Global Warming is epic, long-term study says
A scientist looks at an ice core from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide coring site.
March 8th, 2013
05:29 AM ET

Global Warming is epic, long-term study says

Global warming has propelled Earth's climate from one of its coldest decades since the last ice age to one of its hottest - in just one century.

A heat spike like this has never happened before, at least not in the last 11,300 years, said climatologist Shaun Marcott, who worked on a new study on global temperatures going back that far.

Things are poised to get much worse.

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Warming climate could mean bigger blizzards, less snow
Southwest Airlines employees guide a plane into the gate at Midway International Airport in Chicago on Tuesday, February 26. Back-to-back storms have hit the Great Plains, which is still digging out from last week's weather.
February 27th, 2013
03:45 PM ET

Warming climate could mean bigger blizzards, less snow

OK, go ahead and get the "Where's my global warming?" jokes out of your system. With the U.S. Midwest trudging through its second blizzard in a week, we understand.

But while it may seem contradictory at first, scientists say bigger blizzards fit the pattern they expect to see from a changing climate.

The immediate meteorological cause of the back-to-back snowstorms is a colder-than-normal mass of air that's been hovering over the central United States, combined with an amped-up jet stream that's been dipping south from Canada. That makes conditions ripe for major snowstorms after a warmer-than-normal January for most of the Lower 48.

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Science Seat: Meet a climate change scientist
Chris Field studies climate change at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology.
February 22nd, 2013
07:00 AM ET

Science Seat: Meet a climate change scientist

By Zaina Adamu, CNN

Editor's note: The Science Seat is a feature in which CNN Light Years sits down with movers and shakers from many different areas of scientific exploration. This is the third installment.

Thousands of families were left devastated when Superstorm Sandy destroyed their homes in October. When it comes to these extreme climate events, according to Chris Field, founding director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology, the worst is yet to come.

Field is also a professor of biology and environmental earth system science at Stanford University and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change delegation that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He holds a doctorate from Stanford University.

CNN Light Years spoke with Field before he headed to Boston for the recent American Association for the Advancement of Science conference. Here is a transcript, edited for brevity and clarity:

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Filed under: Hurricanes • On Earth • Science Education • Science Seat • Severe Weather • Voices
Mapping a forest fire in infinitesimal detail
November 29th, 2012
09:00 AM ET

Mapping a forest fire in infinitesimal detail

Details of the High Park fire site in northern Colorado – down to the last standing trees and bushes – will become available to environmental rehabilitators in early 2013.

It promises to be the most extensive study of a large forest fire site ever done in the United States providing data for local officials to target their restoration projects to areas most in need.

The High Park forest fire burned over 130 square miles of mostly remote woodland along with over 250 homes this past summer. It's an area so large that until now, it would have been almost impossible to gather data for the whole burn scar.

Late this summer after the fire was out, scientists documented the region from the sky in hopes of targeting the areas most in need of restoration to avoid continuing post-fire problems like erosion, mudslides and contaminated water supplies.

"It's unique," said Schimel, a principal investigator at the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). "We've never had this kind of detailed information before."

The scientists flew over the burn site in August with among other instruments high-resolution camera shooting through the bottom of a Twin Otter plane to take detailed images of the entire fire zone and a LiDAR, a remote sensor that can measures distance by using light, providing scientists with a 3-D representation.

"It is just amazing technology." said Schimel.
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Climate change in the news
November 28th, 2012
01:33 PM ET

Climate change in the news

By Zaina Adamu, CNN

Whispers about global warming got louder in 2012 after a string of unforgiving natural disasters and rising global temperatures. Here’s a look at some recent stories regarding climate change.

2012 drought: just the beginning?

More anxiety surrounding climate change arose with the release of the “Iowa Climate Statement (PDF),” announced in Des Moines this week. It predicts that Iowa’s harsh drought season was a precursor of what is to come for the top grain-producing state.

The statement, signed by 138 scientists and 27 Iowa colleges and universities, suggests that if there is little rain this winter and spring, “it would become a multiyear drought that would be serious,” according to Jerry Schoor, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa.

But fret not, the scientists added: The drought should – and possibly will – prompt innovation in renewable energy, which would limit the number of greenhouse gases, regulating temperatures.

CIA closes its environment wing

The Central Intelligence Agency will permanently close the doors of its Center on Climate Change and National Security unit, formed in 2009 to examine the relationship between global warming and security measures.

The short-lived branch drew criticism in its grass-roots stage, particularly from Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso, who said in a statement that he “offered an amendment on the Senate floor to eliminate the center because it was unnecessary, wasteful and totally out of place.”

CIA spokesman Todd Ebitz told the New York Times that the agency will continue to observe intelligence challenges that may arise, but not in an individualized office.

Fracking a ‘no-go’ for NY in 2012

Remember “fracking”? It was an often-used term during the 2008 presidential race. The controversial drilling process, also known as hydrofracking, entails injecting large quantities of chemicals and other fluids into the Earth’s surface in order to crack rocks surrounding oil wells, allowing for more gas resources.

On Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed that the state will miss its deadline on fracking regulations because of environment and health concerns surrounding the drilling.

“It has potential economic benefits if the state goes forward with fracking,” Cuomo said. “But we want to make sure that it’s safe.”

Rising CO2 levels

A report released by the World Meteorological Organization revealed that carbon dioxide emissions increased to 390.9 parts per million (ppm), up 30% since 1990.

“What it shows isn’t surprising, but it obviously has very important implications for the future well-being of the planet,” said Richard Allan of the Department of Meteorology at the UK's University of Reading.

Carbon dioxide is the No. 1 greenhouse gas emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Kyoto Protocol resumes week-long conference

The Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement among 37 industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, will convene for its annual weeklong conference Monday to discuss new ways of combating climate change.

