74 articles from MONDAY 2.9.2019

US woman Eunice Foote only now receiving credit for first identifying greenhouse effect

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Eunice Foote, a pioneer in climate research of whom few people have heard. She showed that water vapour and carbon dioxide helped to heat Earth’s atmosphere, and realised that when the atmosphere had higher levels of carbon dioxide it made the climate much warmer.

Her work was presented in August 1856 at a prestigious scientific conference in the US, but had to be given by a male colleague because women were not allowed to give talks at the meeting. Her study was not even included in the conference proceedings, although a summary of the talk appeared in a report about the meeting a year later.

In 1859, the renowned physicist John Tyndall, working in London, demonstrated how certain gases such as carbon dioxide and water vapour in the atmosphere warmed the climate – what later became known as the greenhouse effect. He made no mention of Foote in his research and whether he did not know of her work or deliberately ignored it remains unknown. But Tyndall’s experiments became widely accepted as a cornerstone of work on the greenhouse effect. Despite Foote’s insights, her contribution to climate research became a footnote in history and is only now starting to come to light.


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A new Columbia Engineering study indicates that the world will experience more frequent and more extreme drought and aridity than currently experienced in the coming century, exacerbated by both climate change and land-atmosphere processes. The researchers demonstrate that concurrent soil drought and atmospheric aridity are largely driven by a series of land-atmosphere processes and feedback loops. They also found that land-atmosphere feedbacks would further intensify concurrent soil drought and atmospheric aridity in a warmer climate. The study was published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Diversity is a hallmark of life and it shows up in unexpected places. A multi-national team of evolutionary biologists investigated how two types of poison frog co-exist when only one might be expected. Their innovative study uncovers conditions where diversity flourishes against the odds, and offers new perspectives on chemical defense. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on September 2nd 2019.

Newly digitized vintage film has doubled how far back scientists can peer into the history of underground ice in Antarctica, and revealed that an ice shelf on Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica is being thawed by a warming ocean more quickly than previously thought. This finding contributes to predictions for sea-level rise that would impact coastal communities around the world.

