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Laura Faye Tenenbaum

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

A voyage of discovery
NASA climatologist talks about being a map fanatic
November 20, 2013
posted by Holly Shaftel and Dr. Bill Patzert
16:25 PST
A voyage of discovery

This chart, “Gulf Stream and Drift,” was included in Geography of the Sea (1885) by Matthew Fontaine Maury, published in London by Sampson, Low, Son, & Co. Lieutenant Matthew Fontaine Maury, U. S. Navy, is considered the father of modern oceanography and meteorology. “I consider Maury one of my heroes!” Bill says.

This is a guest post by Dr. Bill Patzert.

Dr. Bill Patzert Dr. Bill Patzert
I’m Bill Patzert, oceanographer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and I’m a map fanatic! I love maps.  Why? It all started with my dad, a captain of deep-sea ships. From an early age he would sit with me, with maps laid out on the dining room table, scrutinizing coastlines, harbors and exotic locales. His travels to Karachi, Murmansk, Cape Town, Marseille, Hong Kong, Suez, Zamboanga and other dreamed-of locales filled me with awe and a hunger to see and know the world.

My dad would talk to me about geography, history and of the science of making and using maps. He was a great storyteller and would describe in mesmerizing detail how he had used his maps to navigate across dangerous waters, during typhoons and along hazardous coasts. My mom thought he exaggerated, but I was wide-eyed with awe. Very heady stuff! His maps helped me imagine far away places, opened up many possibilities for my future and organized my brain to see how details make up a city, a country, the polar and tropical oceans, the continents and eventually an entire planet. I became a fan for life.

Bill's father, deep-sea ship captain Rudy Patzert Bill's father, deep-sea ship captain Rudy Patzert
All the great explorers, many of them on expeditions of scientific discovery, created maps of the continents and oceans, as well as the heavens. Since my training is in meteorology and oceanography, my colleagues and I are the latest in a long line of map users and map makers.

At the start of my career, the vast oceans and the global atmosphere were poorly sampled. For the first decade of my career, I was a sea-going scientist. I saw much of the world and had great adventures. In the early 1980s, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was flying satellites that were mapping the atmosphere and revolutionizing weather forecasting. At the same time, NASA was planning for a suite of ocean-observing spacecraft. Taking a gamble in 1983, I hung up my sea boots and cast my future and meager fortune with NASA and JPL.

Maps of the sea surface height anomaly in the Pacific Ocean during the &lsquo;Godzilla&rsquo; El Ni&ntilde;o of 1997-1998, which was followed by two years of intense La Ni&ntilde;a. Yellow and red areas indicate where the waters are relatively warmer and have expanded above normal sea level, while green indicates near-normal sea level, and blue and purple areas show where the waters are relatively colder and sea level is lower than normal. The temperature of the upper ocean can have a significant influence on weather patterns and climate. Click&nbsp;<a href="http://sealevel.jpl.nasa.gov/science/elninopdo/latestdata/" target="_blank">here</a>&nbsp;to learn more. Maps of the sea surface height anomaly in the Pacific Ocean during the ‘Godzilla’ El Niño of 1997-1998, which was followed by two years of intense La Niña. Yellow and red areas indicate where the waters are relatively warmer and have expanded above normal sea level, while green indicates near-normal sea level, and blue and purple areas show where the waters are relatively colder and sea level is lower than normal. The temperature of the upper ocean can have a significant influence on weather patterns and climate. Click here to learn more.
That gamble has been wildly successful. At NASA JPL, my research is focused on using data from NASA’s satellites to better understand out planet’s climate. The Topex/PoseidonJason-1 and Jason-2 ocean satellites have been flying for more than 20 years. These ocean height-measuring observatories have revolutionized oceanography and climate research. To put it simply, I took a big risk and have had a fantastic career.

For the past two decades, NASA scientists have been mapping the height of the global ocean from space. For the first time, we have documented the comings and goings of El Niño and La Niña. We have measured and mapped the unequivocal proof of short-term climate change, as well as global warming: the 20-year 2.5-inch rise in global sea level. These observations and maps have revolutionized oceanography and the understanding of our changing climate.

All this has been a great voyage of discovery. NASA scientists have built on the great discoveries of the past and made a quantum leap in understanding the oceanographic and atmospheric physics of the Home Planet. The next generation will improve these discoveries and use this knowledge to plan for a sensible and healthy future to protect Earth.

Finally, a toast to maps and mapmakers – past, present, and future, my dad, mentors and colleagues.  Thanks for showing me the magic in maps!

Learn more about how Bill got to NASA by reading his ESW 2012 post – California Dreamin'.

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Under the shadow of disaster
An emotional call for help
November 19, 2013
posted by Dr. Amber Jenkins & Dr. Carmen Boening
16:03 PST
Under the shadow of disaster

Damage map (40 by 50 km) showing the region near Tacloban City, where the massive storm made landfall. The image was made using synthetic aperture radar data from the Italian Space Agency's COSMO-SkyMed satellite constellation, processed by JPL's Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team. Most of the damage and initial loss of life in Tacloban City was the result of a punishing 12- to 20-foot-high storm surge that were quite far inalnd, along with powerful winds near the coast.

