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NASA Voyage To Explore Link Between Sea Saltiness and Climate

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the another-climate-thing-to-argue-about dept.

NASA 44

DevotedSkeptic sends this excerpt from NASA: "A NASA-sponsored expedition is set to sail to the North Atlantic's saltiest spot to get a detailed, 3-D picture of how salt content fluctuates in the ocean's upper layers and how these variations are related to shifts in rainfall patterns around the planet. The research voyage is part of a multi-year mission, dubbed the Salinity Processes in the Upper Ocean Regional Study (SPURS), which will deploy multiple instruments in different regions of the ocean. ... They will return with new data to aid in understanding one of the most worrisome effects of climate change — the acceleration of Earth's water cycle. As global temperatures go up, evaporation increases, altering the frequency, strength, and distribution of rainfall around the planet, with far-reaching implications for life on Earth."

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Oh well (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 2 years ago | (#41238289)

There goes my wonderful idea of collecting oceanic rainfall for our fresh water needs.

Isn't this more NOAA's job? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41238333)

With NASA crying that it doesn't have enough money, why is it trying to do something that is probably NOAA's job?

Typical bureaucrats- gotta do anything to build their empires.

Note: I'm not saying this isn't good science to do, just that it's someone else's job.

Re:Isn't this more NOAA's job? (2)

ApplePy (2703131) | about 2 years ago | (#41238509)

That's crazy talk. Everyone knows that NASA is National Aeronautics and Space Agency, and NOAA is National Ocean--

Never mind. :-)

Re:Isn't this more NOAA's job? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41239657)

Yes, but ever since seaQuest: DSV [wikipedia.org] aired, we know that the ocean and deep space are really the same thing!

Re:Isn't this more NOAA's job? (5, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | about 2 years ago | (#41238547)

NASA has an interesting historical discussion of that question [nasa.gov] . The division of labor used to be that NASA flew the observational satellites, while NOAA and NWS did the ground-based work and data analysis. That makes some sense to me, but NASA says that by the 1970s this wasn't working (partly due to budget cuts), so NASA was given authority to run entire programs focused on earth analysis in an in-house manner, including both satellite and ground-based elements. NASA's first major program under that new mission description was the ozone-hole monitoring program [nasa.gov] , started in 1979.

Re:Isn't this more NOAA's job? (1)

sconeu (64226) | about 2 years ago | (#41238549)

I had the same question... why NASA as opposed to NOAA?

Re:Isn't this more NOAA's job? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41238621)

NASA: National Atmospheric and Science Administration.

Pretty much what they do today. General purpose climate science clearing house.

Re:Isn't this more NOAA's job? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41238903)

Good question. The short version is: This is basic science research, not a monitoring project.

NASA (although it was an international effort) put up a satellite, called Aquarius. It passively measures salinity all over the globe. Which is amazing and very complex and seems to be working quite well..

Thing is though, conventional science has been focused on salinity well below the surface; the satellite only sees the upper few centimeters. Conventional buoys, seagliders, and UUAV vehicles don't sample that close to the surface. Actually they don't even come near that close.. It's really tough to measure the upper few cm boundary of salt water in an angry ocean which is going up and down 3-4 meters. Not to diverge too much, but some of those drifting flux buoys are an entire professor's funding and focus; whereas people with NOAA try to keep long records of hundreds of measurements all over the world.

Thing is though, with satellites, you need to validate them. They integrate the measurement over clouds, birds, and all sorts of other non-salt water things. And a "pixel" is several km across, which sorta integrates a lot of other fundamental sciency things. This is a brand new instrument, it's not something that has existed or been documented for generations. NASA has a long history of validating all their satellite measurements.

NASA is being very careful in checking all the parameters whilst adding to the body of scientific knowledge on the subject. And air sea interaction is really complex, this study area is REALLY far logistically from anywhere. In my humble opinion, NOAA is more focused with more fundamental, more general, day to day, operations and weather forecasting and a zillion other more.. local.. broad spectrum issues... This is much more of an exploratory basic science question out in the middle of nowhere, and somewhat specialized and focused on an exact problem..

