How NASA Can Save Us Billions of Gallons of Water

A $1.5 million machine, a small aircraft, and a bunch of ex–ski bums traipsing about in the woods could be the key to a well-irrigated future.

March 21, 2014 By Vince Beiser Vince Beiser has reported from more than two dozen countries for publications including ‘Wired,’ ‘Harper’s,’ ‘The Atlantic,’ and ‘Rolling Stone.’ He is the winner of the 2014 Media for Liberty Award. ___ Here’s something to add to your doomsday list of natural resources that people need to survive but are threatened by climate change: snow. coque iphone 8 It’s a key source of freshwater for more than 1 billion people across the globe, slaking thirst, irrigating croplands, and driving turbines that generate electricity. Conveniently, in much of the world, snow also acts as a natural reservoir, storing water during wet seasons, then rationing it out slowly during drier summer months. But today, growing populations, warming temperatures, and changing weather patterns are straining that supply like never before. “June is the new July,” says Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company in Colorado. “Snowmelt comes earlier than it used to, and it all happens in one big flood.” Which means that knowing exactly how much snow is in the highlands—and when it’s coming down to lower elevations to feed rivers, aqueducts, and irrigation channels—is ever more important. outlet coque iphone But how do you measure something that’s spread over thousands of miles of steep, rugged, alpine terrain? Tom Painter, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has an answer: by measuring snow from thousands of feet in the air. Using sophisticated, aircraft-borne sensors that gauge snow’s depth and the amount of light it reflects, Painter and his team are assembling the most accurate measurement ever made of just how much water the mountains hold. This is welcome news in California, where the water content of accumulated snow is at historically low levels. Runoff from the Sierra Nevada mountains provides about a third of the entire state’s water, and up to 80 percent in some areas, supplying tens of millions of people and almost 1 million acres of farmland. Painter can’t make it snow, but he can provide more and better data to water managers, who need to plan how to most efficiently fill their reservoirs; farmers deciding which crops to plant and when; and cities trying to figure out if they’ll have enough water to supply their residents—or will need to start rationing. “The demand for knowledge about water resources is at an all-time high,” says Painter, a gregarious, athletically built 46-year-old. For decades, state water officials have estimated the snowpack’s water content by a straightforward method that will appeal to steampunk aficionados: They clamber into the mountains on snowshoes and stick aluminum tubes into the snow. The tubes indicate depth while collecting a sample revealing water volume. More recently, California has added a network of tabletop-size scales scattered through the mountains that electronically transmit the weight of snow that has fallen on them. coque iphone xs max Both systems yield reliable measurements but only of the snow where the measurement is taken; extrapolating out from that to a whole basin, or a whole mountain range, is better than guesswork but less than precise. What’s more, both the scales and the human surveyors are concentrated at lower elevations, leaving scientists to wonder what lies farther uphill. “The old system worked OK historically because there was always enough water,” says Painter. “But now it’s all been allocated out, and demand is starting to exceed supply.” With a wide, toothy smile, an open-collared shirt, and stylishly-frayed-at-the-cuffs jeans, Painter comes across more like an enthusiastic backcountry guide than a Ph.D. who’s been published in top research journals. There’s a reason for that: Growing up in Fort Collins, Colo., he says, he always felt at home in the mountains—so much so that he dropped out of college twice to be a ski bum. “The problem was that I had to be in the mountains, but I also had to use my brain,” he says. “I’m so lucky to have found this job.” (Many on Painter’s team tell similar stories of finding a way to turn a passion for wilderness into a respectable profession.) Painter’s project, dubbed the Airborne Snow Observatory, is a three-year, $4 million trial funded by JPL and California’s Department of Water Resources. On a recent morning at JPL’s tree-lined campus northeast of downtown Los Angeles, the project’s white-walled lab was strewn with gear being readied for the next batch of flights: two-way radios, boxes of tools, and a desk-size metal frame that will be attached to a little Twin Otter plane to house the project’s two key remote sensing instruments. The first is a lidar system—a gizmo similar to radar that uses light instead of sound, shooting out as many as 800,000 pulses a second to measure the elevation of the terrain beneath the plane. Those readings are then compared with lidar measurements taken of the same area during the snow-free summer to figure out the snow’s current depth. The second is a spectrometer, which measures the snow’s reflectivity, or albedo, to gauge how much sunlight the snow is absorbing, a key indicator of how fast it will melt. coque iphone soldes In flight, the plane is tracked by GPS and an accelerometer to align its measurements precisely with a geographical position. “We get about a terabyte of data from each flight,” says Painter. coque iphone 8 Painter’s team is focusing on Colorado’s Uncompahgre River Basin, part of the huge Colorado River Basin that supplies water to much of the Western United States, and California’s Tuolumne River Basin in the Sierra Nevada, which feeds the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the primary water supply for 2.6 million people in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Unexpected Way Beer Is Helping a Calif. soldes coque iphone Town Get Through a Historic Drought

