Note: No Trees Were Harmed in the Making of this Post


What on Earth was that? A branch? A piece of coral? The petrified arm of an Ent? No, as many of you guessed, it’s a fulgurite!

A what?

Fulgurites form in a flash – when lightning strikes simple beach sand or desert soil on a surface that conducts electricity, such as water, at a temperature of at least 3,270 degrees Fahrenheit (1,800 degrees Celsius). The extreme heat forces the grains of sand (or sometimes soil or rock) to melt and fuse together. The product cools, producing a hollowed glass structure that mimics the appearance of a tree root or large branch.

Photographer Stan Celestian found this 14-inch sand fulgurite on the outskirts of Queen Creek, Arizona on May 4, 2005. He submitted the image recently to the Earth Science Picture of the Day Web site , where it appeared on October 26th.

Why the odd shape, you might wonder? The lightning bolt fans out in several directions as it hits the water in an attempt to release its energy. The length of each “branch” of a fulgurite is equivalent to how quickly each path of the lightning strike exhausted itself of energy.

Fulgurites are rare enough to cost hundreds of dollars depending on size and shape, and intriguing enough to be the focus of research projects. A 2009 University of Arizona-Tucson study , for example, found that fulgurites contain a partially-oxidized form of phosphorus called phosphite that early microbes may have thrived on as a nutrient.

This summer, a NASA-funded study revealed that fulgurites can experience a range of temperatures during formation.

So, next time you want to impress your friends with arcane but fascinating trivia, ask if they know what a fulgurite is. When they scratch their heads and offer blank stares, boot up your laptop, show them our What On Earth #5 post and explain this fluke of nature. You’re sure to dazzle them with your extra-ordinary intelligence and one of the marvels of science.

Gretchen Cook-Anderson, NASA’s Earth Science News Team

Lightning Never Strikes Twice, But…

Though the old adage that lightning never strikes twice generally rings true,apparently lightning can strike in very short order in more than a dozenpoints alongside one another as it did near Keota, Colorado on August6. Photographer Robert Arn captured this bedazzling
time-lapsed display of lightning over less than 30 seconds across Pawnee National Grasslands while awaiting darkness to fall at a stargazing party.

Speaking of flashes of brilliance, far from the prairies and big skies of the Plains, NASA’s Lightning Instrument Package, or LIP, flew aboard an unmanned, storm-chasing Global Hawk aircraft earlier this month over the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean detecting and documenting lightning during intensifying hurricanes. LIP and 14 other instruments were part of the Genesis and Rapid Intensification Process mission, commonly called GRIP, which drew to a close this week. Scientists expect the GRIP field experiments will eventually yield the most comprehensive data about hurricanes to date once scientists analyze 40 flight days’ worth of new information.

NASA’s Earth Science Picture of the Day Web site featured the white lightning strikes above on September 7, 2010. To see more images recorded by amateur and professional photographers and to learn more about Earth Science Picture of the Day, click here.

— Gretchen Cook-Anderson, NASA’s Earth Science News Team

Image Courtesy of Earth Science Picture of the Day; Photo by Robert Arn  

NASA's Count Rises as More Land Slides: An Interview with Dalia Kirschbaum

When a deadly landslide killed nearly 100 people and forced the evacuation of 75,000 in
Guatemala on May 30, NASA carefully documented it. And when more than 300 other rain-triggered landslides pulled the Earth out from beneath towns and villages in China, Uganda, Bangladesh, Pakistan and other countries in 2010, NASA researched and documented each one.

Sudden, rain-induced landslides kill thousands each year, yet no one organization had consistently catalogued them to evaluate historical trends, according to landslide expert Dalia Kirschbaum of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Three years ago, Kirschbaum set out to change that by creating a searchable inventory of landslides specifically triggered by rain.

WhatOnEarth spoke with Kirschbaum to understand how this tool might tell us more about when and where landslides are most likely to occur.

WhatOnEarth: What is a landslide?

Kirschbaum: Landslides occur when an environmental trigger like an extreme rain event — often a severe storm or hurricane – and gravity’s downward pull sets soil and rock in motion. Conditions beneath the surface are often unstable already, so the heavy rains or other trigger act as the last straw that causes mud, rocks, or debris — or all combined — to move rapidly down mountains and hillsides. Unfortunately, people and property are often swept up in these unexpected mass movements.

