November 29, 2016, 09:15 PST

Writing about climate: An enduring bond between art and science

Yarlung Tsangpo River, China. Credit: NASA/GSFC/LaRC/JPL, MISR Team.

Yarlung Tsangpo River, China. Credit: NASA/GSFC/LaRC/JPL, MISR Team.

My writing teacher and I said goodbye to each other. We cried together as I told her she would live on through my writing. She already knew. Because a dark night brings another sunrise, a winter brings another spring, and a goodbye brings another hello.

No one is truly alone; we rely on other people all the time. Teamwork, backing and support aren’t optional, they’re necessities. 

The first writing assignment she gave me was to open my front door and describe the first plant I saw. Through this exercise, I learned how to observe the world and make detailed descriptions of those observations, while avoiding interpretations or judgmental words like “good,” or “nice,” or “pretty.” My writing became stronger when I told the story as it was, bringing along the reader and letting us both interpret the events together. For example, instead of telling you that I had a nice weekend, I learned to tell you that I sat near a fireplace with my puppy to my left and a friend on my right, drinking lemon, mint and honey (all right, there was a tiny bit of gin in there, too) and making travel plans. Then you, the reader, can make up your own mind about how my weekend was.

My writing teacher was a writer, a composer, a film producer. She was a true artist in every sense. And I’m sure you noticed the connection between the art of writing and the art of doing science, right? Science, including the type of satellite remote sensing at which NASA excels, is based on making detailed observations and allowing those observations to tell their story. NASA spacecraft give us images of glaciers, volcanoes, forests, large cities and sea ice, among other stories of a changing planet. And it’s up to us to see the details in those stories. When the images—the stories—have enough detail, we can interpret them and make meaning out of them.

When I think about how her life flows through me and out into the world, I also think about how we at NASA are part of a continuous stream of creative endeavors, of science, of aspirations achieved—each one built upon those who came before, and each one a step for the next ones to climb.

In the spirit of the upcoming winter holidays and in memory of my friend and writing teacher Carol Lees, who produced the music in this video.

Thank you for reading.

Laura

November 21, 2016, 14:04 PST

This Thanksgiving, let's be thankful for planet Earth

By Laura Faye Tenenbaum and Holly Shaftel

The Midwestern United States illuminated by a patchwork quilt of light as seen from the International Space Station (ISS). The aurora borealis also shines brightly in this view.

The Midwestern United States illuminated by a patchwork quilt of light as seen from the International Space Station (ISS). The aurora borealis also shines brightly in this view.

Sigh. Sometimes life feels heavy.

Even as the holidays approach and we’re all supposed to be in a holiday spirit, supposed to be joyous. Sometimes we’re just not there.

But, as always, NASA gives me the opportunity to look at Earth from the highest perspective. From above, the world appears remote and untouched. There’s nothing but the timeless, immaculate and infinite beauty of our planet.

Sigh.

Together, you and I get to take this opportunity to share thankfulness for our Earth and everything pristine and beautiful about it.

A creek at Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.
I took this photo of a creek at Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Thank you for reading. I really mean it.

Laura

November 7, 2016, 12:01 PST

Need a dose of calm?

Slow down and relax. Earth is beautiful.

By Laura Faye Tenenbaum and Holly Shaftel

The view of the International Space Station orbiting Earth as seen from Space Shuttle Endeavour.

The view of the International Space Station orbiting Earth as seen from Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Earth, from the vantage point of space: Serene, breathtaking, magnificent. No matter how crazy busy your day is, no matter the level of stress, or chaos, or distraction, take a moment today—right now, in fact—to step back and feast on the great wonder of our home planet, Earth.

Soufrière Hills volcano on the Caribbean island of Montserrat.
Soufrière Hills volcano on the Caribbean island of Montserrat.
I like to think about being in nature when I get caught up in the overwhelming day-to-day news cycles. For me, getting out in nature always calms my nerves. It gets me centered and grounded; it reminds me that I have the strength to face life’s challenges.  

