Earth Matters

News Roundup: When Music and Climate Change Meet; A Hair Below a Sea Ice Record, and More

October 13th, 2011 by Adam Voiland

[youtube 6kgU-mugZOY]

When Music and Climate Change Meet
During a recent event that highlighted the intersection of art and science, NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt offered an intriguing pitch (see 5:15 in the video above) for a climate change symphony that would use music to tell the story of Earth’s long and varied geologic history. “There are trends in the tides of the planet that come from the changes in the continents, the wobbles in the Earth’s orbit,” he said, emphasizing Earth’s many rhythms, crescendos, and cataclysms that lend themselves to music. Schmidt’s comment came during a panel discussion that included former New York Times reporter Andy Revkin and EPA climatologist Irene Nielson, and followed a unique  Antarctica-inspired performance from a string quartet arranged by Paul Miller (aka DJ Spooky). Schmidt isn’t alone in thinking along these lines. NPR recently interviewed composer Andre Gribou about creating musical scores for films shown on spherical visualization system called Science on a Sphere. A new SOS film – called Loop – came out this week.

It’s Official: 2011 Sea Ice Second Lowest on Record
A few weeks ago, the National Snow and Ice Data Center offered an initial assessment of Arctic sea ice that showed that the minimum extent for the year was the second lowest on record. Since then, NASA scientists have dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s and confirmed the finding. Joey Comiso, a NASA sea ice expert, said the continued pattern of low sea ice extents fits into the large-scale decline that has unfolded over the past three decades. “The sea ice is not only declining, the pace of the decline is becoming more drastic,” Comiso pointed out. “The older, thicker ice is declining faster than the rest, making for a more vulnerable perennial ice cover.”

So That’s What Happened to UARS
An old stalwart of NASA’s Earth-observing fleet, the six-ton Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), came tumbling through the atmosphere in an uncontrolled reentry in late-September that generated a slew of headlines about the risks of being struck by falling space junk. Those risks, of course, are minuscule (about 1 in 21 trillion) and the handful of satellite pieces that did survive reentry ended up falling harmlessly into a remote area of the South Pacific in the general vicinity of Christmas Island. After its launch in 1991, UARS played a critical role in parsing out how chlorofluorocarbons, chemicals that used to be used widely as refrigerants, deplete  ozone. UARS is gone, but for NASA the study of ozone goes on. Later this month, a new ozone-monitoring instrument called Ozone Mapper Profile Suite (OMPS) will launch as part of the NPOESS Preparatory Project.

Texas Drought Overstays Its Welcome
If you’re from Texas, you know this already. But for those who aren’t: the state has been embroiled in an extended heat wave and drought that has left large portions of the state on fire and caused billions of dollars in losses for farmers. If that’s not gloomy enough for you, climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon of the University of Texas warned that the situation isn’t likely to improve anytime soon. The drought could easily persist until 2012.  The problem? The establishment of a new La Niña in the central Pacific Ocean, a phenomenon characterized by cooler ocean temperatures that leads to wetter than normal conditions in the Pacific Northwest and drier conditions in the Southwest.

Dramatic Arctic Ozone Loss
In April, the World Meteorological Organization announced that scientists had observed significant thinning of the ozone layer over the Arctic. That news turned heads because it’s the ozone layer over Antarctica that’s most prone to ozone loss. Recently, a research team associated with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory offered a more comprehensive assessment of the unusual spring thinning in the Arctic  based on data collected by the Aura and CALIPSO satellites, balloon instruments, and atmospheric models. The bottom line: the upper atmosphere of the Arctic grew so cold this winter that ozone loss was severe enough that scientists say what amounts to a “hole” (five times the size of California) formed over the region and persisted for more than a month. Is climate change to blame?  Sort of, but not exactly. Manmade chlorofluorocarbons drive ozone depletion (not the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide), but scientists say that global warming has likely exacerbated ozone loss because it cools the upper part of the atmosphere even as it warms the lower part. Confused? The Capital Weather Gang has a post that delves into the details.

4 Responses to “News Roundup: When Music and Climate Change Meet; A Hair Below a Sea Ice Record, and More”

  1. Bob Bingham says:

    Living in New Zealand we are used to low levels of UV protection and take precautions to stop sunburn. Currently we have a level of eight and the UK is down to one. The lower the number the less protection. There have been very few comments in the national press and yet it must be very dangerous to those exposed to the Sun.
    How long will it last and will it still be bad when next summer arrives and people in the north go to the beach?

  2. Mark Tyler says:

    I live in the UK and it is definitely a growing issue, especially as the average temperatures seldom reach a level which most people consider it hot enough to reach for the sun cream.

  3. Charles Huddleston says:

    Nice science. So what? About as relevant as Whitney Houston’s death certificate. What is to be done is the question and its a personal question before its a government question. So far we’re told new batteries for suburbia is about all we need. Suburbia and the dream are obsolete and until we talk about that we’re stuck in the past and the future is at risk. Until the people are ready to change -and have some idea of what that really means-governments won’t. We can do this, we have to do this, get busy getting real and it will happen. Fiddling with the message won’t get us there, the time for foreplay is over.

  4. Kreatyna says:

    Thank for your intresting information!