Daily Archives: February 8, 2012

Even better than science!

… well, not really, but …

No matter how interesting the big expensive science NASA does is, or how important the work is to understanding our planet and solar system or figuring out important problems, nothing is as cool as seeing your own house on a satellite photograph, as it were:

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recorded a scene on Jan. 29, 2012, that includes the first color image from orbit showing the three-petal lander of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit mission. Spirit drove off that lander platform in January 2004 and spent most of its six-year working life in a range of hills about two miles to the east.

Another recent image from HiRISE, taken on Jan. 26, 2012, shows NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander and its surroundings on far-northern Mars after that spacecraft’s second Martian arctic winter. Phoenix exceeded its planned mission life in 2008, ending its work as solar energy waned during approach of its first Mars winter.

Here’s the Spirit Lander:

Click to see a much larger image for context.

And here’s a picture of the Phoenix Mars Lander.

These photos were taken by HiRISE, the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

More details here.

Has Global Warming Stopped?

The following is a short version of the litany of global warming denialists’ current rhetoric:

  • “Current pause in global warming”
  • “lack of global warming for well over 10 years now.”
  • “There is no credible (statistically significant) data that says global warming is occurring”
  • “fifteen years of warming, then fifteen of cooling”
  • “The last decades “rate of warming” is flat.”
  • “Forget global warming…no warming in 15 years.”

Are these things true?

Here’s Peter Gleick’s take on it.

Breatkthrough at Lake Vostok

Rumors have been in the air for days, but we now think it confirmed that Russian Scientsts have penetrated the liquid part of Antarctica’s Lake Vostok. The lake has been frozen over for something like 20 million years. Certainly there was life in it at the time. Is any of it still there? Has something new evolved? Just as interesting is question of paleoclimate data preserved, we hope, in the sediments at the bottom of the lake. The top section of the lake’s bottom probably contains sediments that have formed over the last 20 million years, in the ice-bound southern lake, but below that will be sediments reflecting the regional and global biological conditions and climate for a long period of time before ice-over.

The upper sediment will come from erosion from the lake’s sub-ice shoreline, mostly chemical in nature, settling of the finest of clays that would have been in the water at the time the ice covered the lake, but mostly, I suspect, a combination of re-settled light minerals moved by currents that may or may not have been operating there and biological materials from whatever may or may not have been living in the water.

BBC broke the news (more or less) with this:

Continue reading Breatkthrough at Lake Vostok

Melting Ice and Sea Level Rise

ResearchBlogging.orgIf all the water currently trapped in all the glaciers across the entire world melted, the sea level would rise far more than most people imagine. Almost everyone living anywhere in the world at an elevation of below about 500 feet with a direct drainage to the sea would be directly affected; The sea level rise itself might be a bit over 300 feet, but oceans tend to migrate horizontally when they rise onto previously uninnundated land surfaces. So if you lived at 500 feet above sea level in most of Maine, you’d have a much shorter walk to the rocky shoreline, but if you lived at 500 feet across much of the Gulf Coast it would only be a matter of time until the eroding sea cliff reached you incorporated you into the offshore sediments.

Having said that, Anthropogenic Global Warming has resulted in only modest sea level rise to date, and it is at this point probably true that warming of the ocean causing thermal expansion has been at the same level of magnitude (or greater) than seas rising because of the influx of melted glacial water.

The problem is, it is very difficult to measure either sea level rise or ice loss very accurately, for a number of reasons. But there is a saving grace. Or should I say, GRACE. GRACE is a NASA project; Twin satellites measure changes in the Earth’s gravity field in such a way that it is possible to identify changes in the distribution of water. From the GRACE overview statement:

Continue reading Melting Ice and Sea Level Rise

The Anatomy of Appeasement


In a rare floor speech Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) demanded that the Obama administration reverse its new rule requiring most employers’ insurance plans to cover birth control with no co-pay for employees. Boehner pledged to take legislative action if the administration refuses to reverse.

New York Times:

As the Republican presidential candidates and conservative leaders sought to frame the rule as showing President Obama’s insensitivity to religious beliefs, Mr. Obama’s aides promised to explore ways to make it more palatable to religious-affiliated institutions, perhaps by allowing some employers to make side insurance plans available that are not directly paid for by the institutions.

So What's A Teacher to Do?

There is a guest commentary by Genie Scott at Real Climate:

Imagine you’re a middle-school science teacher, and you get to the section of the course where you’re to talk about climate change. You mention the “C” words, and two students walk out of the class.

Or you mention global warming and a hand shoots up.

“Mrs. Brown! My dad says global warming is a hoax!”

Or you come to school one morning and the principal wants to see you because a parent of one of your students has accused you of political bias because you taught what scientists agree about: that the Earth is getting warmer, and human actions have had an important role in this warming.

Something like this happened to me once. A student came to me after my lecture on Global Warming and told me his mother did not like my political bias. He also told me his mother was a state Senator and was going to do something about it. Not long after that Michele Bachmann introduced Academic Freedom legislation in the Minnesota Senate. So, I guess one could say that I started Bachmann on her illustrious career. Ooops.

Go ahead and read Genie’s commentary. Just in case.

Modern Neuroscience Verifies a Peircian Idea

I know some of you are Piercians, and some of you are interested in Neuroscience. So, without comment I give you this abstract of a recent paper:

Past experience provides a rich source of predictive information about the world that could be used to guide and optimize ongoing perception. However, the neural mechanisms that integrate information coded in long-term memory (LTM) with ongoing perceptual processing remain unknown. Here, we explore how the contents of LTM optimize perception by modulating anticipatory brain states. By using a paradigm that integrates LTM and attentional orienting, we first demonstrate that the contents of LTM sharpen perceptual sensitivity for targets presented at memory-predicted spatial locations. Next, we examine oscillations in EEG to show that memory-guided attention is associated with spatially specific desynchronization of alpha-band activity over visual cortex. Additionally, we use functional MRI to confirm that target-predictive spatial information stored in LTM triggers spatiotopic modulation of preparatory activity in extrastriate visual cortex. Finally, functional MRI results also implicate an integrated cortical network, including the hippocampus and a dorsal frontoparietal circuit, as a likely candidate for organizing preparatory states in visual cortex according to the contents of LTM.

It is an Open Access paper so you can read it here.