Crash and Splash for NASA’s CO2 Science Craft

It was a somber day for NASA and countless researchers who had been working for 9 years to send the CO2 observatory into the atmosphere.

A technical problem caused the rocket not to release its heavy outer shell. The extra weight ruined its chances of orbit and sent it crashing back down into the frigid ocean.

This innovative craft would have allowed researchers a chance to better understand how our climate works.

“Data from the satellite would have helped researchers better understand distribution of the greenhouse gas, possibly improving climate models,” National Geographic reported.

The cost and time put into this climate craft means major set backs for space CO2 emission measurements.

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Pine Beetle Pictures

The Mountain Pine Beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) attacks weak lodgepole pines at first. Trees are weakened by stresses like drought, fire and root disease. Then as the outbreak grows the beetles attack healthy trees.

Kurt Chowanski, a climatologist for the Mountain Research Station says the outbreak spreads in a rings from the infected tree out. Once a tree has been hit by the beetle nothing can be done to save it.

In the photos below you will notice rust-colored trees that have been attacked. Also, the photo of the sap oozing out of the tree is a good example of how lodgepole pines try to defend themselves from the beetles by drowning them in resis.n.

These are some photos of taken by a classmate of mine in Steamboat Springs, Colo. We think these are photos of  Mountain Pine Beetles and lodgepole pines. If you know otherwise please let us know in the comment section below.

Tree with sap, photo courtesy of Eric Gordon

Tree with sap, photo courtesy of Eric Gordon

Beetle in sap, photo courtesy of Eric Gordon

Beetle in sap, photo courtesy of Eric Gordon

Beetle killed trees, photo courtesy of Eric Gordon

Beetle killed trees, photo courtesy of Eric Gordon


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Excess Nitrogen in the Alpine

Liquid Nitrogen Flowers Photo Credit: kasi metcalfe

Liquid Nitrogen Flowers Photo Credit: kasi metcalfe

Nitrogen is one of the key ingredients for life on earth, the “N” in DNA and what gardeners use to fertilize their plots. But extra Nitrogen from pollution is causing robust changes in high-elevation ecosystems.

“80 percent of the atmosphere is Nitrogen. We are breathing Nitrogen right now,” said Professor Mark Williams of INSTAAR and the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Nitrogen comes in two forms:

1. Nitrate
2. Ammonium

Williams has been studying how nitrogen changes alpine environments. He says many alpine plants and species are adapted to live in a nitrogen limited or nitrogen poor environment. In Colorado Williams was surprised by the levels of Nitrogen he saw in a traditionally limited system.

” When I moved to Colorado what I discovered is that we had way more nitrogen in the system. In the actual streams at 11,000 and 12,000 feet. Normally you don’t see any nitrate in the streams because the plants use it all and they don’t let any of it go,” he said.

This excess nitrogen was coming from the sky as rain and snow and falling onto Niwot Ridge. “There is way more than should be there,” he said. This Nitrogen is coming from human activities.

The four main sources of Nitrogen are:
1. Feedlots
2. Fertilizer
3. Car
4. Power Plants

Niwot Ridge share air with Denver and Greeley, Colo. On windy upslope days locals in Boulder, Colo. can smell the feedlots. “Everything emitted in Denver and in that area ends up in the mountains. Bad air rises,” he said.

Check back for why it matters soon!

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Equipment Failure, Freezing Temps and Bitter Wind are Just Some of the Problems Alpine Researchers Face

Mark Williams Photo Credit: Joanna Nasar

Mark Williams Photo Credit: Joanna Nasar

INSTAAR scientist, professor and backcountry guru Mark Williams studies alpine environments.  Research in the alpine means collecting data in freezing temperatures, facing avalanche danger (for the record Williams has survived two), forgoing the comforts of a lab and adapting equipment to withstand the extremes.

“Most people when they ski five miles are like ‘Wheres the wine?  Wheres the cheese?’ But at that point you have just gotten to work, and you have to be comfortable doing that,” Williams said of research in difficult to reach high-elevation systems.

Over the years Williams has braved the conditions and pioneered new research techniques. “When I started people didn’t care about snow covered areas, but now we care for lots of different reasons,” he said.

Before becoming a scientist he owned and operated a backcountry ski lodge in Alaska and said, “I’ve had about every job, or most jobs you can to support yourself in the mountains.”

Williams rich life experience combined with his knowhow in the mountains has lead him to conduct interesting snow, nitrogen and water quality research in alpine environments.

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Pika Protection Considered

Pikas in the High Sierras of California may be protected. The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for not considering the Pika for protection status as mandated by the Endangered Species Act.

Now, the agency must make a decision by May about the protection of these animals.

“By May, the agency must complete its investigation, and decide if the animal deserves protection under the Endangered Species Act, which would result in strategies to raise its declining populations. The polar bear is the only mammal that has been put under the law because of threats from changing climate,” reported SFgate.com.

Check out my earlier blog post for more information about the lawsuit and the American Pika.

Movie Night!

Check out my movie!

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Dot Alpine Podcast: Check Out the First Installment!

David Inouye, Professor, Director of CONS Program at the University of Maryland

David Inouye, Professor, Director of CONS Program at the University of Maryland Photo Credit: Photo from David Inouye

In these segments Professor David Inouye discusses why alpine environments are so unique and important to study. Click here to listen!