The Bering Strait
The Bering Strait, which links the Arctic Ocean with the Bering Sea and separates the continents of Asia and North America at their closest point.
Right now I’m getting ready for a hike in nature. To notice things I normally pass by. To see vistas of faraway mountains and fields of small white flowers in the late fall sunshine.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.
In those outdoor spaces, you get an experience of timelessness, a reminder of something bigger and longer-lasting than the rapidly shifting beats of the daily grind.

Kangerlussuaq, Greenland.
Kangerlussuaq, Greenland.
So stop and give yourself a break, large or small. Even if it’s just to gaze quietly for a moment at a few of my favorite Earth pix that I gathered here to share with you.

Namaste,
Laura

October 31, 2016, 13:21 PDT

NASA, psyched about sustainability

On Earth, on Mars and everywhere in between

Johnson Space Center's Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. Photo courtesy of Space Center Houston.

Johnson Space Center's Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. Photo courtesy of Space Center Houston.

Rockets, rockets, rockets. Space ships, too. We’re NASA. And yes, we launch fancy tech stuff, and burn rocket fuel in the process. Yup, we do.

Oh yeah, we have a bunch of aircraft as well, so add plane fuel to that.

True, we do launch spacecraft and we do fly modified aircraft, but if you believe that’s all we do, then maybe you didn’t know about the huge role NASA plays in greenhouse gas mitigation, environmental stewardship, and partnering and planning for sustainability.

I mean, when most people think about the International Space Station, the first thing that comes to mind is floating and flipping around in zero gravity, not the fact that the ISS is an off-the-grid, self-contained environmental ecosystem with a core principle of conserving resources. It’s a real test-bed for learning how to live sustainably.

Think about it: For astronauts at station or on a journey to Mars, recycling water is required! 

NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Expedition 24 flight engineer, looks through a window in the Cupola of the International Space Station.
NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Expedition 24 flight engineer, looks through a window in the Cupola of the International Space Station.
“The ISS is just another building,” Joel Walker, Johnson Space Center’s (JSC) director of center operations, told me when I visited this year. “It just happens to be in a remote location.” This means we get to translate the technology from the Environmental Control Life Support Systems (that is, all the stuff that keeps the “pink squishy things” alive) and bring what we learn about living sustainably in space down to Earth. “We want our business to be a green as possible, as a core mission or core set of values, central to our brand. We want to be good stewards,” Stacy Shutts, JSC’s sustainability program specialist, added.

An extra-terrestrial vehicle at the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility.
An extra-terrestrial vehicle at the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility.
In fact, NASA’s Office of Strategic Infrastructure has been incorporating responses to the impacts of climate change into their daily thinking for years. The NASA teams responsible for the buildings we work in, whether they’re in space or on Earth, have to address climate change. They have to know if the cooling in the building will be good enough for the next 50 years of temperature changes. Or if the elevation will be appropriate for sea level rise.

And scientists and engineers are also people, so our way of life has an impact on the environment we study. This means that the same person who remembers to use both sides of a sheet of paper and be less wasteful might also be the same person responsible for purchasing a big polluting thing like a generator. “The daily habits we practice here — the behaviors, the teams, thinking about the process before you start — get people in the mindset to develop a system for sustainability,” Walker said. See, some of NASA’s buildings are large and power hungry, especially the ones that house those spaceships. Earlier that day, I’d been romping around in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, a huge beast of a building that houses the Space Station and Space Shuttle trainers, Orion landers, and oodles of robots and robo-vehicles. That building must be a monster to keep cool, dry, lit, etc.

“We operate a central plant with boilers, which are a source of greenhouse gases. If we buy the one that pollutes less,” Walker explained, “then whatever plant I’m operating, the cleaner I can do it, the less overhead. And 10 years from now, when the rules tighten up, we’ll still be able to use the same generator.”

