Trump Wants to Eliminate NASA’s Climate Research Programs: These Pictures Show What a Loss That Would Be
By Jeremy Deaton
President Trump's proposed 2019 budget would slash funding for NASA's Earth Science Division, and while his budget hasn't gained traction in Congress, it is an important statement of the administration's priorities. In a nod to his allies in the fossil fuel industry, Trump is calling for the elimination of vital programs that monitor carbon pollution and climate change.
Critics say NASA's Earth Science Division is a waste of taxpayer dollars and a distraction from the agency's core mission of space exploration. But NASA has a critical role to play in understanding human-caused climate change, by operating satellites that monitor the earth's forests, deserts, oceans and atmosphere.
NASA scientists are working to improve our understanding of natural disasters like wildfires, hurricanes and drought, while tracking long-term changes to the earth's climate. Researchers are also mapping out those changes so Americans can understand how heat-trapping carbon pollution is reshaping the world. Below is a collection of NASA maps, graphs and photos cataloging this profound transformation.
Causes of Climate Change
It's part of NASA's mission to understand the balance of energy on Earth—how much of the sun's energy is absorbed by the earth and how much of it is reflected back out to space. Over the last century, the earth has retained more and more of the sun's energy, causing the planet to warm around 1°C.
Warming is not explained by changes in solar activity or changes in the earth's orbit, nor is it explained by changes in volcanic activity. What about human factors? Changes in land use—converting forests to farms and pastures—have had a slight cooling effect, as dark green woodlands are replaced by tawny-colored fields of wheat and grass, which reflect more of the sun's light. Ground-level ozone pollution makes the earth a little warmer, but not much. Aerosols, another form of pollution, actually cool the atmosphere.
The evidence shows that greenhouse gases are responsible for the warming trend. Carbon pollution is trapping more of the sun's heat. That carbon pollution primarily comes from burning coal, oil and gas to generate energy. It also comes from raising livestock—mostly cows and sheep—that expel methane, a powerful heat-trapping gas, and from burning forests. While converting dark-colored forests to bright-colored farmland has a small cooling effect, lighting trees on fire also releases a tremendous amount of heat-trapping carbon pollution into the sky. Trees scrub carbon dioxide from the air. When set aflame, they dump that carbon back into the atmosphere.
The line graph below shows how quickly carbon dioxide is gathering in the atmosphere, rising from 370 parts per million in 2000 to more than 400 parts per million today, as measured by the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. The map shows the changing concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere, as measured by satellite, shifting from green to yellow to orange to red as the concentration increases. Cars, trucks, factories and power plants in the U.S., Europe and China are responsible for most of the pollution.
The concentration of carbon dioxide rises and falls each year, even as the total concentration inches up over time. That's because every spring and summer, trees in the Northern Hemisphere—home to most of the world's land mass—sprout leaves that soak up atmospheric carbon dioxide. In the fall, those trees shed their leaves, which decay, releasing carbon dioxide back into the air. The animation below shows the change of seasons across several years. When summer arrives in North America, leaves sprout and ice recedes in North America. At the same time, trees south of the equator lose their leaves.
The world's carbon output has grown in recent years, but there has also been a shift in where that carbon pollution is coming from. The U.S., Europe and Japan have seen declining pollution, thanks in large part to limits on pollution. In China, India and the Middle East, pollution has increased as those countries open more factories, fire up more power plants and put more cars on the road. In addition, numerous companies in the U.S. and Europe have moved manufacturing operations to China, effectively exporting the pollution associated with those operations.
The map below shows changes in emissions of nitrogen dioxide from 2005 to 2014. Nitrogen dioxide isn't a heat-trapping gas like carbon dioxide, but it is a dangerous pollutant that can make it harder to breathe. Areas with little nitrogen dioxide pollution are colored in blue. Areas with more pollution are colored in yellow, while areas with the most pollution are colored in red.
The rapid growth of China looks even more dramatic when viewed up close. The satellite images below shows how Shanghai has changed between 1984 and 2016 as more companies set up factories and workers moved from rural areas to work in those factories. The population of the city roughly doubled in that time.
Industrialization isn't the only trend driving the rise in temperature. As mentioned above, there's also deforestation. The map below shows declining forest cover in Rondônia in western Brazil between 2000 and 2010. Settlers build roads into remote parts of the Amazon rainforest, burning forests near those roads to clear land for crops and cattle.
All together, these trends—industrialization, deforestation, growing consumption of meat—are producing dramatic changes in the earth's climate and, by extension, are fueling heat, drought and severe storms.
