It's Raining in Antarctica While Trump Slashes Climate Science Funding

This Memorial Day I awoke in a tent high on Klahhane Ridge in Washington state's Olympic National Park. With the Strait of Juan de Fuca just to the north, and a sweeping view of Mount Olympus and the rest of the park to the south, the sunset the night before went on for hours.

After the sun set, slivers of red arched across the sky in streaks on the underbellies of a few wispy clouds. That night, the stars were so bright they ran all the way down to the horizons. 

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The morning sun found me crawling out of my sleeping bag early. I sat outside eating oatmeal while marveling at the majesty of the park before me. All of the high mountains, including Mount Olympus, were covered in late-spring snow, which covered everything down to 3,000 feet. The grandeur of the wild high country was augmented by the white backdrop.

Climate Disruption DispatchesThe sound of rivers and waterfalls was ever-present in the background, and aside from the one road into the park in this area, the land was unscarred. Yet all around the park, logging has left a patchwork of the forest. And now, emboldened by this particularly destructive administration, the loggers want all of these parks. And in time, I fear they will get them. Because they want everything. They are the Earth eaters. 

That day I wondered, will we have a Memorial Day for all the lost, wild places? Will we have a Memorial Day for all the glaciers that used to be here?

Meanwhile, abrupt anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) continues apace.

As President Donald Trump announced the US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] released data showing 2016 saw the biggest annual jump in atmospheric CO2 levels on record, coming in at nearly double the average pace.

NASA announced that April was the second hottest April in the history of record-keeping, and that agency, along with NOAA, released data showing that 2016 was the warmest year on record globally, making 2016 the third year in a row to set a new record for global average surface temperatures.

And the records continue to be broken. NASA data showed May to be the second hottest on record, barely trailing 2016 by one-tenth of a degree, and this was the second-warmest spring on record, again only behind 2016. The first five months of this year make it likely that this will be the second hottest year on record, again only behind last year.

Meanwhile, parts of Antarctica are literally beginning to turn green, as scientists there are finding a four- to five-fold increase in the amount of moss growth on the ice continent's northern peninsula.

Even more stunning news comes from Antarctica in a study published in the June 15 issue of the journal Nature Communications which revealed that over an area of West Antarctica, scientists were stunned to find rainfall and a melt area larger than the size of Texas in 2016.

Yes, it is now raining in Antarctica.

The New York Times published a fantastic interactive piece on the ice continent that is well worth a look, while warm temperatures last fall caused water to breach the entrance of the Arctic's "Doomsday" seed vault, one of humans' last hopes of preserving seeds to survive a global catastrophe.

Meanwhile, Arctic sea ice is disappearing off Alaskan coasts more than a month earlier than normal, and due to congressional budget cuts, the 38-year continuous US Arctic satellite monitoring program is about to end, leaving researchers in the dark about ongoing sea ice losses.

And this May, atmospheric CO2 content set an all-time monthly high when it reached 409.65ppm, according to NOAA data.

Earth

Anthropogenic climate disruption has created stunning major developments in the lives of the Earth's plants and animals over recent weeks.

A recently published paper in the journal Scientific Reports shows how ACD is disrupting the timing of dozens of songbird species. Timing is critical for migratory birds, because if they arrive too late they only get the tail end of the spring's insect supply and have trouble finding nesting spots and mates. On the other hand, if they arrive too early, they will arrive in temperatures colder than they are prepared to deal with. Yet, ACD is causing spring to arrive earlier in eastern US states and later in the west, disrupting the timing of dozens of bird species.

This is threatening the survival of many species that are currently popular in many people's backyards. "The long-term concern is that this growing mismatch can lead to population declines," Stephen Mayor, the study's primary researcher said in an interview.

An interesting thing is happening to trees in the US -- they are moving westward, and nobody seems to know why, aside from the influence of ACD, which scientists say accounts for 20 percent of the reason. One main hypothesis is that the trees are following moisture as it moves westward: The east has been getting less rain, and the great plains are getting more.

Meanwhile, a vast dieback of trees caused by a tiny beetle from southeast Asia that is on track to kill 26.8 million trees across Southern California over the next few years is expected to bring about a human death toll that could reach into the thousands. A recent report cited differences in illnesses and deaths in human populations that live near greenery versus those who do not, and is predicting these ramifications from the widespread tree dieback.

