Posts Tagged ‘nasa’

Climate change is perhaps the single biggest issue facing the health of our communities. Severe weather conditions threaten the crops on which we depend for food and a thriving economy as well as the safety of our neighborhoods and health of our landscape. In San Luis Obispo, we have historically seen weather patterns consistent with a Mediterranean climate where we experience long, hot and dry summers with rainy, wet winters. Many of the native plants are drought-tolerant, and the cold waters and upwelling of nutrients off of our coasts provide us with a stunning amount of marine biodiversity. With greenhouse gasses on the rise, what can we expect for the seasons to come?

The Coast: According to a report released by the California Academy of Sciences in June of this year, Central California’s waters are already showing the effects of a warming planet. Surface waters have increased in temperature, sea levels are higher, winds are stronger, upwellings are more intense, there is increased ocean acidification, and shoreline erosion has accelerated. As a result, ecosystems have been thrown out of balance and organisms are struggling to adapt.

The study states that the most severe ecological disruption will come from the changes associated with upwellings, ocean temperature, sea level rise, and acidification. Upwelling appears to be increasing because of more rapid heating of land in contrast to the ocean which creates pressure gradients and strong winds, driving the process. Researchers worry that stronger currents may carry the larvae of fish and other animals out to sea, disconnecting whole populations and threatening the food web. Warm surface temperatures have heated bays and shallow waters, making for steep temperature gradients from east to west. Warmer surface waters also inhibit the vertical mixing of water and nutrients which can result in plankton blooms and areas of low dissolved oxygen, killing certain species that need oxygen rich habitats to survive and aiding in the takeover of invasive organisms.

Sea level rise has accounted for a large amount of coastline erosion as well as the change in tidepool ecosystems. Rising waters affect the ability of marine mammals to reproduce and rest, changing the living patterns for these top predators. As CO2 continues to be absorbed by the sea, waters have become more acidic, creating conditions where shelled animals cannot form their exoskeletons or even dissolve.

In regards to broader weather patterns, the El Nino oscillation cycles are expected to continue with higher temperatures than in the past. La Nina years will be wetter and warmer than average with heavy downpours becoming more frequent.  Days of high fire risk are going to become more common with an extended fire season brought on by hotter temperatures and increased evaporation. Flooding and erosion from sea level rise and lack of vegetative cover will deposit more soil and sediment into freshwater systems, eventually affecting marine ecosystems as they flow out to sea.  Saltwater is also expected to flow into freshwater systems as the oceans rise.




A giant astronaut lives only yards away from Bambu Batu in the heart of Mission Plaza in downtown San Luis Obispo.  The Moon Tree, a coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) was planted as a 55-inch tall seedling just upstream from the Broad Street Bridge near Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa on July 30, 1976.

The majestic tree began its life as a seedling stuffed into a cylinder taken on the NASA/USFS mission to the lunar surface in 1971.  As a part of crew member Stuart Roosa’s personal kit, the seeds joined others that were plucked from their earthly homes around the country, and launched into space aboard Apollo 14.  After returning to their home planet, they were donated to the USFS and allowed to germinate.  Most of the seeds bequeathed to the Placerville, CA  and the Gulfport,  MI stations sprouted successfully, and the USFS collected between 420 and 450 saplings from seeds and cuttings after a few years.  They were planted in locations across the US as a part of the nation’s 1976 bicentennial celebration.

Most of the species of trees, predominantly sourced from southern and western parts of the country, were grown alongside normal saplings as a control.  After decades of observation, there have been no recordings of discernible differences between the Moon Trees and their counterparts.  Nevertheless, San Luis Obispo is proud to have a living relic of the space age in the heart of town.



The Earth is a complex, dynamic organism that is constantly transforming with the rhythms of the Universe.  For the past 40 years, the Landsat satellite has been capturing images of the world’s changing landscapes, covering the same area every 16 days.  The program was launched in 1972 as a joint venture between NASA and the US Geological Survey in an effort to collect “remote sensing” information.  A recent story by Treehugger explains how Landsat, in collaboration with Google’s Earth Engine, is compiling trillions of images taken over the decades to be used free of charge.

It is hoped that scientists, governments, and independent researches will be able to take advantage of the data, helping to solve problems such as deforestation, estimating biomass and carbon levels, and mapping unexplored and roadless areas.  Google and Landsat have already released a video detailing the project, as well as fascinating time-lapse pieces.  Among some of the most interesting subjects include Las Vegas’ urban explosion, the destruction of the Amazonian rainforest, and drying of the Aral Sea.

Landsat has already been involved with a number of projects that aim to devise solutions to some of the globe’s most perplexing problems through the use of standardized scientific data.  From watching how nations control and utilize water resources to studying the effects of climate change on vegetation and population, our survival may just be getting a little help from someone watching from above.

In recent years, you may have found yourself noting strange weather phenomena, debating with friends over the issue of climate change, or wondering how truly guilty you ought to feel about leaving your air conditioner on all day during the summer.  For an informed, timely, and relevant discussion, there are few better writers or public figures to reference than Bill McKibben.

The Central Coast Clergy and Laity for Justice will be hosting famed environmentalist Bill McKibben at the Fremont Theater (1025 Monterey St., SLO) on October 30, from 6:30-9:30pm.  Author of over a dozen books and founder of the global grassroots climate campaign, McKibben will be discussing his new book, Earth- Making a life on a tough new planet.  He asserts that by burning fossil fuels, human beings have raised the temperature of the Earth one degree Celsius, a feat that holds major implications for the future of our climate and survival on this planet.

For example, already NASA has documented a 45 percent increase in heavy storm “supercell” activity, allowing global rainfall to climb around 1.5 percent per decade and higher incidents of lightening and ensuing wildfires.  In addition to more intense and frequent storms, the melting of the ice sheets occurring at both poles and expanded tropical zones are combining to create new environmental conditions to which human beings are going to have to adapt quickly.

McKibben, the driving force between the international activist group, has long maintained that the number 350, which stands for the parts per million of carbon dioxide, is the safest upper limit of which we can allow the gas into our atmosphere.  This threshold should be the standard by which governments and industries regulate their emissions and the target goal for a planet already situated at 39o parts per million and rising.

Among his accolades and many honorary degrees, McKibben is a Distinguished Middlebury Scholar, frequent contributor to various magazines including The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Orion Magazine, Mother Jones, The New York Review of Books, Granta, Rolling Stone, and Outside. He is also a board member and contributor to Grist Magazine.  He also holds both a Guggenheim Fellowship and Lyndhurst Fellowship as well as a Lannan Prize for best nonfiction writing.

Being a popular and  prolific author numerous of articles and books, campaign organizer, and lecturer, McKibben’s talk is sure to be a major attraction here in a town where caring for the environment is of major concern. Seating will be limited, so interested parties are encouraged to purchase tickets early.  Admission is $10.00.  For more information, call the CCCLJ at (805) 704-3356 or visit