Mapping the sea's salt

Date 26 September 2011


Aquarius PI Gary Lagerloef explains some of the electromagnetic properties of saltwater for me. (Photograph: Kathleen Leonard)

All the sea is salt, but some parts are saltier than others. Rainfall dilutes the ocean’s waters, making them less salty. Salinity patterns thus hold clues to rainfall – key data for anyone trying to understand how rainfall patterns might be changing.


First global map of the salinity, or saltiness, of Earth’s ocean surface produced by NASA’s new Aquarius instrument

Salt affects the electromagnetic properties of water. An instrument to measure how those properties vary from place to place – and, therefore, the salinity of the ocean varies from place-to-place – was launched last June aboard the Argentine Satélite de Aplicaciones Cientificas.

The first salinity map based on Aquarius data, released in late September. I recently spoke with Aquarius Principle Investigator (PI) Gary Lagerloef about it by phone.

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Modeling Earth's Climate - Gabrielle Hegerl

Date 23 August 2011

Earth’ atmosphere is huge – it weighs trillions of tons … and it interacts with the sun, and with the sea and the rocks of the planet, making the Earth system even larger. To try to get a handle on the atmosphere, and on climate, scientists often use computer models. I spoke with Prof. Gabrielle Hegerl of the University of Edinburgh, about some of the intricacies of climate modeling. Aired on Soundings, Aug 23, 2011.

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Cool Clouds

Date 9 August 2011

It can be hard to observe motions in the atmosphere, since they’re usually invisible. Clouds, however, reveal some of that motion. Some very cool clouds appeared in the sky not long ago, and they revealed what was happening up there.

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The next Martian rover - conversation with geologist Dawn Sumner

Date 9 August 2011

The rovers Spirit and Opportunity have been exploring the surface of Mars, searching for evidence that water – essential to life – was once on or near the surface. This November, a new robot explorer will launch, to make planetfall in August of 2012. The rover Curiosity will look for, among other things, organic molecules – the sorts of molecules of which life is made. I spoke with Dawn Sumner, professor of geology at UC Davis, who was on the team that chose Curiosity’s landing site.

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Well before there was Reno, people lived here

Date 29 July 2011

The city of Reno grew up around the transcontinental railroad tracks that traversed the Truckee Meadows. When the tracks were re-routed below street-level, archeologists uncovered a record of five thousand years of human habitation.

Mary Ringhoff and Ed Stoner are archeologists with Western Cultural Resource Management, Inc., and authors of The River and the Railroad: An Archaeological History of Reno (University of Nevada Press), describing the archeological work they did during construction of the trench. Skip Allen Smith and I spoke with them on Dreamwalk, July 28, 2011.

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"Tin" cans and cancer - Conversation with Janet Gray

Date 18 July 2011

Tin cans are no longer lined with tin, but with an epoxy made from BP-A – bisphenol-A, a known endocrine disruptor. BP-A leaches into food … even organic food. The Breast Cancer Fund’s “Kick the Can” campaign encourages consumers to avoid buying food in “tin cans” through the end of July. I spoke about cancer, BP-A, and “tin” cans with Dr. Janet Gray of Vassar College. Dr. Gray is co-author of the report “The State of the Evidence 2010: The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment.”

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Arsenic-Eating Bacteria - Update on a Skeptic's View - Rosie Redfield

Date 12 July 2011

Arsenic is toxic to most life, for a number of reasons. When a NASA-funded scientist announced discovery of bacteria in Mono Lake that not only eat arsenic, but may use it to build their DNA, many scientists were skeptical. I spoke on-air with one skeptic, microbiologist Rosie Redfield, of the University of British Columbia when the announcement was made, and spoke with her again recently, for an update on her work-in-progress, investigating the claim by growing the bugs herself.

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Climate Modeling - Reto Knutti - 12 July, 2011

Date 12 July 2011

I spoke with Prof. Reto Knutti, of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science (Zurich), about modeling the climate in a computer, and about a paper he’s just published, in which his model was fed some rather extreme estimates for the planet’s future population and energy use. Aired on Soundings, 11 July 2011.

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Animal Tracking - Conversation with Mark Elbroch

Date 28 June 2011

Tracking requires focus and experience. Joined by local trackers Scot Woodland and Rick Berry, I spoke with Mark Elbroch, author of Mammal Tracks and Sign. Program aired on Soundings, Tuesday, June 28, 2011.

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California's long, wet spring of 2011 - Dave Reynolds

Date 20 June 2011

What a long, wet spring it’s been! I spoke with Dave Reynolds, Meteorologist-in-charge, NWS Forecast office, Monterrey, about conditions in the atmosphere and in the ocean that have been driving our weather. Aired on the evening news, June 20, 2011.

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Black Hole Eats Star

Date 20 June 2011

Every now and then, we (Earth) are in the right place, at the right time, to see something that happens just once in many lifetimes. I talked about this event with Steve Baker on his Monday morning program.

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Launch of the Aquarius Mission - June 13, 2011

Date 13 June 2011

I spoke last week (PODCAST: June 6, 2011) about the Aquarius Mission to map the salinity of the surface of the sea (SSS). I observed the launch of the spacecraft the following Friday – this is what I saw. (Broadcast on the Monday morning program, hosted by Michael Young).

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Conversation with Dr. Yi Chao, Project Scientist, Aquarius Mission - June 7, 2011

Date 7 June 2011

A week before the launch of the Aquarius Mission, I spoke with oceanographer Dr. Yi Chao, Aquarius project scientist, about how the spacecraft would offer a much-needed check on numerical climate models. Aired on the KVMR Evening News.

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Aquarius: How salt the sea? June 6, 2011

Date 6 June 2011

Computer models – mathematical simulations of the atmosphere – are major tools of climate science. To have any confidence that these models are realistic, they must be ground-truthed – their results must be checked against reality. Aired on Steve Baker’s Monday morning show.

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Weather for a Wet-Spring Weekend - June 3, 2011

Date 3 June 2011

Northern California has seen some very interesting weather this spring. This weekend’s weather could get even more interesting. I spoke with meteorologist Steve Goldstein of the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

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The Long, Wet Spring of 2011 - May 27, 2011

Date 27 May 2011

I spoke with National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Goldstein about what’s been happening in the atmosphere to create a delightfully cool spring. Aired on the KVMR evening news.

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Searching for Antimatter – May 16, 2011

Date 16 May 2011

In her final flight, OV Endeavour delivers the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station, to search for, among other things, antimatter. I said a few words about the AMS on Steve Baker’s Monday morning program

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Preparing for Emergencies - Soundings - May 3, 2011

Date 3 May 2011

The southeast has tornadoes … New Orleans has floods … the Bay Area has earthquakes … the foothills have wildfire. I spoke about emergency preparedness with Dr. Joshua Lichterman, president of Emergency Management Group.

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Looking at Radiation Risks from Fukushima - Soundings - May 3, 2011

Date 3 May 2011

No sooner had the Fukushima accident begun, than we began hearing advice that ran the gamut from “Don’t worry about it” to “Run for your lives!” Physicians for Social Responsibility had Dr. Seth Tuler write a report on the implications of the radiation drifting over North America, and I spoke with him about it.

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Tornadoes - Soundings - May 3, 2011

Date 3 May 2011

Last week saw more tornado fatalities than any series of outbreaks since the 1970s. I spoke with Bob Henson of UCAR, author of The Rough Guide to Weather and editor of UCAR Magazine.

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