SAN FRANCISCO, CA, DECEMBER 18, 2014 — At a meeting the size of the American Geophysical Union — with initial estimates of some 25,000-plus attendees — a lot gets covered and a lot inevitably is missed. Here’s an offering, a rundown, of a handful of developments that might not receive top billing.

New Research Funding on Impacts and Adaptation

The federal government is awarding nearly $6 million to universities and other partners for 50 new research projects to better prepare communities for impacts of climate change. The money will come through the Department of the Interior’s regional Climate Science Centers and the United States Geological Survey National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center.

The 50 projects announced on Thursday will focus on how climate change is affecting natural and cultural resources and tribal communities, and help inform management actions. The funding is intended also to help guide managers of parks, refuges and other cultural and natural resources on how to help species, ecosystems, tribes, and other communities adapt.

Among the projects are:

  • examining the effects of climate-mediated forest change in Alaska on the habitats of caribou and moose;
  • studying evaporation, drought, and the water cycle in the northern Rockies and Northern Great Plains;
  • helping land managers in the Pacific Northwest strategically maximize snow retention by protecting forests in some areas while opening gaps in others; and
  • identifying the chronology of extreme storms, especially atmospheric rivers, over the past 30 years and their effects on the Sierra Nevada and western Great Basin ecosystems.

The Greenland Ice Sheet in HD

The highest resolution satellite images ever taken of the Greenland ice sheets were announced Thursday in an initial data release. Ohio State University has partnered with the Polar Geospatial Center at the University of Minnesota to capture images taken by DigitalGlobe’s Worldview-1 and -2 satellites and convert them into publicly available elevation maps for researchers who track the ice.

The imagery offers resolution down to half a meter. Researchers convert the images into digital elevation maps with a resolution down to 2 meters. One illustrative example of how powerful this imagery can be: a mosaic depicting the fast-moving Jakobshavn Glacier shows ice bergs floating out to sea but also cracks in the glacier itself hundreds of kilometers inland from Jacobshavn — where in the past there has been a flat expanse of ice. The cracks are signs that the flowing ice is accelerating toward the sea.

The imagery also covers parts of Alaska, including the Brooks Range Mountains and other areas. Check out some pretty impressive images here.

Early Data from NASA’s New Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO2) 

Researchers with the new Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2, launched in July, described the first global maps of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The new maps reveal elevated CO2 levels across the Southern Hemisphere from agricultural fires and land clearing in spring. Data for the maps were gathered between Oct. 1 and Nov. 17 (spring in the Southern Hemisphere), and they show high CO2 concentrations above northern Australia, southern Africa, and eastern Brazil.

… and for some amazing images, go here and here.

Field Study On How and When California Gets Its Precipitation

Researchers in January will launch a new study on how aerosols from different sources — locally, from the ocean, and from other continents — are influencing the formation of clouds and precipitation patterns over California.

A natural phenomenon called “atmospheric rivers” bring potent, narrow bands of moisture from the Pacific to the West Coast; they are in fact how California gets much of its annual precipitation — and researchers project more of them as the century progresses.

But the total accumulation of water and how much falls as rain versus snow is influenced by aerosols, particles in the atmosphere that seed cloud formation. Mineral dust transported intercontinentally and biological particles possibly from the ocean have been shown to broadly correspond to greater precipitation. But aerosol particles generated by biomass burning and smog are associated with less precipitation. In the upcoming study, researchers will sample aerosols at the coast of California and offshore. They also will observe the strength of atmospheric river storms and what influences their formation. Check here for more background.

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Bruce Lieberman

Bruce Lieberman, a long-time journalist, has covered climate change science, policy, and politics for nearly two decades. A newspaper reporter for 20 years, Bruce worked for The San Diego Union-Tribune...