The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has selected the University of Washington to host a Pacific Northwest research institute focusing on climate, ocean and coastal challenges, supported by a five-year award worth up to $300 million.
A satellite mission that bounces laser light off the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland has found that hundreds of billions of tons’ worth of ice are being lost every year due to Earth’s changing climate.
Scientists involved in NASA’s ICESat-2 project report in the journal Science that the net loss of ice from those regions has been responsible for 0.55 inches of sea level rise since 2003. That’s slightly less than a third of the total amount of sea level rise observed in the world’s oceans over that time.
To track how the ice sheets are changing, the ICESat-2 team compared the satellite’s laser scans with similar measurements that were taken by the original ICESat spacecraft from 2003 to 2009. (ICESat stands for “Ice, Cloud and Elevation Satellite.”)
“If you watch a glacier or ice sheet for a month, or a year, you’re not going to learn much about what the climate is doing to it,” Ben Smith, a glaciologist at the University of Washington and lead author of the Science paper, said in a NASA news release. “We now have a 16-year span between ICESat and ICESat-2 and can be much more confident that the changes we’re seeing in the ice have to do with the long-term changes in the climate.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says it has forged a new agreement with Vulcan Inc., the Seattle-based holding company created by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, to share data on ocean science and exploration.
The memorandum of understanding builds on an existing relationship between NOAA and Vulcan.
“The future of ocean science and exploration is partnerships,” retired Navy Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and deputy NOAA administrator, said today in a news release. “NOAA is forging new collaborations, such as the one with Vulcan, to accelerate our mission to map, explore and characterize the ocean, which will help NOAA support the conservation, management and balanced use of America’s ocean and understand its key role in regulating our weather and climate.”
Vulcan CEO Bill Hilf said the agreement furthers his company’s mission, which includes developing new technologies for conservation and addressing environmental challenges relating to the world’s oceans. Vulcan’s projects include the Allen Coral Atlas, which uses satellite imagery and other data sets to monitor the health of coral reefs; and Skylight, which provides real-time intelligence about suspicious maritime activity.
A comparison of weather records since 2000 with similar time frames in past centuries has led researchers to conclude that we’re in the midst of a megadrought of historic proportions.
The assessment draws upon tree-ring data from nine Western states, stretching from Oregon and Idaho down through California and New Mexico, plus part of northern Mexico. The patterns in the tree rings served to track annual soil moisture going back to the ninth century.
Researchers saw evidence for dozens of droughts across the region over the centuries, but four periods of extreme aridity stood out, in the late 800s, the mid-1100s, the 1200s and the late 1500s. The fourth megadrought, which lasted from 1575 to 1603, was the worst of the bunch.
Since then, there have been no droughts on that scale. Until now.
In this week’s issue of the journal Science, the research team reports that the 19-year period beginning in the year 2000 has been almost as dry as the worst 19-year period of the 1575-1603 megadrought, based on soil moisture readings.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says he’s launching a $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund that will issue grants aimed at addressing climate change — a move that comes less than a month after hundreds of Amazon employees criticized what they saw as the company’s weak commitment to tackling the issue.
“Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet,” he wrote. “I want to work alongside others both to amplify known ways and to explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change on this planet we all share.”
He said the first grants to scientists, activists and non-governmental organizations would be issued this summer.
Years ago, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen backed a project called the Great Elephant Census that highlighted a crisis for Africa’s elephant population, brought about primarily by illegal poaching.
Allen passed away last year at the age of 65, but the software-based successor to that project, known as EarthRanger, lives on. What’s more, EarthRanger has adapted to dramatic changes — not only in the challenges facing Africa’s endangered elephants, but also in the way old and new technologies are being used to address those challenges.
“I think the most important thing that’s happened … is the maturity of those of us who are technologists in this space, in what we’re now truly calling conservation technology,” said Ted Schmitt, principal business development manager for conservation technology at Vulcan Inc., Allen’s holding company.
Schmitt and his partners in the EarthRanger effort highlighted technology’s role in saving the elephants today during a news briefing at Vulcan’s Seattle headquarters. Along the way, they delivered a piece of good news from the Mara Elephant Project, which works with Kenyan authorities to protect elephants in the greater Mara ecosystem, part of East Africa’s Serengeti plains.
Jay Inslee may be out of the presidential race, but he’s not out of the minds of climate policy campaigners.
The two-term Washington state governor won high praise from his Democratic rivals as well as experts on global climate change after he acknowledged on Aug. 21 that he would not be “carrying the ball” in the presidential campaign, largely due to his failure to attract sufficient support in political polls.
One of Inslee’s problems on the campaign trail was that he didn’t have a “unique selling proposition” for his climate policy initiatives, said Aseem Prakash, founding director of the University of Washington’s Center for Environmental Politics.
He said Inslee’s clarion call on climate was “pioneering” – but easily co-opted by other candidates. “So, in some sense, Jay Inslee is a victim of his own success,” Prakash said.
The development of ever more powerful models for artificial intelligence is revolutionizing the world, but it doesn’t come cheap. In a newly distributed position paper, researchers at Seattle’s Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence argue that more weight should be given to energy efficiency when evaluating research.
The AI2 researchers call on their colleagues to report the “price tag” associated with developing, training and running their models, alongside other metrics such as speed and accuracy. Research leaderboards, including AI2’s, regularly rate AI software in terms of accuracy over time, but they don’t address what it took to get those results.
Of course, cutting-edge research can be expensive in all sorts of fields, ranging from particle physics done at multibillion-dollar colliders to genetic analysis that requires hundreds of DNA sequencers. Financial cost or energy usage isn’t usually mentioned in the resulting studies. But AI2’s CEO, Oren Etzioni, says that times are changing – especially as the carbon footprint of energy-gobbling scientific experiments becomes more of a concern.
“It is an ongoing topic for many scientific communities, the issue of reporting costs,” Etzioni, one of the position paper’s authors, told GeekWire. “I think what makes a difference here is the stunning escalation that we’ve seen” in the resources devoted to AI model development.
One study from OpenAI estimates that the computational resources required for top-level research in deep learning have increased 300,000 times between 2012 and 2018, due to the rapid development of more and more complex models. “This is much faster than Moore’s Law, doubling every three or four months,” Etzioni said.
LAS VEGAS — Robert Downey Jr. has been saving the planet in Marvel movies for 11 years as a cinematic Iron Man. Now he wants to spend the next 11 years helping to save the planet for real.
At tonight’s opening session of Amazon’s re:MARS conference — focusing on the frontiers of Machine learning, Automation, Robotics and Space — Downey announced that he’s setting up a campaign called the Footprint Coalition to develop new technologies for environmental cleanup.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is celebrating the official launch of Breakthrough Energy Ventures Europe, an investment fund that aims to boost clean-energy innovation in Europe to the tune of 100 million euros. That translates to $112 million at the current rate of exchange.
Half of the money is coming from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 program, via a financing channel known as InnovFin. The other half is coming from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the $1 billion fund backed by Gates and other heavyweight investors including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Softbank Group CEO Masayoshi Son, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and Alibaba Group executive chairman Jack Ma.
Breakthrough Energy Ventures was created in 2016 to invest in zero-carbon energy technologies, and it’s laid down bets on 15 ventures since then. But most of those ventures are based in the U.S. and Canada. Breakthrough Energy Ventures Europe, or BEV-E, will make sure Europe is well-represented on the clean-energy frontier.