Robo-naut flirted with me.
Robo-naut flirted with me.
“Part of it’s psychological,” Walker continued, “the soft side to environmental stewardship that’s as important as the permits, and the power grid, and the energy efficient generators.” For example, the astronauts’ favorite part of the ISS is the cupola because it has all the windows where they can watch the Earth. It’s the same reason people prefer a glass front for offices: so you can see outside.

So managing a NASA facility and learning to promote energy conservation is great practice, regardless of whether we’re planning for a future on Earth or on a 2.5- to 3-year journey to Mars.

Johnson Space Center's Apollo-era Mission Control
Inside the fully preserved Apollo-era Mission Control at Johnson Space Center.
Shutts compares her view of sustainability with ethics. “We can’t introduce microbes to Mars. Then all of our future research would be contaminated and we’d impact it for future people who will come to Mars. In the same way,” she continued, “if we use all the resources here, then they won’t be there for the next people. If you’re thinking in a lifecycle sense or in a long term range for your business or your organization, you have to plan for the next centuries ‘cause we want to be around longer than that.”

And yes, at NASA, we do want to be around longer than that.

Thank you for your comments.

Laura

Walker’s sustainability management approach also focuses on areas of energy and water reduction, green purchasing, reducing the generation of hazardous waste and increased diversion from landfilling of waste through recycling initiatives. Under Walker’s direction, the JSC constructed eight certified green buildings that use 100 percent green power and average 35- to 40-percent reductions in energy and water consumption of comparable facilities. With Walker’s leadership, JSC has reduced potable water use by 15 percent annually, or more than 60 million gallons per year, since 2009, and over the past two years has composted more than 85,000 pounds of food waste.

October 17, 2016, 11:09 PDT

Making lemonade out of climate change

Science unveils the sheer beauty of Planet Earth

Flying low over Greenland's coastline in NASA's modified G-III aircraft.

Flying low over Greenland's coastline in NASA's modified G-III aircraft.

You might expect that being a science writer primarily focused on climate change and climate science could put me in a bad mood. You can see this if you read the comments on many of my blogs, on our NASA Climate Change Facebook page and on my TEDx video. Many commenters think I should express more alarm about our changing climate.

Yes, climate change is happening, it’s real and it’s serious. I know it and my climate scientist friends know it. But I’m just not the kind of person who can spend my days in fear, despair and anger. I just can’t. Fundamentally, it’s not who I am.

What works in my life is finding something positive and then taking action in that positive direction, which explains how I found myself traveling to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, to support NASA’s Oceans Melting Greenland team in the field. See, NASA is the exploration leader — on this planet and beyond. And believe me, Greenland is out there. It’s so remote, so unknown, so unpopulated, that even after thousands of years of human exploration of our planet and hundreds of years of scientific exploration we still know very little about the ocean surrounding Greenland’s coastline and the water inside its long, ice-carved fjords. Greenland is unusual, a unique environment unto itself. The ice sheet is so vast, it makes its own weather patterns.

Greenland probe drop sites
Oceans Melting Greenland has completed its first survey of the oceans surrounding Greenland using air-deployed temperature and salinity probes. Of the 250 planned measurement locations, 213 probes (blue dots) were dropped, collecting data around the entire island. Credit: Josh Willis/JPL.

So, of course, with NASA’s prominent role in Earth remote sensing and climate change and our capacity to explore the unknown, we’d be the first ones to fly right up into those exceptionally remote fjords to measure the ocean water there. As scientists, decoding the natural world is our way of taking meaningful positive action. It’s our way of caring. We care about the warm water that reaches up Greenland’s icy coastline and melts the ice sheet into the water. We care, so we go there and witness. We go there and we observe. We go there and we measure. And all the while, we feel like we’ve made an effort, we’ve done good work.

And so I flew with Team OMG on a modified NASA G-III aircraft into uncontrolled airspace to places where no other aircraft had flown before, up into those narrow and steep ice-covered fjords, winding in and out, up and down, over and through to observe and measure, like scientists do.