In other parts of the world, ACD-driven extreme weather events and wild temperature swings are predicted to slash major staple crop production (corn, wheat, rice, soybeans) by nearly one-quarter over the upcoming 30 years, according to another report.

In another astounding turn of events, a recently released study showed that in Greenland, so much water and ice rushed through a melting glacier that it literally warmed the Earth's crust. A mass of melting ice the size of 18,000 Empire State Buildings traveled over 15 miles through the Rink Glacier in 2012, a record melting year for the ice sheet.

Eric Rignot, a leading expert on the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet from the University of California, Irvine, recently told Scientific American that in the Arctic, the Greenland Ice Sheet poses the single greatest risk for ocean levels due to the obvious fact that land ice that is melting, like Greenland, is the single biggest cause of rising seas, and that "most of the Arctic's land ice is locked up in Greenland." If the entire Greenland Ice Sheet melted, it would raise sea levels an average of seven meters.

And the consequences of a melting Greenland Ice sheet are far from limited to global sea level rise. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that if the melting is large enough, it could literally change global weather patterns that could result in devastating crops in Africa. In sum, the massive influx of freshwater from the melting ice sheet could disrupt a major ocean current system, which would then dry out the Sahel of Africa. The consequences of this would be devastating agricultural losses as that area's climate shifts, and upwards of tens of millions of people could be forced to migrate out of the area in the worst-case scenario.

And that's not the only place major changes in melting ice are having an impact on the planet.

In Savoonga, Alaska, a village island 164 miles west of Nome in the Bering Sea, the sea ice is arriving later and going out earlier than ever before, and with it, the walruses the natives in the village depend on. "This year it's worse. Unusual. The ice moved out in April," Larry Kava, 76, a tribal and cultural leader in Savoonga, told the Alaska Dispatch News.

Water

Not surprisingly, a recently published study in which researchers looked very closely at cities lining US coasts found that they will flood more often and more severely as ACD progresses. The study warns that cities should brace for much more flooding, from what they refer to as "nuisance" floods that cover streets at high tides, to deluges that kill people and take out vast swaths of infrastructure.

As if to underscore that point, another recent study has found that Earth's oceans are now rising three times as rapidly as they had been throughout much of the last century, showing that sea level rise acceleration is now very much under way.

At the same time, other land-based glaciers and ice fields continue to wither at ever-increasing paces. Recently released data from the USGS and Portland State University showed that ACD has dramatically reduced the size of 39 glaciers across Montana since just 1966. Some of them have been reduced by 85 percent, and on average Montana's glaciers have been reduced by 39 percent, and only 26 of the remaining glaciers are larger than 25 acres, the minimum size threshold used to decide if bodies of ice are large enough to be considered glaciers.

Seeing the writing on the wall, a team of international scientists in Bolivia called the "Ice Memory" expedition is working feverishly to transport samples of ice from a melting glacier there to Antarctica, in order to preserve and study the 18,000 years of climate history embedded within the ice before the glacier disappears completely.

Meanwhile, as oceans continue to warm, global coral bleaching continues apace.

The Australian government's primary aim of protecting the Great Barrier Reef is now no longer achievable due to the dramatic impacts of ACD, according to experts advising that country's governmental advisory committee for the plan. The reef is now likely to become listed as a World Heritage Site in Danger.

The coral bleaching event that struck the Great Barrier Reef this year was recently revealed to have had an escalating impact from north to south, killing 70 percent of all shallow-water corals north of the coastal town of Port Douglas.

Another report has gone so far as to claim that the damage already done to the Great Barrier Reef is so great that the reef is beyond repair and can no longer be saved, at least according to some scientists. This is, they said, because of the "extraordinary rapidity" of ACD, and because roughly 95 percent of the reef has been bleached since 2016.

In the US, NOAA scientists recently warned that US coral reefs are on a course to disappear within just a few decades, and the Chagos Archipelago, a small group of roughly 60 islands in the Indian Ocean, was recently found to also be devastated by ACD impacts. After back-to-back bleaching events in 2015 and 2016, scientists there found approximately 90 percent of the coral in shallow waters to already be dead.