Landslides can also be caused by earthquakes, surface freezing and thawing, ice melt, the collapse of groundwater reservoirs, volcanic eruptions, and erosion at the base of a slope from the flow of river or ocean water. But torrential rains most commonly activate landslides. Our NASA inventory only tracks landslides brought on by rain.

WhatOnEarth: What prompted you to develop the NASA landslide inventory?

Kirschbaum: The project was initially meant to evaluate a procedure for forecasting landslide hazards globally. Studying landslide hazards over large areas is a thorny, complicated task because data collection is not always accurate and complete from one country to another. Improving our record-keeping is a first step in determining how to move forward with landslide hazard and risk assessments.

As a byproduct, we knew the catalog would provide information on the timing, location, and impacts of the landslides, which is valuable for exploring the socio-economic effects of these disasters. The International Disaster Database, the largest of its kind, often does not record smaller landslide events or detail their human or property toll.

Each one of our landslide entries contains information on the date of the event; details about the location; the latitude and longitude; an indication of the size of the event; the trigger; economic or social damages; and the number of fatalities.

WhatOnEarth: How is a landslide inventory useful or important?

Kirschbaum: As the catalog of events grows, we’ll be able to extract more and more information about which countries have the highest number of landslide reports, highest number of fatalities, etc. We can also break down events by region, season, and latitude, which helps us identify some large-scale patterns. Though the database is limited by occasional reporting biases and incomplete data, the catalog indicates that the highest reported number of rainfall-triggered landslides and fatal landslides occur in South and Southeastern Asia.

We also believe that in the longer term, the catalog will enable us to identify patterns in the global and regional frequency of landslides with respect to El Nino and related climate effects.

WhatOnEarth: Have you used satellite observations for the inventory?

Kirschbaum: No. In a few instances we’ve been able to obtain satellite images over an area where a landslide is clearly visible. However, landslides typically occur over small areas. Satellites cannot generally “see” such fine ground details or do not pass over the affected area with the frequency necessary to capture when the landslide occurred.

We hope to use satellite imagery, for example from NASA’s Earth Observing 1 (EO-1) satellite, to evaluate the location and area of some larger landslides. This remains a work in progress.

WhatOnEarth: So, if satellites can’t yet help you track landslides, how do you analyze each landslide event?

Kirschbaum: We have searched online literature – sources such as news reports, online journals and newspapers, and disaster databases — for the years 2003 and from 2007 to the present. The landslide inventory is only as good as the availability and accuracy of the reports and sources used to develop it. The work can be tedious and time-consuming, so we’ve enlisted the help of several excellent graduate students to keep the inventory updated over the past three years.

Our database tries to capture as many rainfall-triggered landslides as possible, but this is often difficult due to limitations in reporting of landslide hazards. The accuracy and completeness of details surrounding an event — especially when many landslides are triggered from a very large rainfall event over a broad area– can be less than informative so we are continually trying to improve the cataloguing effort. At the end of this year we’ll have a five-year record of events which will provide us more information to identify global trends.

WhatOnEarth: Is the NASA’s landslide inventory only available to lay people?

Kirschbaum: Our compilation methods were published in a scientific journal last year, and the actual inventory is now openly available to anyone on the Web. We’ll be posting the inventory from January through June 2010 shortly.

Image Information: A massive landslide covered the Philippine village of Guinsaugon, in 2007, killing roughly half of the 2,500 residents. Credit: U.S. Marine Corps./ Lance Cpl. Raymond Petersen III (top).  A map of landslide events in 2003, 2007, and 2008. Credit: NASA/Dalia Kirschbaum (above right).

— Gretchen Cook-Anderson, NASA’s Earth Science News Team

A Tale of Two Kenyas: Contradictions in Air Quality Stirred Researcher’s Pursuit of Atmospheric Science

Charles Kironji Gatebe’s early years read like a cliché. He grew up barefoot and poor in the small Kenyan village of Kenda at the foot of Mount Kenya, the son of coffee sharecroppers who raised their family on pennies a day. He walked nearly 10 miles each way to school for nearly a decade. He lacked adequate texts and other school supplies.

