[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
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:
>OBSERVING EARTH: NAS CALLS FOR A "SURGE" IN CLIMATE RESEARCH.
>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.
>AN INCONVENIENT QUESTION: WHAT IS THE EARTH'S ENERGY BALANCE?
>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
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