NASA - Landsat Satellites Find the 'Sweet Spot' for Crops

NASA - Landsat Satellites Find the 'Sweet Spot' for Crops

Farmer Gary Wagner walks into his field where the summer leaves on the sugar beet plants are a rich emerald hue -- not necessarily a good color when it comes to sugar beets, either for the environment or the farmer. That hue tells Wagner that he's leaving money in the field in unused nitrogen fertilizer, which if left in the soil can act as a pollutant when washed into waterways, and in unproduced sugar, the ultimate product from his beets.

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NASA - Landsat Top Ten - Mount St. Helens: Volcanic Eruption and Recovery

NASA - Landsat Top Ten - Mount St. Helens: Volcanic Eruption and Recovery

Most of the geologic processes that shape our planet, such as the creeping movement of tectonic plates, are often too slow to see on human timescales, but every so often, geology produces a moment with in-your-face intensity. The explosive eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State on May 18, 1980, was such a moment.

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NASA - Landsat Top Ten: Columbia Glacier - A Swift Retreat

NASA - Landsat Top Ten: Columbia Glacier - A Swift Retreat

Water, water everywhere. Our planet has more surface covered with water than land, and some of that water has been held in cold storage. Glaciers, such as the Columbia Glacier in Alaska, both record Earth's climate in their dense layers of ice and affect the climate itself when their white surfaces reflect solar radiation back into space.

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NASA - Landsat Top Ten: A Searing Summer--Yellowstone National Park Historic Fires of 1988

NASA - Landsat Top Ten: A Searing Summer--Yellowstone National Park Historic Fires of 1988

Yellowstone National Park—the world’s first national park created in 1872—was transformed into an apparent wasteland during the three months of summer 1988 when it seemed that its beauty, and carefully legislated and shepherded legacy, would all go up in smoke. On June 14, 1988, just north of the park boundary, a small fire started on Storm Creek. Then, more fires started, sparked by both lightning and humans, and they multiplied and merged: Shoshone Fire, Fan Fire, Red Fire, Lava Fire, Mink Fire, Clover Fire, North Fork Fire, Hellroaring Fire, Huck Fire.

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NASA - On Top of the Smokies, All Covered in Light Rain--The Real Story of Precipitation in the Southern Appalachian Mountains

NASA - On Top of the Smokies, All Covered in Light Rain--The Real Story of Precipitation in the Southern Appalachian Mountains

If you walk into a cloud at the top of a mountain with a cup to slake your thirst, it might take a while for your cup to fill. The tiny, barely-there droplets are difficult to see, and for scientists they, along with rain and snow, are among the hardest variables to measure in Earth Science, says Ana Barros, professor of engineering at Duke University. As part of the Science Team for NASA's Precipitation Measurement Missions (PMM) that measure rainfall from space, Barros and her research team trekked into the Great Smoky Mountains and other areas of the southern Appalachian Mountains, to learn more about where, when and how rain falls in the rugged terrain. What they found was eye-opening: much of the water people counted on falls as light rain, and no one knew about it.

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Checking the Range for Signs of Climate Change in the Past, Present, and Future

Checking the Range for Signs of Climate Change in the Past, Present, and Future

Imagine you have access to a machine that can make particles move faster and faster until they approach the speed of light, and essentially travel through time. The machine might look like the Large Hadron Collider—the particle accelerator below ground in Switzerland—but instead of producing teeny, tiny, short-lived, exotic particles no one’s ever seen before, it transports you, a person of ample curiosity, into the future. You disembark your time travel machine, look around, and though you believe you’re in the same geography, things don’t look quite the same. If you began your trip somewhere in the interior American West where familiar grasslands, shrublands, or deserts were found, you have reason to be perplexed. The ecosystems of the future world have changed. What does that future world look like? Scientists in the Grassland, Shrubland, and Desert Ecosystems Science Program (GSD) – a unit of the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) – are not waiting for the future to arrive to have a look—they are working on revealing the story to us now.