What he didn’t lack on those long daily walks was clean air. It was the contrast between the clear skies of his boyhood home and the smog and fumes of the nation’s capital, Nairobi, that stirred within Gatebe a strong passion for science. In 1979, Gatebe (right) was selected to represent his elementary school at a national convention to celebrate the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) International Year of the Child. He later won a physics prize in high school in 1984 from the Kenya Secondary Schools Science Congress. He enjoyed independent research so much that his physics teacher would allow him to conduct his own experiments in the lab alone at night or on weekends.

Gatebe’s passion, matched with natural aptitude, eventually led Gatebe to degrees from Kenya’s University of Nairobi and the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. Now a climatologist with a joint appointment at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, Gatebe has fashioned an award-winning career – including the rare honor of the World Meteorological Organization’s Young Scientist Award in 2000, and awards from the Kenyan government, German Academic Exchange Services, SysTem for Analysis, Research and Training (START), and the International Program in the Physical Sciences — for his innovative research on air pollution and its sources and effects on his country.

“Air quality in Kenya’s villages was and continues to be significantly different from the smog encountered in Nairobi. They vary so much that it seems you’re virtually in two distinct countries,” said Gatebe when asked to share what sparked his study of Kenya’s air pollution. During his graduate studies at the University of Nairobi, he devised a few climate projects that unexpectedly got the attention of the Kenyan government and United Nations Environment Program. One of those was a modeling experiment to measure vehicle pollution and predict pollution levels from the average speed and number of cars in use.

Gatebe also investigated the origins of the city’s air pollution; that is, how much Nairobi’s citizens and industry generated compared to what was transported in from other countries. “Charles’ Kenyan air quality research was quite breathtaking and significant,” said Michael King, a senior atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado and former senior project scientist at NASA Goddard who recruited Gatebe to NASA in 1999. “It involved him regularly hiking to the top of Mount Kenya – which sits roughly on the equator — and collecting air samples of atmospheric aerosol particles that he analyzed for their composition to distinguish dust and other particles from local sources from pollutants arriving from as far away as southern Africa, India and the Sahara.”

The acclaim from the study came as a surprise, Gatebe says, but motivated him to stay the course. He knew he’d found his niche.

As a former child scientist, Gatebe is eager to inspire more kids to get involved in science. He’s dedicated himself to NASA’s Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) education program, and blogs about the science of current events for GLOBE’s Web site.

Gatebe’s latest work is based on what he calls an accidental discovery, not uncommon in science. In summer of 2008, he was part of a NASA field mission called Arctic Research of the Composition of the Troposphere from Aircraft and Satellites (ARCTAS). Arctic wind currents can carry a haze that affects local climate. Gatebe and colleagues flew aboard planes through smoke blown over the Pacific Ocean from land-based fires to evaluate the composition of the pollution that eventually forms Arctic haze. 

A ship passed beneath Gatebe’s plane, through his measurement field, triggering a mass of sea foam in its wake. When he later evaluated visible and near-infrared data from NASA’s Cloud Absorption Radiometer instrument that took the measurements from aboard the plane, he noticed a spike in brightness in the vicinity of the ship’s path. The bubbles in the wake increased light reflectance off the ocean.

The irony of the discovery was quite amazing to Gatebe. Ships were long thought to pollute the air and contribute to warmer climate through exhaust emissions. But they also appear to have a counterbalancing effect of cooling local ocean surfaces by as much as four percent. What he doesn’t know yet is just how much the cooling effect offsets the warming effect on the nearby environment. He hopes that others will further the work so the question doesn’t go unanswered.  

–Gretchen Cook-Anderson, NASA’s Earth Science News Team

Charles K. Gatebe (top, courtesy of C. Gatebe);  Zebras with hazy Nairobi in the distance (bottom, courtesy of Michael King).  

Satellites Deliver New Watery Truths with Style and GRACE

High above Earth’s surface – 300 miles to be precise – a special set of twins continually unveils new information about our planet. They’re not human twins, nor are they the constellation we know as Gemini. They’ve arguably, however, attained star status in their eight years in space.

They are the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, or GRACE, a pair of NASA and German satellites that fly about 137 miles apart, changing position relative to one another in response to variations in the pull of Earth’s gravity. A microwave ranging system captures microscopic changes in the distance between the two satellites. GRACE responds to gravity changes that occur when mass – primarily water and ice – on or beneath the surface changes.

