'Satellite imaging to reduce climate change uncertainty'

Dr. Diane Evans speaks to the 'Post' after lecture Ben-Gurion University.

January 26, 2010 06:44
2 minute read.
Dr. Diane Evans, director for earth and science te

Diane Evans NASA 248. (photo credit: Dani Machlis/Ben-Gurion University)

Photos from space have already helped reduce the differences between climate change models and will play a significant role ahead of the next assessment, Dr. Diane Evans, director for earth science and technology at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said Monday.

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Evans lectured at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in the morning and spoke to The Jerusalem Post by phone after her presentation.

A periodic assessment of climate change put out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change used satellites to chart the rise of the seas and the reduction of the ice sheets at the poles, Evans told the Post.

"The IPCC came out with their 4th assessment in 2007. The third assessment didn't know if the ice sheets were gaining or losing mass. We now know that they have been losing mass," she said, to demonstrate the beneficial use of satellites in tracking environmental phenomena.

"The next assessment is supposed to come out in 2013. Between now and then, satellite imaging will be used to assess the truth of the models. The models will be checked against the direct observations of the satellites," she said.

Evans was here as part of an annual BGU event to remember Israeli astronaut Col. Ilan Ramon and the crew of the Columbia shuttle, which disintegrated upon reentry into the atmosphere on February 1, 2003. She gave a lecture in Beersheba entitled "Eyes on the Earth: The Critical Role of Satellites in Understanding our Environment."

"What we try to do is calm the debate by providing direct observations," she remarked to the Post.

According to Evans, the images have shown that the ice sheets at the poles are melting abnormally fast, the seas are rising and the glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland are receding even faster than the models predicted.

For Evans, the debate over whether the changes are man-made or natural is "a little beside the point, because they are definitely happening and faster than was predicted."

Evans suggested that even if global warming was another phase in the earth's development, moving to a carbon-free sustainable economy was still an economically worthwhile goal, "since oil will eventually run out."

NASA has been observing the Earth for the last 20 years and has been looking into environmental applications "more and more." In addition to climate change, NASA satellites have been monitoring natural disasters. Some of the systems can even be used to trace tension and buildup in the tectonic plates which cause earthquakes.

"The satellites can give an indication of potential magnitude, not timing. They also show the resulting changes in stress and tensions along fault lines in the area after an earthquake," she said.

Evans did not know whether any satellite could have offered advance warning of the earthquake that wracked Haiti on January 12. However, she said the research, though still in its infancy, might eventually be useful in predicting aftershocks.

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