Ocean waters in the tropics are becoming so warm that a leading fisheries expert recently warned that fish are literally abandoning tropical waters.

Meanwhile flooding is progressing apace as extreme rain events continue to happen more frequently. In late May, Sri Lanka was seeing flooding from its most torrential rains since 2003. At least half a million people were impacted, with a death toll of at least 169 according to the Disaster Management Centre.

Another recent report revealed that three-fourths of California's native species and subspecies of salmonids (fish in the salmon family) may be extinct within 100 years, primarily due to ACD impacts and severe degradation of wild river habitats, according to biologists at the University of California, Davis, and the watershed advocacy group California Trout. In their study, "State of the Salmonids II: Fish in Hot Water," the authors warned that climate change impacts and the severe degradation of habitat of wild rivers that continues to this day could extinguish almost half of California's 32 types of native salmon and trout within 50 years.

Fire

There have been several major fires over the last month, many of which affected the US.

Southern California saw a 950-acre wildfire near Big Bear Lake. And in Utah, hundreds of people had to flee a ski town due to a rapidly spreading fire. In Arizona, more than eight structures burned as more than 100 firefighters worked to contain the wildfire amid extreme heat, hot winds and bone-dry vegetation.

In New Mexico, a volunteer fire fighter died from burns, while in Portugal raging wildfires killed at least 62, many of whom died in their cars while trying to flee to safety.

In the US, at the time of this writing, 27,943 wildfires have burned more than 2.5 million acres thus far for 2017.

Air

Methane, a greenhouse gas that is at least 20 times more potent than CO2, is already being released across much of the Arctic at far higher levels than ever recorded.

Hundreds of huge craters (some of which are half a mile wide) were recently discovered in the Arctic Ocean sea floor -- craters that formed after ice sheets melted, allowing trapped methane to blow out. One of the authors of a study on these craters described the event as being like "champagne bottles being opened" -- a phenomenon that could well happen again.

Meanwhile, examples of rapidly escalating global temperatures abound.

A recent study shows that India is now 250 percent more likely to experience deadly heat waves than it was just 50 years ago, and all it took to produce this dramatic change was increasing the average temperature there by just 0.5 Celsius.

In June, a record-breaking heat wave in the Southwestern US affected 40 million people. The heat wave was so intense it cracked pavement, threatened power grids, caused escalated risk of serious injuries and grounded flights. Temperatures reached 127 degrees Fahrenheit in Death Valley, California, the hottest June 20th ever recorded there, and Phoenix saw 119 Fahrenheit. Las Vegas tied its all-time heat record of 117 Fahrenheit (the previous time it saw that kind of heat was just four years ago), and temperature records were set across other parts of Arizona, Nevada and California.

Forty-three flights were grounded in Phoenix when aircraft could not generate enough lift for a safe take-off in thin, low-density super-heated air. By the time of this writing, more than 50 flights had been grounded from the heat.

At one point in Arizona in June, it had never been that hot for that long, in the history of record keeping. For example, in Tucson, a record-setting seven consecutive days of intense heat saw highs above 110 Fahrenheit -- the longest streak of such heat in the city's history.

Also at the time of this writing, at least four people had died from the heat in the Southwest, with that figure expected to rise as the heat wave persisted.

recently released study shows that one-third of the population of the planet now faces deadly heat waves due to ACD, and the number of people in danger will grow to nearly 50 percent by 2100 even if emissions are dramatically reduced before then.

And another recent report warns that ACD is pushing tropical diseases toward the Arctic Circle as the atmosphere continues to warm. This means that rare pathogens from the hotter parts of the planet are already creeping toward the north, and some of these diseases are already appearing near the Arctic.

Denial and Reality

Never a dull moment on the ACD denial front with the Trump administration.

US Energy Secretary (and scientist extraordinaire) Rick Perry said he does not believe CO2 emissions are the primary driver of Earth's warming, hence denying a core finding of ACD science. Instead of CO2 emissions driving warming, Perry claims the driver to be "the ocean waters and this environment we live in."