Symptoms of Climate Change
The most obvious symptom of all that carbon pollution is a rise in the average surface temperature of the earth. The map below is based on temperature from thousands of weather stations, ships, buoys and research outposts collected over more than a century. It shows the how much temperatures have differed from the mid-20th-century average. Blue areas are unusually cold. Orange areas are unusually hot. As the map progresses from 1880 to 2016, temperatures grow warmer across the globe.
It's notable that temperatures aren't rising uniformly. As shown in the map above, the Arctic is warming roughly twice as fast as the rest of the globe. This is partly the result of weather patterns that carry warm air to the North Pole, but it is also a function of melting sea ice. White sea ice reflects the sun's light, keeping the region cool. When it melts, it is replaced by dark water, which absorbs the sun's light, accelerating warming.
The map below, based on satellite measurements, shows the decline of Arctic sea ice between 1984 and 2016. Younger ice is shown in dark blue. Older ice is shown in gray or white. Every summer ice melts, and every winter it forms again, but the long-term rise in temperature means that the total stock of ice is declining over time as old sea ice disappears into the sea.
The decline of sea ice is of virtually no consequence for sea levels. (Think of the ice in a glass of water which, when melted, does not cause the glass to overflow.) What is of greater concern, however, is the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, a mile-thick block of ice that would raise sea levels by more than 20 feet if it were to melt completely. The map below, based on satellite data, shows the melting of the Greenland ice sheet between 2002 and 2016. Snowfall is causing the ice sheet to gain a small amount of mass in the center of the island, but rising temperatures are melting the outside of the ice sheet much faster, as pools of water form atop the island and drain out to sea.
Antarctica is undergoing similar changes, though it is losing ice about half as quickly as Greenland. Antarctica, however, is home to considerably more ice. If all the ice on the continent were to melt, it would raise sea levels by some 200 feet. Currently, much of the ice on Antarctica is being kept at bay by floating ice shelves, shown in gray on the map below. If these ice shelves break apart, ice from the continent will begin to slide into the ocean.
Together, Greenland and Antarctica are pouring billions of tons of water into the world's oceans each year, but ice melt is only one factor in sea-level rise. Warmer temperatures also play a role. As seawater heats up, it expands, causing water levels to rise. For this reason, sea levels haven't risen uniformly across the globe. Where waters have warmed faster, such as in the South Pacific, the sea has crept up more. In the North Atlantic, climate change has cooled waters by slowing the Gulf Stream, causing sea levels to drop. The map below, based on satellite data, charts sea-level rise from 1992 to 2014. Warm colors indicate more sea-level rise, while cool colors indicate a drop in sea level.
Melting ice and rising seas aren't the only symptoms of climate change. Warmer temperatures are also fueling extreme weather. Last year produced several notable examples in the U.S. The satellite images below, based on infrared data, show Southern California before and after the December 2017 Thomas Fire, the largest wildfire in California history. The maps have been colored to show the extent of the damage. Hotter, drier weather is making wildfires more likely.
Persistent heat and erratic rainfall are also fueling drought. Warm weather dries up lakes and rivers, desiccates soil, and prematurely melts reserves of snow that supply freshwater during the spring and summer. In the absence of consistent rainfall, water levels drop lower and lower. The satellite images below show Lake Mead, which lies on the border between Nevada and Arizona, in 1984 and today. Lake Mead is the largest water reservoir in the U.S.
Just as climate change is fueling drought, it is also fueling heavy precipitation. As the atmosphere warms, it retains more moisture, producing less frequent rainfall, but heavier downpours. The satellite images below show parts of Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky before and after a period of intense rainfall in the spring of 2017. Some areas saw more than 9 inches of rain and floods that broke records that had stood for more than a century. The maps have been colored to show the extent of the flooding, shown in dark blue.
Rising temperatures are also raising the speed limit for tropical cyclones, as warmer ocean temperatures fuel faster wind speeds. Hurricane Irma, for example, delivered winds of 185 mph, prompting some to call for a new category of hurricane to describe the more dangerous storms made possible by climate change. The satellite image below shows Hurricane Irma, along with Hurricane Katia and Hurricane Jose in September 2017, the first time in recorded history the Atlantic hosted three tropical cyclones, each of which threatened to make landfall.
Last year saw several other notable storms, including Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Houston, and Hurricane Maria, which laid waste to Puerto Rico. All told, 2017's natural disasters were the most expensive in U.S. history, inflicting more than $300 billion in damage. For context, NASA spends less than $2 billion annually on earth science.
A Reason for Hope
Climate change is an impossibly big, unthinkably difficult problem. Halting the warming trend requires nothing short of the total transformation of the global energy system, as well as significant changes to the way we work, eat and travel. But there is some (small) precedent for success.
