Though it might be hard to believe right now since the Northern Hemisphere is currently experiencing the coldest part of winter, our average global temperatures are increasing at a worrying rate. NASA and NOAA have analyzed the data independently of one another and yet have arrived at the same conclusion: 2014 is the warmest year on record since 1880. This is the 38th consecutive year with above average surface temperatures. The dataset has been released by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).
“NASA is at the forefront of the scientific investigation of the dynamics of the Earth’s climate on a global scale,” NASA’s John Grunsfeld said in a press release. “The observed long-term warming trend and the ranking of 2014 as the warmest year on record reinforces the importance for NASA to study Earth as a complete system, and particularly to understand the role and impacts of human activity.”
Surface temperatures in 2014 averaged 0.8° C (1.4° F) warmer than 1880. This doesn’t mean that 1880 was a particularly hot year; it’s just where the instrumental record begins. It might not seem like a significant increase, but it can have an incredible impact on the environment. This increase has been largely attributed to carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere due to human activity.
Those living in the Midwest or East Coast of the United States will remember last year’s Polar Vortex, which brought extreme winter weather to hundreds of millions of people. However, other parts of the country experienced record-setting temperatures during the summer, offsetting the cold experienced during the winter.
Overall, the planet has been growing increasingly warmer for several decades. Variations in weather patterns have created slight cooling periods, but looking at the larger picture shows that temperatures are definitely looking up, and not in a good way. In fact, nine out of the 10 warmest years since the record began have happened after 2000. The exception is 1998, due to the intense effects of El Niño. 2014 was not affected by El Niño.
Image credit: NASA, Hansen et al. (2010)
“This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of warm decades. While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases,” noted Gavin Schmidt, GISS Director.
Though NASA and NOAA have agreed that 2014 was the warmest year since the Industrial Revolution, they used different methods for data collection. Researchers at GISS combined data from 6,300 weather stations to get land temperatures, while ocean temps were retrieved via ships, buoys, and from the Antarctic. NOAA’s conclusion also came from data collected by ships and buoys, though it made use of satellite and radar data as well.
There are tropics on Pluto. While this may sound counterintuitive, its climate means that there are warmer parts of the world relative to its colder, arctic regions. As new research presented at the 2016 Lunar and Planetary Science Conferencethis week reveals, this diverse climate means that rivers and lakes of liquid nitrogen are likely to form at the surface.
Even with less than half of New Horizons data, scientists are unravelling more and more secrets about the dwarf planet by the day. The latest comes by way of researchers at NASAwho confirm that Pluto despite being on average 5.9 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles) away from the Sun has seasons.
The central tropical region of Pluto, from 60 north to 60 south, experiences the Sun passing directly overhead. Its arctic region above 30 north experiences prolonged sunlight in the summer months, whilst the arctic region beneath 30 south is utterly frigid in a simultaneous winter.
Pluto is tipped over on its rotational axis at 120, rather wonky compared to Earths 23 tilt. As a result of this, during a northern arctic summer, the region receiving the most heat is its north pole.
Go home Pluto, youre drunk: The extreme axial tilt of the dwarf planet. NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
The dwarf planet wobbles and shakes on its axis as it orbits the Sun just like Earth does, meaning that these arctic regions advance and retreat over cycles of hundreds of thousands of years. One region, however, never experiences arctic climates.
This band, between 13 N and 13 S, appears to have been gouged out, in that theres a dark, deep stripe compared to the rest of the planet. The researchers think that the constant warm band here means that ice and volatiles compounds that evaporate at low temperatures couldnt accumulate here under the Suns constant bombardment.
The dark equatorial band. NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
Incidentally, the icy worlds elliptical orbit means that it moves between 50 Earth-Sun distances at its furthest point from the Sun and 30 Earth-Sun distances at its nearest point. Consequently, the temperature difference between a distant summer and a closer summer are more extreme than almost anywhere else.
