TAMPA: NASA is poised to launch Saturday its most advanced space laser ever, ICESat-2, a $1 billion dollar mission to reveal the depths of the Earth’s melting ice as the climate warms.
The half-ton satellite, about the size of a smart-car, is scheduled to blast off atop a Delta II rocket on September 15 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The 40-minute launch window opens at 5:46 am local time (1246 GMT). The mission is “exceptionally important for science,” Richard Slonaker, ICESat-2 program executive at NASA, told reporters ahead of the launch.
That’s because it has been nearly a decade since NASA had a tool in orbit to measure ice sheet surface elevation across the globe. The preceding mission, ICESat, launched in 2003 and ended in 2009. From it, scientists learned that sea ice was thinning, and ice cover was disappearing from coastal areas in Greenland and Antarctica.
In the intervening nine years, an aircraft mission, called Operation IceBridge, has flown over the Arctic and Antarctic, “taking height measurements and documenting the changing ice,” NASA said. But an update is urgently needed.
Humanity’s constant reliance on fossil fuels for energy means planet-warming greenhouse gases are continuing to mount. Global average temperatures are climbing year after year, with four of the hottest years in modern times all taking place from 2014-2017. Ice cover is shrinking in the Arctic and Greenland, adding to sea level rise that threatens hundreds of millions of people along the coastlines.
ICESat-2 should help scientists understand just how much melting the ice sheets are contributing to sea level rise.
“We are going to be able to look at specifically how the ice is changing just over the course of a single year,” said Tom Wagner, cryosphere program scientist at NASA.
Adding this precise level of data to that collected in prior years should boost scientists’ understanding of climate change and improve forecasts of sea level rise, he said.
ICESat-2 is equipped with a pair of lasers – one is on board as a back-up – that are far more advanced than the kind aboard the preceding ICESat mission.
Though powerful, the laser will not be hot enough to melt ice from its vantage point some 300 miles (500 kilometers) above the Earth, NASA said.
The new laser will fire 10,000 times in one second, compared to the original ICESat which fired 40 times a second.
The result is a far higher degree of detail, akin to taking 130 images of a single football field, compared to one shot of each goal post.
Measurements will be taken every 2.3 feet (0.7 meters)along the satellite’s path. “The mission will gather enough data to estimate the annual elevation change in the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets even if it’s as slight as four millimeters – the width of a No. 2 pencil,” NASA said in a statement.
Importantly, the laser will measure the slope and height of the ice, not just the area it covers. “One of the things that we are trying to do is, one, characterize the change that is taking place within the ice, and this is going to greatly improve our understanding of that, especially over areas where we don’t know how well it is changing right now,” Wagner said, mentioning the deep interior of Antarctica as one such area of mystery.
The mission is meant to last three years but has enough fuel to continue for 10, if mission managers decide to extend its life.
CM issues directions to cope with flood threats
LAHORE: Punjab Chief Minister (CM) Sardar Usman Buzdar has said that keeping in view predictions of heavy rainfall and floods, all arrangements should be completed in order to cope with the threats.
He said that provincial and federal institutions concerned should work in an integrated manner to ensure the best arrangements for any emergency-like situation.
The CM said that all departments should perform their duties under the best coordination and keep close contact with the Meteorological Committee for Floods.
Information on climate situation should be received on a daily basis, he said and further directed the officials to devise an emergency plan regarding rain and expected floods. He said that he would personally supervise the arrangements and would not tolerate any laxity in this regard.
Heavy falls expected in catchments during next 24 hours: FFC
ISLAMABAD: Federal Flood Commission (FFC) has reported all main Rivers Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, and Sutlej are flowing normally amid heavy falls reported to occur in the catchments of major rivers during next 24 hours.
According to the daily FFC report on Saturday, water situation at reservoirs is persisting to decline where the actual river flows and reservoir elevations indicates that Tarbela Dam is at 1519.46 feet, 30.54 feet below its maximum conservation level (MAL) and Mangla reservoir at 70.45 feet below its MAL of 1242 feet which is 1171.55 feet. The present combined live storage of three reservoirs is 7.227 million acre-feet (MAF) (52.83 percent of the total storage capacity of 13.681 MAF).
According to Flood Forecasting Division (FFD), Lahore, yesterday’s trough of Westerly Wave over Northern Afghanistan today lies over Northeastern Afghanistan, whereas weak Seasonal Low continues to prevail over Northern Balochistan. “Moist currents from the Bay of Bengal are penetrating into Northeastern parts of Pakistan up to an elevation of 10,000 feet”, the report said.
For the next 24 hours, as predicted by the FFD, Lahore, widespread thunderstorm or rain with scattered heavy falls and isolated very heavy falls, besides, one or two extremely heavy falls are expected over the upper catchments of Rivers Sutlej, Ravi and Chenab including Gujranwala Division (Punjab) during the next 24 hours. “Scattered thunderstorm or rain with isolated heavy falls may also occur over the upper catchments of Rivers Indus and Jhelum including Punjab (Rawalpindi, Sargodha, Lahore and Sahiwal Divisions) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Peshawar, Kohat, D.I. Khan, and Bannu Divisions) during the same period.
“Wet Spell is likely to prevail from 23rd to 25th September”, the report claimed.
The report further added, “River Chenab is likely to attain Very High Flood stage at Marala and downstream area and Jhelum at Mangla including local nullahs (tributaries of Rivers Chenab and Ravi) may attain Very High Flood level during the next 24-48 hours”. However, the report mentions that the scale of the flood in Rivers Ravi and Sutlej at RIM stations or entry points in Pakistan depends upon releases from Indian Reservoirs.
The concerned District Management Authorities, provincial and district disaster management authorities i.e. PDMAs, DDMAs respectively and respective zones of Irrigation Department are advised to remain HIGHLY ALERT for any emergency situation in order to ensure the safety of human life, public and private properties, besides, Irrigation and Flood Protection Infrastructures all along Rivers Sutlej, Ravi, Chenab and Jhelum from their RIM Stations or entry points in Pakistan and downstream areas.
Chinese scientists trace how young penguins died off!
BEIJING: Chinese scientists find that abrupt climate change and heavy precipitation might have caused young penguins to die off in the Antarctic centuries ago, warning that penguins may face similar disasters under the climate change today.
On Long Peninsula, East Antarctica, scientists from the University of Science and Technology of China identified a widely-distributed area of abandoned penguin breeding grounds where there are numerous mummified penguin carcasses.
Carbon dating revealed that there had been two disasters of collective deaths of penguins in the area around 200 years ago and 750 years ago, respectively. They analyzed the sediment around the carcasses of the penguins. Based upon the chronological and sedimentary evidence, they propose that the two events were caused by heavy regional precipitation, which led to the abandonment of numerous penguin subcolonies.
The research analyzed the reasons behind penguin disasters throughout history. It also warned that in the context of modern global changes, similar extreme weather events occur frequently, and as precipitation in the Antarctic continues to become more frequent, it could become an increasing threat to penguins. The research was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences.