Climate Change From Space

Do you ever look up at the night sky and wonder what information the satellites flickering above are capturing and how it is used?

It was announced on April 22 — Earth Day – that some of that information including environmental data like sea surface temperature, vegetation cover, rainfall, and snow cover will soon be used to help us better understand the impacts of climate change on plants and animals. NASA is partnering with four other federal agencies—the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Smithsonian Institution—to provide $18 million in funding for 15 new climate change research projects over the next four years.

Satellite 2 NASAAccording to the NASA press release, the studies will use long-term observations of earth from space to study the intersection of climate and biological studies. According to Woody Turner, manager of NASA’s Ecological Forecasting Program in Washington, very little is known about how the majority of species and ecosystems will respond to environmental changes related to changing climates.

Researchers around the US will examine things as diverse as bird populations and extreme climate events; coastal salt marshes; hummingbird diversity; native tree species; and polar bears, in an effort to first detect and then perhaps better manage biological responses to environmental changes.

One of the more ambitious projects, led by Walter Jetz of Yale University, will focus on land-based mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Using a global inventory of data from about 1,000 species, merged with satellite and ground-based observations of the environment, the study will assess climate’s impact on biodiversity during the past 40 years in two 20-year increments.

On the same day that NASA made their funding announcement, the US Fish & Wildlife Service launched a series of 50 stories in 50 days on their Open Spaces blog.  Each day they will share a new story from a different state about the impacts of climate change. The aim is to “show the broad scope of changes and emerging trends… as well as collaborative efforts to respond across the nation.” These stories help highlight the worthiness of the 15 NASA research projects.

A complete list of all 15 research projects can be found on NASA’s website.

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Alison Wheatley

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