Will we be able to predict natural disasters soonly?
In June 2013, scientists from the NASA’s IFloodS program were on hand to study the powerful storm. The researchers gathered data radar dishes, ground moisture sensors and rain gauges, which they then compared to data and images gathered by orbital satellites passing overhead. Their goal: Double-checking estimates of rainfall based upon satellite data. If they’re able to fine-tune those calculations, they eventually hope to use their weather satellites to spot and provide an early warning of when midwestern rivers may overflow their banks and cause flooding.
The IFloodS program is just one part of NASA’s other, less-publicized but extremely critical mission of trying to find ways to protect humans from various natural disasters on our own planet.
To that end, NASA spends more than $1.8 billion annually on earth sciences — more than it spends upon studying other planets. The agency’s research programs include efforts to predict earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, forest fires and powerful storms, and to give us more warning to prepare for them, largely by using data gathered by satellites from the vantage point of orbital space. In addition, NASA’s Near Earth Object Program uses both Earth-based and orbital observatories to identify and track asteroids and comets whose paths bring them close to Earth –including some that might possibly smash into our planet’s surface and cause massive devastation and loss of life, or possibly even trigger a wave of extinctions.
Predicting Hurricane Intensity
If you live in a coastal region in which you’re vulnerable to hurricanes, there are two crucial pieces of information that you want from weather forecasters. The first is what the hurricane’s path will be, so that you know whether or not it’s going to hit the place where you live. The second is how powerful the storm is going to be.
In 2014, NASA is planning to launch a new array of satellites that may give weather forecasters even more help in predicting hurricane intensity. The Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS), developed by engineers at the University of Michigan, will put a constellation of eight small satellites into a low-Earth orbit. The satellites’ sensors will measure various properties in the ocean and the atmosphere, with the aim of coming up with a more precise model for how tropical cyclones form and how they strengthen.
Volcanoes, Earthquakes and Tsunamis
Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes have one important tell-tale sign in common. As the pressure in them builds up before they unleash their fury, they cause small deformations in Earth’s crust. If scientists could spot those subtle changes, they might be able to predict more precisely when catastrophic eruptions and quakes will occur.
In 2011, Song and Ohio State University professor C.K. Shum used Japanese GPS data to analyze the particularly destructive tsunami generated by a March 2011 earthquake off northern Japan, and discovered that the wave actually was composed of two different wave fronts that merged and doubled in intensity as they passed over rugged ridges on the seafloor. That knowledge may help forecasters in the future to predict similarly super-powerful waves, and hopefully speed evacuations of coastal areas.
In February 2013, a 60-foot-across (18-meter), 11,000-metric ton (12,125-ton) meteor exploded in the sky over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, injuring more than 1,200 people. Coincidentally, that same day, an even bigger object–an asteroid half the size of a football field–passed about 17,200 miles (27,680 kilometers) from Earth. Had it struck, it would have exploded with a force of about 2.4 million tons (2.2 million metric tons) of dynamite, the equivalent of hundreds of Hiroshima-sized A-bombs.
To hunt for them, NASA has repurposed an existing satellite, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, originally launched in 2009 to search for distant stars and galaxies. NASA envisions that WISE will discover about 150 previously unknown near-Earth objects and gather information about the size and other properties of about 2,000 more.
WISE and the NEO program hopefully will give NASA advance warning of an object on a collision course—and time to implement a defensive strategy, whether that means diverting the asteroid with gravity tractors, solar sails or other future technologies, or simply destroying it with a nuclear blast. That might help us to avoid the worst natural disaster ever.
- 6 oct nasa asteroid 2013 (educationbulletinboard.com)
- Nasa Shuts Down ‘Asteroid Watch’ In Wake Of US Government Crisis (huffingtonpost.co.uk)
- NASA will not warn us about asteroids over Twitter during the shutdown (washingtonpost.com)
- How is the Government Shutdown affecting NASA? (io9.com)
- Risk of bigger tsunamis (radionz.co.nz)
- Scientists find evidence of supervolcanoes on Mars (forobserve.wordpress.com)
- Photos: Natural Disasters From Space (abcnews.go.com)
Tags: Chelyabinsk, Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System, CYGNSS, Earth, Earthquakes, IFloodS program, Innovation, NASA, Near-Earth object, Russia, Tsunamis, Twitter, University of Michigan, Volcanoes, Weather, Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer
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