March 2015 Was the Hottest Ever

Despite cooler temperatures in the eastern half of North America that continue, this was still the hottest March globally that we’ve ever recorded, making it also the hottest year to date ever. It’s far too early to predict for sure, but 2015 will beat 2014 for the all-time record if this trend continues. This is all according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA’s latest monthly report highlights some of the key findings:

    • March 2015 was the hottest March in their 135-year of keeping accurate records, beating “the previous record of 2010 by 0.09°F (0.05°C).”
    • January-to-March was the hottest first quarter of any year on record, beating “the previous record of 2002 by 0.09°F.”
    • Arctic sea ice hit its smallest March extent since satellite records began in 1979.

The human-caused global warming trend that made 2014 the hottest year on record is unfortunately continuing. So make no mistake: it’s becoming much more likely that 2015 will be the hottest year we’ve ever recorded. An El Niño year like the one we’re now in helps to break temperature records—that’s the main reason 1998 was such an outlier year—because the short-term El Niño effects are simply superimposed on the already present long-term global warming trend. NOAA predicts we have a 60 percent chance that the current El Niño our planet is experiencing will last all year long rather than just a few months. If so, don’t be surprised if 2015 doesn’t just beat the 2014 record.

It will smash it to pieces.


It’s Earth Day—How About Earth Night?

“I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.”
Vincent Van Gogh

Thanks to NASA satellites, we’re able to see some of the world’s wonders for the first time during this generation. During the daytime, images of Earth are all land, water, and clouds. But the nighttime is something altogether different.

With all the bad things happening to our planet—increasing global emissions, droughts, floods, record-breaking temperatures—I wanted to find something a little more inspiring for today, but something that still shows what’s happening on our planet.

This video uses the Earth at night view created by NASA’s Earth Observatory with data processed by NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center and combined with a version of the Earth Observatory’s Blue Marble: Next Generation. It shows Earth at night completely free of cloud cover. Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (a joint program by NASA and NOAA) captured this nighttime image. Not only do these images depict city lights reflecting our tremendous energy use all over the planet (most of which is generated by the combustion of fossil fuels), it also shows gas flares related to obtaining those fossil fuels, and wildfires contributed to by global warming related to the combustion of those fossil fuels.

This video took 312 satellite orbits and 2.5 terabytes of data to get a clear shot of every parcel of land surface.

I think it shows the beauty of Earth and what we have accomplished as a species, but also reminds us of what we need to change.


Neil deGrasse Tyson’s New Talk Show Starts Tonight!

“We are trying to reach people who don’t know they like science, and people who know that they don’t like science. We are doing this through the use of three pillars: science, pop culture, and comedy.”
—Neil deGrasse Tyson

What will you be doing tonight at 11 p.m.? I suggest you watch my hero Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new show StarTalk. For astronomy geeks like me, Tyson has been well-known for many years, but he came into more mainstream prominence last year with his amazing reboot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series. Tonight marks the first episode of a new weekly science talk show on the National Geographic Channel. But it’s not just science: pop culture manages to make a significant presence in the show. You can expect a number of comedians to help keep things light.

Tyson is adapting his popular podcast into a talk show format but promises that by bringing pop culture into it, the science part will be easy to take for non-science viewers. For example, tonight’s episode has George Takei as his guest, and everybody loves the original helmsman of the Enterprise. Others you can look forward to later in the season include former President Jimmy Carter, director Christopher Nolan (the Batman trilogy), evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (sometimes referred to as “Darwin’s Rottweiler”), and my favourite astronaut Chris Hadfield (thanks again for recommending my book, Chris!).

I strongly recommend you watch this series, whether you’re scientifically minded or not. It will promise to be both enlightening and entertaining. And if one responsibility of a scientist is to help educate the masses about the current understanding of science in a way they can appreciate, then no one today is doing a better job of this than Neil deGrasse Tyson.

And just maybe this will help achieve our goal of tackling the problems our planet faces today, because without understanding there can be no real action.


Mauri Pelto’s Elevator Pitch on Climate Change

Mauri S. Pelto is a professor of environmental science at Nichols College in Dudley, Massachusetts, as well as the director of the North Cascades Glacier Climate Project. He has been studying glaciers in the state of Washington since 1984. His research team has documented that all of these glaciers are retreating because of higher temperatures and a decrease in the amount of snowfall, both attributable to global warming. Of the 756 glaciers identified in the North Cascades by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1971, 53 of them had completely disappeared by 2006, with nine more likely to go soon.

Here’s Mauri’s “Elevator Pitch” explaining global warming in one minute.


Climate Change and its Impact on Water

Sometimes people ask me if I were to write another book, what would it be about? With my busy work schedule I’m not sure I’ll be able to find the opportunity anytime soon, but if I did I’ve always thought it would be about water. Despite a planet that’s about three quarters water, the amount of fresh water at our disposal is surprisingly little. Our oceans are salt water, and much of our fresh water is locked up in glaciers and ice caps. So it’s primarily lakes and rivers—predominantly supplied by rain or melting snow and ice—that provide the water that keeps more than seven billion people alive.

A warming planet is changing all of that. Just look at California’s current drought problems, its worst in over 1200 years and you’ll see climate change in action. I’ve often thought that the wars our species wages because of oil will soon be replaced by wars because of fresh water. Water has always been our most precious commodity, it’s only now we’re starting to realize that fact.

Irena Salina produced an award-winning documentary called “Flow” that investigated this very important issue. Check out this trailer and if you get a chance, see the whole documentary. You’ll never look at a glass of water the same way again.