reduce the overall uncertainty about aerosols in climate models.

Lost Something?
Nope, this isn’t from a sci-fi movie. This is a real picture of a Russian Orlan spacesuit – stuffed with old clothes and set free to orbit Earth. Why exactly the Russians decided to toss the suit – also known as SuitSat 1 – into space is rather mystifying, but this Wikipedia article suggests it was a commemorative gesture for the 175th anniversary of Moscow State Technical University, and this Science@NASA piece from 2006 hints it was an engineering test of some sort. Regardless of intent, one thing is certain: the pictures make fabulous computer wallpaper.

2 Responses to “News Roundup: Arctic Ice, Spacesuit Satellites and More”

  1. Brian J Mucha says:

    Thanks to all the scientists and employees at NASA for the great work that you all do!!

  2. Polly says:

    I find this photo of the Russian spacesuit in orbit to be quite humorous. Perhaps the Russians are symbolically telling the world they believe they dominate space?