November 17, 2010, 16:00 PST

APPle of your eye?

Climate change on the go

GeoOptics Inc. has just released a new Climate Mobile app that is free to all. The app allows users to access worldwide climate information, from space satellites and surface instruments (which provide valuable information in their own right and also cross-checks of space data). Users can browse worldwide temperature records from NASA and NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) going back over 130 years. The app’s “Personal Climate Analyzer” enables you to perform analysis of climate trends — if you discover something important, your results can be relayed back to the web and potentially published for the world to see. The point is to engage “citizen scientists”, arm them with up-to-date info and let them see the facts of climate change for themselves.

This is not the first climate app out there. Skeptical Science, a very nice website that “gets skeptical about global warming skepticism” launched its free app earlier this year. The goal is to enable people to browse the top 10 arguments used by climate skeptics to argue against the scientific evidence for man-made climate change, as well as browse by three main skeptical categories ("It's not happening", "It's not us", "It's not bad")”, and then compare that with what the scientific evidence says.

Skeptical Science iPhone app
The Skeptical Science iPhone app.

Of course, then there’s the “skeptics”[*] themselves, and their iPhone app offering called “Our Climate”. They say: “It offers a balanced, skeptical point of view on the current state of climate science, since after all, science is supposed to be about a skeptical search for the underlying truth in how nature behaves!”

Check them out for yourself. Read, think and discuss with your friends and family. Question sources of information. Think for yourself. And get more informed about climate change, on-the-go or not.

[*]I personally am not fond of the word “skeptic” because all good science involves a healthy dose of skepticism; it’s how good, robust research is done and fields are advanced. More on this another time.

November 17, 2010, 16:00 PST

Pick of the pics

Jewel in the desert

Credit: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS and the U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team. Caption adapted from the ASTER gallery.

Credit: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS and the U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team. Caption adapted from the ASTER gallery.

This image of the Richat Structure, Oudane, Mauritania, taken by the NASA/Japan ASTER instrument on October 7, 2000, is a landmark for space shuttle crews. It shows a prominent circular feature in the Sahara desert of Mauritania, something that has attracted attention since the earliest space missions because it forms a conspicuous bull's-eye in the otherwise rather featureless expanse of the desert.

The feature, which has a diameter of almost 50 kilometers or 30 miles, was initially interpreted as a meteorite impact site because of its high degree of circularity. However, now it is thought to be merely the result of geological processes — a symmetrical uplift of tectonic plates that increased the elevation of the land, which has since been laid bare by erosion. The structure is outlined by beds of ancient quartzite (sandstone-derived rock) from the Paleozoic era about 250 to 550 million years ago. The image you see covers an area of 45 x 47 kilometers.

November 9, 2010, 16:00 PST

Pulling for the deniers

Place your bets

From Ed Begley Jr.

Photo of Ed Begley Jr.

I visit the NASA website and review the data. CO2: Up. Ocean and land temperature: Up. Sea level: Up. Polar ice: Down.


But, as bizarre as this sounds ... I find myself pulling for the climate change deniers. Wouldn't it be swell if they were right? We could all just relax and ride around in huge cars, and life would be good again.

Like it was in 1970 when I showed up at the first Earth Day. Oh, wait. The smog kind of sucked back then. That might not be the best example.

But, what about the main reason the deniers give not to address climate change?: The cost.

As it turns out, a great example can be found back in smoggy Los Angeles in 1970. Many of us wanted to do something about the horrible choking smog of that era. But, we were told we couldn't afford it.

"We'd love to do something too, Ed, but ... the cost!" Fortunately, we didn't listen to them. Fortunately we also weighed healthcare costs and lost productivity into the equation, and realized the cost of doing nothing was much greater.

And, now, even though we have millions more people in L.A., and four times the cars ... we have far less smog. And, there were many jobs and tremendous wealth created by doing the things that addressed the problem.

Making catalytic converters, combined cycle gas turbines, spray paint booths, and a myriad of other clean technologies of that day — they all created new industries, and brought growth with them.

We have that same choice today. Do we want to accept the costs of doing nothing, and hope that the problem goes away?

So, please, do as I do, and direct everyone you know to reputable sources of climate data, such as this website. At every talk I give, I make sure that everyone is aware that this information if available. The clock is ticking, and to ignore the science on this one is the worst bet we have ever placed.

Ed Begley Jr. is an Emmy-nominated actor who is active in the environmental community and turns up to Hollywood events on his bicycle. He currently lives near Los Angeles in a self-sufficient home powered by solar energy.

November 8, 2010, 16:00 PST

Quote of the week

Science - no more, no less

A small part of the Antarctic ice sheet. Image credit: NASA/GRACE team/DLR/Ben Holt Sr.

A small part of the Antarctic ice sheet. Image credit: NASA/GRACE team/DLR/Ben Holt Sr.

“Ice sheets are not Republicans or Democrats — they don’t have a political agenda as they disappear.”

Dr. Michael E. Mann, Department of Meteorology, Pennsylvania State University. Taken from this story.

November 2, 2010, 17:00 PDT

Pick of the pics

Green and pleasant lands

Credit: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS and the U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team.

Credit: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS and the U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team. Caption courtesy of the ASTER gallery.

Variety is the spice of life, and in this picture we see a variety of agricultural practices around the world from space. The way agriculture is done depends on topography, soil type, crop type, annual rainfall and tradition. In this montage, these differences are graphically illustrated by the variation in field geometry and size.

In Minnesota (upper left) the very regular grid pattern reflects early 19th century surveying; the size of the fields is a function of mechanization, which dictates a certain efficiency. In Kansas (upper middle), center pivot irrigation is responsible for the field pattern. In northwest Germany (upper right), the small size and random pattern of fields is a leftover from the Middle Ages. Near Santa Cruz, Bolivia (lower left), the pie or radial patterned fields are part of a settlement scheme; at the center of each unit is a small community. Outside Bangkok, Thailand (lower middle), rice paddies, which are fed by an extensive network of canals that is hundreds of years old, appear as small skinny rectangular fields. And in the Cerrado in southern Brazil (lower right), the cheap cost of land and its flatness have resulted in enormous farms and large field sizes.

The images were taken by NASA's Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER). Each sub-image covers an area of 10.5 x 12 kilometers.