This is all still relative, mind you: a summertime peak temperature is still around -200C (-330F). As Pluto takes 248 Earth years to rotate around the Sun, these summers and winters last for more than a century.
A second paper presented at the conference reveals that Plutos atmospheric pressure has varied wildly over its history, driven by these long-term orbital and rotational changes. It has ranged from about one-ten-thousandth right up to up to one-fifth of Earths.
These enormous changes in atmospheric pressure would have a distinct effect on the surface of the world; at higher pressures, the abundant nitrogen at the surface would remain a liquid instead of a gas. This means rivers, floods and lakes of liquid nitrogen may haved existed on Pluto.
Researchers noted that these features would be relatively common around 800,000 years ago, when temperatures were hot enough to lead to widespread melting. There may be some still around today near the equatorial region, although they have yet to be spotted. Frozen lakes, however, have been seen, and these ice reservoirs were almost certainly once liquid.
An enhanced color image of Pluto highlighting its wildly varying geological features. NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
Pluto is the gift that just keeps on giving, it seems. A plethora of papers have recently revealed that Plutos atmosphere isnt disintegrating as much as we previously thought, and most significantly, the surface is active essentially meaning that mountain building and perhaps cryovolcanism is still happening on this distant, icy sphere.
Above is a video of the research presented from the LPSC.
The blizzard that bypassed New York City on Tuesday night went on to became one of the strongest winter storms to churn the waters of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, striking Canada with its full fury.
he storm slammed the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, bringing winds equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane, waves that exceeded 45 feet in height, and close to two feet of wind-blasted snow.
The storm was so strong that reporters for The Weather Network, the Canadian equivalent to The Weather Channel, had trouble battling the elements during their live shots. In this video, Weather Network meteorologists Chris Scott and Mark Robinson were wiped out of camera-range at about the one minute mark during a report from Grand Etang, Nova Scotia.
According to Weather Underground chief meteorologist Jeff Masters, Grand Etang recorded peak sustained winds of 70 miles per hour, with gusts to 102 miles per hour. This location, Masters said, can experience especially strong southeast winds enhanced by nearby terrain. “These southeasterly winds travel up over Cape Breton and a funneling effect intensifies them as they blow downslope toward the Gulf of St. Lawrence,” he said in a blog post on Thursday.
The storm was noteworthy for intensifying so quickly, going from an ordinary low pressure system to a monstrous storm with a central pressure of 955 millibars — which is about as strong as a winter storm can get in this area.
A European Space Agency satellite has found that Antarctica has been shedding ice at an accelerated pace compared to when the continent was last surveyed, backing up other research that has detected similar trends. The study, accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, comes one week after other studies claimed that the “collapse” of some glaciers in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet may be inevitable, due to manmade global warming and other factors.
The new research, by a team of researchers in the U.K., used observations from the CryoSat-2 satellite to produce the first estimate of the volume and mass change of nearly the entire Antarctic ice sheet. The data used in the study included more than 455,000 independent estimates of changes in the land elevation of the vast ice sheets covering Antarctica, both in the western part of the continent, where ice is melting more rapidly, and in the east, where the ice is considered to be more stable, for the time being at least.
Three years of observations, between 2010 and 2013, from the CryoSat-2 satellite show that the Antarctic ice sheet is now losing about 160 billion metric tons of ice each year –- twice as much as when it was last surveyed during the 2005 to 2010 period.
The CryoSat-2 satellite, which is operated by the European Space Agency, uses high-tech altimeter instruments to detect changes in the height of the ice sheet, and see whether it is gaining or losing mass.
According to the study, the average elevation of the Antarctic ice sheet fell by 0.74 inches per year between 2010 and 2013. However, far more rapid rates of land elevation changes, which are a sign of a thinning ice sheet that is discharging more water into the ocean and thereby raising global sea levels, occurred in West Antarctica, the study found.
