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NASA Mission to Study Ice Clouds, Help Observe Our Dynamic Atmosphere

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A new NASA mission, PolSIR, short for Polarized Submillimeter Ice-cloud Radiometer, will study high-altitude ice clouds, such as this cloud as seen from the International Space Station in 2008. Understanding how such clouds change throughout the day is crucial for improving global climate models.
Credits: NASA

NASA has selected a new mission to help humanity better understand Earth’s dynamic atmosphere – specifically, ice clouds that form at high altitudes throughout tropical and sub-tropical regions. The PolSIR instrument – short for Polarized Submillimeter Ice-cloud Radiometer – will study such ice clouds to determine how and why they change throughout the day. This will provide crucial information about how to accurately simulate these high-altitude clouds in global climate models.

The investigation consists of two identical CubeSats – each small satellite is just a little over a foot tall – flying in orbits separated by three to nine hours. Over time, these two instruments will observe the clouds’ daily cycle of ice content.

“Studying ice clouds is crucial for improving climate forecasts – and this will be the first time we can study ice clouds in this level of detail,” said Nicola Fox, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Every NASA mission is carefully chosen to better understand our home planet.”

The award is for for lifecycle costs no more than $37 million, which does not include launch costs. The radiometer is an Earth Venture instrument – lower-cost instruments with a targeted research goal, which typically catch a ride along with another mission or commercial satellite in order to minimize launch costs. The Earth Venture class also focuses on providing frequent flight opportunities, so innovative science investigations can be flown relatively quickly, generally within five years or less. Missions like this provide key targeted research opportunities, which help us improve our understanding of what’s driving change in the entire Earth system.

“Understanding how these ice clouds respond to a changing climate – and then, in turn, contribute to further changes – remains one of the great challenges to predicting what the atmosphere will do in the future,” said Karen St. Germain, who leads NASA’s Earth Sciences Division. “The radiometers, which measure the radiant energy emitted by clouds, will significantly improve our understanding of how ice clouds change and respond throughout the day.”

The mission is led by Ralf Bennartz, principal investigator at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and by Dong Wu, deputy principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

NASA Goddard will provide the project management team that builds the two instruments, while science operations will be conducted by the Space Science and Engineering Center at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. The two spacecraft will be built by Blue Canyon Technologies in Lafayette, Colorado.

For more information about NASA’s Earth science missions, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/Earth

Source: NASA

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The Unseen Power of Nature: Los Angeles River’s Dramatic Display

“Los Angeles River’s recent surge reminds us of nature’s might and the remarkable bravery of those who protect and serve.”

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Los Angeles, known for its bustling urban landscape and iconic landmarks, is also home to a hidden natural wonder—the Los Angeles River. While often overlooked, this river, meandering through concrete channels, reveals its formidable force during the rainy season, as recently witnessed in a remarkable turn of events.

By User2004 – Own work by the original uploader, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=855785

In a city where the river’s presence can be overshadowed by the urban sprawl, the recent events served as a powerful reminder of nature’s might. Fueled by an atmospheric river, the usually tranquil waterway transformed into a raging torrent, posing a threat to the flood-control infrastructure and prompting a dramatic rescue.

Amidst this dramatic transformation, a heartwarming yet perilous river rescue unfolded. A man, driven by instinctive bravery, leaped into the churning waters to save his beloved pet. Fortunately, the LA Fire Department swiftly intervened, showcasing the courage and skill of their helicopter crew as they executed a daring rescue, ultimately saving both the man and his loyal companion.

As the river surged, concerns mounted for the vulnerable homeless population residing along its banks. With encampments nestled among its shores, the deluge raised urgent alarms for their safety. First responders and swift-water rescue teams stood ready, highlighting the unwavering commitment to safeguarding every individual impacted by the river’s unpredictable temperament.

This recent episode serves as a poignant reminder of the intricate relationship between urban life and the forces of nature. It underscores the need for continued vigilance and preparedness, especially in a city where the convergence of urban living and natural elements can yield unexpected challenges.

The Los Angeles River’s surge, though brief, illuminates the significance of acknowledging and respecting the inherent power of nature. It also underscores the remarkable bravery and dedication of those who stand ready to protect and serve, even amidst the most formidable circumstances.

In the heart of a bustling metropolis, the Los Angeles River quietly flows, reminding us of the unseen forces that shape our world and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of nature’s awesome power.

Source: Associated Press

https://apnews.com/article/california-storms-los-angeles-river-atmospheric-94e6ad39870432fedb5d0a2464ecc3c1

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Unveiling the Mysteries of Ancient Tree Fossils: A Dr. Seuss-like Discovery

Unearthed 350 million-year-old tree fossils reveal a Dr. Seuss-like world, offering insights into Earth’s ancient forests and evolutionary experiments.