X-37B: America's Space Plane (Or Warplane?) That Has the World GuessingThe last “sexy” theory is that the space plane is basically a spy satellite with the ability to return to Earth and have its optical sensors periodically upgraded. The X-37 has orbited over some interesting locations, including North Korea, China, ISIS-held territory and Iran. U.S. optical spy satellites are, however, quite large—the size of a school bus—and the X-37’s payload bay is far too small.A mysterious space plane has spent more than 670 days above Earth, hurtling along an orbital path that includes some of the world’s most volatile hotspots. Known the X-37B, the U.S. Air Force’s unmanned mini-shuttle whizzes along an average of two hundred miles above the surface of the Earth. Exactly what it’s doing up there is bit of a mystery.(This first appeared several years ago.)The space plane that would eventually become the X-37B was originally conceived of by NASA in 1999. The Space Shuttle program had failed to bring down the per-pound cost of ferrying a payload to orbit, but a smaller, unmanned aircraft using newer technologies might prove more economical. Boeing’s Phantom Works division was given a four-year contract to develop the X-37 in conjunction with NASA, followed up in 2002 with a new agreement to develop an Approach and Landing Test Vehicle to test horizontal landing concepts. Once successful, that would be followed up with an actual Orbital Test Vehicle, a launch into space, and a Space Shuttle–like landing.In 2004 NASA transferred the X-37 program to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA. The ALTV vehicle successfully tested out atmospheric flight concepts, but NASA’s OTV space plane was never built. Instead, the U.S. Air Force built its own OTV space plane along the same lines. In fact, it built at least two.The X-37 is lifted into space by a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket using Russian-supplied RD-180 liquid-fuel rocket boosters. It sits at the top of the rocket, encased in an aerodynamic payload fairing. The X-37 is twenty-nine feet, three inches long, with a wingspan of fourteen feet, eleven inches; it weighs five tons at launch. Its payload bay is seven feet long by seven feet wide—about the same as a pickup truck. In orbit, the space plane is powered by gallium arsenide solar cells with lithium-ion batteries.According to the Air Force, the space plane tests a variety of technologies, including “advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection systems, avionics, high temperature structures and seals, conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems, advanced propulsion systems and autonomous orbital flight, reentry and landing.” The missions are run on the ground by Third Space Experimentation Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado.The first space plane flight, OTV-1, launched from Cape Canaveral on April 22, 2010 on an Atlas V named AV-012. The web site NASA Spaceflight speculated that the spacecraft was carrying a payload of “technology demonstration and development experiments” for the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office. OTV-1 would spend 224 days in space.The X-37 was originally designed to spend up to nine months in space, but the Air Force quickly pushed beyond that threshold. The second mission, OTV-2 was the first flight of the second X-37B, and lasted from March 5, 2011 to June 16, 2012, a total of 469 days. OTV-3 was launched in December 2012 and returned on October 17, 2014, for a total of 675 days.OTV-4 was launched on May 20, 2015, and has been up in space ever since.What are the X-37s doing up there? There have been all sorts of theories. One theory was that the X-37 has been sidling up to the military satellites of potential adversaries such as China and Russia, examining them and even returning to American soil with them safely tucked into the payload bay. While this Blofeld-style act of orbital grand theft fires the imagination, the truth is that the X-37’s orbit is fairly easy to track and such a heist would take place literally in front of the entire planet.Other theories are that the X-37 is a form of nuclear space bomber, loaded with nuclear bombs or even “Rods from God”—kinetic energy projectiles dropped from space that accelerate to hypersonic speeds, obliterating their targets on Earth. Parked in orbit for months at a time, the X-37 could provide a quick means of delivering devastation, faster than ICBM and more difficult to detect.The last “sexy” theory is that the space plane is basically a spy satellite with the ability to return to Earth and have its optical sensors periodically upgraded. The X-37 has orbited over some interesting locations, including North Korea, China, ISIS-held territory and Iran. U.S. optical spy satellites are, however, quite large—the size of a school bus—and the X-37’s payload bay is far too small.The most likely purpose for the X-37B is simply to do space research. The payloads of earlier missions remain unknown. According to the Air Force, OTV-4 is testing Hall thruster electric propulsion systems, the same systems used on the Pentagon’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency communications satellite. Hall thrusters use a magnetic field to accelerate the ions in a propellant, producing thrust. Hall thrusters are used to adjust the orbits of satellites and are a “serious candidate” to power ships to Mars. OTV-4 is also carrying one hundred NASA-supplied materials to see how they hold up to the rigors of long-term space travel. Could it be up to even more things? It’s possible, but they’d have to be physically small.While it may not be doing any satellite snatching, the X-37B program provides the Air Force with a flying, returnable test bed for testing new technologies, a capability no other country has at this point. Even if it isn’t carrying out any cloak-and-dagger missions, it’s still performing a valuable service that will advance American space technology.Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009, he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.


Three months after Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched the first set of what will be a broadband-providing constellation of satellites, other operators are already veering to keep their own spacecraft out of harm’s way.

The European Space Agency tweeted Monday that it fired the thrusters on its Earth observation satellite Aeolus to avoid a potential collision with one of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. The Musk-led company launched the first 60 of its satellites in May, getting a jump on fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos’s Amazon.com Inc., which is pursuing a similar endeavor called Project Kuiper.

For the first time ever, ESA has performed a ‘collision avoidance manoeuvre’ to protect one of its satellites from colliding with a ‘mega constellation’#SpaceTrafficpic.twitter.com/kmXvAgpj1U

— ESA Operations (@esaoperations) September 2, 2019

While the ESA said this is the first time it’s performed a collision-avoidance maneuver to protect one of its satellites from colliding with a constellation, they’re poised to become so common that using a manual process will be impossible. The agency said in a tweet that it’s preparing to automate avoidance maneuvers using artificial intelligence.

Representatives for SpaceX didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Hurricane Dorian, which slammed the Bahamas early Monday as a catastrophic Category 5 storm, is packing remarkably strong winds — but the storm itself is crawling along, moving at a mere 1 mile per hour early Monday before slowing to “stationary” as of Monday afternoon. The storm’s glacial pace will result in even more devastation, meteorologists say.

