NASA's New Space Laser to Measure Earth's Changing Ice
The incredibly precise Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) is the main feature of the Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) that successfully launched into space from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Sept. 15.
The United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket launched with the NASA ICESat-2 onboard, Sept. 15, 2018, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. NASA/Bill Ingalls
"For us scientists the most anticipated part of the mission starts when we switch on the laser and get our first data," said Thorsten Markus, ICESat-2 project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in a press release. "We are really looking forward to making those data available to the science community as quickly as possible so we can begin to explore what ICESat-2 can tell us about our complex home planet."
Following a successful week along its planned orbit, NASA tweeted Friday that the $1 billion ICESat2 is "looking great" and it will switch on ATLAS in about a week.
Week 1 update: #ICESat2 is looking great! 👍🛰️ Solar array deployed, all subsystems turned on, and we’re busy checki… https://t.co/GZenTsPbNM— NASA Ice (@NASA Ice)1537558899.0
The technology captures 60,000 measurements every second and can estimate the annual height change of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to within four millimeters, the width of a pencil, NASA touted.
The ICESat-2 repeats its orbit around Earth every 91 days so scientists can track how ice height changes across the four seasons.
The collected data will help scientists get a better picture of Earth's melting icecaps and improve forecasts of sea level rise.
"We can parameterize these processes better and put them into models so that our models will be more accurate and predict future sea level scenarios, so that we can then send that information to planners for preparing for the future," Helen Fricker, a professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who helped NASA develop the ICESat-2 mission's scientific goals, told Here & Now.
"As the climate is warming," Fricker continued, "we are seeing changes in the sea level—sea level is rising—but the ultimate thing that we're trying to get to is, how much ice will we lose and how quickly will we lose it?"
With the #ICESat2 mission launched, it is heading to orbit. Once there, it'll time how long it takes for laser beam… https://t.co/fveSxMZAJf— NASA (@NASA)1537018971.0
Sweden's reindeer have a problem. In winter, they feed on lichens buried beneath the snow. But the climate crisis is making this difficult. Warmer temperatures mean moisture sometimes falls as rain instead of snow. When the air refreezes, a layer of ice forms between the reindeer and their meal, forcing them to wander further in search of ideal conditions. And sometimes, this means crossing busy roads.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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