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Unearthed by paleontologists Robert Gastaldo, Olivia King, and Matthew Stimson, these 350 million-year-old tree fossils, named “Sanfordiacaulis,” offer a rare insight into the architecture of ancient trees. Unlike typical tree fossils, these specimens retain their branches and crown leaves, painting a vivid picture of a bygone era.

Cheeck out the story on CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2024/02/02/world/sanfordiacaulis-ancient-tree-fossils-discovery-scn/index.html

Trees, the ancient sentinels of our planet, have long held secrets of Earth’s past. Recently, a groundbreaking discovery of uniquely preserved 3D tree fossils in a Canadian quarry has provided a glimpse into the evolution of Earth’s early forests, shedding light on a period of history shrouded in mystery.

The discovery of these fossil trees, with a size and completeness rarely seen in ancient plant fossils, challenges existing knowledge and fills gaps in the fossil record. The preservation of over 250 leaves around one trunk, each extending 5.7 feet, hints at a diverse ecosystem vastly different from what we know today.

The unique fossilization of these trees, believed to be a result of a catastrophic earthquake-induced landslide in an ancient rift lake, offers a snapshot of a moment frozen in time. This extraordinary find has captured the attention of experts like Peter Wilf, a paleobotanist, who emphasizes the significance of these fossils in understanding the evolution of early forest structures.

Described as reminiscent of a Dr. Seuss illustration, the Sanfordiacaulis stands as a testament to the experimental nature of evolution. Though short-lived in the Earth’s history, these peculiar trees represent a “failed experiment of science and evolution,” showcasing the diversity and adaptability of ancient plant life.

Looking ahead, these fossil trees not only provide insights into Earth’s past but also offer clues about the future. By understanding how ancient trees diversified and occupied different ecological niches, scientists can gain valuable knowledge about the potential trajectory of life on our planet.

In conclusion, the discovery of the Sanfordiacaulis fossils opens a window into a world long gone, sparking curiosity about the mysteries of Earth’s early forests and the lessons they hold for the future. As we unravel the secrets of these ancient tree sentinels, we continue to paint a richer picture of life 350 million years ago and the remarkable journey of evolution on our planet.

Source: CNN

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The Ocean Sunfish: A Gentle Giant of the Sea

The ocean sunfish, or Mola mola, is a gentle giant of the sea, known for its enormous size, unique habits, and peaceful nature.

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If you’ve never heard of the ocean sunfish, also known as Mola mola, get ready to be amazed. These gentle giants of the sea are truly one of the most unique and fascinating creatures you’ll encounter in the ocean. With their enormous size and peculiar appearance, ocean sunfish have captivated the curiosity of scientists and ocean enthusiasts alike.

Lifeform of the Week: Ocean Sunfish – EarthSky

At first glance, it’s hard to believe that these fish can reach up to 12 feet (3.6 m) in height, making them the heaviest bony fish in the world. Their sheer size often leaves people in awe, as it’s not every day you come across a fish that resembles a drifting island. However, what’s even more intriguing is the fact that they appear to be newcomers to the planet, with scientists believing them to be one of the most recent fish species to populate the sea.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the ocean sunfish is their behavior. These gentle creatures have a penchant for sunbathing, often seen floating near the water’s surface, basking in the warm sunlight. This behavior has led to the misconception that they derive energy directly from the sun, which, in turn, inspired their name. In Spanish, they are aptly called “peces luna” or moonfish, a nod to a legend where fishermen mistook them for the reflection of the moon in the water, especially at night.

To truly appreciate the ocean sunfish, it’s best to witness them in action. Watching a video or observing them in their natural habitat can provide an unparalleled experience, offering a glimpse into the grace and beauty of these enormous, unique creatures. Their slow, serene movements through the water are a sight to behold, prompting a sense of wonder and admiration for the mysteries of the ocean.

Despite their imposing size, ocean sunfish are known for their gentle nature. They pose no threat to humans and are often regarded as peaceful inhabitants of the sea. Their sheer presence serves as a reminder of the diverse and wondrous life forms that call the ocean home.

In conclusion, the ocean sunfish, with its extraordinary size, peculiar habits, and gentle demeanor, stands as a testament to the awe-inspiring diversity of marine life. As we continue to explore and learn about the mysteries of the ocean, encountering creatures like the ocean sunfish serves as a reminder of the importance of preserving and protecting our marine ecosystems for generations to come. Whether you’re an avid marine enthusiast or simply curious about the wonders of the natural world, the ocean sunfish is an undeniable marvel worth celebrating and protecting.

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