NASA is calling the results the most accurate measurements ever of the water content of snowpack. Last spring, managers of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir used Painter’s data to help figure out optimal flows for generating the hydroelectric power that runs much of San Francisco’s public transportation system, and for keeping the reservoir filled. The ASO, says Jeff Dozier, the founding dean of the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at UC Santa Barbara, where Painter got his Ph.D., “gives us a very good measurement of the properties of snow. It’s a really systematic set of observations that are not easy to measure over the spatial scales of mountain ranges. Everybody is pretty excited about it.” Measuring snow from the air isn’t an entirely new concept. The National Weather Service has been doing it for some 30 years, using airplane-mounted sensors that record gamma radiation levels emitted from a given piece of ground when it’s clear and when it’s covered in snow, a difference that can be used to calculate the snow’s depth with great accuracy. That works well in the eastern part of the U.S., says Andrew Rost, director of the NWS’s National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center, but not in high mountains like the Rockies or the Sierra. “Out West, the snow is so deep that it blocks the gamma radiation completely,” Rost says. coque iphone xr “And our planes need to fly just 500 feet above the ground. You can’t do that in steep mountains.” If the ASO proves reliable, Rost says, “it would be a huge step forward.” One of the project’s most important findings is the crucial role of dust. Mountain bikes, ATVs, resource extraction, road building—all that and more across the West and as far away as China has contributed to the atmosphere in the Rockies containing seven times more dust than when settlers arrived from the East Coast in the 19th century. “Until recently we assumed the albedo of snow stayed constant,” says Painter. “But now we’re learning there’s a huge range.” Concentrations of factories and highways near mountains can have a major impact on the timing of snowmelt. That’s why half of Painter’s lab is taken up with a walk-in freezer full of ice and snow samples from around the world, and machines for measuring the concentrations of particulates they hold. The American West is hardly the only place facing serious water worries. A 2012 report by the National Intelligence Council warns that “during the next 10 years, many countries important to the United States will experience water problems—shortages, poor water quality, or floods—that will risk instability and state failure [and] increase regional tensions.” Tens of millions of people depend on meltwater from the Andes, as do hundreds of millions on waters flowing from the Himalayas. Nuclear-armed archrivals India and Pakistan are quarreling over rights to the waters of the Indus River, which is seeing reduced flows thanks in part to declining snowmelts. Meanwhile, tensions run high among Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran over the snowpack-fed Tigris and Euphrates rivers. “If we can put together the remote sensing infrastructure that tells us what’s going on with snowmelt in the Western U.S.,” Painter says, “we can migrate the technology around the globe, because the regions of water stress—the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush, the Kazakhstan-China border, the Andes—are all at the intersection of mountains and desert, just like here in the U.S.” Painter says he’s been contacted by water officials in several foreign countries interested in trying out his technology, and he hopes to start a pilot project in one of them soon—he won’t say where. In the meantime, he’s aiming to expand beyond the Tuolumne basin to cover the entire Sierra Nevada. “The information we have on our snowpack here is the envy of the world, but it’s actually pretty sparse,” says Painter.