As I was working, I also got to see the brilliant white ice carve its way through steep brown valleys into open ocean water. I saw the glorious expanse of white upon deep blue going on and on and on below us as we flew just 5,000 feet above the winding coastline. It was extraordinary. And this might seem odd to you, but I felt joyous. Yes, I did. Joyous.

For there is something undeniable about the sheer beauty of this planet, and any time you get to experience it is a moment to feel exuberant and alive.

Check out this video of Team OMG celebrating its accomplishments. 

Thanks for reading this blog.

Laura

October 6, 2016, 13:46 PDT

A wall of ice in transition

The terminus of Russell Glacier, Greenland.

The terminus of Russell Glacier, Greenland.

I went off for a day to visit Russell Glacier, which flows from the Greenland Ice Sheet down the Akuliarusiarsuup Kuua River, into the Kangerlussuaq Fjord and out into the Davis Strait. I knew I’d watch it melt right in front of me. And I expected to feel sad standing there so close to such an obvious and intense signal of global warming and climate change.

I stood there as the Arctic sun moved onto the horizon behind me, breathing the cool air, listening to the loud rush of meltwater passing between me and the 200-foot wall of ice in front of me. I thought about the 100,000-year span of time that this ice sheet has lasted on this planet. I looked toward the Akuliarusiarsuup Kuua River valley thinking about the future of that meltwater as it flowed out to sea. As we continue adding heat-trapping gases to our environment, our climate will keep changing and this meltwater will only increase. Someday the whole ice sheet may be gone.

I was supposed to feel sad. But I didn’t. Instead I just felt grateful to be alive, right here, right now, in 2016. To be alive in that time between 100,000 years ago and the whatever-will-happen-in-our-climate-changed future.

I hope you understand.

Laura

October 3, 2016, 14:00 PDT

Swoosh

By Laura Faye Tenenbaum and Josh Willis

NASA’s G-III about to take off from Kangerlussuaq Airport, Greenland, for a day of ocean science research.

NASA’s G-III about to take off from Kangerlussuaq Airport, Greenland, for a day of ocean science research.

Swoosh! It’s not a sound so much as a feeling. You feel it in your ears and through your whole body. And everyone on the plane — two NASA G-III pilots, two flight engineers and the rest of the Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) crew—feels it at exactly the same time. It has become our inside joke.

The swoosh happens every time the flight engineers drop an Aircraft eXpendable Conductivity Temperature Depth (AXCTD) probe through a hole in the bottom of the plane. The AXCTD comes in a 3-foot-long gray metal tube—with a parachute. After it hits the water, the probe measures ocean temperature and salinity from the sea surface down to about 1,000 meters. The tiny difference between cabin and outside pressure pushes the probe out and makes ears pop at the same time.

This is the second week of our three- to four-week mission that will be repeated every September/October for the next five years. We’re finally starting to iron out all the minor details in our protocol. With so many moving parts, the protocol is important, and the intricate timing helps us make sure no one forgets any details and we get the most accurate record of when and where we drop each one.

Lee and Vaughn 2
The two images above show Flight Engineers Phil Vaughn and Terry Lee ready to drop an AXCTD through a hole in the bottom of the plane.
All of us wear headsets so we can communicate with each other. Here’s an abbreviated version of how it all goes down:

  1. Project Manager Steve Dinardo announces “Data recorder ready.”
  2. Pilots Bill Ehrenstrom and Scott Reagan call out the cloud and ice conditions and the number of minutes to the drop site. Then they determine the altitude for the approach.
  3. Josh Willis
    Lead scientist Josh Willis prepares to mark the probe drop on his GARMIN GPS.
    Flight Engineers Terry Lee and Phil Vaughn announce “Tube positioned and ready.”
  4. At 50 seconds from the drop site, the plane slows down and cruises at about 5,000 feet.
  5. At 20 seconds, Lee and Vaughn open the cap of the tube—you know, the one with that hole through the bottom of the plane—and everyone’s ears pop (the first time). Protocol states that they announce “Tube open!” but since our ears just popped, we often hear “Well, of course the tube’s open” or “As you already know—tube’s open.”
  6. At 10 seconds, the pilots count down to 1 and say “drop.” The engineers reply “Sonde’s away” and we all feel that swoosh. There it is. Our ears pop for the second time as the AXCTD is “swooshed” down the tube and out through the hole in the bottom of the plane. (And yes, we all still look at each other with our sly smiles because it’s so much fun to say, “hole in the bottom of the plane.”)
  7. It is the swoosh, more than anything said during the lengthy protocol script playing through my headset, that tells me—OMG lead scientist Josh Willis—to mark the drop on my GARMIN, a GPS we use to record the location of each drop.
  8. After each drop, our aircraft banks steeply and we all silently celebrate the fact that we don’t get motion sickness. We continue circling during the six or so minutes it takes for the science probe to parachute down 5,000 feet to the sea surface and make its way through the water column, sending back data to us in real-time on the plane.

A view of Greenland's southwest coastline
A view of Greenland’s southwest coastline out the window of NASA’s modified G-III aircraft.
We circle until Dinardo says we’re done recording data, then it’s off to the next drop site.

During our many, often challenging hours on the plane together, we share these little inside jokes and laugh—not caring if anyone in the outside world thinks it’s funny. Seems like we are bonding. I couldn’t be happier.

Find out more about Oceans Melting Greenland.

View and download OMG animations and graphics.

Thank you for your comments.

Laura

Oceans Melting Greenland is part of NASA Earth Expeditions, a six-month field research campaign to study regions of critical change around the world.

September 23, 2016, 07:07 PDT

Watching our climate 100 miles from shore

Icebergs dot the seascape in Baffin Bay, the body of water between Greenland and Baffin Island, Canada.

Icebergs dot the seascape in Baffin Bay, the body of water between Greenland and Baffin Island, Canada.

“What are we doing all the way out here?” I thought. If I looked out the left side of NASA’s modified G-III aircraft, I could see Canada out the window—Baffin Island, specifically, the largest island in Canada, part of its northeast territory. And if I looked out the right side, I could see the west coast of Greenland. We were pretty much halfway between the two, right in the middle of Baffin Bay, and I was surprised.

Baffin Bay in Eyes on the Earth
Baffin Bay as it appears in NASA's Eyes on the Earth interactive.
I was surprised that it was even possible to see Canada from Greenland. Most maps are so distorted in the high latitudes that both distance and perspective are off, and I hadn’t realized that the two islands were as close as they are to each other – just about 200 miles apart in some places. I also didn’t realize that Oceans Melting Greenland had planned to gather ocean temperature and salinity profiles so far offshore from Greenland’s coastline.

At a glacial pace

I went over to where Flight Engineer Terry Lee kept the map of all the scheduled drop positions and stared at it for a while. She’d marked with a green highlighter the places where she’d already released science probes through a tube in the bottom of the plane. (Hahahah, yes! There’s a hole in the plane through which Aircraft eXpendable Conductivity Temperature Depth (AXCTD) probes leave the aircraft to travel 5,000 feet down to the sea surface and then another 1,000 meters into the ocean, sending back data as they go.)

Baffin Bay map with highlighted drop sites
Lee's map of the scheduled drop sites.
And even though I’d seen this map before, the yellow dots representing scheduled probe drops were right in front of me, out in the middle of the sea, about 100 miles off the coastline. And that confused me because I presumed that this location, this far out at sea, wouldn’t have a layer of fresh water at the sea surface. I figured this far out we’d find salty 3- to 4-degree North Atlantic Ocean Water at the sea surface. So why weren’t we closer to shore where the land ice was melting?