Trump named a BP oil disaster lawyer, Jeffrey Bossert Clark, who has also repeatedly challenged the science behind US climate policy, as the country's top Department of Justice environmental attorney. Trump's budget request to Congress will also eliminate or shrink core programs the federal government uses to track heat-trapping gases, while 85 percent of the top science jobs in Trump's government remain without a nominee, and the White House thinks the government has been spending too much money on climate science and the new budget from Trump aims to kill "crazy" climate science.

On the reality front, climate scientists are now uniting with lawyers in order to build networks to respond to attempts by the government to subvert their research and threaten them, and a recent poll shows that eight out of 10 people see ACD as a "catastrophic risk."

More news outlets are running stories asking the question of whether or not it makes sense to bring new children into an increasingly climate-disrupted world with a dystopian future that looks more inevitable by the day, and more than 1,400 cities, states and businesses in the US have vowed to meet the Paris climate commitments in the wake of Trump announcing the US withdrawal from the accords.

French President Emmanuel Macron is actively luring US climate researchers to move to France to do their work by offering four-year research grants, staff and coverage of other expenses, and China is now looking to California Gov. Jerry Brown, not Trump, as a partner to work with in mitigating ACD.

Meanwhile, evidence of ACD becoming more abrupt continues to mount. A recently published study shows that ACD-intensified storms over the US Great Plains may well already be eroding the protective ozone layer of Earth's atmosphere, meaning that for starters, the risk of skin cancer and destruction of plants and crops is more likely.

And the final reality check comes in from another recent study that confirmed the planet is already warming 20 times faster than it did during its fastest natural climate change, which occurred when it came out of the last Ice Age.

Dinosaur asteroid hit 'worst possible place'

Scientists who drilled into the impact crater associated with the demise of the dinosaurs summarise their findings so far in a BBC Two documentary on Monday.

The researchers recovered rocks from under the Gulf of Mexico that were hit by an asteroid 66 million years ago.

The nature of this material records the details of the event.

It is becoming clear that the 15km-wide asteroid could not have hit a worse place on Earth.

https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/CA49/production/_96058715_bm_bm_eotd_02738308.jpgThe drill rig was on station in the Gulf in April and May last year / BARCROFT PRODUCTIONS/BBC

The shallow sea covering the target site meant colossal volumes of sulphur (from the mineral gypsum) were injected into the atmosphere, extending the "global winter" period that followed the immediate firestorm.

Had the asteroid struck a different location, the outcome might have been very different.

"This is where we get to the great irony of the story – because in the end it wasn’t the size of the asteroid, the scale of blast, or even its global reach that made dinosaurs extinct – it was where the impact happened," said Ben Garrod, who presents The Day The Dinosaurs Died with Alice Roberts.

https://ichef-1.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/5901/production/_96058722_bm_bm_eotd_02738320.jpgThe fractured rocks were subjected to immense pressures / BARCROFT PRODUCTIONS/BBC

"Had the asteroid struck a few moments earlier or later, rather than hitting shallow coastal waters it might have hit deep ocean.

"An impact in the nearby Atlantic or Pacific oceans would have meant much less vaporised rock – including the deadly gypsum. The cloud would have been less dense and sunlight could still have reached the planet’s surface, meaning what happened next might have been avoided.

"In this cold, dark world food ran out of the oceans within a week and shortly after on land. With nothing to eat anywhere on the planet, the mighty dinosaurs stood little chance of survival."

Ben Garrod spent time on the drill rig that was stationed 30km off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula in April/May last year, to better understand the aims of the project; Alice Roberts visited widely separated fossil beds in the Americas, to get a sense of how life was upended by the impact.

Rock cores from up to 1,300m beneath the Gulf were recovered.

The lowest sections of this material come from a feature within the crater called the peak ring.

This is made from rock that has been heavily fractured and altered by immense pressures.

By analysing its properties, the drill project team - led by Profs Jo Morgan and Sean Gulick - hope to reconstruct how the impact proceeded and the environmental changes it brought about.

Chicxulub Crater - The impact that changed life on Earth

  • A 15km-wide object dug a hole in Earth's crust 100km across and 30km deep
  • This bowl then collapsed, leaving a crater 200km across and a few km deep
  • The crater's centre rebounded and collapsed again, producing an inner ring
  • Today, much of the crater is buried offshore, under 600m of sediments
  • On land, it is covered by limestone, but its rim is traced by an arc of sinkholes
  • They know now the energy that went into making the crater when the asteroid struck - equivalent to 10 billion Hiroshima A-bombs. And they also understand how the depression assumed the structure we observe today.