Global Tipping Point Crisis – Vive la Révolution

(Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images) Recently, I posted an exclusive report about a new NASA-backed scientific research project at the US National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (Sesync) to model the risks of civilisational collapse, based on analysis of the key factors involved in the rise and fall of past civilisations. The story went viral and was quickly picked up by other news outlets around the world which, however, often offered rather misleading headlines. ‘Nasa-backed study says humanity is pretty much screwed’, said Gizmodo. ‘Nasa-funded study says modern society doomed, like the dodo’, said the Washington Times. Are we doomed? Doom is not the import of this study, nor of my own original research on these issues as encapsulated in my book, A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It. Rather what we are seeing, as I’ve argued in detail before, are escalating, interconnected symptoms of the unsustainability of the global system in its current form. While the available evidence suggests that business-as-usual is likely to guarantee worst-case scenarios, simultaneously humanity faces an unprecedented opportunity to create a civilisational form that is in harmony with our environment, and ourselves. Of course, there are those who go so far as to argue that humanity is heading for extinction by 2030, and that it’s too late to do anything about it. But as other scientists have pointed out, while the number of positive-feedbacks that could go into ‘runaway’ on a business-as-usual scenario appears overwhelming, whether they have yet is at best unclear from the numbers – and at worst, we find that proponents of fatalism are actually systematically misrepresenting and obfuscating the science to justify hopelessness. Neoliberal-ostrichism Then there are those on the opposite end of the spectrum who have taken up the personal crusade of spreading joy and happiness by pretending that everything’s going to be just fine – all the while ignoring the fact that our leading lights of science such as the US National Academy of Sciences, Nature and the Royal Society are pointing to the convergence of environmental, agricultural and energy challenges in coming decades without some sort of major change. What the cross-disciplinary study I wrote about last week suggests – like previous research – is that our current trajectory is unsustainable because our demand for ecological resources and services is increasingly going beyond what the planet is able to provide. This ‘overshoot’ is already responsible for a range of overlapping crises – the financial crash, the food crisis, intensifying civil unrest to name just a few – and is likely to worsen without meaningful action. Overshoot and inequality are part of the same failing system Why is this happening? The Sesync study lends credence to an argument I’ve also made frequently – that at the core of our current civilisational model is a dramatic inequality in access to the Earth’s resources, coupled with an ideology which sees those resources as nothing more than a playing field for a minority of members of the human species to accumulate material wealth without limits. The vast majority of the world’s resources – not just monetary wealth, but land, resources and raw materials – is owned and controlled by a tiny minority of states, monarchs, aristocratic families, banks and corporations. It is no accident that the Queen of Great Britain – arguably the harbinger of contemporary global capitalism before its supercession by the United States – is the world’s largest landlord, owning about 6.6 billion acres of land. That is one-sixth of the Earth’s land surface. It gets worse. 1,318 corporations own 80 per cent of the world’s wealth, and out of that, a tiny interlocking nexus of 147 ‘super corporations’ own half of that. But across the board, as an extensive Chatham House report showed presciently two years ago, resources are depleting, scarcity is increasing, and prices are rising according to the best data available. This is happening, Chatham House argued, due to a combination of stagnating economic growth, continued demographic expansion, intensifying demand, and increasing costs of resource extraction. The party’s over… welcome to the after-party Since 2005, the world food price index has doubled, remaining at record levels. Simultaneously, dramatic oil price rises have not helped the energy industry sustain profits. Instead, even as investment in oil field development and extraction has increased by 200-300% since 2000, this has translated into a tepid oil supply increase of just 12%. All the best evidence indicates that the dawn of fracking represents not a new revolution for fossil fuels, but rather a “retirement party“, to quote US energy analyst Chris Nelder. Faced with the overwhelming scale of the multiplicity of global challenges we now face, a sense of disempowerment is understandable. However, as I’ve argued before, it is unnecessary and self-defeating. Indeed, what we are facing is something far more complex than an ‘end-is-nigh’ scenario: not the end of the world, but the end of the old industrial paradigm of endless growth premised on practically endless oil, that is increasingly breaching its own biophysical limits; and the emergence of an emerging paradigm of civilisation based on a vision of a global commons for all. Death throes of fossil fuels As Nelder writes in his latest column, we find ourselves at a potentially exciting crossroads: the literal death throes of the fossil fuel industry, amidst the inexorable, sporadic rise of a new renewable energy system. Renewable sceptics are simply wrong, obsessed with the slow, centralised economic dynamics of fossil fuels rather than understanding the unique, distributed dynamics of the new. In Nelder’s words: “Underlying the abundance hype over tight oil, tar sands and other ‘unconventional’ sources of liquid fuel has been a dirty little secret: They’re expensive. The soaring cost of producing oil has far outpaced the rise in oil prices as the world has relied on these marginal sources to keep production growing since conventional oil production peaked in 2005… The toxic combination of rising production costs, the rapid decline rates of the wells, diminishing prospects for drilling new wells, and a drilling program so out of control that it caused a glut and destroyed profitability, have finally taken their toll.” And it’s not just the oil companies enduring “major write-downs against reserves” (Nelder points to… Chesapeake Energy, Encana, Apache, Anadarko Petroleum, BP, and BHP Billiton). Coal-fired power capacity will be slashed by 60 gigawatts (GW) by 2016, “more than double” 2012 predictions, while last year nuclear plants were being retired at an “unprecedented rate” with “more on the way” – largely due to issues with “profitability.” The core driver behind this fossil fuel death-spiral is: “… competition from lower-cost wind, solar, and natural gas generators, and by rising operational and maintenance costs. As more renewable power is added to the grid, the economics continue to worsen for utilities clinging to old fossil-fuel generating assets.” In Germany, for instance, where 25% of the grid is powered by decentralised renewables (over 50% of which is owned by citizens), the three largest utilities, E.ON, RWE, and EnBW “are struggling with what the CEO of RWE called ‘the worst structural crisis in the history of energy supply.'” As Nelder explains, the one-way shift to solar and storage systems constitutes a “real, near and present” threat to centralised utilities: “Falling consumption and growing renewable power have cut the wholesale price of electricity by 60 percent since 2008, making it unprofitable to continue operating coal, gas and oil-fired plants. Renewable energy now supplies 23 percent of global electricity generation, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, with capacity having doubled from 2000 to 2012. coque iphone 2019 If that growth rate continues, it could become the dominant source of electricity by the next decade.” A new report by Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Institute suggests that if renewables continue to be adopted this aggressively, “off-grid systems” will prove “cheaper than all utility-sold electricity in the region just a decade out from today.” A Deutsch Bank report late last year confirmed much the