GRACE satellites fly in sync with one another 300 miles above Earth’s surface changing position with variations in gravity. Credit: NASA

And like many stars, the harmonious GRACE twins have achieved some very big hits. They’ve racked up unprecedented observations of some of the world’s most famous waterways; shed light on ice loss at the coldest reaches of the globe; and rendered first-time measurements of changes in hidden groundwater reservoirs that sustain millions daily.

Though GRACE has also shaken up old ways of studying changes in solid ground – in the aftermath of earthquakes, for example – today’s nod is to the mission’s contribution to water science.

In celebration of a deal inked earlier this month by NASA and the German Aerospace Center to extend GRACE’s on-orbit life through 2015, here are just a few of the mission’s greatest water- and ice-related accomplishments to date:

  • NASA scientists found that groundwater levels in northwestern India have been declining by an average of one foot per year. More than 26 cubic miles of groundwater disappeared between 2002 and 2008 – double the capacity of India’s largest surface water reservoir and triple that of Lake Mead, the largest man-made reservoir in the United States.

The GRACE mission revealed the most accurate estimates to date of groundwater depletion in northwestern India, a region home to more than 114 million. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Matt Rodell

  • GRACE data confirmed the mass of ice in Antarctica decreased significantly from 2002 to 2005, enough to elevate global sea level by 0.05 inches during that period – about 13 percent of total sea level rise observed over the same four years.

— Gretchen Cook-Anderson, NASA’s Earth Science News Team

Even in Science,There's More than One Side to Every Story

Every tale has more than one side or perspective. And so it is with NASA, which studies Earth science from different angles – from satellites, from aircraft, and sometimes from the ground. But somehow, no matter how many ways there are to view a place, there’s nothing better than being there.

Case in point: Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. The interlocking peaks of the canyon rim can top 9,000 feet – high enough that year-round flurries created this snow-capped winter wonderland captured by photographer James Van Gundy. The spectacular oranges, browns, reds, and yellows of the limestone and the unique rain- and frost-carved stone make the park a destination for more than 1.5 million tourists each year.

Those peaks offer breathtaking views of three states and 200 miles of visibility.

In contrast, a Landsat satellite image of the park, taken in 2006, tells a top-side story of streams and rivers and valleys that stretch out like the fingers of a child’s hand print. A host of new colors emerge, not apparent from the ground view. The greens of coniferous forests. The blues of lakes and the Tropic Reservoir.

To see more Web images from Earth Science Picture of the Day, click here.

To see more examples of the Image of the Day from NASA’s Earth Observatory, click here.

– Gretchen Cook-Anderson, NASA’s Earth Science News Team

Let There be Light

An early morning sun illuminated the light rain over Nevada, Missouri, on May 14, 2009, spraying rays across the sky. Photographer Tommy Hornbeck captured what some viewers may believe to be virga, rain that evaporates before reaching the surface. However, Jim Foster, a hydrologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, confirmed with Hornbeck that the rain did indeed dampen the ground and the photographer below. 

The Earth Science Picture of the Day, a web site led by Foster, has received and posted hundreds of captivating images like this one. The site, which marks its 10th anniversary this year, showcases imagery of people who want to share what they observe; photographs that illustrate the marvels and nuances of Earth and our relationship to it. Sun bounces off rain drops. Bright-colored insects take temporary refuge on plant leaves. Ocean mist changes the look of the air where it hangs suspended. You get the idea.  

With support from the Universities Space Research Association and NASA, Foster’s longtime project to educate and engage the public about Earth science has made as many as 3,600 images available online for science enthusiasts.

Want to submit an image to Earth Science Picture of the Day? Click here to learn more. Keep in mind that the images must be your own, and you’ll also need to provide permission for Foster’s team to post them to the site. Good luck!

 — Gretchen Cook-Anderson, NASA’s Earth Science News Team

Can Something Out in Space be Good for Your Health on Earth?

An animation from Morain’s Center, viewable online by local residents, captured a storm crossing southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico on Jan. 6-8, 2008. This clip, part of a 48-hour dust forecast, centers on the hour of peak dust concentration in the towns of Wilcox and Silver City. Credit: Morain/Earth Data Analysis Center

Stanley Morain is not an asthmatic. But like a lot of other healthy people, his lungs are sensitive to dust in the air in his hometown of Albuquerque. Dust makes him cough. It makes his eyes tear. It makes him pretty miserable.