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The Good Earth: Run-off, Erosion, and Recovery in the Post-fire Chaparral Steeplands of Southern California

The Good Earth: Run-off, Erosion, and Recovery in the Post-fire Chaparral Steeplands of Southern California

Dirt. It’s what we’re made of. So says a creation story of the Oneida Indian nation. Their Good Spirit used it to fashion humanity. So did the ancient Chinese goddess Nuwa. And the creator in the Judeo-Christian and Islamic faiths. A compelling force in the psyche of humankind keeps producing this archetype. In the English language, the name for our planet is synonymous with soil, and land, rather than with water, though water covers the majority of its surface. Out of earth are we. While the primacy of soil is buried in our consciousness, often we know too little about it. What happens to earth—dirt—land when it is hit with a major disturbance such as fire? What changes do the characteristics of soil undergo after burning? What happens as water passes through, or over it? And what of the plants that grow in that post-fire medium?
 

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Nature in a Name: Paulownia tomentosa—Exotic Tree, Native Problem

Nature in a Name: Paulownia tomentosa—Exotic Tree, Native Problem

“What’s in a name?” Juliet mused, dreamy-eyed, besotted, trying to reconcile the enmity between the Montagues and Capulets that would hold any union between her and Romeo as alien and unnatural. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But what mattered was where Romeo belonged and therefore who Romeo was—an enemy of Juliet’s family—not what she called him. While a rose by any other name may indeed smell as sweet, a plant out of place, by any other name— non-native, non-indigenous, exotic, alien, introduced, foreign, invasive, weed—shades in the level of nuisance we perceive it to possess.

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Naked Eyes and Hyperspectral Images Build Fuel Maps in the Southern Appalachian Mountains

Naked Eyes and Hyperspectral Images Build Fuel Maps in the Southern Appalachian Mountains

As anybody with young family members in distant states or countries can tell you, children grow up fast. Without photographs, long-distance aunts, uncles, cousins who gather for holidays or reunions will miss the intervening changes that happen quickly in youthful relatives. A human life span is quick, a maximum of maybe a hundred years, and the quickest portion is infant to adult. Not so with the world we walk on. On many landscapes, it is hard to recognize changes taking place (barring major disturbances) that happen over great lengths of time. Hundreds of millions of years ago, continents collided, inland seas formed, land folded and faulted and fractured into the northeast to southwest trending range of the southern Appalachian Mountains. Geologic events, over a span no one could witness, created the diverse environments, landscapes, habitats, soils, aspects, elevations, weather patterns and disturbances we see there today. Erosion over millennia has worked over places, reducing those mountains just as it will the Rockies and Cascades. Geology is a long-running, mostly slow-moving story, with episodic jumps and jolts in the narrative. Without mapping and photographing and documenting, we can’t perceive creep along a fault line that occurs at a rate of two inches a year. Or compare the margin of this year’s glacial ice with that of, say, fifty or sixty years ago. By looking at vegetation maps, we can see the extent of forest cover, and perhaps discover a transition occurring from open canopy to a closed one, or even discern desertification spreading into formerly fertile lands. Before they are able to make informed plans, land managers must know what the conditions are.

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Bending, Like the Reed in the Wind: A System to Restore Northwestern Forests

Bending, Like the Reed in the Wind: A System to Restore Northwestern Forests

Our minds, Darwin believed, evolved as well as our bodies. He described what he saw as evidence of problem solving, in varying degrees, throughout a wide array of organisms, even in worms. With the anthropocentric thinking that held sway in the 20th century, accounts of animals exhibiting higher cognitive abilities were regarded as amusing, or ludicrous, mere anecdotes. Recent studies have shown that chimpanzees, New Caledonian crows, dolphins—creatures of the earth, air, and water—exhibit mental flexibility: they employ creative effort to affect their environment. Changing an approach, working to solve a problem—we are not alone in this ability. But no other creature has this mental gift to the extent we possess it, and our evolving sensibilities drive us to seek better ways of operating. Silvicultural practices, that promote the growth of trees in the forest for products (such as lumber) and features (such as water quality or carbon sequestration) can result in reducing the complexity of forest structures and systems, as Russell T. Graham, research forester with the Rocky Mountain Research Station, and his team found. Rather than using existing guidelines for stand structure and treatments, they developed a system for planning and implementing a “vision” of a future forest. Their flexible system integrates the best knowledge of how forests function, from the roots below soil to the tip of the canopy.

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