NASA has turned its attention from space to Earth and is studying how to combat drought, fires, and environmental catastrophes.
At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, California, last week, NASA administrator Bill Nelson spoke to a group of attendees and, according to the Los Angeles Times, said "I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but in truth, this discussion is about saving our planet."
Earth and space scientists from NASA and JPL, local congressional representatives, and California environmental secretaries Wade Crowfoot and Jared Blumenfeld heard Nelson say there are new tools to measure snowpack and groundwater, satellites to monitor methane emissions, and remote sensing assets to evaluate the impact of wildfires, earthquakes, and mudslides.
"We’re facing an existential crisis on this planet," said Crowfoot, the state’s natural resources secretary. "These challenges are intense. ... But there’s no better place than California to do this work, because we understand the gravity of the threat."
Nearly 2.5 million acres have been affected in California’s wildfires so far this year. Entire towns have been destroyed by the flames. The state also recorded its hottest summer in 2021.
The Western U.S. in recent months has experienced severe drought conditions, causing the first closure of Lake Oroville’s hydroelectric power plan and the first water shortage on the Colorado River.
"As states, we do our best to manage this resource of water, but we’re never going to do it with the sophistication we need to without partners like NASA," Crowfoot said, adding that the agency could be the "tip of the spear" fighting climate change.
Surface water and ocean topography tools known as SWOT will contribute to NASA’s first global survey of the Earth’s surface water. It is set to launch in 2022.
Blumenfeld, California’s secretary for environmental protection, said the three largest producers of methane in the state are the oil and gas industry, landfills, and agriculture (particularly, large animal operations and dairies).
Space missions have also come under the environmental spotlight, as propellants required to launch rockets into space can expel carbon dioxide, liquid hydrogen, kerosene, or other chemicals into the atmosphere, the Los Angeles Times reported.
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