April 15, 2009
Astronauts might get the most public attention, but some of NASA’s most important achievements have come from the satellites that have orbited the earth over the past 50 years. Now, in preparation for Earth Day in two weeks, NASA is asking the public to vote for which earth observation achievement they think is the greatest. The choices:
• From Storm-Spotting to Next Week’s Weather – Not only have the seven-day weather forecasts on the evening news vastly improved over the last three decades, but predictions for hurricanes and tropical cyclones have also gotten much better.
• It’s a Big Green World – Measuring chlorophyll in land plants and ocean algae provides information on the health of ecosystems and how they cycle carbon through the atmosphere.
• The Global Reach of Air Pollution – Satellite imagery turned air pollution from a local problem to a global one. We can now track plumes as they cross oceans.
• The Ultimate Home Energy Audit – If you want to understand how humans are affecting the earth’s climate, you need to understand the natural factors that heat and cool the earth.
• Warming and Rising Seas – As the earth warms, the oceans are warming and sea level is rising. NASA has been watching this from space since the 1970s.
• Finding Your Way – GPS satellites depend on precise knowledge of the earth’s shape and rotation. The little screen in your car wouldn’t work half so well if NASA didn’t map the earth.
• Ice Sheets on the Move – The ice sheets are breaking up, and we can watch from our computers.
• Predicting Feast or Famine – NASA figured out in the 1970s how to discern crop type from satellite imagery, and federal agencies now use this data for developing grain forecasts.
• A Lively Water World – The ocean isn’t flat, and satellites can show how they change and how this affects climate events, like El Niño, and sea level rise.
• Diagnosing Our Ailing Ozone Layer – We created the chemicals that punched that big hole in our ozone layer, and now we can map how big it gets each year. Good news, though—recovery is expected in 2070.
Pick your top three in the NASA poll online. The winner will be announced on April 22—Earth Day.
What’s my favorite? That would have to be the first one, for the improved predictions of hurricanes. Decades ago, people would have next to no warning of these deadly weather events. Now, we get days of advance notice, plenty of time to batten down the hatches on our homes and flee inland away from the storm surge, torrential rain and strong winds.
What are your picks?
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