Re:Isn't this more NOAA's job? (3, Informative)

Trintech (1137007) | about 2 years ago | (#41238915)

Goto the site [nasa.gov] and click Overview > Sponsors. You will see that, while NASA is the one carrying out the mission, its sponsored (ie funded) by several divisions of the NOAA and NSF, etc so think of it more as NASA is being contracted to do this research and not a whole lot is coming directly out of their own budget.

Re:Isn't this more NOAA's job? (2)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 2 years ago | (#41239187)

...it's someone else's job.

"It's not my job" is the last thing I want to hear from a bureaucrat... Blurring the lines between the various departments doesn't sound like a bad thing to me. We should encourage the sharing of resources.

Re:Isn't this more NOAA's job? (1)

hey! (33014) | about 2 years ago | (#41240103)

NASA has a physical oceanography program because of its special capabilities in remote sensing. But while you may build a research program around a highly specialized golden hammer, it doesn't mean the golden hammer can do *everything* the program needs.

So the why here is simple: NASA's research program needed some ocean-based fieldwork done. Rather than buy and staff it's own ship, it farmed out this project to a group of academics who already had a ship (the R/V Knorr), and who had complementary research interests. Simple as that. No conspiracy to branch out into NOAA's turf, quite the opposite. If you look at the project personnel, the only government scientists are from NOAA. NASA's paying a certain fraction of the cost to fill a hole in their research program, and they've been given "primary sponsor" status as a courtesy. NOAA, NSF, ESA and the Spanish Ministry of Science are also underwriting the research.

Farmers (0)

ApplePy (2703131) | about 2 years ago | (#41238367)

Farmers through the upper parts of the grain belt are terribly concerned about the shorter winters and longer growing season that Global Warming has been threatening them with... and of course farmers everywhere in the USA are dreadfully concerned about the looming prospect of increased rainfall....

Re:Farmers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41238555)

Your sarcasm does little to hide your ignorance.

While the farmers would like the longer growing season, it is not without risks.

A perfect example is cherry farmers this year. The early thaw brought the trees out of dormancy early, and then frosts all but wiped out the blooms, and hence the cherry crop.

Re:Farmers (0)

ApplePy (2703131) | about 2 years ago | (#41239225)

Thank you oh so much for informing me of my ignorance, AC. I guess the fact that I preside over an educational & support organization dedicated to sustainable agriculture was just a case of bad hiring?

As others mention below, the end result (if predictions are accurate, which is by no means guaranteed) is that the grain belt shifts northward into areas that aren't currently suitable for it, with the idea being that we don't really lose much staple crop farming capacity. While my organization focuses its efforts on soil reparative and water storage techniques which would mitigate such a situation, we don't see it as the Armageddon-level event predicted by the more strident GW acolytes. There are important things we need to be doing right now, rather than wasting our time arguing over what may or may not happen in the future.

The bottom line there is that we (my organization) don't need to hypothesize about what climate change will do. We are preparing farmers for any eventuality, including no change at all.

How about you, AC? What are you doing about it? Driving a Prius?

Re:Farmers (2)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 2 years ago | (#41239349)

As others mention below, the end result (if predictions are accurate, which is by no means guaranteed) is that the grain belt shifts northward into areas that aren't currently suitable for it, with the idea being that we don't really lose much staple crop farming capacity. While my organization focuses its efforts on soil reparative and water storage techniques which would mitigate such a situation, we don't see it as the Armageddon-level event predicted by the more strident GW acolytes. There are important things we need to be doing right now, rather than wasting our time arguing over what may or may not happen in the future.

The problem with this is that as the crops move north, the amoun ot sunlight received overall decreases. So where near the equator you might be able to plant and grow year round, once you hit the northern borders, one crop a year is about all you can reasonably expect to get.

And there have been observed differences in the way plants grow south versus north - the northern ones adapt to the less sunlight available and put their energy into reproduction, while the ones in the south put a lot of energy into growing big and tall first, then reproduction - because the increased sunlight means they can do that before the growing season ends.

