Ever since the first satellites started imaging the Earth, scientists have been using the data gathered to learn more about our planet and improve the lives of its inhabitants. From weather forecasting to improving crop yields, satellites have been put to work in a wide array of tasks. The data they gather can go beyond imaging as well. A new Chinese satellite known as Fengyun-3E is using some novel approaches to monitor Antarctic sea ice in order to help scientists better understand the changing climate at the poles.
While it is equipped with a number of other sensors, one of the more intriguing is a piece of equipment called WindRad which uses radar to measure wind at various locations and altitudes based on how the radar waves bounce off of the atmosphere at various places. Scientists have also been able to use this sensor to monitor sea ice, and can use the data gathered to distinguish new sea ice from ice which is many years old, allowing them to better understand ice formation and loss at the poles. It’s also the first weather satellite to be placed in an early morning orbit, allowing it to use the long shadows cast by the sun on objects on Earth’s surface to gather more information than a satellite in other orbits might be able to.
With plenty of other imaging sensors on board and a polar orbit, it has other missions beyond monitoring sea ice. But the data that it gathers around Antarctica should give scientists more information to improve climate models and understand the behavior of sea ice at a deeper level. Weather data from satellites like these isn’t always confined to academia, though. Plenty of weather satellites broadcast their maps and data unencrypted on radio bands that anyone can access.
There was a time when street lighting means someone had to go light the lamps. Electricity changed that, but street and outdoor lighting has been quietly going through a new revolution: LEDs. The problem, though, is that LEDs provide what scientists call “broad white” light and there are concerns about the impact the unnatural lighting will have on ecosystems, including people and animals.
Of course, the first step in worrying about something is to measure it. You would think that satellites would have a bird’s-eye view of the nighttime lighting landscape, and, of course, they do. But most of the imagery isn’t suitable for looking at the spectrum of wavelength data scientists need to quantify what they call ALAN — Artificial Light at Night.
The ISS imaging is, however, sufficient. Using special data techniques, they were able to track the adoption of LEDs over sodium lights and other technologies between 2012-2013 and 2014-2020 across Europe. For example, in the title image, you can see Belgium with an orange tint indicating low-pressure sodium lights. The Netherlands, France, and the UK have a more yellow hue, indicating high-pressure sodium lamps. Germany is more of a blue color due to fluorescent and mercury vapor bulbs.
Just over a fortnight ago, RV Polarstern, a German research vessel, sailed back into port, heralding the end of the largest Arctic research project ever undertaken. The MOSAiC expedition, short for Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate, spent a full year running experiments to measure conditions at the North Pole, and research how the unique Arctic climate is being affected by human activity.
Unprecedented In Size And Scope
With a budget exceeding €140 million, and with over 300 scientists attached to the project, the expedition aimed to study a full year-long ice cycle in the Arctic region. To achieve this, the research vessel of the project, RV Polarstern, was navigated into an ice floe, and allowed to freeze in and drift with the ice pack. As the seasons progressed, the vessel drifted with the sea ice across the polar region. Along the way, a series of rotating research teams set up equipment on the ice and took regular measurements, investigating several scientific focus areas. Different groups observed atmospheric conditions and the sea ice itself, with researchers also focusing on biogeochemistry, the ocean, and the ecosystems in the area.
Icebreakers were used to transport goods and personnel to the RV Polarstern over the duration of the mission. The project faced issues in spring, as a pre-planned changeover executed by aircraft had to be abandoned due to restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, this was also executed by ship, with the Polarstern temporarily leaving the ice to rendezvous with RV Sonne and RV Maria S. Merian for the changeover of approximately 100 crew and to pick up provisions. The detour took three weeks, but didn’t have any major negative impacts on the mission. Continue reading “MOSAiC Project Freezes A Boat In The Arctic Ice Pack For Science”→
With global temperatures continuing to break records in recent years, it’s important to cast an eye towards the future. While efforts to reduce emissions remain in a political quagmire, time is running out to arrest the slide into catastrophe.
Further compounding the issue are a variety of positive feedback loops that promise to further compound the problem. In these cases, initial warming has flow-on effects that then serve to further increase global temperatures. Avoiding these feedback mechanisms is crucial if the Earth is to remain comfortably livable out to the end of the century.
A Multitude of Causes
The issue of climate change often appears as a simple one, with the goal being to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent negative consequences for human civilization. Despite this, the effects of climate change are often diffuse and intermingled. The various climate systems of the Earth interact in incredibly complex ways, and there are many mechanisms at play in these feedback effects that could tip things over the edge.
When it comes to gathering environmental data in real-world settings, urban environments have to be the most challenging. Every city has nooks and crannies that create their own microenvironments, and placing enough sensors to get a decent picture of what’s going on in all of them is a tough job. But if these sensor-laden pigeons have anything to say about it, the job might get a bit easier.
The idea for using pigeons as biotelemetry platforms comes to us from the School of Geography, Earth, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham in the UK. [Rick Thomas], lead investigator on the “CityFlocks” project, explains that meteorological models are hampered by a lack of data about the air in the urban canyons formed by tall buildings. Placing a lot of fixed sensors has a prohibitive cost, and using drones to do the job would probably cause regulatory problems, especially given recent events. But pigeons are perfect for the job once they’re outfitted with an “Avian-Meteorology Instrumentation Package (AvMIP)”. From the photographs we’re guessing the AvMIP is a pretty simple data logger with GPS and inputs for the usual sensors, all powered by a small LiPo pack. Luckily, the pigeons used are all domesticated racing birds that return to the nest, so no radio transmitter is needed, but if other urban avians such as peregrine falcons and seagulls are used then a future AvMIPS might leverage pervasive WiFi networks to upload data.
Like many specialty plants, growing mushrooms requires that you keep a fine balance between humidity and temperature. this can be fairly tedious at times, so many opt for automated systems. [Anthony_p1234] has chosen to build his own. Using an Arduino, he controls power to two heating pads, a sonic humidifier, and an air pump to keep his mushrooms happy. He shares the process of building the system, testing and calibrating the parts and putting it all in use. We didn’t see any schematics, but he does describe everything fairly well. The source code is available for download.