In the Amundsen Sea Embayment region of West Antarctica, where glaciers terminate in the ocean and extend over the waters via floating ice tongues, six major glaciers are experiencing rapid rates of retreat. These glaciers are being eaten away from underneath due to warm ocean waters that have been driven toward the continent by shifting wind patterns that have in turn been linked to manmade global warming, as well as natural climate variability. For example, the Smith Glacier has been sinking at nearly 30 feet per year, the Cryosat data showed.
“We find that ice losses continue to be most pronounced along the fast-flowing ice streams of the Amundsen Sea sector, with thinning rates of 4 to 8 meters per year near to the grounding lines –- where the ice streams lift up off the land and begin to float out over the ocean –- of the Pine Island, Thwaites and Smith Glaciers,” said lead author Malcolm McMillan of the University of Leeds in the U.K. in a press release.
Using observations of recent rates of ice loss and model-based projections of the future, two studies published in scientific journals last week found that a slow-motion “collapse” of parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet may be inevitable, due in large part to manmade climate change and other factors. This could raise average global sea level by up to 15 feet, inundating highly populated coastal areas around the world.
The new study does not explicitly address that conclusion, but it does underscore the rapid melting that is taking place in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in particular. In West Antarctica, the satellite data shows a mass loss of about 134 billion metric tons of ice per year, which is 31% greater than over the 2005 to 2011 period.
“Our results are in broad agreement with these previous studies. We detect widespread thinning of this part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is what you would be expect to see from an ice sheet in a state of irreversible long-term collapse,” said Malcolm McMillan, a research fellow at the University of Leeds, in an email to Mashable. “I should add that our study focuses on providing an up-to-date assessment of how the ice sheet has changed in the last 3 years, whereas one of the previous studies… uses models to investigate how the ice sheet may evolve in the future.”
East Antarctica is losing a relatively small amount of 3 billion metric tons of ice per year, the study found, and McMillan described that part of Antarctica as “roughly in balance.”
Although the study did not find a significant change in the elevation of the interior East Antarctic Ice Sheet, it shows for the first time that the thinning of the Totten glacier in that region extends to the point where the ice meets the land surface below, known as the grounding line. Overall, the researchers found that West Antarctica, the Antarctic Peninsula and East Antarctica have all been losing mass, albeit at different rates.
The Antarctic Peninsula, which is the fastest-warming region on the continent, has been shedding about 23 billion metric tons of ice per year, the study found. Changes in snowfall amounts have helped balance out some of the ice losses there and especially in eastern Antarctica.
For Antarctica as a whole, the study found the current rate of ice sheet mass loss to be about 160 billion metric tons of ice per year. The extra water pouring into the sea is raising sea levels by about 0.1 inches per year, the study found.
That may seem small at first, but over time, especially when combined with other sources of sea level rise such as melting Greenland glaciers and the expansion of seawater as ocean temperatures increase, it adds up. In addition, there are no guarantees that the current rate will be maintained, since many studies have shown the likelihood of a higher rate of sea level rise as global warming continues.
“Antarctica is contributing more to sea level rise than previous measurements suggested. It is essential that we continue to monitor the ice sheet to understand how, and why, it is changing,” McMillan said. While the study only includes data for the past three years, the observations extend a longer satellite record that dates back to the early 1990s, McMillan said. This data helps scientists make conclusions about how Antarctica’s ice sheets are changing.
The most recent report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected a global average sea level rise of between about one to three feet, although that report did not take the new findings on Antarctic ice melt into account.
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot — the most powerful storm in the solar system — is at its smallest observed size yet, and scientists aren’t sure why.
Recent Hubble Space Telescope images of the storm show that it is now 10,250 miles across, which is less than half the size of the storm in the late 1800s. At one point, scientists theorized that three Earths could fit inside the Great Red Spot, but today, only the width of one Earth could fit within the raging tempest. You can watch a Great Red Spot video for more views of the diminishing storm.
As the spot diminishes, its shrinkage rate appears to be accelerating. Amateur observations from 2012 show the storm’s “waistline” is reducing by 580 miles a year, a little less than the driving distance from New York City to Cincinnati.
