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Communications Specialist

Laura Faye Tenenbaum is a science communicator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and teaches oceanography at Glendale Community College.

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The struggle to reach out and tell the climate story

Credit: Lightspring /

“Nope, no. No. Nuh-uh. These aren’t good.”

I’m sitting next to one of my instructors at the University of Southern California‘s Annenberg School of Journalism where I’m taking a course in multimedia. We’re going through a series of photographs I’d taken for an assignment and he’s critiquing them.

“The photos don’t make me feel anything,” he says.

The day before, I had gone out to shoot photos with an agenda: to find a story about climate change and how it affects people — the same thing I do every day at work. I intended to find a science person to interview about the California drought and work in a climate change angle. But that was not going to happen. The instructors had given us an insanely tight deadline for a series of assignments—all due simultaneously—and restricted the location for our stories. On top of that, I was struggling with unfamiliar equipment.

The instructors also told us not to get blocked into our initial vision. But I was blocked and I was ticked off, too. It was obvious that I was not going to have my way. I felt like I was being pressed into an assignment that was impossible to complete within the allotted time frame. And frankly, I also thought the assignment was beyond my skill set and unrealistic for me.

But the assignment was due and there was no way I was going to quit. I was out in the field, walking around, and I absolutely had to find a stranger, interview him or her and make it work, period, end of story, done. Wandering through my assigned neighborhood, I stopped to admire a well-groomed garden in the front yard of one of the homes. When the homeowner, Migdalia Collazo, walked out onto her porch, I asked if she would allow me to photograph and interview her.

During that first photo shoot, I focused on composition, color, light and context, thinking that was the route to a compelling shot. But my photos were lacking the most important element: a compelling story; something to feel.

After the critique, my teacher’s words stayed with me, reverberating in my head:

                  The photos don’t make me feel anything.

                  The photos don’t make me feel anything.

                  The photos don’t make me feel anything.

As a climate and Earth science communicator, I find this is the biggest challenge. We’re in a constant fight to capture attention, to move people, to make them care about how their behavior is affecting Earth.

To feel something.

But we get caught up with logical analysis of facts and don’t understand why many people don’t hear our stories. This is incredibly frustrating because, for us, climate change is so important, so dire, such a big deal. We desperately want to reach out and let our stories be told; to find the right way for the meaning to get through.

So from now on, I’m committed. My goal is to find a way to inspire you to feel something.

As always, I look forward to your comments.


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August 6, 2014
posted by Holly Shaftel
13:02 PDT

Holly Shaftel
Holly Shaftel is an editor and social media specialist for NASA's Global Climate Change website.

Want to see something really cool? Duh. JPL's visualization team has updated the International Space Station (ISS) in NASA's Eyes on the Earth app to include the agency's next mission, ISS-RapidScat.

I know what you're thinking: What will RapidScat do, and why is it called that? RapidScat, short for "Rapid Scatterometer" (a scatterometer being a type of radar that bounces microwaves off Earth's surface and measures the strength and direction of return signals), is going to observe ocean winds from the ISS. Ocean winds tell scientists about the complex relationship between the ocean and the atmosphere. The mission will also tell scientists the role the sun's heat plays in creating winds. These data will contribute to both weather (short-term and local) and climate (long-term and global) predictions, such as those related to El Niño.

You might also wonder how it's going to be attached to the ISS. NASA partnered with SpaceX to use the company's Dragon, a free-flying spacecraft that will deliver the instrument to the station. Once there, an arm attached to the station will grab RapidScat from inside the Dragon and install it on the end of the station's Columbus laboratory.

Video of ISS-RapidScat, as seen in NASA's Eyes on the Earth web app. RapidScat is scheduled to launch in September 2014 via a SpaceX Dragon.

So, now there's a virtual RapidScat aboard a virtual ISS in NASA's Eyes on the Earth app. It's awesome and super detailed. In Eyes on the Earth, every spacecraft is a high-end, photorealistic (i.e., closely resembling the real-life spacecraft) rendering created by a 3D art director. You can view the spacecraft orbiting Earth, zoom in and/or access real-time data from your keyboard.

ISS-RapidScat is scheduled to launch in September 2014. Learn more about the science and instrument.

As always, we look forward to your comments.


ISS-RapidScat is part of NASA's Earth Right Now campaign, a series of five Earth science missions that will be launched into space in the same year, opening new and improved remote eyes to monitor our changing planet.

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