With sustained winds of 185 mph and gusts up to 220 mph at the time of landfall in the Bahamas, Dorian made its mark as one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes on record. While it was recategorized as a Category 4 storm late Monday morning, with winds of 155 mph, it remains an extremely dangerous storm, forecasters say. In part, that’s because it’s moving so slowly. Adam Douty, a meteorologist with AccuWeather, says Dorian will move as slowly as 1 or 2 mph “for the next 12 hours or so.”

For those in Hurricane Dorian’s path, that’s a big cause for concern. A slow-moving storm “makes the flooding worse, you have continued battering with the wind so it has time to weaken structures, and once they’re weakened it could damage them further,” Douty says. In addition, Dorian will likely cause significant coastal erosion along the coast with “hours and hours of waves” in the Bahamas.

#Dorian has moved maybe 8mi during this 5 hour loop; all the while, it's been battering Grand Bahama and Great Abaco with storm surges >=20', winds gusting up to 200mph, and torrential rainfall. It's no longer a C5, but remains an extreme hurricane as it slowly starts to curve N. pic.twitter.com/3ywkiBpaY6

— Hank Dolce (@tropicstopics) September 2, 2019

What’s slowing Dorian down? Hurricanes are steered by upper-level winds in Earth’s atmosphere. Forecasters say Dorian has slowed down because a high pressure ridge that was steering the storm westward has weakened. Now, the storm is essentially waiting for another external force before it starts moving quickly again.

“We’re kind of in a holding pattern. There’s nothing to steer it basically until Tuesday, when it starts to get a nudge,” Lance Wood, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, tells TIME. “It’s just stuck, there’s no large-scale wind moving it right now.”

Douty adds that a cold front moving across the Great Lakes could eventually start pulling Dorian northward, but that would not happen until later on Monday at the earliest.

As of late Monday morning, Hurricane Dorian is expected to approach the Southeastern U.S. late Tuesday into early Wednesday before winding its way up the eastern seaboard. Earlier projections suggested Dorian would make its way more inland and hit Florida over Labor Day weekend.

Despite the downgrade to a Category 4, Hurricane Dorian remains extremely dangerous. As TIME has previously reported, “a Category 4 hurricane will blow out most windows on high-rise buildings, uproot most trees and will likely down many power lines. Power outages can last for weeks or even months after storms of this level. Water shortages are also common in the aftermath of Category 4 hurricanes, potentially making the affected area uninhabitable for weeks or months.”

 

Hurricane Dorian Forecast and Track
NOAAThe latest forecasted track for Hurricane Dorian as of 11 a.m. ET on Monday, Sept. 2.

The hurricane’s effects on the Southeastern U.S. are not expected to be “anywhere near as dangerous as what the Bahamas has seen,” Douty says. The Bahamas will likely face the worst damage caused by the storm from Sunday morning until Monday afternoon, he adds.

“(Dorian is) basically not moving and spinning over the Grand Bahama,” Wood says. “We’re expecting (Dorian) doesn’t make landfall in the U.S., but we still could see some hurricane-force winds right along the immediate coast. That’s why there are some watches and warnings.”

A hurricane warning is in effect for parts of the Florida coast, while northeastern Florida and parts of the Georgia coast are under a hurricane watch. A warning means hurricane conditions are imminent, while a watch means they are possible.

Florida is expected to face the worst of Hurricane Dorian from mid-Tuesday into Wednesday. By then, Dorian could be a Category 3 storm, but still potentially dangerous. The hurricane is then expected to move towards coastal Georgia on Wednesday night and arrive in the Carolinas later on Thursday, by which time it could be a Category 1 storm, Douty says.

As long as the core of the hurricane stays offshore, the impacts could be limited to power outages and wind damage to trees, Wood says. Still, even “a small deviation to the west could bring a little more wind and water.”

Dorian is expected to gradually weaken as it makes its way north into colder waters or onto land.

What lies beneath: Singapore plans a subterranean futureSpace-starved Singapore has expanded outwards by building into the sea and upwards by constructing high-rises but planners are now looking underground as they seek new areas for growth. Singapore has already built an underground highway and state-of-the-art air conditioning system, but is now looking to house more facilities beneath the surface in order to optimise land use above it.