Morain believed that if he — a healthy individual — is affected by the dust storms common to the American southwest, then hundreds of thousands of asthmatics must be affected far more severely when millions of tiny particles nestle into their respiratory systems.

His career has led him to a spot as director of the Earth Data Analysis Center at the University of New Mexico, where he has encouraged his colleagues and students to follow their hearts in the projects they pursue. He’s set the example by spending 10 years using NASA satellite data to create daily dust forecasts to improve health alerts.

I caught up with Morain a few days before he left for the American Meteorological Society’s annual meeting, where he gave a talk Tuesday about his work. He’s especially excited about decisions by the United Nations and the Joint Board of Geospatial Information Societies to publish his latest dust modeling work this spring.

WhatOnEarth: How did you decide to focus your career on using satellite sensors to improve public health?

Morain: The thought first struck me years ago, before I got my doctorate in biogeography and before I was awarded my first NASA research grant in 1964. I’ve always been fascinated by the geographic aspects of health even when I worked on NASA projects as dissimilar as lunar landers in the 1960s. I found we could combine information technology and modeling to learn more about health problems like heart attacks, Valley Fever, and hantavirus pulmonary syndrome that frequently strikes and kills young, otherwise healthy people within 24 hours.

WhatOnEarth: The Centers for Disease Control estimate 16.4 million adults and 7 million children in the U.S. suffer from asthma. How do your dust alerts help them?

Morain: Well, we’re not yet operational on a large-scale basis. That would take a commercial firm stepping in to make our alerts available nationwide. But, in my own backyard, the alerts are helping asthmatics plan for the worst days. Dust is a real problem here. When people know dust is headed their way, they can adapt their plans to minimize time outdoors or increase the dosage of some asthma medications. We’re making the alerts available, by way of summaries of dust and air quality conditions, to everyone from school nurses to TV news broadcasters to epidemiologists who are concerned about how long-term dust exposure affects the overall population.

WhatOnEarth: How do NASA satellites play into the development of the alerts?

Morain: There are environmental triggers for diseases like asthma. Very fine pollutant particles called aerosols are key examples of such triggers. NASA satellites like Terra and Aqua have instruments that can “see” the path dust takes. When you merge dust modeling information from the satellites with the National Weather Service weather forecasting model, you get a product that tells you when a weather event will bring dust along with it. The product becomes the basis for our daily dust alerts.

Three generations of model improvements for a dust storm across New Mexico and Texas on 15-16 December, 2003 illustrate (left) model performance before and (middle) after satellite data were included; and (right) the same storm modeled by the higher resolution, weather forecasting model Morain’s team uses. Credit: Morain/Earth Data Analysis Center

— Gretchen Cook-Anderson, NASA’s Earth Science News Team

An Award-Winning Scientist Who Came in from the Cold

NASA-funded researcher Ben Smith digs a snow pit at a West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide core
site to try to infer the annual rate of snowfall. Credit: Ben Smith

Researchers who study glaciers and polar dynamics often get into it for the love of the field work — the challenging terrain, technicological adventures, and thigh-deep snow.

Benjamin Smith, a researcher at the Polar Science Center at the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory, was no exception. As a fledgling physicist in the 1990s, his first summer job after college turned into an eye-opening adventure — a 3-month stint at the Kamb Ice Stream in Antarctica as a field assistant mapping buried crevasses with snow-penetrating radar. The rest, as they say, was history.

These days, Smith is enjoying a rare honor as one of two NASA-supported researchers to receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), awarded at a White House ceremony last month.

WhatOnEarth: Field work was your entry into studying glaciers. Are you involved  in Arctic or Antarctic field work now?

Smith: After a few years of field work, I discovered that though being out in cold is great, the quicker way to learn about glacier change is by doing remote sensing work. That requires a great deal of data analysis indoors. So with that notion, I got onboard as part of NASA’s ICESat I mission while working on my doctorate in physics.

WhatOnEarth: What work do you believe was the basis for your presidential award?

Smith: Well, I have a few projects that I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in.

