[EAS] The Earth Seen Whole

Peter J. Kindlmann pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Sun Jan 21 01:41:47 EST 2007

Dear Colleagues -

Earth awareness seems to be on the upswing. Most often that is 
because of disasters that evoke the themes of global warming, 
greenhouse gases, energy conservation, things "green." Newscasters 
and their visiting pundits don't convey much about science, 
documentaries like Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" do a little better. 
Washington, although no longer inclined to make policy in the style 
of Senator Inhofe 
<http://inhofe.senate.gov/pressreleases/climateupdate.htm>, still 
seems retrenched and befuddled. But then, when did we have the last 
meaningful Presidential Science Advisor?

A couple of items from the last WHAT'S NEW <http://www.bobpark.org> 
by Robert Park:

>On Monday, the National Academy of Sciences released a two-year 
>study, "Earth Science and Applications from Space: National 
>Imperatives for the Next Decade."  We can count polar bears, stick 
>thermometers in the ocean, and measure the hair on wooly 
>caterpillars, but the only way to find out what's going on with 
>global warming is to study Earth from space.  The Academy report 
>finds that NASA's earth science budget has fallen by 30 percent, 
>while the number of operating Earth-observing instruments on NASA 
>satellites will fall by 40 percent by 2010.  The funds are being 
>siphoned off to prepare for a manned science station on the moon. 
>NASA seems unable to describe just what science will be done.
>The Earth's albedo, or reflectivity, is fundamental to global 
>climate.  We don't know what it is.  The only instrument capable of 
>measuring and continuously monitoring the albedo is the Deep Space 
>Climate Observatory (DSCOVR).  Already built and paid for, it sits 
>in a warehouse at Goddard SFC waiting to be delivered to the 
>Lagrange-1 point, about a million miles in the direction of the sun. 
>We understand why President Bush may not like DSCOVR. But not much 
>has been heard from Congress or the public.

I mention all this because I detect a rising interest among students 
about these issues. They may still seek to get rich on Wall Street 
after they graduate, but they are not bereft of idealism, and global 
climate and energy consumption issues interest them.

This will benefit environmental and chemical engineering, less so 
electrical which, dominated by its descent into the nano-world, still 
needs to figure out how to couple to these larger themes. Designing 
micro-satellites may be feasible for only the few universities now 
doing it. Designing for lower energy consumption, micropower design, 
efficient power conditioning and transmission, minimizing standby 
power (how many electrical devices that you think are off are 
actually drawing power in your abode right now?) are all possible EE 
venues of broader applicability. But it will take work to express 
them as coherent threads across the courses in an EE curriculum. As 
incidental boutique courses they will not be convincing enough, and 
in any case such good intentions may be hindered by inadequate 
faculty experience. Still, these are opportunities for new forms of 
motivation in undergraduate education.

You haven't heard much from me lately, but I will keep these mailing 
coming at a measured pace. As of Jan. 1, 2007 I am officially retired 
from Yale, in that my present percentage of full-time is less than 
the magic 50%. But none of my transitions, not between computers nor 
between working environments and leisure activities, have ever been 
sudden, so don't be concerned about discontinuities in the EAS-INFO 
mailings. Your biggest worry is probably that more leisure will make 
me even more long-winded.

All the best in 2007,  --PJK

More information about the EAS-INFO mailing list