Nobody knows for sure why the Great Red Spot is getting smaller.
“One possibility is that some unknown activity in the planet’s atmosphere may be draining energy and weakening the storm, causing it to shrink,” Hubble officials wrote in a statement.
While the storm has been observed since the 1600s, astronomers didn’t discover the “downsizing” until 1930. The spot was estimated at 25,500 miles across in the late 1800s. A century later, the Voyager 1 and 2 flybys of Jupiter in 1979 revealed the spot’s longest axis had shrunk to 14,500 miles.
Hubble has tracked the shrinkage since arriving in Earth’s orbit in the 1990s. A 1995 image showed the storm was about 13,020 miles across, but by 2009, that had diminished to 11,130 miles.
“In our new observations, it is apparent that very small eddies are feeding into the storm,” Amy Simon, associate director for strategic science at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement. “We hypothesized that these may be responsible for the accelerated change, by altering the internal dynamics and energy of the Great Red Spot.”
A large storm on at least one other planet changed or disappeared in recent decades. The Voyager 2 spacecraft also captured images of a “Great Dark Spot” on Neptune during a flyby in 1989. The storm was not visible to Hubble when the telescope examined the planet in 1994.
Hubble astronomers, including Simon, will take part in a webcast about Jupiter’s shrinking Great Red Spot on May 22 at 4 p.m. EDT. Learn more about the live webcast here.
Solar panels cover the roof of a Sam’s Club store on Earth Day, April 22, 2009 in Glendora, California.
Image: David McNew/Getty Images
Remember the hole in the ozone layer? The one caused by refrigerants used in air conditioners and aerosol spray cans?
Yeah, that never really went away.
Each frigid Antarctic winter, the ozone hole has reappeared, allowing higher amounts of ultraviolet rays from the sun to reach the Earth’s surface. Some years, such as in 2011, a significant hole even opens up over the Arctic, too.
But finally, after years of cutting emissions of ozone-depleting substances known as Chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, and halons, scientists are detecting signs of recovery in the thin upper reaches of the stratosphere, according to a major U.N. report released Wednesday.
In other words, that problem you may have thought was fixed is now in fact well on its way toward being fixed.
But there’s a catch. Many of the substances that industry used to replace the harmful CFCs, such as hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, and hydroclorofluorocarbons, or HCFCs, don’t harm ozone, but turned out to be potent global warming gases.
By using them at an increasing rate, there’s a risk that gains in solving one environmental problem will inadvertently aggravate another, according to the report.
“The world avoided a major problem by getting rid of ozone-depleting substances via the Montreal Protocol,” said Achim Steiner, the director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), at a press conference in New York. “We are at a critical point.”
The Montreal Protocol, a 1987 global agreement that mandated cuts to CFC emissions, has been one of the most successful environmental treaties in history.
According to the report, which is the first comprehensive update in global ozone science in four years, without the Montreal Protocol and its associated incremental agreements, atmospheric levels of ozone depleting substances could have increased tenfold by 2050. The Protocol will have prevented 2 million cases of skin cancer annually by 2030, the U.N. says, in addition to averting damage to human eyes and immune systems, and protecting wildlife and agriculture that are sensitive to UV radiation.
The report was the result of research by thousands of scientists around the world, and nearly 300 authors. Paul Newman, a NASA scientist who co-chairs the scientific assessment panel to the Montreal Protocol, said the stratospheric ozone layer is on the mend — especially in the upper reaches of the stratosphere, about 30 miles up. (For comparison, jet aircraft typically cruise at about six to eight miles high.)
These gains took decades of emissions reductions, however, illustrating how long it can take to solve a global environmental problem. In fact, as recently as the turn of the century, while CFC emissions were decreasing, the ozone hole was still increasing.
The ozone hole didn’t reach its peak size until 2006, when it was a whopping 10.6 million square miles, according to NASA. This is because CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances take many years to break down after reaching the stratosphere.