same, predicting that solar and renewables are “just at the beginning of the grid parity era.” The rise of the new clean, decentralised energy system is happening faster than anyone anticipated, and in spite of huge government subsidies for the old fossil fuel industry. But it is merely one step on the ladder to a new post-carbon paradigm. As energy is the underpinning of a society, the unravelling of the fossil fuel system signifies the demise of the old paradigm. By the end of this century, one way or another, this paradigm will be obsolete. It’s up to us what will take its place – and as the death-spiral of the old paradigm accelerates, so do the opportunities to explore viable alternatives. The rise of the new paradigm The new emerging paradigm is premised on a fundamentally different ethos, in which we see ourselves not as disconnected, competing units fixated on maximising consumerist conquest over one another; but as interdependent members of a single human family. Our economies, rather than being assumed to exist in a vacuum of unlimited material expansion, are seen as embedded in wider society, such that economic activity for its own sake is recognised as the pathology that it is. Instead, economic enterprise becomes aligned with the deeper values that make us human – values like meeting our basic needs, education and discovery, arts and culture, sharing and giving: the values which psychologists say contribute to well-being and happiness, far more than mere money and things. And in turn, our societies are seen not as autonomous entities to which the whole of the planet must be ruthlessly subjugated, but rather as inherently embedded in the natural environment. In this model, households, communities and towns become producers and consumers of clean energy – and the same could apply to food. On the one hand, we need to put an end to the wasteful practices of the existing industrial food system, by which one third of global food production is lost or wasted every year. On the other, we must shift away from resource-intensive forms of traditional corporate-dominated agriculture. In some cases, given that at least 70% of global food production comes from small-farmers, we will find that shifting to agro-ecological farming could dramatically increase sustainability and yields. coque iphone Communal organic farming offers immense potential not only for employment, but also for households to become local owners and producers in the existing food supply chain, particularly in poorer countries – and an increasing shift to agro-ecology could meet the challenges faced by the existing global food system. This verdict is not being promoted by organic zealots, but by the world’s leading food scientists convened by the UN Commission on Trade & Development (UNCTAD) and the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). This new paradigm of distributed clean energy production, decentralised farming, and participatory economic cooperation, offers a model of development free from the imperative of endless growth for its own sake; and it leads us directly to a new model of democracy, based not on large-scale, hierarchical-control, but on the wholesale decentralisation of power, towards smaller, local ownership and decision-making. In the new paradigm, households and communities become owners of capital, in their increasing appropriation of the means to produce energy, food and water at a local level. Economic democratisation drives political empowerment, by ensuring that critical decisions about production and distribution of wealth take place in communities, by communities. But participatory enterprise requires commensurate mechanisms of monetary exchange which are equitable and transparent, free from the fantasies and injustices of the conventional model. In the new paradigm, neither money nor credit will be tied to the generation of debt. Banks will be community-owned institutions fully accountable to their depositors; and whirlwind speculation on financial fictions will be replaced by equitable investment schemes in which banks share risks with their customers, and divide returns fairly. coque iphone The new currency will not be a form of debt-money, but, if anything, will be linked more closely to real-world assets. But equally, the very notions of growth, progress, and happiness will be redefined. We now know, thanks to research by the likes of psychologist Oliver James and epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson, that material prosperity in the West has not only failed to make us happy, it has proliferated mental illnesses, and widened social inequalities, which are scientifically linked to a prevalence of crime, violence, drug abuse, teenage births, obesity, and other symptoms of social malaise. coque iphone 2019 This doesn’t mean that material progress is irrelevant – but that when it becomes the overriding force of society, it is dysfunctional. So arguably we must accept that the old paradigm of unlimited material acquisition is in its death throes – and that the new paradigm of community cooperation is far more in tune with both human nature, and the natural order. This new paradigm may well still be nascent, like small seeds, planted in disparate places. But as the Crisis of Civilization accelerates over the next decades, communities everywhere will become increasingly angry and disillusioned with what went before. soldes coque iphone And in that disillusionment with the old paradigm, the seeds we’re planting today will blossom and offer a vision of hope that will be irresistible tomorrow. The Crisis of Civilization – Documentary Film Click here to view this video on YouTube. As I wrote four years ago: “Any vision for ‘another world’, if it is to overcome the deep-rooted structural failures of our current business-as-usual model, will need to explore how we can develop new social, political and economic structures which encourage the following: 1. Widespread distribution of ownership of productive resources so that all members of society have a stake in agricultural, industrial and commercial productive enterprises, rather than a tiny minority monopolising resources for their own interests. 2. More decentralised politico-economic participation through self-managerial producer and consumer councils to facilitate participatory decision-making in economic enterprises. 3. coque iphone 6 Re-defining the meaning of economic growth to focus less on materially-focused GDP, and more on the capacity to deliver values such as health, education, well-being, longevity, political and cultural freedom. 4. Fostering a new, distributed renewable energy infrastructure based on successful models. 5. coque iphone 2019 Structural reform of the monetary, banking and financial system including abolition of interest, in particular the cessation of money-creation through government borrowing on compound interest. 6. Elimination of unrestricted lending system based on faulty quantitative risk-assessment models, with mechanisms to facilitate greater regulation of lending practices by bank depositors themselves. 7. Development of parallel grassroots participatory political structures that are both transnational and community-oriented, by which to facilitate community governance as well as greater popular involvement in mainstream political institutions. 8. Development of parallel grassroots participatory economic institutions that are both transnational and community-oriented, to facilitate emergence of alternative equitable media of exchange and loans between North and South. 9. Emergence of a ‘post-materialist’ scientific paradigm and worldview which recognizes that the cutting-edge insights of physics and biology undermine traditional, mechanistic conceptions of the natural order, pointing to a more holistic understanding of life and nature. 10. Emergence of a ‘post-materialist’ ethic recognising that progressive values and ideals such as justice, compassion, and generosity are more conducive to the survival of the human species, and thus more in harmony with the natural order, than the conventional ‘materialistic’ behaviours associated with neoliberal consumerism.” And as I wrote last year: “We do not have the option of pessimism and fatalism. There’s enough of that to go around. Our task is to work together to co-create viable visions for what could be, and to start building those visions now, from the ground up.” Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books.