The protocol was signed in 1997 and is scheduled to end in 2012.

Extending the protocol will be discussed, but if a compromise is not reached, there may not be another international environment-related pact until 2020.

Lemmings extinct because of Ice Age warmth

New research shows that rapid climate change led to the extinction of lemmings, small rodents that inhabited the Arctic during the last Ice Age.

Their presence came in waves during the Late Pleistocene, 11,700 to 126,000 years ago. Experts believe they died out and then reappeared on several occasions in the span of 114,300 years.

The findings go against some suspicions suggesting that humans play a key factor in global warming.

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Scientists aghast over Italian quake verdicts
Bernardo De Bernardinis, former vice-president of the Civil Protection Agency's technical department, was found guilty.
October 23rd, 2012
10:57 AM ET

Scientists aghast over Italian quake verdicts

Earthquake experts around the world say they are appalled by an Italian court's decision to convict six scientists on manslaughter charges for failing to predict the deadly quake that devastated the city of L'Aquila. They warned the ruling could severely harm future scientific research.

The court in L'Aquila sentenced the scientists and a government official Monday to six years in prison, ruling that they didn't accurately communicate the risk of the earthquake in 2009 that killed more than 300 people.

The trial centered on a meeting a week before the 6.3-magnitude quake struck. At the meeting, the experts determined that it was "unlikely" but not impossible that a major quake would take place, despite concern among the city's residents over recent seismic activity.

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Earth to sun: I need some space
July 5th, 2012
05:20 PM ET

Earth to sun: I need some space

You may feel like the sun is breathing down your neck, but in fact, it's farther away than you think. Today, the sun is actually the farthest away from the Earth as it is going to be all year long.

Hard to believe? According to Live Science, as of 12 a.m. today, Earth has reached a point in its orbit called the “aphelion,” which is the spot where it is farthest away from the sun all year - approximately 94.5 million miles, which is about 1.5 million miles farther than usual.

On average, the Earth is about 93 million miles away from the Sun, and reaches "perihelion," its closest approach to the sun, in January. That means that there's about 1.5 million miles more than usual in distance - and 3 million miles farther than perihelion - between the two bodies.

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May 9th, 2012
12:05 PM ET

'Monster sunspot' spitting out flares

After a very eventful March, April was fairly quiet in terms of solar activity. But with the arrival of a new sunspot region on the Earth side of the sun, solar activity could begin to heat up once again in May.

Researchers at NASA’s Solar Dynamics Laboratory called this new region a “monster sunspot.” This region, labeled AR 1476, is gigantic in terms of sunspot regions: It measures about 60,000 miles across.

Sunspots are temporary phenomena on the sun that appear darker than surrounding regions and are caused by intense magnetic activity. Most solar flares and coronal mass ejections originate in sunspot regions.

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April 24th, 2012
12:20 PM ET

Incredible views of Northern Lights

Today CNN received two amazing new videos of the Northern Lights. One is a view from space, and one is a little closer to home. If you’ve never seen the lights in person then this is the next-best thing. In case you didn’t know, the Aurora Borealis is caused when a solar wind (electrically charged particles emitted by the sun) interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field. These videos make it look more like a work of art than a reaction caused by a solar wind. Have you seen the Northern Lights? Send us your stories in the comments below.

Stars from space – NASA has released an awe-inspiring time-lapse video of Earth taken from the international space station. The Expedition 30 crew captured everything from haunting Northern Lights to stunning thunderstorms over Africa. This will give you a whole new perspective on Earth. Be sure to watch those thunderstorms at :33, and see the Comet Lovejoy around 1:30.

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This week's Texas storm towered 8 miles high
An image from the TRMM weather satellite shows just how incredibly high this week's storms climbed over the region.
April 6th, 2012
03:15 PM ET

This week's Texas storm towered 8 miles high

Once again, NASA offers us a brilliant perspective of Mother Nature’s fury!

The animation above shows us a 3-D view from NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Satellite of the storms that hammered the Dallas area and eastern Texas.

Rainfall rates reached up to 2 inches per hour at times during the strongest storms, while those storms also spawned several tornadoes across the region. Some of these twisters were powerful enough to pick up entire big rig trucks.

The stronger the storms are, the taller they are. In an average shower or weak thunderstorm, cloud tops can reach around 30, 000 feet high. When they're more intense, severe cousins develop like those across eastern Texas. Those cloud tops can reach to heights of 50,000 to 60,000 feet, or about 10 miles high!

Tuesday’s storms towered over eastern Texas higher than about 8 miles, or around 42,000 feet. Even the storms that were developing across eastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi reached to heights of around 7 miles.

While we know several of these storms were tornadic as they passed across eastern Texas, these images cannot indicate whether storms are severe, and certainly not if they are producing tornadoes. We still need the traditional radar to see if a storm is rotating or to determine if it is severe. But what we can do is see the intensity of the precipitation underneath those storms and estimate the height of the cloud tops.

This TRMM satellite is part of a joint mission between NASA and the Japanese Space Agency, JAXA. It orbits the globe about 16 times a day - about every 90 minutes. There are three instruments on this satellite, and the most innovative of those allows us to see these storms from a 3-D perspective. It's called the precipitation radar.

This instrument is what gives us a vertical profile of precipitation from the surface to a height of about 12 miles. It can detect precipitation as light as 0.7 millimeters per hour and can also detect frozen precipitation as the satellite orbits the Earth at about 250 miles above the surface.

TRMM is not just for looking at thunderstorms over land, but it's also a great tool for viewing tropical systems above open oceans.

Researchers do use other satellites to study tropical systems, but TRMM can provide a 3-D view of these storms and offer detailed information on the intensity and structure of precipitation in and around the eyewall, as well as the outer rainbands.

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