The report says the Antarctic ozone hole will continue to occur each spring throughout the century, even after CFC and halon emissions cease altogether.
“We now have the early hints that the ozone layer may be healing itself,” Newman said. The report predicts that stratospheric ozone should return to its 1980 level, which predates the decline in ozone, by about the year 2030.
Because CFCs warm the climate, the Montreal Protocol helped fight climate change — although that was never its intent, Steiner said.
On the other hand, emissions from their replacements, HFCs, are increasing by 7% per year. If this trend continues, Steiner says, we could have a “major challenge in terms of global warming” by 2050.
Numerous countries, including the U.S., are negotiating within the Montreal Protocol talks to enact limits on HFCs, but no binding reductions have been passed yet. There is a risk, Steiner says, that “by solving one problem, we will amplify another one.”
A.R. (Ravi) Ravishankara, who also co-chairs the scientific assessment, said that there is a risk that countries could enact curbs in carbon dioxide emissions to reduce global warming, but neglect to slash HFCs. “If you continue to emit HFCs, it could easily offset all the work you have done,” he said.
Alternatives to HFCs, which have less of an impact on the climate, could instead be used, if the Montreal Protocol is amended to encourage their production and distribution.
“Actions taken today could avoid buildup of HFCs,” he said.
Loss of ice in Antarctica has been discussed extensively due to its implications for rising sea levels and the changing landscape of the continent, but it turns out that there is another unexpected effect: dips in gravity.
In order to monitor the melting, draining, and regrowth of Antarctica’s ice more precisely, it has been divided up into catchment basins. GOCE is the first instrument sensitive enough to detect local changes in gravity specific to each individual basin. Additionally, GOCE’s data provides geologists with insights into earthquakes and volcanic activity.
GOCE’s measurements were combined with data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), an older satellite whose readings are more coarse. Together, they were able to generate an extremely accurate and detailed model of Earth’s gravity field, even exploring the differences between the upper mantle and crust of the planet, as well as determining the upper atmosphere’s density.
This is the 2011 GOCE geoid that represents variations in height. Copyright ESA/HPF/DLR
This gravity model can be incorporated with data collected from ESA’s CryoSat satellite, which is a radar altimeter used to record depth of Arctic and Antarctic ice, as well as variations in sea levels. This will allow scientists to have a better understanding of this ever-changing landscape.
Due to the effects of climate change, Antarctica is losing ice mass at an unprecedented rate. Every year since 2009, the rate of ice melt has increased by a factor of three from the previous year. There has been a loss in ice volume of about 125 cubic kilometers (78 cubic miles) of ice each year for the last three years. This loss was well reflected within the GOCE/GRACE gravity model and could be used to predict losses in the future as well.
“We are now working in an interdisciplinary team to extend the analysis of GOCE’s data to all of Antarctica,” Bouman said in a press release. “This will help us gain further comparison with results from CryoSat for an even more reliable picture of actual changes in ice mass.”
Ash cloud (brownish hues) seen billowing away from the Sangeang Api volcano in Indonesia on May 31, 2014.
Image: NASA Earth Observatory
The Sangeang Api volcano in Indonesia began erupting on May 30, vaulting ash, along with tiny particles known as volcanic sulfur aerosols, as high as 65,000 feet into the stratosphere. Dramatic images from the eruption show the mountain exploding like a mushroom cloud.
The ash grounded air traffic in northwest Australia and parts of Indonesia, since those aerosols are hazardous to modern high bypass turbofan engines and can cause them to shut down in mid-flight.
Giant volcanic eruptions — the most famous being the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, also in Indonesia — are well-known for their ability to temporarily cool the Earth. But this eruption, even counted alongside a concurrent one in Alaska, are not large enough to make much of an impact on the planet’s temperature trends on their own.
The Sangeang Api volcano is located in the tropics, along the so-called Ring of Fire where the Earth’s tectonic plates meet one another, leading to all sorts of geological hazards, from volcanoes to earthquakes.
