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:
By Zaina Adamu, CNN
High above us, beyond the skies, is the International Space Station, which weighs nearly 1 million pounds and has a wingspan the length of a football field. It has nine rooms, two bathrooms, two kitchens and two mini-gyms, and it is the largest spacecraft orbiting the Earth.
NASA announced this week that an instrument called ISS-RapidScat will be launched to the station in 2014 to improve weather forecasts, by doing things like monitoring hurricanes. It will also help scientists explore the Earth's global wind field; tropical clouds and tropical systems are affected by wind variations caused by the sun.
Another experiment on board is called InSPACE, which stands for "Investigating the Structure of Paramagnetic Aggregates From Colloidal Emulsions." All that means that scientists are studying magnetorheological fluids, which are complex substances that change form or harden when exposed to magnetic fields. These substances could one day be useful in robots, NASA says, acting as a "blood" to make the movement of joints and limbs like that of a living creature.
By Zaina Adamu, CNN
Could there be extraterrestrial life in our own Milky Way galaxy?
NASA’s Kepler mission, using an orbiting telescope equipped with a 95-megapixel camera and 42 charge-coupled devices, discovered that worlds, one-half to twice the size of Earth, exist in our galaxy.
Kepler is the first mission with the potential to identify Earth-sized planets that exist near the habitable zones of their stars, a landmark in astronomy because the finding could lead scientists to discover that, indeed, life exists in other places besides Earth.
The way Kepler detects planets is similar to how we detect Venus and Mercury from Earth. Every so often, there are events where Venus and Mercury pass the sun, briefly blocking a bit of the sunlight coming to Earth. From our perspective, each of these events, called a transit, is seen as a slow-moving black speck traveling across the sun.
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.
By Zaina Adamu, CNN
When Ted Turbiasz, 36, first heard about Hurricane Sandy, he gathered his two children in their backyard and put them to work. Collectively, they built a do-it-yourself weather station equipped with a rain gauge and wind indicator, and connected their home television to feed live video of the storm. They topped it off with a specially-made banner held on with green duct tape and labeling the unit as “Aidan’s Sandy Weather Station.”
The purpose of it all was to “teach them that weather is something that can be monitored," Turbiasz told CNN's iReport.
With more advanced technology and resources, forecasters are doing the same. They predicted the magnitude of Sandy with the help of satellite images from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. JPL's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder tracked the storm and captured a high-resolution photo that meteorologists used to determine the storm's size.
While the rover Curiosity is driving almost flawlessly on Mars, scientists are proposing another exciting possibility for extraterrestrial exploration: a probe that would sail across a lake on Saturn's largest moon, Titan.
SENER, a private engineering and technology group, is partnering with Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología to propose the Titan Lake In-situ Sampling Propeller Explorer (PDF), TALISE for short. "Talise" is the Iroquois word for "beautiful water."
TALISE is a boat probe that would navigate Ligeia Mare, a large lake on Titan, making extensive scientific analyses during the journey. Scientists involved say the mission would be broken up into three phases and last six months to a year.
Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, has long been thought to harbor water underneath its icy crust. New research suggests that water gets close to Europa's surface sometimes, but doesn't stay there long.
Liquid water may be close to the moon's surface during some periods of time, but it migrates back downward after a few thousand years – the blink of an eye, in geological terms. Variations in gravitational pull from Jupiter produce the heat that temporarily melts the ice near the surface.
Klára Kalousová from the University of Nantes in France and Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, presented the research at the European Planetary Science Congress in Madrid last week. She said that while her findings show water only a few kilometers below the surface is likely on Europa, it disappears quickly.
Hidden behind dust in deep space are brilliant galaxies with black holes that scientists are just beginning to learn about.
NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, known as WISE, has found millions of black holes and about 1,000 dust-obscured galaxies with very high temperatures, which NASA is cutely calling "hot DOGs" for short. They are believed to be the brightest known galaxies.
Hot DOGs, which have supermassive black holes at their centers, can emit more than 100 trillion times as much light as the sun, according to researchers. But they do not appear as bright in images because they are covered in dust.
“It changes our concept of how brilliant and powerful galaxies can be,” said Peter Eisenhardt, project scientist for WISE at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “We are finding quite a few objects here that are brighter than what we knew before, and we’ve only combed through about 10% of these hot DOGs.”
Since their inception in 1964, global positioning systems have changed the landscape of travel and navigation around the world. However, the out-of-orbit satellites that allow these innovative systems to work are in jeopardy, largely because of weather – from the sun.
Large solar flares appear to be the problem. They act as explosives that erupt from the sun’s surface and can cause irreversible damage if their flareups aren't known about ahead of time.
Researchers at the California Institute of Technology may have a solution. They are examining the predecessors of solar flares, called plasma loops, by re-creating them in a lab.
Solar flares cannot be prevented, but if they can be predicted, it would help scientists figure out how to protect satellites from plasma loops, said Paul Bellan of California Institute of Technology.