NASA may not be the first thing you think of when you hear Earth Day. But NASA is as committed to learning about our planet as much as they are committed to learning about space.
John Bolten is a Physical Research Scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and is serving as the Associate Program Manager of Water Resources for the NASA Applied Sciences Program. He knows that to get the best view of our home planet, you need to go up high.
“In fact, it turns out the best place to study the Earth is not necessarily from the land surface, but actually from space. By using satellites, we have a very unique vantage point as we can cover a large area quickly. We have frequent overpasses. By leveraging NASA’s constellation of Earth satellite data, we have a complete picture of the Earth’s hydrologic cycle, our carbon cycle and our energy cycle.”
Along with satellites, the International Space Station (ISS) is a unique laboratory environment for research and experiments. Bolten says the ISS is like a Swiss Army Knife (that has microgravity). It allows NASA to observe our Earth in an extraordinary way.
As NASA prepares to launch Crew-2 to the ISS on Friday, Bolten says it perfectly ties in with Earth Day and our Earth’s changing climate.
“Particularly for Earth Day, we’re looking at things related to potential climate change issues. So we’re able to have a long legacy of observations of changes in sea level, changes in sea ice, see how glaciers are melting, measuring forest fires, droughts and floods. The International Space Station is a wonderful opportunity to look at the Earth.”
The past discoveries aboard the ISS have been monumental, and future work will impact how we approach our evolving climate. One of the biggest ways climate change is being observed is through the water cycle.
“We’re seeing sort of a speeding up of the water cycle. We’re seeing not necessarily more storms, but we’re seeing more intense storms. And we’re also seeing that areas where it’s drier, it’s getting drier and areas that are wetter are getting wetter. And this is being realized through forest fires. We’ve had a record number of forest fires in the United States and in the western states just last year. We’re also seeing an increasing number of storms and the intensity of those storms,” exclaims Bolten.
He says that the record of changing climate is significant and will help us pinpoint what is changing and how it affects our relationship to our home planet. Like anything in life, the more you know, the more you can help.
“The key to science is observations. You remember in school, when you’re in science class? Let’s make an observation and make a recording to get a better understanding. That’s what NASA is doing. And by taking satellite data, combining this with ground data and citizen science data, it’s really really interesting,” exclaims Bolten.
He encourages anyone interested in NASA and being a citizen scientist to visit nasa.gov/earth to learn more!
Earth Day is April 22nd. But it is more than a day, it is a state of mind.
“What I want to convey is the importance of understanding our planet and our role in our planet’s health. That’s essential and probably a good message for Earth Day.”
A good message for today’s generation to help tomorrow’s future.