When volcanoes such as this one erupt, they can emit large amounts of sulfur dioxide, which acts to make the atmosphere more opaque, thereby shielding the planet from some of the sun’s incoming radiation.
This effect can theoretically offset some of the influence of manmade greenhouse gases, which trap heat inside the atmosphere and warm the planet.
But Alan Robock, a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey and a longtime researcher on volcanic influences on the climate, told Mashable that neither the Sangeang Api eruption nor a previous one at Mt. Semeru, also in Indonesia, put enough sulfur into the stratosphere “to have any climate effect, even like the ones of the past decade.”
Robock estimates that Sangeang Api has lofted about 0.1 teragrams of sulfur dioxide into the air — much of which did not make it into the upper reaches of the stratosphere, where it would have had the greatest possible influence.
However, these volcanic events are the latest in a “swarm” of tropical eruptions since 2000 that have transported enough sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere to reduce recent global warming.
The Sangeang Api eruption is especially noteworthy because it is occurring in the tropics — and recent scientific research has shown that tropical eruptions, even small ones, can have an outsized impact on the climate. A study published in the journal Nature Geoscience in February found that small tropical eruptions since 2000 has contributed to a slowdown in the rate at which global average surface temperatures increased in recent years.
“Tropical eruptions are usually more effective at cooling the climate compared to a high latitude eruption that is the same size, because it has the potential to impact both hemispheres and the aerosol topically stays in the atmosphere longer,” says Ryan Neely, a researcher at the University of Colorado at Boulder who has been examining the influence of sulfur dioxide emissions from volcanoes.
A 2011 study published in the journal Science found that if stratospheric aerosols remain at elevated levels, the magnitude of future global warming may be somewhat masked — but not mitigated.
Yet another recent study, also published in Nature Geoscience in February, found that the 21st century increase in volcanic aerosol emissions could account for up to one-third of the temperature slowdown, also known as the “warming hiatus.”
Whether this cooling influence will continue is an open question. But the eruption of tropical volcanoes such as Mt. Kelud in Indonesia in February, and now the eruption of Sangeang Api, suggest the swarm is not subsiding.
“We do not know, of course, how volcanic activity will evolve over the coming decade,” says Benjamin Santer, a climate researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and coauthor of the study published in February on post-2000 eruptions. “I find it quite fascinating that the swarm … of early 21st century volcanic eruptions continues.”
Neely told Mashable scientists still need to determine exactly how much volcanic sulfur aerosols and other particles the recent eruptions put into the stratosphere in order to determine their climate impact.
This Feb. 22, 2013 file photo shows two heavily damaged homes on the beach in Mantoloking, N.J., from Superstorm Sandy. Sea level rise worsened the flooding from this storm.
Image: Mel Evans/Associated Press
The Obama administration is teaming up with tech companies such as Google, Microsoft and Intel to roll out web-based tools for policy makers and the public to better understand likely climate change impacts in their communities. The White House announced its climate data initiative, which is part of the administration’s broader “Climate Action Plan” unveiled in June 2013, on Wednesday morning.
The centerpiece of the initiative is a new climate data portal that launched in a beta phase as part of the data.gov website — climate.data.gov. This portal features climate data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA, as well as other federal agencies, universities, and nonprofits, in a bid to make “federal data about our climate more open, accessible, and useful to citizens, researchers, entrepreneurs, and innovators.” The first topic to be addressed on climate.data.gov is going to be coastal flooding and sea level rise risks.
According to a White House fact sheet distributed to reporters, the website already includes more than 100 curated datasets, web services, and tools that can help communities plan for climate change impacts.
“Over time, these data and resources will expand to provide information on other climate-relevant threats, such as to human health, energy infrastructure, and our food supply,” the fact sheet said.