    The team is also gaining insights into the return of life to the impact site in the years after the event.

    One of the many fascinating sequences in the BBC Two programme sees Alice Roberts visit a quarry in New Jersey, US, where 25,000 fossil fragments have been recovered - evidence of a mass die-off of creatures that may have been among the casualties on the day of the impact itself.

    "All these fossils occur in a layer no more than 10cm thick," palaeontologist Ken Lacovara tells Alice.

    "They died suddenly and were buried quickly. It tells us this is a moment in geological time. That's days, weeks, maybe months. But this is not thousands of years; it's not hundreds of thousands of years. This is essentially an instantaneous event."

    The Day The Dinosaurs Died is on BBC Two at 21:00, after which it will be available on the BBC iPlayer.

Huge ‘potentially hazardous’ asteroid hurtling towards Earth

A huge 1km-wide asteroid is hurtling towards Earth, prompting astronomers to label it “potentially hazardous”. But don’t pack for Mars just yet – the giant space rock, ‘2014 JO25’, is expected to pass by our planet safely.

According to NASA the encounter on April 19 will be the closest the asteroid comes to Earth in 400 years, and no projected future encounters will be as close for at least another 480 years.

However, another fly-by is expected in 2091 and the space rock also makes regular close approaches to Mercury and Venus.

 
An asteroid of this size won't have as close an encounter with Earth for more than 10 years. "The next known flyby by an object with a comparable or larger diameter will occur when 800-meter-diameter asteroid ‘1999 AN10’ approaches within one lunar distance in August 2027," NASA said.

The asteroid was discovered by the Mt. Lemmon Survey in May 2014. Astronomers describe it as a “bright object” and believe it will be among the best targets for radar observations this year.

READ MORE: Risk of catastrophic asteroid impact ‘real’ – White House

‘2014 JO25’ has been designated as a potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA) by the Minor Planet Center. PHA’s are asteroids larger than 100 meters that can come closer to Earth than 7,495,839km (about 4,658,000 miles), which is equal to 19.5 ‘Lunar distances’.

Asteroid Hazards, Part 1: What Makes an Asteroid a Hazard?

Despite 2014 JO25’s designation as a PHA, projections predict it will pass by Earth at a safe distance of about 1.8 million km (4.57 lunar distances).

@BadAstronomer Pic of a 10-meter rock that passed inside the Moon’s orbit a couple of hours ago. Amazing we can find these things. http://www.virtualtelescope.eu/2017/04/02/near-earth-asteroid-2017-fu102-close-encounter-image-2-apr-2017/ 


 
 
 

Two other big asteroids, ‘2003 BD44’ and ‘1999 CU3’, which are both nearly 2km wide, will also pass by our planet shortly, however they won’t come as close as 2014.

Astrowatch report 1,781 PHAs were detected on Sunday, however – happily – none of them is on a projected collision course with Earth.

Oldest-ever fossils show life existed on Earth at its infancy - study

Ancient fossils discovered in Canada are “direct evidence” that life existed on Earth 4 billion years ago, scientists wrote in a newly-released study, believing the emergence of life could be simple enough to begin on other planets.

Researchers believe the microfossils – discovered in Canada's Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt, which hosts some of the oldest sedimentary rocks known on Earth – are between 3.77 billion and 4.29 billion years old.

The discovery has led scientists to believe that life was present during the infancy of the planet, which is thought to be around 4.57 billion years old.

If the dating is accurate, it would represent an “almost instantaneous emergence of life” after ocean formation, lead author Matthew Dodd said, as quoted by Reuters.

READ MORE World's oldest fossils unearthed (UCL)

The tiny microfossils were found to be half the width of a human hair and up to half-a-millimeter in length. Their appearance is of blood-red tubes and filaments, formed by ocean-dwelling bacteria that fed on iron.

The dating puts the fossils “within a few hundred million years of the acceleration of the solar system,” University College London Professor Dominic Papineau, who made the discovery, said in a video statement cited by AFP.