I looked out the window as we flew on. Icebergs dotted the seascape. Each one had once been part of a vast ice sheet that’s been around for hundreds of thousands of years. Each one had moved – at a glacial pace, mind you – from the interior, down through one of the many fjords that slice through the Greenland coastline, and finally out to sea, where they would ultimately melt away. The ‘bergs were large, and it was fun to fly over them and look at their perfect whiteness against the stunning blue sea. All of us would gather on one side of the plane as we passed over a ‘berg, and then quickly jump to the other side to look for it again as we passed by it. But even though there were hundreds of icebergs floating around out there, Baffin Bay is vast — more than 250 thousand square miles. So, in the grand scheme of things, the icebergs seemed inconsequential, incapable of affecting the ocean salinity more than a small amount.

Real-time data

Project Manager Steve Dinardo
Project Manager Steve Dinardo tracks the real-time data coming from the ocean probes.
I was in the midst of pondering all this, not wanting to bother any of the busy team members, when Oceans Melting Greenland Project Manager Steve Dinardo called me over to the bank of computer monitors where he was working. He motioned for me to trade headsets. After I gave him mine and I put on his, I could hear the AXCTD probe sending its signal to the plane as it descended through the water column, and the noise reminded me of the sound a Wookiee from Star Wars makes.

As I was listening, I could see temperature and salinity values arriving in real-time on the monitor. “Wow, no way!” I exclaimed. “That’s insane.” All the way in the middle of Baffin Bay, 100 miles offshore, the ocean was fresher on the surface. I watched the salinity values increase as the probe sank. The temperature profile also reflected a scenario of near-zero-degree water at the surface with 3- to 4-degree ocean water below. That upper layer is Arctic Ocean Water, which is way less salty than the warmer North Atlantic Ocean Water that lies beneath it.

An iceberg
One of the many icebergs we flew by.
And this is the whole point of NASA’s Oceans Melting Greenland mission—to find out how far that warmer North Atlantic Ocean Water has penetrated. Knowing this will help us measure the quantity and rate at which the warmer North Atlantic Ocean Water is melting the Greenland Ice Sheet.

I walked back to look at the yellow dots on the map of the scheduled probe drops one more time. We were as far away from the coast as we would be; the rest of the drops were closer to shore. I wondered how the temperature and salinity profiles in the coastal waters would compare to those from the open ocean.

And the point of the mission flooded my mind again. I looked out the window, across the stretch of Baffin Bay at the Greenland coastline, where groups of icebergs dotted the horizon. In this vast expanse, no one’s done this before, no one knows what this ocean water is like, and we are about to find out.

Find out more about Oceans Melting Greenland.

View and download OMG animations and graphics.

Thank you for your comments.

Laura

Oceans Melting Greenland is part of NASA Earth Expeditions, a six-month field research campaign to study regions of critical change around the world.

September 13, 2016, 14:02 PDT

Watching Greenland's ice from inside and out

While NASA’s Oceans Melting Greenland campaign gets busy flying around the perimeter of Greenland to measure the melt-rate of the Greenland Ice Sheet from around its edges, NASA’s Operation IceBridge has been flying across the ice sheet to survey the ice elevation and observe the impact of the summer melt season on the ice sheet. To draw the best portrait of the ice cap, sometimes IceBridge flies over the same area where researchers drill for ice cores so they can tie in airborne measurements with the more detailed data collected from those ice cores. (Photos by Laura Faye Tenenbaum)

falcon exterior
NASA’s Falcon HU 25 on the runway preparing for a 3- to 4-hour morning flight over the Greenland Ice Sheet. According to John Sonntag, mission scientist, “This one’s a nice ride. It’s a jet, comfortable as can be.”

falcon interior
Inside the Operation IceBridge aircraft fitted out with a laser altimeter, which measures the height of the ice. The campaign will measure the same lines, year after year, from 2009 to 2018 to observe changes in the ice cap.

Thanks for your comments.

Laura

September 7, 2016, 11:57 PDT

An ice-tronaut prepares

Greenland is one of the few places that’s harder to get to than outer space

An ice-tronaut prepares

I’m going to Greenland. I told my brother, and he replied, “Oh cool, I’m headed to Ireland.” That’s the typical response, as if Greenland were just some place one could book a ticket to, with commercial airports, and hotels, and restaurants and stuff. But … no, Greenland is different. It’s actually not an independent country, for example. (It’s a territory of Denmark.)