In 1987, countries around the world agreed to the Montreal Protocol, a treaty to limit the use of the chemicals that were punching a hole in the ozone layer. At ground level, ozone is harmful to human health, but high above the surface of the earth, it blocks harmful, ultraviolet rays that can cause skin cancer in humans and reproductive problems in small, aquatic animals. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush ordered U.S. manufacturers to phase out the use of these substances. Other world leaders did the same, and it worked.
The maps below chart changes in the ozone layer from 1974 to 2065. The map on the left shows the world we live in—what the ozone layer looked like up until today, and what scientists expect it will look like in the years ahead, given the global ban on ozone-depleting pollutants. The map on the right shows how the ozone layer would have looked if policymakers had done nothing. Both maps are based on a computer model using satellite data. Warmer colors indicate more ozone, while cooler colors indicate less ozone.
As the maps make clear, smart policy can stave off environmental catastrophe. If countries had done nothing, the ozone layer would be almost totally depleted by the end of this century. It's why former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said the Montreal Protocol is "perhaps the single most successful international agreement to date."
It's important to note that our understanding of the ozone layer is based in large part on NASA research. The same is true of other environmental challenges, including climate change. As the agency's former chief climate scientist, James Hansen, explained, "Being at NASA and having the access to both computing capability and satellite observation capability is kind of the ideal research situation to try to understand global climate change." Without NASA research, it would be much, much harder to understand—and tackle—the problem.
New NASA Study Solves Climate Mystery, Confirms Methane Spike Tied to Oil and Gas https://t.co/dGVGRws5Ce @NASA… https://t.co/QSewyGaNNy— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1516140314.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
- Bill Nye: Trump Administration Will Be 'Last Gasp of the Anti-Science ... ›
- NASA: Earth Is Warming at Rate 'Unprecedented in 1000 Years' - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- 29 Wildfires Blaze Across the West, Fueled by Drought and Wind ... ›
- Large Wildfires Scorch Forests in Drought-Stricken Southwest ... ›
Accessibility to quality health care has dropped for millions of Americans who lost their health insurance due to unemployment. mixetto / E+ / Getty Images
Accessibility to quality health care has dropped for millions of Americans who lost their health insurance due to unemployment. New research has found that 5.4 million Americans were dropped from their insurance between February and May of this year. In that three-month stretch more Americans lost their coverage than have lost coverage in any entire year, according to The New York Times.
- Trump Plans to End Federal Funding for COVID-19 Testing Sites ... ›
- 'Unfathomable Cruelty': Trump Admin Asks Supreme Court to ... ›
On hot days in New York City, residents swelter when they're outside and in their homes. The heat is not just uncomfortable. It can be fatal.
- Extreme Heat-Stressed Locations Could Increase by 80% - EcoWatch ›
- African Americans Are Disproportionately Exposed to Extreme Heat ... ›
- Extreme Heat Is Killing Americans While Government Neglect ... ›
Fracking companies are going bankrupt at a rapid pace, often with taxpayer-funded bonuses for executives, leaving harm for communities, taxpayers, and workers, the New York Time reports.
- Plunging Oil Prices Trigger Economic Downturn in Fracking Boom ... ›
- Fracking Boom Bursts in Face of Low Oil Prices - EcoWatch ›
- As Fracking Companies Face Bankruptcy, U.S. Regulators Enable ... ›
A report scheduled for release later Tuesday by Congress' non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that the Trump administration undervalues the costs of the climate crisis in order to push deregulation and rollbacks of environmental protections, according to The New York Times.
- Under Trump, EPA Workers Seek Bill of Rights to Allow Them to ... ›
- Trump Adds 'Tasteless Insult to Injury' by Pushing Fossil Fuel ... ›
By Kristen Fischer
It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
- Trump Admin Rejects CDC Reopening Guidelines - EcoWatch ›
- How Do You Stay Safe Now That States Are Reopening? - EcoWatch ›
- Florida Breaks U.S. Daily Record With Over 15,000 New ... ›
By Eoin Higgins
Over 300 groups on Monday urged Senate leadership to reject a bill currently under consideration that would incentivize communities to sell off their public water supplies to private companies for pennies on the dollar.
<div id="fea63" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a6f211c2bc5aedd34837944cb8eeedf"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281000111481294849" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Water in Illinois is overwhelmingly public. Why is Tammy Duckworth sponsoring a bill that aims to change that? https://t.co/1V36Kkd99s</div> — The American Prospect (@The American Prospect)<a href="https://twitter.com/TheProspect/statuses/1281000111481294849">1594249201.0</a></blockquote></div>
- DNC Ignores Progressive Climate Activists - EcoWatch ›
- Who's a Climate Champion and Who's a Climate Disaster? - EcoWatch ›