Or would you really suggest that California and say, Washington get the same amount of sunlight year round?

Re:Farmers (2)

Layzej (1976930) | about 2 years ago | (#41240493)

Thank you oh so much for informing me of my ignorance, AC. I guess the fact that I preside over an educational & support organization dedicated to sustainable agriculture was just a case of bad hiring?

Truly scary in light of your previous comments. Which organization do you preside over? The amplification of the hydrologic cycle is resulting in more intense precipitation events with longer periods of little precipitation in between, and dryer conditions in general for much of the USA. Preparing for every eventuallity seems rather costly when we know that some are not worth considering.

Re:Farmers (1)

khallow (566160) | about 2 years ago | (#41243699)

The amplification of the hydrologic cycle is resulting in more intense precipitation events with longer periods of little precipitation in between, and dryer conditions in general for much of the USA.

And if we ever get evidence in support of your assertion (and which supports your tone of alarmism), you'll be right. In the meantime, dealing with agricultural problems that are much more serious than AGW (such as deforestation, desertification, soil fertility), is the better idea. Hell, it may still be better to deal with those problems instead, even if AGW is confirmed.

Re:Farmers (1)

Layzej (1976930) | about 2 years ago | (#41247983)

The amplification of the hydrologic cycle is resulting in more intense precipitation events with longer periods of little precipitation in between, and dryer conditions in general for much of the USA.

And if we ever get evidence in support of your assertion (and which supports your tone of alarmism), you'll be right. In the meantime, dealing with agricultural problems that are much more serious than AGW (such as deforestation, desertification, soil fertility), is the better idea.

It may be alarming, I don't know. Those are your words, not mine. But this is exactly what is being observed. Dealing with deforestation and desertification are noble goals. Both of these problems are exacerbated by global warming. At some point we will need to turn some of our attention away from cleaning up the blood and actually address the wound.

Re:Farmers (1)

khallow (566160) | about 2 years ago | (#41253291)

At some point we will need to turn some of our attention away from cleaning up the blood and actually address the wound.

It's not my fault you can't tell the difference between injuries and illusions. As I noted, there are more important problems than AGW. It is a mystery to me why you continue to insist on obsessing on AGW when these real problems are causing far greater harm now than AGW is ever projected to do.

Re:Farmers (1)

ApplePy (2703131) | about 2 years ago | (#41254825)

Hit the nail on the head. Topsoil loss is one of, if not the major source of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It's a far and away bigger source than automobiles. The soil itself is our most easily accessible and workable carbon sink.

You'd think, all these people running around screaming about CO2, would know this. Adding an inch of organic topsoil to an area the size of, say, Nebraska... would clean more CO2 out of the air than taking all the SUV's off the planet's roads.

The bonus -- better yields, less fertilizer use, less chemical use, less erosion, better drought tolerance... etc.

Re:Farmers (1)

ApplePy (2703131) | about 2 years ago | (#41254709)

The amplification of the hydrologic cycle is resulting in more intense precipitation events with longer periods of little precipitation in between, and dryer conditions in general for much of the USA. Preparing for every eventuallity seems rather costly when we know that some are not worth considering.

Working toward fixing desertification, deforestation, soil loss... is preparation for anything climate does. It's the same stuff regardless, and costs the same.

What's with the AGW-my-way-or-the-highway attitude around here? So much for /. being a haven for inquisitive scientific minds. I have actual solutions that are simple to implement, don't require carbon taxes, and result in a cleaner, saner environment for everyone whether the climate gets colder, hotter, wetter, or drier, but every time I suggest one I get lambasted for not fervently believing what you people see in your magic AGW crystal balls. There must be some heap magic in them crystal balls too, because all the climate scientists in the world can't predict if it will rain at my house tomorrow as accurately as I can feel it in my bones.

Re:Farmers (1)

Layzej (1976930) | about 2 years ago | (#41259765)

What's with the AGW-my-way-or-the-highway attitude around here? So much for /. being a haven for inquisitive scientific minds.

