Atlanta: Green and Clean

Earth observations help the city manage its water and urban forests

The City of Trees. Hotlanta. The Big Peach.

Whatever you call it, Atlanta is a bustling American metropolis of concrete and steel. It also boasts extensive parks, gardens, and urban forests. As with other growing metro areas, the city has been seeking ways to balance this green canopy and its vital infrastructure—especially as its population is expected to double by 2060.

Fortunately for A-Town, the Georgia chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has already been formulating a plan for one of the city’s potential challenges—its water supply. “The Nature Conservancy is developing an urban conservation program focused on reducing stormwater impacts in the Atlanta metro area,” explained Sara Gottlieb of TNC.

This conservation plan is part of TNC’s North American Cities program, which emphasizes a greater role for nature in urban settings. By promoting greenspace as an alternative to traditional stormwater infrastructure, like costly culverts and drains, TNC advocates re-introducing natural buffers while protecting existing ones. This “green” infrastructure helps decrease urban runoff and also reduces the amount of pollutants entering local waterways.

It’s an ambitious plan; and the greater Atlanta region is huge—about the size of Connecticut. It also has one of the most extensive urban canopies in the U.S. Where should TNC and its partners concentrate their conservation efforts? For that question, TNC turned to NASA DEVELOP for help.

Green Guidance

DEVELOP teams integrated data from Landsat and Terra into land-use models to locate reforestation targets as well as identify locations that impacted local water quality. The teams applied the results to create a land-use prioritization map of metropolitan Atlanta’s major watersheds for TNC and its partners.

DEVELOP Lead Christopher Cameron said the project identified a few specific areas where TNC could focus its conservation efforts. “Reforestation and green space development opportunities exist along several waterways adjacent to Atlanta,” he noted. The project also indicated which communities were major sources of runoff that additional green infrastructure could help minimize.

Cameron added, “The majority of open or managed land with the highest potential to affect water quality occurs north of Atlanta. The downstream effects of any land management practices at these locations could be significant.”

Seeing the Forest for its Trees

TNC received that crucial, fine-detailed information it was lacking. Myriam Dormer, an urban conservation associate at TNC, remarked, “Now we have a smaller subset of places within Atlanta where we can target reforestation projects and then target engagement strategies.”

Gottlieb affirmed, “The results of these analyses will be used immediately to inform decisions about land protection and reforestation to benefit communities by protecting drinking water supplies, providing opportunities for outdoor recreation, and serving as educational settings to demonstrate the importance of maintaining greenspace in urban areas.”

Keeping ATL peachy-keen takes a team effort, it seems. As Gottlieb stressed, “We could not have completed these analyses without access to NASA’s resources and Earth observations.”

DEVELOP is a national training and development program for individuals to gain experience applying Earth observations through 10-week interdisciplinary projects with state and local governments, and other organizations.

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NASA Missions Catch First Light from a Gravitational-Wave Event

Portal origin URL: NASA Missions Catch First Light from a Gravitational-Wave EventPortal origin nid: 411576Published: Monday, October 16, 2017 - 09:36Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: For the first time, NASA scientists have detected light tied to a gravitational-wave event, thanks to two merging neutron stars in the galaxy NGC 4993, located about 130 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Hydra.Portal image: still from animation showing neutron starsScience Categories: Universe

How Scientists Used NASA Data to Predict the Corona of the Aug. 21 Total Solar Eclipse

When the total solar eclipse swept across the United States on Aug. 21, 2017, NASA satellites captured a diverse set of images from space. But days before the eclipse, some NASA satellites also enabled scientists to predict what the corona — the Sun’s outer atmosphere — would look like during the eclipse, from the ground. In addition to offering a case study to test our predictive abilities, the predictions also enabled some eclipse scientists to choose their study targets in advance.

News Article Type: Homepage ArticlesPublished: Friday, October 13, 2017 - 14:22

How Scientists Used NASA Data to Predict the Corona of the Aug. 21 Total Solar Eclipse

Portal origin URL: How Scientists Used NASA Data to Predict the Corona of the Aug. 21 Total Solar Eclipse Portal origin nid: 411463Published: Friday, October 13, 2017 - 12:56Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: Days before the eclipse, some NASA satellites also enabled scientists to predict what the corona — the Sun’s outer atmosphere — would look like during the eclipse from the groundPortal image: animation of eclipse corona shifts from blue to sepiaScience Categories: Sun

NASA Sounding Rocket Instrument Spots Signatures of Long-Sought Small Solar Flares

