Category Archives: Earth Changes

Can Melting Antarctic Permafrost Help Push Global Warming?

How did ancient global warming occur and are we heading that way again? First, let’s just state the obvious and not carp on is it or isn’t it true. Our Earth goes through its own life-cycles, and it does grow warm and cool depending on so many variables that we, humans, can’t yet contemplate. Our scientists do the best they can with the information they can “see”, but there are so many other factors that play a part in these Earth changes. One example is the tilt of our Earth. Every twenty-thousand years or so, the earth wobbles in its orbit; this wobble tilts the Earth just right and wham! The Sahara Desert is now a tropical oasis. I was so excited when I first learned this, but we have at least another fifteen thousand years to go before the next ‘wobble’.

So is there a global warming. You bet there is. But, I do not believe it is caused just by humans, although we may play a small role in it, I honestly think we are entering one of Mother Earth’s changes. Such an event took place some fifty-five million years ago. During that change the world abruptly warmed by 5 degrees Celsius and turned the oceans acidic.

But how? That is the question scientists have been working on for over fourteen years, and may finally have an answer. The green-house gases needed may have gushed into the atmosphere from thawing permafrost in an ice-free Antarctica. Although this is still a theory, it is possible that extremely large stores of methane hydrates, created by rotted plants stored in coal, the mud in oceans and lakes and in soil can freeze and become huge storage vaults. As the permafrost melts, the gas is released.

So as we thaw permafrost today, it is releasing these greenhouse gasses back into the atmosphere. Once the tipping point is met and substantial melting occurs you can have a sudden explosion of methane gas gushing into the atmosphere.

The problem with this theory, just like any other, is how do you prove it.


Posted by on July 1, 2012 in Earth Changes, Global Warming, Science


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One Ring to Bring Them All: Eclipse Enchants

Ever see ringlets of sunlight playing in the shadows of a tree or a fiery ring of light in the sky? These incredible effects are the results of an annular solar eclipse like the one that occurred when the moon passed directly between the sun and Earth on Sunday, May 20, 2012. The event was viewable from Japan all the way across the Pacific Ocean to midway through the United States.

Because the moon travels on a slightly tilted orbit compared to the plane of Earth’s orbit around the sun, eclipses do not occur every time the moon comes between the sun and Earth. However, there are two points or “nodes” when the moon does pass through this plane. If either of these nodes coincides with a new moon (when the sun is illuminating only its far side), a solar eclipse will occur. If a node is reached during a full moon, Earth will block the sun’s light, casting a shadow onto the moon causing a lunar eclipse.

An annular eclipse occurs when the moon is too far away from us to completely cover the disk of the sun. This results in an annularity: the ring-shaped outline of the sun that can be seen surrounding the dark new moon. Because of the surreal look of the “ring of fire,” annular eclipses are some of the most impressive celestial events visible from Earth.

This eclipse passed over some of the U.S.’s most famous national parks with the full annularity visible from 33 parks, while an additional 125 parks witnessed a partial eclipse. The NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and the National Parks Service took advantage of this rare event and joined forces to facilitate safe viewings for as many people as possible.

Several NLSI scientists traveled to the Grand Canyon National Park and used the superimposition of our two most prominent celestial objects as an opportunity to explain to several thousand visitors about some of NASA’s past, current and future projects relating to the sun and moon. These include the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), which will orbit the moon in order to characterize its atmosphere and the lunar dust environment, and the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, (IRIS) ,which will make detailed measurements of the flow of energy and plasma through the sun’s atmosphere and heliosphere.

The NLSI team gave presentations to three full-house audiences in the park’s theater and hosted an exhibit in its main visitor center. Samples of moon and Mars rocks and meteorites that people could handle were on display, as well as a model of a LADEE.

“Multiple missions to the moon in the past five years have revealed our nearest celestial neighbor is a fascinating place,” said NLSI director Yvonne Pendleton, who spoke at the event “The Apollo-era views, rich in geological insights from samples that continue to be studied today, have been enlarged to reveal detailed topography, composition and a bombardment history that will fascinate researchers for many years to come.”

More than 2,000 people viewed the eclipse at the event. Safe viewing equipment was also sent to other national parks and another public viewing was held by one of the NLSI teams at the University of Colorado football stadium in Boulder, where 10,000 people viewed the partial eclipse.

“Nature has provided us with a unique opportunity to capitalize on the huge public interest in the sun and moon,” said NLSI Director of Education and Public Outreach Brian Day. “It is an excellent opportunity to engage with the public and explain what we are doing at Ames.”

Although there have been a number of partial eclipses in recent years, May 20, 2012 was the first time in 18 years that we have been able to see the moon pass directly across the center of the sun from the U.S. James Schalkwyk
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.


Posted by on June 12, 2012 in Earth Changes, NASA, Science, Space


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Earth’s Melting Land Ice

In the first comprehensive satellite study of its kind, a University of Colorado at Boulder-led team used NASA data to calculate how much Earth’s melting land ice is adding to global sea level rise.

Using satellite measurements from the NASA/German Aerospace Center Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), the researchers measured ice loss in all of Earth’s land ice between 2003 and 2010, with particular emphasis on glaciers and ice caps outside of Greenland and Antarctica.

The total global ice mass lost from Greenland, Antarctica and Earth’s glaciers and ice caps during the study period was about 4.3 trillion tons (1,000 cubic miles), adding about 0.5 inches (12 millimeters) to global sea level. That’s enough ice to cover the United States 1.5 feet (0.5 meters) deep.

