This Week in STEM: Planetary Evolution

This Week in STEM: Planetary Evolution

Blog Contributed by Dr. Christopher Murphy, Chief Strategic Growth & Communications Officer

(Title image credits: Getty images & NASA/JPL CalTech)

From the initial formation of a rocky planet to the effects of human influence on its evolution, we share two scientific approaches to better our understanding This Week in STEM.


NASA InSight Successfully Lands on Mars

On November 26, NASA’s InSight Mars Lander successfully landed on Mars, deployed its solar array, transmitted the image below.

Over the next few months, InSight will deploy its instruments, collect, and transmit valuable information about the structure of Mars’ deep interior – information that will help scientists better understand the formation and evolution of all rocky planets, including Earth.


The impacts of Climate Change

The Thanksgiving season brings many families together and formalizes the idea of thanking others. This particular Thanksgiving, the United States government shared one more thing Americans (and all citizens of Earth) should be and continue to be thankful for: our fragile planet.

Arguably in an attempt to bury the news on Black Friday, when many Americans were out shopping or spending time with loved ones, the federal government released the National Climate Assessment’s updated report providing a “stark warning about the country’s future if climate change progresses unchecked.”

The most damaging aspect of the report was that while it predicted various potential impacts on the United States (dwindling freshwater supplies, agricultural declines, billions of dollars in economic losses, etc.), the reports cited multiple observations from all around the nation that “clearly demonstrate that climate change… has already reshaped the county in profound ways.”

In spite of the President’s doubts that climate change is occurring at all, Scientific American noted a few significant ways in which the report found climate change has already impacted our United States:

  • Since the late 19th century, global temperatures have increased by about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit- a little more in the Western states, and nearly twice the global average in Alaska.
  • The frequency of heat-related events is increasing. Heat wave season has increased by nearly 40 days since the 1960s. In many states, spring arrives earlier and autumn ends later.
  • Sea ice near Alaska has declined by more than 10% each decade since the 1980s. The snowpack in the Western states has dramatically declined over the last 60 years.
  • Isolated extreme weather events occur with greater frequency. Heavy rainstorms are becoming more common than they did a century ago, which increases flood risk.
  • Sea levels are increasing on the East Coast faster than global averages, with high-tide coastal flooding events increasing as much as tenfold since the 1960s.
  • Hotter and drier conditions in the Western states have led to an increase in large forest fires, burning millions of acres more land now than in the 1980s.
  • Plant and animal communities have shifted as a result of these changes. Fish, bird, and insect migration patterns have shifted towards deeper, cooler waters or towards earlier and later times of year. Declining sea ice has changed the timing of annual algal blooms in the Arctic that feed the ecosystem.

All of these and many more observations are commonly believed by the scientific community as indisputable. The human and financial impact is undeniable, and the report predicts a further a 10% cut in America’s Gross Domestic Product.  Thirteen federal agencies agree: Climate change has already wreaked havoc on the United States, and the worst is likely yet to come.