Portal origin URL: NASA Sounding Rocket Instrument Spots Signatures of Long-Sought Small Solar Flares Portal origin nid: 411453Published: Friday, October 13, 2017 - 11:51Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: During its short flight, FOXSI found the best evidence yet of a phenomenon scientists have been seeking for years: signatures of tiny solar flares that could help explain the mysterious heating of the Sun.Portal image: the sun Science Categories: Sun

NASA Pinpoints Cause of Earth’s Recent Record Carbon Dioxide Spike

Portal origin URL: NASA Pinpoints Cause of Earth’s Recent Record Carbon Dioxide SpikePortal origin nid: 411402Published: Thursday, October 12, 2017 - 14:26Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: A new NASA study provides space-based evidence that Earth’s tropical regions were the cause of the largest annual increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration seen in at least 2,000 years.Portal image: The last El Nino in 2015-16 impacted the amount of carbon dioxide that Earth’s tropical regions released into the atmosphereScience Categories: Earth

Giant Exoplanet Hunters: Look for Debris Disks

There's no map showing all the billions of exoplanets hiding in our galaxy -- they're so distant and faint compared to their stars, it's hard to find them. Now, astronomers hunting for new worlds have established a possible signpost for giant exoplanets.

News Article Type: Homepage ArticlesPublished: Wednesday, October 11, 2017 - 14:14

NASA Announces Briefing on Carbon Mission Science Results

Portal origin URL: NASA Announces Briefing on Carbon Mission Science ResultsPortal origin nid: 411263Published: Tuesday, October 10, 2017 - 13:49Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: NASA will hold a media teleconference at 2 p.m. EDT Thursday, Oct. 12, to discuss new research to be published this week on changing global levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The research is based on data from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) mission and other satellites.Portal image: NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2).Science Categories: Earth

Far-infrared Instrument to Map Star Formation in the Universe

Technology Development: Questions about how and when stars are formed continue to tug at human curiosity. Star formation is governed by gravity and heat. Gravity causes molecular clouds to collapse and eventually form stars and planetary systems, but to complete the process, heat needs to be continuously removed from the cloud. Hence, ionized carbon and neutral oxygen—the two major coolants of the interstellar medium (ISM)—are the best indicators of star-forming regions. New technology is being developed that will allow spaceborne telescopes to make high-resolution multi-pixel maps of the universe, which will help scientists understand why star and planet formation is common in some regions of the universe, while other regions are dormant.

Close-up of a Schottky diode, showing the
air-bridge that connects the anode.

The technology utilizes state-ofthe- art Schottky diodes that enable a space telescope to observe and map deep-space regions. The Schottky diodes work at the frequencies required to detect ionized carbon and neutral oxygen—1.9 and 2.06 THz respectively. The smallest feature of these diodes is less than one micron (a human hair is typically 50 microns in diameter).

To date, only a single-pixel receiver has been flown in space. The multi-pixel technology NASA is developing allows tens and hundreds of these Schottky diodes to be packaged in metal enclosures, which will allow scientists to map large areas of the sky simultaneously. In 2016, NASA researchers demonstrated the first 16-pixel camera that worked at 1.9 THz. To implement multi-pixel THz cameras, the development team investigated a concept for packaging the diodes in very precisely machined thin metallic plates that are then stacked. To create a 16-pixel source, five metal plates—each about 5 mm thick—must be machined very precisely to obtain alignment tolerances better than 10 microns.

This 16-pixel module is made with 5 metal
plates that are precisely machined to achieve
alignment tolerance better than 10 microns.

Impact: This multi-pixel far-infrared technology will enable NASA space telescopes to take “pictures” of the universe that will allow scientists to better understand the chemical and physical processes involved in the birth of new stars.

Status and Future Plans: Now that the first 16-pixel camera has been demonstrated, the NASA team is working to increase the sensitivity and pixel count so that the technology can be used on future NASA space missions.

Sponsoring Organization: The Astrophysics Division’s SAT program provides funding for this technology development effort to project lead Imran Mehdi at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

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A Display of Lights Above the Storm

Video Length: 4:18

Transient Luminous Events (TLEs) are flashes and glows that appear above storms and are results of activity occurring in and below those storms. Researchers are working to better understand lightning and thunderstorms, how they form and develop over time, and why storms produce different TLEs in different circumstances.

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Video Links: A Display of Lights Above the Storm - mp4YouTubeVimeo

Martian Moon Phobos in Thermal Infrared Image

NASA's longest-lived mission to Mars has gained its first look at the Martian moon Phobos, pursuing a deeper understanding by examining it in infrared wavelengths.

