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atmospheric science

More warming may mean more lightning

Add more lightning to the list of predicted effects of climate change. A recent study in Science forecasts a significant increase in the number of lightning strikes within the continental United States over the next century.

 
13 May 2015

Fire-driven clouds and swirling winds whipped up record-setting New Mexico blaze

At about 1 p.m. on June 26, 2011, a wind-downed power line sparked a blaze in the Las Conchas area of Santa Fe National Forest. It would become the largest fire in New Mexico’s history at the time. Within hours, the flames spread to cover more than 160 square kilometers, threatening the town of Los Alamos, home of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), which develops nuclear fuels and safeguards nuclear weapons, among other activities. Now, a new study identifies why the fire spread so far so fast, and the results may have implications for fire management practices in other mountainous regions.

12 Apr 2015

Subarctic lakes belch more methane on brighter days

Each summer, frozen ground in Arctic and subarctic regions, called permafrost, thaws and releases accumulated methane. For years, scientists have searched for a clear-cut way to estimate the amount of this potent greenhouse gas that these areas contribute to the atmosphere and the changing climate. Now, they have come one step closer to solving part of the problem.

12 Jun 2014

Benchmarks: May 6, 1852: Edward Sabine links the geomagnetic and sunspot cycles

At the beginning of the 19th century, little was understood about Earth’s magnetic field, but interest in its workings had begun to grow, especially in Europe. That the magnetic field exists had long been recognized, and magnetic compasses had aided in navigation for centuries, particularly at sea where fixed landmarks are hard to come by. Not surprisingly, the increased attention emerging around the turn of the century came from naval and shipping interests, which recognized that an accurate understanding of the field’s behavior would be a boon to their fleets.

By this time, the underlying physical explanation for the magnetic field had also become a major source of scientific curiosity. In the preceding two centuries, observers had measured differences in the field’s intensity, inclination and declination — the angle between magnetic and true north — between locations, as well as changes in those properties at the same location, both over varying lengths of time. Others had noted the synchronized occurrence of colorful atmospheric auroras with widespread disturbances in the magnetic field, termed magnetic storms.

It was clear the planet’s magnetic field was an inconstant and complex phenomenon, and many eminent scientists saw it as the next great natural mystery to unravel.

13 May 2014

A new tool for atmospheric studies

Scientists are putting GPS to work in some unexpected new ways, including in atmospheric research.

30 Apr 2014

Undergraduates build and launch a satellite to measure atmospheric drag

In 2000, the International Space Station (ISS) was the victim of a severe geomagnetic storm: a wave of solar particles hit Earth’s atmosphere, warming it, expanding it, and increasing its density. In just a few days, the space station's elevation dropped several kilometers. The incident received a lot of attention in the media, but thousands of satellites experience changes in altitude during solar storms.

02 Oct 2013

Five outstanding questions in earth science

Even 15 years after the release of “Good Will Hunting,” there remains something appealing about watching the title character, a mathematically inclined janitor at MIT, scribble the solution to an unsolved mathematics problem on a hallway blackboard. In reality, there are a number of unsolved problems in mathematics, seven of which were designated in 2000 by the Clay Mathematics Institute as “Millennium Prize Problems,” each with a purse of $1,000,000. To date, only one has been solved.

27 Jun 2012

Exoplanet forecast: Quartz with a chance of feldspar

Next time you’re unhappy with the weather, be glad it’s not raining rocks. That seems to happen on CoRoT-7b, a hot, Earth-like planet about 500 light-years away from us. A new modeling study suggests that the exoplanet’s atmosphere is filled with the chemical components of rock, such as oxygen, sodium and silicon monoxide, and whenever these gases condense into clouds, rocky rain likely hammers down onto CoRoT-7b’s sweltering surface.

11 Jan 2010