Not too long ago, I wrote a paper where we found that several lakes beneath the glaciers in Antarctica have gained or lost water in the last five years, and at a rate much faster than things usually happen in Antarctica. We’ve been seeing lakes that fill or drain in half a year. In one case, 3 cubic kilometers of water drained last year from one of these lakes. That’s about the size of Lake Washington in Seattle.

My main objective in all of this is to figure out where that water went and how it has affected other subglacial lakes and glaciers downstream. Have those glaciers sped up from the water flowing under them? The warmth of the surface bed beneath glaciers allows them to slide faster. If you add more water, there’s potential for glaciers to slide faster. 

I’m also part of a team that is helping to design the ICESat II satellite – a project we hope will build on the success of ICESat I. The satellite will boast several laser beams rather than one, so it’ll provide much better spatial coverage of the Earth’s surface to measure glacier mass and area.

President Obama honored PECASE awardees, including Ben Smith and Josh Willis, in January at the White House.
Credit: The White House

WhatOnEarth: Were you aware that you’d been nominated for the PECASE award?

Smith: No. I was completely unaware of it until I was notified by the FBI about a background check! I can tell you I was relieved when I found out the background check regarded my visit to the White House. I understand now that my nomination was put forward by colleagues at NASA. Somehow, my nomination came out on top of the pile, and that’s pretty cool.

To read a few of Ben Smith’s ICESat-related scientific papers, click the topics below.

Ice stream elevation changes observed by ICESat

Increased flow speed on an East Antarctic glacier

An inventory of subglacial lakes detected by ICESat

Gretchen Cook-Anderson, NASA’s Earth Science News Team


Deforestation: Much Ado about the Contribution to Global CO2


CO2 is released from fires (red dots) like these near Lake Malawi in southern
Africa in
October 2009 for agricultural land clearing. Credit: NASA 

Deforestation. The environmental implications of the word are as numerous as the syllables. And scientists like Jim Collatz have the job of trying to ferret out and prove those implications. Or, as the case may be, of correcting what scientists have believed to be true.

When farmers or loggers chop or burn forest land, they set in motion the loss of biodiversity and habitat, as well as soil erosion. Collatz and other scientists are just as concerned — maybe even more so – with the carbon dioxide (CO2) deforested areas contribute to the atmosphere, warming the climate.

In 2005, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization announced that forest loss accounts for more than 20 percent of global emissions of CO2 from human activity. If we could stop cutting down trees, some argued, we could make a serious dent in the global carbon problem.

Not so much, a new study in the November 2009 issue of Nature Geoscience suggests. A group of Dutch and American climate scientists, including Collatz, assert that the UN’s estimate of atmospheric CO2 caused by deforestation is substantially overstated – by as much as 40 percent. Recalculating the 2005 figure with updated satellite-based estimates on carbon emissions, the researchers calculated the relative contribution of deforestation and forest degradation to be only about 12 percent.  

As a member of NASA Goddard’s Biospheric Sciences research team and co-author of the study, Collatz shared some of his thoughts with us.

What On Earth: How do you account for the change in the share of atmospheric CO2 from forest loss?

Collatz: New emission estimates from tropical deforestation are somewhat lower than in the past. At the same time, fossil fuel emissions are increasing rapidly. Deforestation is becoming a smaller proportion of total human-caused CO2 emissions. So, even if we could stop it completely, it would not be a substitute for decreasing fossil fuel emissions. If deforestation were 20 percent, then decreasing it to 10 percent may be significant and plausible. But since new analysis shows deforestation is closer to 10 percent, it’s unlikely that it can be reduced to zero percent.


What On Earth: What are the implications of your findings?


Collatz:  Some might read the paper and argue for less attention toward reducing deforestation. But we need to remain vigilant in this area. Forests provide other valuable services besides storing carbon: biodiversity, food, fiber, water resources, soil resources.  Even though current rates of deforestation may be lower than previously thought, vast amounts of carbon are stored in forests and soils all over the globe and are vulnerable to climate change and land management practices.  We need to monitor these carbon stocks and manage them for preservation and sequestration, or we may see unexpected increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases that go beyond what is emitted from fossil fuel burning.


To read the full paper on the Web, click here.

 –Gretchen Cook-Anderson, NASA’s Earth Science News Team

Correction: Please note the link above to the full paper has been revised. Co-author Robert Jackson of Duke University makes the paper available on the university’s site.