I'm merely suggesting that considering the science will put you in a better position to determine what mix of mitigation and adaptation should be considered. That your ignorance of the science appears willful (crystal balls?) is disconcerting given your position.

Re:Farmers (1)

Trepidity (597) | about 2 years ago | (#41238635)

For most of the USA the likely outcome appears to be less rainfall; basically, the southwestern deserts will move northwards, so current farming regions will look more like Arizona. But Canada may do quite well out of the change.

Re:Farmers (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 2 years ago | (#41238787)

"For most of the USA the likely outcome appears to be less rainfall..."

Do you have a source for this? It certainly contradicts what I read about it. I am not far from Canada, and while it has been unusually warm this year, it has also been very abnormally humid.

Re:Farmers (2)

Trepidity (597) | about 2 years ago | (#41238901)

If you're close to Canada (e.g. North Dakota) things may be different; I was thinking of the more southern parts of the current American farm belt, like Kansas. I can't seem to find the map I had in mind, though; I've seen a map projecting how the wheat belt would shift with global warming, and it basically moves northwards, so more parts of Saskatchewan and Alberta become farming regions, but some of the southern part of the current wheat region becomes too hot/dry.

Re:Farmers (3, Informative)

Layzej (1976930) | about 2 years ago | (#41239577)

"For most of the USA the likely outcome appears to be less rainfall..."

Do you have a source for this? It certainly contradicts what I read about it. I am not far from Canada, and while it has been unusually warm this year, it has also been very abnormally humid.

The IPCC is a good resource for this: "General circulation models (GCMs) project an increase in precipitation at high latitudes, although the amount of that increase varies between models, and decreases in precipitation over many sub-tropical and mid-latitude areas in both hemispheres. Precipitation during the coming decades is projected to be more concentrated into more intense events, with longer periods of little precipitation in between. The increase in the number of consecutive dry days is projected to be most significant in North and Central America, the Caribbean, north-eastern and south-western South America, southern Europe and the Mediterranean, southern Africa and western Australia." - http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/technical-papers/ccw/chapter4.pdf [www.ipcc.ch]

Interestingly this is exactly what is being observed.

Re:Farmers (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 2 years ago | (#41240721)

"Interestingly this is exactly what is being observed."

Well, I will play Devil's Advocate and make the argument that others have made to me about the same kinds of observations: weather is not climate, and we cannot judge by one year alone.

I did think the situation in my area was worthy of mention, as an anecdote, but I don't expect anyone to try to draw real conclusions from it.

Re:Farmers (1)

Layzej (1976930) | about 2 years ago | (#41243325)

"Interestingly this is exactly what is being observed."

Well, I will play Devil's Advocate and make the argument that others have made to me about the same kinds of observations: weather is not climate, and we cannot judge by one year alone.

You are right of course, but I meant this in general, not in reference to your specific case.

Re:Farmers (1)

Layzej (1976930) | about 2 years ago | (#41240163)

This video by NOAA fluid dynamics laboratory is also very instructive: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/09/05/799721/climate-change-how-the-wet-will-get-wetter-and-the-dry-will-get-drier/ [thinkprogress.org]

As the planet warms, the atmosphere pulls more water out of the sub-tropics as evaporation. Much of that water condenses into clouds and is transported poleward by the winds where it is eventually deposited as precipitation at the sub-polar latitudes. So, as temperatures rise, there is an increase in the total amount of water evaporating and precipitating over the Earth - a strengthening of the global hydrologic cycle.

Re:Farmers (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 2 years ago | (#41240781)

According to the NOAA animation, my particular area, though approximately sub-polar, is expected to be drier than in the past, not wetter. The last three years have been the opposite.

I am aware that these are only approximations based on models. But in my experience, my particular region has so far not done anything even close to what was predicted for the last 10 years or so.

Re:Farmers (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | about 2 years ago | (#41239483)

Increased rainfall isn't helpful if it come at you as 2 months of drought then 5 inches of rain in one day.