Carmen Boening is a scientist in the Climate Physics Group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. She is reporting from the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland.

While we talk and listen here at COP19 [the United Nations Climate Change conference happening in Poland], and the politicians try to make headway in the climate treaty negotiations, the rest of the world lives on.

People in the Philippines are reeling from the devastating Typhoon Haiyan that hit the nation last week. Over 3,000 people are confirmed dead and thousands more injured and missing. In all, nine million people have been affected by the huge storm. The super typhoon was one of the most powerful storms ever recorded on Earth, with winds of around 195 mph (315 km/h).

The emotional speech given by Yeb Sano, the Philippines’ climate change representative, moved us all.

He described the damage left in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan as “unprecedented, unthinkable and horrific”. While he stopped short of saying that the storm was the direct result of climate change, he called for urgent action:

          “Up to this hour, I agonize waiting to hear of the fate of my very own relatives…

           I speak for my delegation, I speak for the countless people who will no longer be able to speak for themselves after perishing from the storm, I speak also for those who have been orphaned by the storm. I speak for those people now racing against time to save survivors...

          We can take drastic action now to ensure we prevent a future where super typhoons become a way of life. Can we ever attain the ultimate objective of the [UN climate] convention, which is to prevent dangerous anthropogenic [human] interference with the climate system? By failing to meet the objective of the convention, we may have ratified our own doom.”

This massive weather event, like Hurricane Sandy and others, has again put the spotlight on science. Storms arise naturally and have existed since before man began to tinker with the climate. But is climate change affecting their frequency or strength? That's what we're trying to work out.

While it’s not possible to pin any one storm on climate change – at least not for now – the latest research seems to indicate that global warming is causing storms – which feed off warm ocean surface waters – to become more intense, with heavier rainfall and stronger winds. Stronger storms, combined with sea level rise, which leads to higher seas and bigger storm surges, cause more damage and devastation when they hit coastal places like the Philippines or New York.

Scientists around the world are now frantically trying to shed light on events like Typhoon Haiyan and decipher the link between extreme weather and climate change. It is difficult to track down the root cause of any one event, but climate scientists are expert at studying the trends. Discussions here at the conference are heated and understandably emotional, but we have to be careful not to jump to premature conclusions while the jury is still out.

The violence of Typhoon Haiyan shows the ravaging impact weather and climate can have on mankind. It stresses the need for us to get to know our planet better and how it reacts to our activities.

Towards the end of his speech, Sano declared that he was going on a voluntary hunger strike at the conference in solidarity with his brother who had not eaten for days in the wake of the typhoon. He said he wouldn't eat until a meaningful outcome is in sight and concrete pledges have been made. “We can stop this, we can fix this madness.”

While it’s clear that everyone here sympathises with the human tragedy unfolding in the Philippines, and the impact of other devastating storms we have seen in recent times, it remains to be seen whether or not that sympathy will translate into specific international plans to reduce climate change.

Related links:

NASA map helping with Typhoon Haiyan disaster response

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Climate negotiations under way
The value of science in policymaking
November 18, 2013
posted by Dr. Carmen Boening/Dr. Amber Jenkins
13:45 PST
Climate negotiations under way

The latest round of climate negotiations are under way at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP19) in Warsaw, Poland.

Carmen Boening is a scientist in the Climate Physics Group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. She is reporting from the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland.

It was a bit of a shock to the system leaving behind the warmth of Pasadena in California, where it was 81F (27C) when I left, and arriving in Warsaw, Poland, where it is 40F (22C) cooler. I’ve come to Warsaw to be part of this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP19), and it’s been incredibly exciting to take in the large range of topics under discussion. I’m based at the U.S. Center at the conference, where delegates from around the U.S. are giving presentations on a variety of topics about climate science and applications of the science.

People from all over the world have trickled into the U.S. Center, interested in learning about our work and how it could be used by policymakers.

As a scientist, it’s fascinating to get an insight into the climate policy efforts that are happening on the international scale. The goal is challenging: to reach a consensus between countries with sometimes very diverse interests.

COP19 logo

One of the plenary sessions involved representatives presenting the “climate action wish list” of their particular country. Many of the speakers quoted results from the latest IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report, which came out just a couple of months ago. This emphasized the extent to which political decisions are indeed influenced by the results we scientists are producing. In turn, that underscored for me our responsibility as scientists to not only ensure that we come up with high-quality science results, but also that we clearly “translate” our findings for the public and policymakers. We have a duty to reach out to provide as much information as possible.

Overall, COP19 is a great chance to see how the science we are producing matters and informs bigger decisions. It’s fun to leave the world of pure science for a while and dive into a very different territory, that of politics. 

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