“Earth is losing a huge amount of ice to the ocean annually, and these new results will help us answer important questions in terms of both sea rise and how the planet’s cold regions are responding to global change,” said University of Colorado Boulder physics professor John Wahr, who helped lead the study. “The strength of GRACE is it sees all the mass in the system, even though its resolution is not high enough to allow us to determine separate contributions from each individual glacier.”

About a quarter of the average annual ice loss came from glaciers and ice caps outside of Greenland and Antarctica (roughly 148 billion tons, or 39 cubic miles). Ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica and their peripheral ice caps and glaciers averaged 385 billion tons (100 cubic miles) a year. Results of the study will be published online Feb. 8 in the journal Nature.

Traditional estimates of Earth’s ice caps and glaciers have been made using ground measurements from relatively few glaciers to infer what all the world’s unmonitored glaciers were doing. Only a few hundred of the roughly 200,000 glaciers worldwide have been monitored for longer than a decade.

One unexpected study result from GRACE was the estimated ice loss from high Asian mountain ranges like the Himalaya, the Pamir and the Tien Shan was only about 4 billion tons of ice annually. Some previous ground-based estimates of ice loss in these high Asian mountains have ranged up to 50 billion tons annually.

“The GRACE results in this region really were a surprise,” said Wahr, who also is a fellow at the University of Colorado-headquartered Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. “One possible explanation is that previous estimates were based on measurements taken primarily from some of the lower, more accessible glaciers in Asia and extrapolated to infer the behavior of higher glaciers. But unlike the lower glaciers, most of the high glaciers are located in very cold environments and require greater amounts of atmospheric warming before local temperatures rise enough to cause significant melting. This makes it difficult to use low-elevation, ground-based measurements to estimate results from the entire system.”

“This study finds that the world’s small glaciers and ice caps in places like Alaska, South America and the Himalayas contribute about .02 inches per year to sea level rise,” said Tom Wagner, cryosphere program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “While this is lower than previous estimates, it confirms that ice is being lost from around the globe, with just a few areas in precarious balance. The results sharpen our view of land ice melting, which poses the biggest, most threatening factor in future sea level rise.”

The twin GRACE satellites track changes in Earth’s gravity field by noting minute changes in gravitational pull caused by regional variations in Earth’s mass, which for periods of months to years is typically because of movements of water on Earth’s surface. It does this by measuring changes in the distance between its two identical spacecraft to one-hundredth the width of a human hair.

The GRACE spacecraft, developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and launched in 2002, are in the same orbit approximately 137 miles (220 kilometers) apart.


Posted by on February 8, 2012 in Earth Changes, Global Warming, NASA, News Article, Science


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Large X-class Flare Erupts on the Sun

Good thing it wasn’t aimed at Us! If it was we’d be gone, gone, gone! Just image a blast of plasma hitting earth at temperatures greater than 100,000 degrees!

On Jan. 27, 2012, a large X-class flare erupted from an active region near the solar west limb. X-class flares are the most powerful of all solar events. Seen here is an image of the flare captured by the X-ray telescope on Hinode. This image shows an emission from plasma heated to greater than eight million degrees during the energy release process of the flare.

Image Credit: JAXA/Hinode

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Posted by on February 7, 2012 in Earth Changes, Global Warming, NASA, Photo, Science, Space


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Is Global Warming To Blame?

Pine Island Glacier

In mid-October 2011, NASA scientists working in Antarctica discovered a massive crack across the Pine Island Glacier, a major ice stream that drains the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Extending for 19 miles (30 kilometers), the crack was 260 feet (80 meters) wide and 195 feet (60 meters) deep. Eventually, the crack will extend all the way across the glacier, and calve a giant iceberg that will cover about 350 square miles (900 square kilometers). This image from the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument on NAS’s Terra spacecraft was acquired Nov. 13, 2011, and covers an area of 27 by 32 miles (44 by 52 kilometers), and is located near 74.9 degrees south latitude, 101.1 degrees west longitude.

Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team


Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Earth Changes, Global Warming, NASA, Photo, Science


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Antarctica Dinosaurs

Credit: Charles R. Knight; (inset) Cerda/Naturwissenschaften

Before penguins ruled Antarctica, dinosaurs roamed across what was then a forested continent, migrating over from Australia and other land masses that were connected to it at the time. Several Antarctic dinosaurs have already been found, including an armored ankylosaur and a handful of birdlike dinosaurs. But researchers working on James Ross Island off the Antarctic Peninsula have now reported the discovery of what may be the biggest dino yet: a fossil (inset) from the tailbone of a sauropod, a giant, four-legged dinosaur with a long neck and tail. As they write in Naturwissenschaften this week, the researchers believe this plant-eating beast lived during the Cretaceous period, which lasted until about 65 million years ago. The team can’t identify which of the 150 sauropod species the dinosaur belonged to, but it hopes to find some of his friends still buried in the frozen wasteland.


Posted by on December 21, 2011 in Earth Changes, Science


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Hawaii, Lava Tube

Behind us is the entrance of a vacant Lava Tube. Lava tubes are natural tunnels where lava flows underneath the ground, in may cases for miles. When the eruption is finished the tubes run dry and leave behind tunnels that look man-made. This is caused by low viscosity lava. It forms a hard crust that gets thicker and thicker, while lava is flowing inside it.

It was mind boggling to walk through something that once was filled with liquid rock.


Posted by on October 28, 2011 in Earth Changes, Hawaii, Science


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