The release of climate data comes out of a recognition that the impacts of climate change are already being felt across the U.S., particularly in the form of more frequent and severe heat waves, wildfires, and heavy precipitation events. In addition, sea level rise is an increasing threat to coastal communities, especially in cities like New York, Norfolk, Miami and New Orleans. The Obama administration may also be betting that there will be more support for its actions to reduce the severity of climate change through measures such as EPA regulations of power plants if more data reaches the public’s fingertips.
The climate data initiative will be publicly unveiled at an event in Washington on Wednesday evening. Prior to this effort, climate science data has been buried in bureaucratic stovepipes at more than a dozen federal agencies, ranging from NASA to the Department of Defense. Even within a single agency, multiple sub-departments have maintained different datasets, making it nearly impossible for policy makers and the public to access. For example, NOAA runs the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., which is the official repository of U.S. climate data, but NOAA’s climate research is led by a separate division, as is the agency’s short-to-medium range climate forecasting.
The White House framed its climate data push as an integral component of the president’s emphasis on boosting America’s resilience in the face of extreme weather and climate events, which have cost the country record amounts in recent years.
“Even as we work to curb greenhouse-gas emissions and expand renewable energy generation, we need to take steps to make our communities more resilient to the climate change impacts we can’t avoid — some of which are well underway,” said John Podesta, a counselor to the president and one of the top aides working on climate issues in the West Wing, and presidential Science Advisor John P. Holdren, in a White House blog post. “This effort will help give communities across America the information and tools they need to plan for current and future climate impacts,” they said.
The open climate data push includes a NASA and NOAA “innovation challenge” to foster the development of coastal flooding tools.
In addition, the initiative is also involving agencies not normally thought of as having much to do with climate science, such as the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, which is part of the Defense Department. That intelligence agency, along with others, is releasing new map data of U.S. infrastructure, including bridges, roads, railroad tunnels, canals, and river gauges.
Foremost among the private sector climate data initiatives highlighted by the White House is Google’s commitment to donate a petabyte, which is equal to 1,000 terabytes, of cloud computing storage to help support the creation of high-resolution maps and data crunching tools that are available to the public.
According to the White House, Google is also announcing partnerships with university scientists to donate as many as 50 million hours of high performance cloud computing on the Google Earth Engine geospatial analysis platform. The company is also committing to helping to develop a new, ultra-high resolution global terrain model that could greatly improve flood risk analysis.
In addition to Google’s work, mapmaker CartoDB is announcing new grants for creating climate data-driven tools that would use CartoDB’s infrastructure. Another mapmaker, Esri, which makes the widely used ArcGIS software used by city planners, is also donating some of its resources to encourage climate science-relation innovation. Esri launched a climate-focused “geo-collaboration portal” on Wednesday, where citizens and professionals can go online to discover, contribute, and share resources critical to confronting the impacts of climate change.
“We felt it was important to establish this collaborative network of individuals and organizations who use GIS to come together to combat the impacts of climate change,” said Esri president Jack Dangermond in a statement.
Also, Microsoft Research is also providing climate scientists and policy makers with free access to some of their cloud computing resources, in the form of grants to 40 awardees. Each grant would provide up to 180,000 hours of free cloud computing time and 20 terabytes of cloud storage. Microsoft is also rolling out a new data resource called “Adaptable FetchClimate,” for accessing past and present climate observations and for climate projection information.
The White House is also partnering with the Intel Corporation, which will host regional hackathons to spur the development of climate resilience tools.
Nonprofit groups are also part of the White House’s climate resilience strategy. Climate Central, a nonprofit climate news and research organization, is planning to release new online tools to assess local sea level rise risks.
“Today Climate Central is committing to launch a next-generation sea level rise and coastal flood risk tool for every state in the U.S. We have already published prototypes for New York, New Jersey, and Florida. We’ll be releasing a major tool upgrade for those states next week, and then releasing tools for all other coastal states over the spring and summer,” Ben Strauss, director of Climate Central’s sea level rise program, told Mashable.
Note: Andrew Freeman was previously a reporter at Climate Central.