Tom Skilling’s Forecast – Climate Special: Part 2: NASA

WGN Chief Meteorologist Tom Skilling hosts a special series, “Forecast – A Fragile Climate.” In his 50 years as a meteorologist, he has seen the atmosphere do things he never thought possible. This led him and the WGN team to travel across the country in search of the latest climate research and information. Serious work is underway – from tracking the Earth’s vital signs to large-scale climate adaptation projects.

At 1 p.mSkilling visits his beloved Alaska, whose territory is changing three times faster than other parts of the world.

In Part 2, we’ll take you to the epicenter of Earth science, where the power of the human brain and sophisticated hardware intersect in the study of our changing planet.

WASHINGTON — When you think of NASA, you think of rocket launches, but at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center outside Washington, D.C., one of the main focuses is Earth and what’s going on here.

At Goddard, they build big things that start small, like the next-generation Roman space telescope. This is just one of several Earth observation projects.

Oceanographer Jeremy Verdel showed Tom Skilling and the WGN team the huge object.

“We create not only the satellites that carry our instruments, but also the instruments themselves,” he said.

His mission, called Pace, will help scientists combine observations of the atmosphere and ocean.

The Pace satellite is under construction and development at Goddard and is scheduled to launch from the Kennedy Space Center in January 2024.

Work at Goddard is driven by the collective minds of thousands. Doctors Tom Neumann and Kelly Brandt are among them. The University of Chicago-educated scientists have been studying the cryosphere – the ice-covered regions of the world – for more than two decades.

“More often than not, when people talk to researchers about climate change, when lay people talk about climate change, they often include the word ‘believe.’ “Do you believe in climate change?” Brant said. “And the first thing I want to do is eliminate the word ‘believe’ from my lexicon. This is science. There is no place for “believing”.

They help manage the mission called ICESAT-2 and interpret its results. ICESAT-2 is a satellite 300 miles above the earth. It constantly circles the planet along the same 1387 flight lines.

“It basically measures the height of everything on Earth,” Neumann said. “The laser on ICESAT-2 transmits 10,000 pulses per second, so in a long-range sense it’s a shot to the ground every 70 centimeters.”

Altitude is determined based on the time it takes for a beam of laser light to hit the surface and bounce back to the satellite. The height of cities, buildings and trees can be measured to the nearest centimeter.

“But as the name suggests, it’s really optimized for measuring changes in ice sheets, sea ice and glaciers,” Neumann said.

Brandt said she has been fascinated by snow and ice since she was a child.

“I used to go on ski holidays with my family when I was a kid, so in my head it was a good thing to jump on the white stuff,” she said.

It uses a huge amount of data transmitted from ICESAT-2 to study the so-called ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica.

“Our ice sheets are at risk because they are in contact with both the warming atmosphere and the warming ocean,” she said. “If you really want to study what’s changing, it’s really at the edge, at the edge of the ice sheet.”

Brunt said the consensus among glaciologists is that the shrinking ice sheet will cause sea levels to rise by three feet by the end of the century.

“There’s some slowness to it that we can work with,” Brandt said. “Speaking of engineers, thinking about what’s on our coastline and pulling it back a little bit.”

But there is another piece of ice that is of more immediate concern.

What’s called sea ice — a cap of frozen ocean water — is shrinking in the Arctic.

“The other scary part is that it’s getting thinner, too,” Brunt said. “So we’re losing our old thick ice. … Sea ice creates a cap over the Arctic Ocean and regulates the exchange between the ocean and the atmosphere. And when you start making those kinds of changes, you start driving your weather patterns in the Arctic, and that eventually carries over into our mid-latitudes up to Chicago.”

Dr. Dalia Kirschbaum studies how storms are intensifying as our planet and oceans warm.

“What we’re seeing is the nature of what creates storms and causes them to intensify, warming sea surface temperatures or winds, those shifts have a significant impact on storms,” ​​she said.

She talked about NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement Mission – or GPM – which tracked changes in precipitation over a 20-year period.

“So if you think about Hurricane Harvey, which actually headed into Texas and just sat there, took all this warm ocean water from the Gulf, and then dropped 40 inches of rain in Texas, those kinds of events, those slow events that quickly are intensifying, are signs of how our climate is changing and how storms are performing in this new environment,” she said.

Atmospheric scientist and University of Illinois professor emeritus Don Wubbles has spent half a century making climate observations not from space, but from the Midwest.

“We’re just at the beginning of what we’re going to see in the coming decades,” he said. “It’s not just about warming. A big part of that is warming, but it’s changing severe weather, extreme weather events. Kentucky had major flooding. We’ve seen heat waves in Europe, heat waves in the western US. … On top of that, we have rising sea levels.”

He says that they were at a critical moment.

“We basically have three options; we can soften; reduce emissions; we can adapt; to be more durable; or we may suffer,” he said. “And now we do some of all three. And we need to do a lot of mitigation and a lot of adaptation if we’re going to reduce that suffering in the future.”

Earlier on Tuesday, NASA launched another Earth observation satellite called JPSS-2, which will orbit the globe 14 times a day. It will pass over every point on Earth at least twice a day, taking measurements and capturing images that support daily weather forecasts, help us plan for severe weather and track global climate change.

Approaching Wednesday in part 3 of our series, we head west to Lake Mead. It is the largest reservoir in the country, supplying 40 million people. The water level is at a historic low for several years. The team is looking at the conditions there and possibly the largest climate adaptation project in the world.

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