Even at the lower end of the range, “the microfossils we discovered are about 300 million years older” than any runners-up, Papineau said.

Locked inside white quartz structures, the microfossils were found in what were once warm-water vents on the ocean floor, most often in deep waters.

The finding has prompted scientists to hypothesize that such vents may have been some of the earliest habitable environments on the planet.

However, one of the researchers acknowledged skepticism about whether such fossils are biological in nature, or merely natural mineral formations.

“One of the big questions when it comes to early life studies is whether or not the organic carbon we find in these rocks is actually biological in origin,” Dodd said, as quoted by AFP.

Dodd and his colleagues used several methods to determine the answer to that question, including laser-imaging to analyze the minerals associated with the organic material.

They concluded that the presence of two minerals in particular – apatite and carbonite – provide strong evidence for life.

Moreover, the scientists noted that the microfossils’ structure closely resembles modern bacteria that dwell near iron-rich hydrothermal vents.

The possibility that the microfossils were formed by temperature and pressure changes as the sediment formed were also examined and excluded.

Perhaps the most intriguing piece of the research is that Dodd believes there’s no reason to rule out similar evidence of early life being found on other planets.

READ MORE: 500mn years old & boasting 30 legs: ‘Worm’ fossil offers insight into ancient species (VIDEO)

“We could expect to find evidence for past life on Mars 4 billion years ago,” Dodd said, stating that Earth and Mars had liquid on their surfaces at the same time.

“If life happened so quickly on Earth, then could we expect it to be a simple process that could start on other planets?” he said.

He admitted, however, that Earth could be “just a special case.”

The discovery represents a significant milestone, as the oldest microfossils previously reported were found in Western Australia and dated to 3.46 billion years old. However, some scientists say they are not biological in origin.

Researchers from various institutions, including the US Geological Survey, took part in the study. The results were published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

NASA has discovered 7 Earth-like planets orbiting a star just 40 light-years away

This tiny star has 7 planets that potentially could be suitable for life.

The first step in finding life outside our own planet is to find a planet like our own: small, rocky, and at just the right distance from the star that liquid water could exist on its surface.

That’s why an announcement today from NASA is so exciting: The space agency, along with partners around the world, has found seven potentially Earth-like planets orbiting a star 40 light-years away.

“It’s the first time that so many planets of this kind are found around a same star,” Michaël Gillon, the lead author of the Nature paper announcing the discovery, said in a press conference. “The seven planets … could have some liquid water and maybe life on the surface.”

Three of the planets are directly in the star’s habitable zone, meaning water can mostly likely exist on the surface of them. One of them, Gillon said, has a mass “strongly to suggest a water-rich composition.” And it’s possible that the other four could have liquid water, too, depending on the composition of their atmospheres, the astronomers said.

 The planets “e,” “f,” and “g” — marked in green are directly in the “habitable zone” of this star system. NASA

The exoplanets orbit a star in the constellation Aquarius called Trappist-1. And it’s a solar system very different from our own.

For one, Trappist-1 is a tiny, “ultra-cool” dwarf star. It’s cool because it’s small: just about a tenth of the mass of our sun and about one-thousandth as bright. But its low mass allows its planets to orbit it very closely and remain in the habitable zone.

The distance at which the planets orbit Trappist-1 is comparable to the distance of Jupiter to its moons. All the planets are believed to be rocky, and are all believed to be around the size of Earth, give or take 10 to 20 percent.

The star’s dimness is actually what led to the discoveries of these planets. When astronomers search for exoplanets, they typically look for a temporary dimming of a star — an indication that a planet has passed in front of it. This method makes it hard to find small, rocky worlds orbiting big, bright stars. If the planets are too small, they’ll get washed out.

“Maybe the most exciting thing here is that these seven planets are very well suited for detailed atmospheric study,” Gillon said. The James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in 2018, will have the ability to measure the chemical composition of exoplanet atmospheres. If the atmospheres contain telltale gases like ozone, oxygen, or methane, life could exist there. “We can expect that in a few years, we will know a lot more about these [seven] planets,” Amaury Triaud, another of the paper’s co-authors, said.

