Dr. Abdalati, Maynard Courtroom, University of Idaho

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NASA Chief Scientist says Profound Change Coming

NASA Chief Scientist says Profound Change Coming

NASA Chief Scientist, Waleed Abdalati, told a standing room only audience at the University of Idaho that the Earth is a system of interrelated stories, and that understanding those stories will help us prepare for changes that result from a changing climate.

While individually each story may not seem like much, when connected they help us develop a comprehensive understanding of the planet we call home.  Helping us understand those stories is NASA’s job, he said.  

“The story of the planet is a mosaic of stories,” he emphasized. “The planet affects us and we affect the planet.”

Dr. Abdalati spoke to a standing-room only auditoriumDr. Abdalati spoke to a
standing-room only auditorium.

Referring to the famous “Earthrise” picture taken during the Apollo 8 Mission, which shows a blue-green Earth emerging above the moon’s horizon, Abdalati said he believes that the picture had a profound impact on how we view our planet. “That view down from space allowed us to look at our planet in a different way,” he explained.  “A space-based perspective gives you a much more comprehensive view of the whole picture. You can see how what happens in one part of the world matters in another part of the world.”

For example, he said, space-based pictures show us what is currently happening to the Arctic ice caps.  “These places are beautiful,” he said, “and they are changing.  They are changing in profound ways.”  He added that it is no longer unreasonable to think of an ice-free Arctic in the summer within the next decade.  “Human civilization has never experienced that,” he said. “The implications are unknown, but we appear to be entering a new state.”  It will be a different time, he said.  “With that come different opportunities and different challenges.”

Dr. Abdalati spoke to a standing-room only auditorium

He said the Palouse will not be exempt from climate change, because changes to the Arctic will have ripple effects on all the mosaic of systems that make up the Earth.

Abdalati said that he believes it is possible to slow the pace of climate change. Our success depends on the magnitude of change, the speed of change, and our ability to anticipate the changes that are coming.  That, he said, is where the science comes in. That’s where NASA comes in.  

“The planet we live on is all we’ve got,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s home.” 

Lee Vierling, College of Natural Resources associate professor, said Abdalati was invited to speak at U-Idaho due to his intimate knowledge of the relationships between the Earth’s climate and water cycle, and of how NASA data can lead to an understanding of the complex interconnections that influence the quality of life on Earth.

 “These connections are a natural fit for the University of Idaho’s land grant mission of using advanced tools to improve the sustainability of the Earth’s natural resources,” Vierling said. “They complement the interests of the many U-Idaho faculty and students who work on projects central to NASA’s mission.”

These connections are a natural fit for the University of Idaho’s land grant mission of using advanced tools to improve the sustainability of the Earth’s natural resources. —Lee Vierling