News Article Type: Homepage ArticlesPublished: Thursday, October 5, 2017 - 11:08

Fighting Phragmites

Space-based data are aiding Great Lakes communities as they combat an invader

Located on the southern shore of Georgian Bay in Ontario, the idyllic Great Lakes town of Collingwood has been battling a growing problem—an invasive wetland reed called Phragmites australis. And the town is not alone in its fight.

Risk map for Phragmites australis near Collingwood, ON. Areas in red show a
higher probability for Phragmites.


“Phragmites are a very serious problem in the Great Lakes Basin,” said David Ullrich, Executive Director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative (GLSLCI). Phragmites, a nonnative subspecies of a natural Great Lakes reed, can quickly take over a location, crowding out native plants and animals with dense stands of stalks that grow more than 5 meters tall.

“They turn wetlands into monocultures that are much less attractive to fish and wildlife,” Ullrich added. “They also reduce the natural value of wetlands to cleanse water and help reduce flooding.” Using NASA’s eyes in the sky, a DEVELOP project helped guide Collingwood’s battle from above.

Tracking a Tenacious Threat

In partnership with the Michigan Tech Research Institute (MTRI) and GLSLCI, a DEVELOP team led a project that built on earlier MTRI research on Phragmites in the region. The goal of this project was two-fold. The first was to create a current risk map based on habitat suitability for Phragmites throughout the basin.

“We focused our study within 10 kilometers of the U.S. and Canadian coastline, based on in situ data previously collected and the number of communities impacted by Phragmites,” said team member Sean McCartney.

The second goal was to create a future risk map for the entire basin through the year 2020. “Forecasting results help local governments enact policies to plan for and mitigate the spread of Phragmites,” McCartney added.

To do this, the project tapped into precipitation data from NASA’s TRMM and GPM satellites, used Earth observations from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, and modeled variables such as soil drainage and topography. The current and predicted Phragmites risk maps gave guidance to the project partners’ on-going monitoring and mitigation efforts.

And, at GLSLCI’s 2016 annual meeting in Niagara Falls, New York, the DEVELOP team shared its findings. Here, Great Lakes mayors and local officials from the U.S. and Canada were able to see the threat they faced from this noxious nuisance.

Armed With Information

For Collingwood, which is in the second year of its “Fight the Phrag!” program, the data is now helping inform officials where to focus both control and eradication efforts around its marshes and shorelines.

“The Earth observations to map and model Phragmites makes it easier because in one image, a person can see the scope of the problem,” Ullrich explained. “If all of this information had to be gathered from groundlevel observations, it would take much longer, be much more labor intensive, and be much more costly.”

And that means Collingwood’s Phrag fighters can save their time and resources for combat.

Mike Ruiz ( leads our DEVELOP program.

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NASA's Hubble Observes the Farthest Active Inbound Comet Yet Seen

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has photographed the farthest active inbound comet ever seen, at a whopping distance of 1.5 billion miles from the Sun (beyond Saturn's orbit). Slightly warmed by the remote Sun, it has already begun to develop an 80,000-mile-wide fuzzy cloud of dust, called a coma, enveloping a tiny, solid nucleus of frozen gas and dust. These observations represent the earliest signs of activity ever seen from a comet entering the solar system's planetary zone for the first time.

News Article Type: Homepage ArticlesPublished: Friday, September 29, 2017 - 11:00

Small Collisions Make Big Impact on Mercury’s Thin Atmosphere

Portal origin URL: Small Collisions Make Big Impact on Mercury’s Thin AtmospherePortal origin nid: 410508Published: Friday, September 29, 2017 - 10:00Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: Mercury, our smallest planetary neighbor, has very little to call an atmosphere, but it does have a strange weather pattern: morning micro-meteor showers.Portal image: four images of MercuryScience Categories: Sun

Catching the Shadow of a Neptunian Moon

Portal origin URL: Catching the Shadow of a Neptunian MoonPortal origin nid: 410599Published: Friday, September 29, 2017 - 09:00Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: Researchers on the flying observatory SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, are preparing for a two-minute opportunity to study the atmosphere of Neptune’s moon Triton as it casts a faint shadow on Earth’s surface. This is the first chance to investigate Triton’s atmosphere in 16 years.Portal image: Artist's concept of an occultation illustrating Triton passing in front of a distant star.Science Categories: Universe

Dawn Mission Celebrates 10 Years in Space

Ten years ago, NASA's Dawn spacecraft set sail for the two most massive bodies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter: giant asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres. The mission was designed to deliver new knowledge about these small but intricate worlds, which hold clues to the formation of planets in our solar system.

News Article Type: Homepage ArticlesPublished: Thursday, September 28, 2017 - 10:23