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NASA’s Hurricane Drone On a 26-Hour Flight

With an active Atlantic Hurricane Season underway, NASA is getting a chance to take advantage of its new fleet of Global Hawk research drones. These drones, which Climate Central's Michael Lemonick wrote about on September 4, are designed to loiter for many hours above a storm, gathering data on storm structure, and providing forecasters with clues as to storm movement and intensification.

Image showing the track of the Global Hawk research aircraft superimposed on an atmospheric water vapor image.
Credit: NASA.

A satellite-derived cross section of the storm that the aircraft is investigating. Click on the image to see a larger version.
Credit: NASA/TRMM.

NASA seems determined to set some flight-time records while they're at it (there's gotta be a record for longest time spent gathering data on a hurricane, right?), having sent a Global Hawk to gather data on what is likely to become Tropical Storm Nadine during the next few days. The drone was launched on Tuesday, but won't touch back down at its base on Wallops Island, Va., until Wednesday, after flying for about 26 hours (you can track the flight live online). That's far longer than the endurance of human-piloted hurricane research flights.

To put that in further perspective, the longest regularly scheduled passenger flight is between Singapore and Newark, N.J., which clocks in at a comparatively paltry 18 hours and 55 minutes.

The drones help complement the existing fleet of Air Force Hurricane Hunter planes, which fly at much lower altitudes, right into the heart of a storm's strongest winds, as well as aging research aircraft operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which also fly inside the storm. The drones fly at h...


Image of the Day: Bamboo, Nature’s Renewable Resource

 Credit: flickr/Cliff Cheng LF

A beautiful grove of bamboo in the Arashiyama bamboo forest outside Kyoto, Japan. Bamboo has been a huge part of Japanese culture and is an amazing green resource.

As the Japanese have discovered, bamboo is incredibly versatile and is reported to be stronger than many steel alloys and does not fall victim to termites. Bamboo’s strength and flexibility have been used in houses that have withstood a 9.0 magnitude earthquake. It’s the fastest growing plant in the world and can grow 1-to-4 inches in a day and regrows quickly after being cut down, making it the No. 1 renewable resource.

Since the plant’s health is improved by cutting, bamboo can be re-harvested every three years without any harmful effects on the environment. With the average 500-year life span of a redwood tree, a bamboo plant could be harvested and regrown more than 150 times. 

Image of the Day: Shelter Dogs Get New Leash on Life

Credit: Conservation Canines

An innovative program uses high-energy shelter dogs to sniff out endangered species. In a win-win situation, active dogs in shelters are selected and their energy is channeled into finding the scat of threatened and endangered species in the Conservation Canines Program at the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology. And taking the program a step further, the dogs are being trained to spot and identify the animals on their own.

Last year, the Nature Conservancy teamed up the Conservation Canines Program to supply salamander scat and a piece of broken-off salamander tail for the dogs to learn the scent. In the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico, salamanders have become endangered due to chronic drought conditions that have taken a toll on its habitat.

The salamanders are very sensitive to changes in temperature and moisture, so the hope is that researchers will be able to now create a management plan to help them thrive. The dogs in this program have been used around the world and have the ability to cover large tracts of land in a relatively short time.

High-energy dogs many times don’t get adopted quickly in shelters and can be euthanized, so this program helps both the endangered species and the canines.   

Global Warming Good for Biodiversity? Only at a Big Cost

A study just out in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is both important and confusing — important for people who know how to read through a scientific paper, and confusing for the rest of us. It’s confusing because the bottom line is that biodiversity — that is, the richness of species — is likely to improve in a warmer world. Since ecosystems with high biodiversity are the healthiest and most resilient, this is presumably a good thing.

But it doesn’t seem to square with what scientists have been saying for some time: that we’re losing biodiversity as the Earth warms. In fact, many say that the planet is in the midst of a sixth mass extinction, of the same sort that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

A wall of biodiversity at the American Museum of Natural History, New York City.
Credit: Dano/flickr        

One major reason is the global warming triggered by our burning of fossil fuels, although land use changes as we build cities and roads and eradicate rainforests is another big factor.

The key to this seeming paradox is time. “Increases in global diversity take millions of years, and in the meantime we expect extinctions to occur,” co-author Tim Benton, of the University of Leeds, said in a press release.”

In previous research, the same scientists had concluded that a warmer world would feature less biodiversity. Their evidence came in the form of ancient marine fossils: if you look at back at the past 540 million years or so of the planet’s history, there seemed to be fewer species during periods when the Earth’s temperature...


Image of the Day: Drought Forces Cows to Moo-ve East

Credit: flickr/publicenergy

Ranchers out West are being forced to move their cattle eastward in order to escape extreme drought conditions. Add to that, many ranchers are also dealing with wildfires making the urgency even greater to save their cattle. One Wyoming rancher moved his herd 330 miles east, a seven-hour trip with 120 head of cattle to graze on a friend’s prairie until the drought subsides. This is being repeated all over while drought and wildfires require farmers to explore other options. Scientists warn of more severe droughts due to climate change in the future. 


100 Years of Warming at the National Parks Each of the National Parks faces unique challenges from climate change.

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