The other response I keep getting is that dumb, corny comment about it not being green. So it seems like the only thing we collectively understand about Greenland is that it’s a place to go and it has a hypocritical name.

But that is just so wrong. My husband and I finally got on the same page this morning when he opened the Google Maps satellite view of Kangerlussauq Airport, where I’m scheduled to land. “Oh,” he said. “It’s a barren dirt strip in the middle of nowhere and nothing.”

At last, an acknowledgement of the truth. The only place that’s harder to get to than Greenland is outer space. I know that sounds funny, but I’m not even kidding. (Okay, okay, Antarctica is also hard to get to, along with the Marianas Trench. Ugh.)

I first became aware of how little we know about Greenland when I was creating NASA’s Global Ice Viewer for our climate website. I found shots from Alaskan glaciers that dated all the way back to the late 1800s for the gallery. Gents with top hats and ladies in bustles with Victorian cameras stood on the ice. But Greenland? Photos taken before the 1980s are extremely rare.

Muir Glacier, Alaska, disappears.
Muir Glacier, Alaska, disappears. Left image: 1891. Right image: 2005. Photographed by G.D. Hazard in 1891 and by Bruce F. Molnia in 2005. Courtesy of the Glacier Photograph Collection. Boulder, Colorado, US and the National Snow and Ice Data Center/World Data Center for Glaciology.

And while most people understand that increased atmospheric temperatures have been melting the ice sheet from above, global warming has also been increasing ocean temperatures. And this means the ocean waters surrounding Greenland are also melting the ice sheet from around its edges.

Which is the reason I’m headed up there with NASA’s Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) campaign in the first place: to measure the temperature and salinity of those unknown waters. See, the fresh water that flows into the ocean from ice melt is about 0 degrees and less dense, so it floats right at the sea surface. The North Atlantic Ocean Water is about 3 or 4 degrees, salty and denser, so it sits right below the fresh melt water. And these two waters don’t really mix much. When the 3- or 4-degree North Atlantic Ocean Water gets in contact with Greenland’s ice sheet, it’s warm enough to melt it.

But no one knows the melt rate yet. No one.

Even though Greenland’s melting ice sheet impacts each and every one of us right now. The rate of ice melt will determine how much sea level rise we’re going to get, 5 feet or 10 feet or 20, everywhere, all over planet Earth, not just in Greenland, but at coastlines near you and me.

This is where that whole NASA “exploring the unknown” theme comes in. Next week, the OMG team (including yours truly) will be in Greenland on NASA’s G-III aircraft. We’ll spend five weeks flying around the entire coastline, measuring the salinity and temperature of the coastal waters by dropping 250 Aircraft eXpendable Conductivity Temperature Depth (AXCTD) science probes through a hole in the bottom of the plane. The reason we’re going in September is that’s the warmest time of the year in the ocean, the ice will reach its lowest extent and we’ll be able to measure as much of the coast as possible. The plan is to repeat the same mission for five years to find out what the melt rate is and how much that rate is increasing.

Am I excited? Yes, beyond. Aside from the science preparation, it took months and months of personal prep. I passed a Federal Aviation Administration medical exam, then got trained in First Aid, CPR, AED, hypoxia, disorientation, survival, and hearing conservation, and then had to buy steel-toed shoes, which are required to fly on that NASA plane. Today, I am psyched beyond belief.

Underwater disorientation training in action.

Why else would anyone work so hard to do something? Just like the rest of the team, I hope our work really makes a difference.

Find out more about Oceans Melting Greenland.

View and download OMG animations and graphics.

Thank you for your comments.

Laura

Oceans Melting Greenland is part of NASA Earth Expeditions, a six-month field research campaign to study regions of critical change around the world.