Video: Overview – Astronauts’ Life-Changing Stories of Earth

On the 40th anniversary of the famous ‘Blue Marble’ photograph taken of Earth from space, Planetary Collective presents a short film documenting astronauts’ life-changing stories of seeing the Earth from the outside – a perspective-altering experience often described as the Overview Effect. coque iphone

OVERVIEW from Planetary Collective on Vimeo.

The Overview Effect, first described by author Frank White in 1987, is an experience that transforms astronauts’ perspective of the planet and mankind’s place upon it. coque iphone 2019 Common features of the experience are a feeling of awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment. coque iphone ‘Overview’ is a short film that explores this phenomenon through interviews with five astronauts who have experienced the Overview Effect. coque iphone pas cher The film also features insights from commentators and thinkers on the wider implications and importance of this understanding for society, and our relationship to the environment. coque iphone en ligne CAST • EDGAR MITCHELL – Apollo 14 astronaut and founder of the Institute of Noetic Sciences • RON GARAN – ISS astronaut and founder of humanitarian organization Fragile Oasis • NICOLE STOTT – Shuttle and ISS astronaut and member of Fragile Oasis • JEFF HOFFMAN – Shuttle astronaut and senior lecturer at MIT • SHANE KIMBROUGH – Shuttle/ISS astronaut and Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army • FRANK WHITE – space theorist and author of the book ‘The Overview Effect’ • DAVID LOY- philosopher and author • DAVID BEAVER – philosopher and co-founder of The Overview Institute ———- CREW Producer: STEVE KENNEDY Director: GUY REID Editor: STEVE KENNEDY Director of Photography: CHRISTOPHER FERSTAD Original Score: HUMAN SUITS Dubbing Mixer: PATCH MORRISON ———- TECHNICAL INFORMATION Filmed with Canon 5D Mk ii.