Earth Matters

News Roundup: Arctic Sea Ice Minimum, a Climate Marathon, and More

September 23rd, 2011 by Adam Voiland


Floods Devastate Pakistan
For the second straight year, torrential monsoon-driven rains have swamped portions of Pakistan. The AFP reports that more than 200 people have been killed and thousands have fled their homes. Researchers associated with the MODIS instrument on the Terra satellite recently posted an eye-opening set of images that shows the condition of the swollen Indus River in early September in comparison to more normal conditions. Meanwhile, NASA researcher William Lau has published an interesting new study that shows last year’s floods in Pakistan were closely linked to large fires that occurred in western Russia around the same time.

Climate Science Marathon

Kick back and break out the popcorn. Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project has posted 24 hours of presentations and roundtable discussions about climate change. Reactions to the event have been predictably diverse. Commentators who regularly question the veracity of climate change have taken a dim view of the presentations, while those who regard climate change as an urgent threat have welcomed them. Despite having an unusually high tolerance for PowerPoint, I’ll admit that I have about 22 hours to go before getting through all of them. One segment caught my eye: NASA’s Drew Shindell explains how physics suggests a warming world will produce more extreme weather. Take a look starting at 37:35 of the Cape Verde video.

The Extreme Weather Connection
Speaking of extreme weather and climate science, Nature has an interesting piece about how some climate scientists have become less reluctant about linking extreme weather events to climate change. Nature recently published two studies highlighting just such connections. The journal also reports that a group of British and American researchers are laying the foundation for a system to assess in near-real time how much specific weather events are connected to climate change. “Attribution of extremes is hard — but it is not impossible,” Gavin Schmidt of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies told Nature.

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See the Shrinking Arctic Sea Ice
The National Snow and Ice Data Center released preliminary numbers on the minimum extent of Arctic sea ice, calling this year’s minimum the second lowest on record. Other groups relying on slightly different data report this year’s sea ice minimum is a record low. At the end of the day, whether this year goes down as the lowest or the second lowest ice extent isn’t particularly important. The long-term trend is abundantly clear. Sea ice is retreating, and fast. NASA hasn’t weighed in officially with its numbers, but Goddard Space Flight Center’s Flickr page has posted striking video and stills of the 2011 ice loss.

Mars Research Has Earthly Applications
Looks like the time might be coming to trade in that dowsing stick for low-frequency sounding radar. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced that its scientists, in conjunction with colleagues from the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR), have used sounding radar — developed for a mission to Mars — to successfully locate underground aquifers, probe variations in the water table, and identify locations where water flowed into and out of the aquifers. “This is a critical first step that will hopefully lead to large-scale mapping of aquifers,” said Muhammad Al-Rashed, director of KISR’s Division of Water Resources. Here’s a good video overview of the story.

Look Up: Here Comes UARS
NASA’s bus-sized Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, or UARS, is poised to reenter Earth’s atmosphere on September 23rd or 24th. Much of the 12,500-pound (5,700-kilogram) satellite will burn up upon reentry, but Johnson’s Orbital Debris Program cautions that some pieces of the spacecraft could survive. Nobody has ever been injured by falling space junk, nor has any significant property damage ever occurred. Still, if you’re worried about being pelted, the Joint Space Operations Center of U.S. Strategic Command at Vandenberg Air Force Base will be posting frequent updates detailing when are where pieces might fall as the reentry date approaches. Meanwhile, read up on the considerable contributions the satellite made to science here.

5 Responses to “News Roundup: Arctic Sea Ice Minimum, a Climate Marathon, and More”

  1. Gayle Greenlee says:

    Thank you for the link to the Climate Science Marathon videos. Although I would like to watch all the many hours of the different videos shown, a link directly to Drew Schindell’s video would be helpful.

  2. Adam Voiland says:

    Drew Shindell was on the Cape Verde panel. Here’s the correct link:

  3. bill goldschein says:


  4. GoogleRoumain says:

    Article sympa. Franchement respect à vous monsieur.