Goddard Institute for Space Studies

THE GoDDARD INSTITuTE for Space Studies (GISS) is part of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. It is one of the laboratories in the Earth Sciences Division and is a component of Columbia University's Earth Institute. The focus at GISS is the study of global climate change. Dr. Robert Jastrow established GISS in 1961 to conduct basic research in the science of space. He served there until 1981. GISS's early tasks included the study of other planetary atmospheres using data collected by space probes and images captured by earthbound telescopes. The success of these endeavors led to its development into a world-class center for atmospheric modeling of Earth's atmosphere. Today, the mission of GISS embraces the scientific study of climate change.

Dr. James Hansen currently directs the institute, with research broken up into two major areas: human influences, and natural changes in the environment across varying time frames. The second is categorized by long-term events, such as long-term ice ages, annual occurrences such as El NiƱo, and isolated events like volcanic explosions. Study in these areas and analysis across a wide range of timeframes fulfills key research objectives of GISS, the prediction of atmospheric changes and the impact on climate change. Tools relied upon include satellite and spacecraft observations. The data gleaned from this process defines the input to developed models used to predict oceanic, landmass, and atmospheric interactions. Coupled with previous information on Earth's changing climate and 20th century insights into the observed workings of other planetary atmospheres, GISS analysts are beginning to understand the evolution of Earth's atmosphere.

In support of this role, GISS allocates its resources across program areas, which include atmospheric chemistry, planetary atmospheres, Earth observations, radiation, climatic events, and model development. GISS resources include personnel at the God-dard Space Flight Center who coordinate with NASA colleagues at the Laboratory for Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences, the Laboratory for Atmospheres, and the Earth Observing System science office. Links with Maryland area universities, in particular with

Columbia University, provide almost half of the talent needed to fulfill the GISS mission of providing the critical perspective from space in the quest to monitor and predict climate change. Columbia University supports NASA through their Center for Climate Systems Research (CCSR), the Earth Institute, and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

In May 2007, GISS publicly reinforced the fact that greenhouse gases are directly responsible for moving Earth's climate to "critical tipping points." The conclusion, derived from paleoclimate history, satellite observations, and use of predictive climate models, suggests dire consequences for Earth. GISS posits that Arctic ice, the West Antarctic ice sheet, freshwater sources, and the habitat of many species, such as the polar bear, are at risk due to global warming. The spring study determined that the 0.6 degree C rise in temperature over the past 30 years is primarily due to the corresponding increase in greenhouse gases. GISS reported that carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, for example, are rising by about two parts per million each year. The tipping point occurs when amplified effects brought on by incremental warming suddenly accelerate this steady rise. The resulting rapid rise in temperature occurs as sunlight is absorbed to a greater degree by the dark ocean waters and is not reflected back into space by the disintegrating ice sheets.

Another study published in May 2007, assists meteorologists with future temperature projections. GISS researchers predict that by the 2080s, summertime heat in the eastern United States will rise from an average in the low-to-mid-80s to one in the low-to-mid-90s. GISS notes that the past few decades have witnessed most locations in the world warming, with areas of high latitude particularly feeling the temperature rise. These warming trends are felt most in Alaska, Siberia, the Arctic Ocean, and the Antarctic. In fact, the five warmest years since the end of the 19th century are 2005, 1998, 2002, 2003, and 2006.

GISS conducts numerous other measurements and studies related to climate change. Some recent work includes investigations into how aerosol pollutants affect climate, the possibility of a massive carbon dioxide release from the ocean depths into the atmosphere, and the positive effects of dust and other pollutants blocking sunlight. The organization provides the science behind climate change to enable policy makers to enact the best legislation to mitigate the potential devastating affects of global warming.

SEE ALSo: Columbia University; Hansen, James; National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

BIBLIoGRAPHY. Goddard Institute for Space Studies, www. giss.nasa.gov (cited August 2007); Michael A. Toman and Brent Sohngen, Climate Change (Ashgate Publishing, 2004).

Robert Karl Koslowsky Independent Scholar

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