If this all sounds a bit familiar, it’s because astronomers announced three potentially habitable planets around Trappist-1 in May. Today’s reveal adds four more to the mix.

Right now, the astronomers are beginning to study the planets’ atmospheres with the telescopes they have. And from these observations, they feel fairly confident that the worlds are rocky. “For detailed characterization, we will need James Webb,” Triaud said.

In the meantime, we just have our imaginations to fill in the gap. This is an artist’s rendition of what the fifth planet in this bizarre solar system might look like. These planets are believed to be tidally locked to the star, each has a permanent day side and a permanent nice side. And because the planets are so close together, they’d appear in the sky like moons.

 This artist's concept allows us to imagine what it would be like to stand on the surface of the exoplanet Trappist-1f. Dream vacation? NASA/JPL-Caltech

The more Earth-like exoplanets astronomers find in the galaxy, the more they update their estimates of how many Earth-like planets could be out there. “For every transiting planet found, there should be a multitude of similar planets (20–100 times more) that, seen from Earth, never pass in front of their host star,” Nature reporter Ignas Snellen explains in a feature article. And the more exoplanets there are, the more likely it is that life exists on at least one of them.

“With this discovery we’ve made a giant, accelerated leap forward in our search for habitable worlds and life on other worlds potentially,” Sara Seager, a leading exoplanet expert at MIT, said during the announcement. This one star system, she said, gives astronomers many chances to look for life, and refine their understanding of exoplanets in small-star systems.

Also promising: Tiny, cool stars like Trappist-1 are some of the most common in the galaxy. Investigating them will likely yield more exoplanet discoveries. Which will help get us closer to finding places like Earth.

As NASA associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said, “Finding another Earth-like planet isn't a matter of if but when.“

Antarctica found amplifying effects of climate change during last global warming

SAN FRANCISCO -- A a new study indicates that the Antarctic warmed about 11 degrees Celsius between about 20,000 and 10,000 years ago while the average temperature worldwide rose about 4 degrees Celsius following Earth's last ice age.

The disparity, that the Antarctic warmed nearly three times the average temperature increase worldwide after the peak of last ice age 20,000 years ago, highlights the fact that the poles, both the Arctic in the north and the Antarctic in the south, amplify the effects of a changing climate, whether it gets warmer or cooler.

As the calculations are in line with estimates from most climate models,"the result is not a surprise, but if you look at the global climate models that have been used to analyze what the planet looked like 20,000 years ago, the same models used to predict global warming in the future, they are doing, on average, a very good job reproducing how cold it was in Antarctica," said Kurt Cuffey, a glaciologist at the University of California, Berkeley.

The models predict that as a result of current global climate change, Antarctica will warm twice as much as the rest of the planet and reach its peak in a couple of hundred years. Given business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions, a global average increase of 3 degrees Celsius by 2100 and a rise of around 6 degrees in the Antarctic is predicted.

During the last period of global warming, the ice deep inside the Antarctic glaciers warmed more slowly than Earth's surface. By measuring the remaining difference, that the 20,000-year old ice deep in the West Antarctic ice sheet is about 1 degree Celsius cooler than the surface, the researchers were able to estimate the original temperature based on how fast pure ice warms up.

Gary Clow of the U.S. Geological Survey in Lakewood, Colorado, measured in 2011 and again in 2014 the temperature in a 3.4-kilometer-deep borehole from which the West Antarctic Sheet Divide ice core had been drilled during an eight-year project that ended in 2011. Ice at the bottom of the borehole was deposited about 70,000 years ago; ice about one-sixth of the way up about 50,000 years ago; and ice about one-third of the way to the surface 20,000 years ago.

Cuffey, first author of the study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, developed a technique to combine these temperature measurements with isotopic measurements of old ice to come up with an estimated temperature of 11.3 degrees, plus or minus 1.8 degrees Celsius, warming since the depths of the ice age.

The Antarctic temperature rose much more rapidly than did Arctic temperatures after the glacial maximum. By 15,000 years ago, Antarctica had warmed to about 75 percent of its temperature today. The Arctic took another 3,000-4,000 years to warm this much, primarily because the Northern Hemisphere had huge ice sheets to buffer warming, and changes in ocean currents and Earth's orbital configuration accelerated warming in the south.

