On the shapes of mountains

If I ask you to picture a mountain in your mind, which of these pictures do you think of? One of these, Colorado’s Whiteley Peak, could be described as a classic “pyramid” shaped mountain – a tiny peak at the top surrounded by a gradually expanding base. However, the other peak – Going to the Sun Mountain in Glacier National Park, has a clearly different shape.

These different mountain shapes have an important relationship with the local ecology. Various types of plants and animals live along the slopes of mountains worldwide and the elevation that each species inhabits is a result of the complex interplay between elevation, temperature, rain, soil, nutrients, and other factors.

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“The most immediate reason for ‘our’ failure to act on global warming has been sustained and often ruthless exercise of political power by the corporations who stand to lose from a shift to low- and zero-carbon energy systems. The story of the influence of the carbon lobby has been told by a number of authors and journalists. We can all see what has been happening and if anyone deserves to be cast into the eternal flames of hell it is the executives of companies like ExxonMobil, Rio Tinto, General Motors, Peabody and E.ON, along with their lobbyists and PR operatives. All of this goes without saying. What is more perplexing is why we have allowed these people to stop our governments acting on global warming. We could have surrounded the parliaments, occupied the coal-fired power plants and shut down the CBDs demanding that our representatives pass strong laws to protect our children’s future. But we didn’t. Why?”

- Clive Hamilton


Bad News for NASA (and You)

The Senate committee on Space (led by Ted Cruz) has just passed a draft budget for NASA that drops funding for the study of Earth sciences by $300 million below current levels and half a billion below the president’s request.

This is almost a third of the funding for Earth sciences and the study of climate change disappearing overnight and being funneled instead to the space launch system and Orion capsule.

Know this: there’s no planet more important to us than Earth. Not only does our knowledge of Earth complement the understanding of planets elsewhere but in days like this we’re effectively geo-engineering the planet into unknown and deep waters. We need to understand our home.

This funding was cut under the stated pretense that NASA’s “core mission” is to explore space, not Earth. The problem is, the funding for agencies dedicated exclusively to exploring Earth (NOAA) have also had their science cut.

Fact time: 

- Climate change is real.

- Climate change will be deadly.

- It’s our fault.

- We can do something about it.

(Image credit: Data: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Some description adapted from the Scripps CO2 Program website, “Keeling Curve Lessons.” and NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory, Robert Simmon)


In keeping with Ted Cruz’s contention that NASA is for exploring deep space, not studying the varied and pressing threats to our home planet, Republicans in the HouseSubcommittee on Science, Space and Technology voted Thursday to more or less decimate the agency’s Earth science budget. The cuts, if voted through, could be anywhere from $300 million to $500 million — as much as 26 percent below President Obama’s budget for fiscal 2016.

The “reckless” cuts would cripple the agency’s important programs, argues a former NASA scientist