Re:Farmers (1)

ApplePy (2703131) | about 2 years ago | (#41254553)

This is why water storage, in the form mainly of swales and ponds, for agriculture, is so critical. I live in a high desert region where this pretty much already happens, and instead of collecting the rain, we foolishly let it run downstream to flood places like Ohio.

So, I'm thinking, the flood/drought cycle is easier fixed with a bit of geo-engineering than trying to predict the future with AGW theories and otherwise sitting on our hands. Is it easier to deal with what climate hands us, or to change the whole climate?

As it is, I seem to have been brutally modded down by people who would rather bitch in advance about fruit what life will hand them next year, instead of making lemonade. WTF?

how scientific, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41238371)

present conclusion, then gather data which can't rebutt conclusion,
but can only show the manifestation of said conclusion.

what happened to theories?

Re:how scientific, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41238429)

Theories died when media decided that the public is too stupid to understand that something may or may not be, and that it's much easier to write in absolutes.

Re:how scientific, (1)

hey! (33014) | about 2 years ago | (#41241107)

[How scientific, present conclusion, then gather data which can't rebutt conclusion,
but can only show the manifestation of said conclusion.

what happened to theories?

Actually, the salinity data is already in, from NASA's Aquarius instrument [wikipedia.org] on the SAC-D satellite. What they're doing is paying for part of a surface expedition that will among other things check their Aquarius results.

As for "theories", I think you mean "hypotheses". I think they're interested in how the surface data from the satellite does or does not correlate with the water underneath the surface.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41238425)

...but Ramadan is a brand of Asian noodles, right? Ramadan and kimche?

And NASA is sponsoring this why? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41238537)

I can understand NOAA contributing since it falls under their mandate. But NASA. This has nothing to do with aeronautics nor space and it is not like they have surplus dollars in their budget

Press releases like these... (0)

PPalmgren (1009823) | about 2 years ago | (#41239027)

Make me wonder if its possible to get a degree in Backronyms.

Re:Press releases like these... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41239115)

Did you honestly think those PhDs were in scientific fields? The only person in this project with any scientific skill is the guy who decided to program an automated acronym algorithm. He was voted down when the best it came up with was NARGALTALETH, and no one could remember why it even used "licorice" twice in the long form.

Oh no! (1)

ozduo (2043408) | about 2 years ago | (#41239753)

that's where I peed!

Really Interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41239855)

From the article summary it sounds as if they have already decided on the "facts" and are simply launching an expedition to search for supporting/confirming evidence.

Meh. Hypothesis are for bitches anyway.

Re:Really Interesting (1)

hey! (33014) | about 2 years ago | (#41241349)

From the article summary it sounds as if they have already decided on the "facts" and are simply launching an expedition to search for supporting/confirming evidence.

Oddly enough, you've got that almost right. The Aquarius instrument [wikipedia.org] has been orbiting since June 2011 sending back surface salinity data -- "facts" if you prefer that term. The principal investigators on the SPURS cruise seem to be in it for the modeling data, but NASA's interest no doubt includes checking the reliability and usability of the Aquarius data.

I understand that reading the linked article is bad form, but before jumping to conclusions then working yourself up into a dudgeon, you might spend two or three minutes of quality time with Google to figure out what actually is happening. It could spare you the trouble of getting up on your high horse.

Go "worrisome" yourself to death please (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | about 2 years ago | (#41245053)

On noes, things might be slightly different in the future! As we know, things were never, ever different in the past and humans are completely incapable of adapting to changing environmental conditions. Therefore fund my research project, or over 80 billion people will die. Every second.

Re:Go "worrisome" yourself to death please (1)

jcupitt65 (68879) | about 2 years ago | (#41245499)

The problem is very rapid change. If the climate changes very quickly even humans will find it hard to adapt fast enough, never mind the various other species we depend upon directly and indirectly.

If we can see rapid change coming (and it now seems likely that we can) and we can do something to slow or even limit that change, shouldn't we do it? Or at least have a debate about whether we should act or not.

Attacking scientists seems to be shooting the messenger.

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