Antarctica was also more sensitive to global carbon dioxide levels, Cuffey was quoted as saying in a news release from UC Berkeley, adding that the situation today, with global warming driven primarily by human emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, is different from natural cycles. The ability of the oceans to take up carbon dioxide cannot keep up with the rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, meaning carbon dioxide and global temperatures will continue to increase unless humans cut their emissions.

Researchers Discover Jet Stream in Earth’s Molten Iron Core

A jet stream within the Earth’s core has been discovered by researchers using data from ESA’s Swarm satellite mission.

Launched in 2013, the three Swarm satellites are measuring and untangling the different magnetic fields that stem from Earth’s core, mantle, crust, oceans, ionosphere and magnetosphere.

Together, these signals form the magnetic field that protects us from cosmic radiation and charged particles that stream towards Earth in solar winds.

The field exists because of an ocean of superheated, swirling liquid iron that makes up the outer core. Like a spinning conductor in a bicycle dynamo, this moving iron creates electrical currents, which in turn generate our continuously changing magnetic field.

Tracking changes in the magnetic field can, therefore, tell researchers how the iron in the core moves.

“We know more about the Sun than Earth’s core because the Sun is not hidden from us by about 1,870 miles (3,000 km) of rock,” noted Dr. Chris Finlay, a senior scientist in the Division of Geomagnetism at DTU Space at the Technical University of Denmark and senior author of a paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The accurate measurements by Swarm satellites allow the different sources of magnetism to be separated, making the contribution from the core much clearer.

Previous research had found that changes in the magnetic field indicated that iron in the outer core was moving faster in the northern hemisphere, mostly under Alaska and Siberia.

But the new Swarm data have revealed these changes are actually caused by a jet stream moving at more than 25 miles (40 km) per year — three times faster than typical outer-core speeds and hundreds of thousands of times faster than Earth’s tectonic plates move.

“We can explain it as acceleration in a band of core fluid circling the pole, like the jet stream in the atmosphere,” said lead author Dr. Phil Livermore, from the University of Leeds.

So, what is causing the jet stream and why is it speeding up so quickly?

The jet flows along a boundary between two different regions in the core. When material in the liquid core moves towards this boundary from both sides, the converging liquid is squeezed out sideways, forming the jet.

“Of course, you need a force to move the fluid towards the boundary. This could be provided by buoyancy, or perhaps more likely from changes in the magnetic field within the core,” said co-author Prof. Rainer Hollerbach, also from the University of Leeds.

As for what happens next, the Swarm team is watching and waiting.

“Further surprises are likely,” said ESA’s Swarm mission manager Dr. Rune Floberghagen, who was not involved in the current study.

“The magnetic field is forever changing, and this could even make the jet stream switch direction.”

Humans Are Totally Unprepared For A Potential Asteroid Strike, NASA Scientist Warns

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, Nuth said: “The biggest problem, basically, is there’s not a hell of a lot we can do about it at the moment,” according to The Guardian.

Despite the NASA planetary defence office having been established – with the aim to observe the skies for possible asteroid strikes – this will supposedly not give us a large enough window to begin a preventative mission.

In fact, it takes years to complete a ‘deflection’ operation – five to launch a spacecraft - and the most recent ‘near miss’ with Mars in 2014 was only noticed 22 months before impact.

Admittedly there is a very low chance of an earth impact in the next 100 years, approximately 0.01% according to NASA themselves, but Nuth said: “On the other hand they are the extinction-level events, things like dinosaur killers, they’re 50 to 60 million years apart, essentially.

“You could say, of course, we’re due, but it’s a random course at that point.”

The current plan of action is mass evacuation, but Nuth recommend that NASA build an interceptor rocket with periodic testing, alongside an observer spacecraft to stop catastrophic fireballs from hitting us.

However even if we were able to cut the action time in half, Nuth still says this would be a “hail-mary pass”.

Back in August, NASA sent a probe to an asteroid, Bennu, that could one day hit Earth and bring about our downfall. 

Speaking to the Sunday Times, Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta confirmed that in 2135 its believed Bannu will pass between the Earth and the moon, and could potentially leave a wake of destruction.

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