Last week, NASA celebrated the launch of a new satellite for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) called the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R). The satellite promises the most accurate weather models to date along with new transponders to help with rescue scenarios. Of all the advancements of this satellite, what is most touted is GOES-R’s ability to provide real-time storm information every 30 seconds!
In an instructional video provided by the Harris Corporation (a key partner that assisted NOAA with this satellite), the CEO of StormCenter Communications, David Jones, explained that GOES-R will provide an updated disk image of the Earth every five minutes in contrast to current technologies that provide a disk image every three hours. This, along with other imaging advancements, will allow for better forecasting and weather alerts. (For the full explanation of GOES-R’s technology by David Jones, click HERE.)
In addition to weather on our planet, GOES-R will also be able to improve the forecasting of solar weather, tracking the solar winds that come from explosive Coronal Mass Ejections (CME). These solar winds provide us with northern lights when they interact with the atmosphere. However, depending upon the strength of a CME, they can also endanger our satellites and power grid. (Here is a video giving the basics of the GOES-R mission or click HERE for the mission website.)
The success of the GOES-R launch reminds me of articles posted as of late by the European Space Agency (ESA) in regard to iceberg forecasting and tracking the levels of the Greenland ice sheet. Founded in response to the sinking of the Titanic, the International Iceberg Patrol Service works to forecast the location of icebergs that break off of Greenland’s ice sheet and, on occasion, drift into shipping routes. In modern times, ESA and other organizations assist the Coast Guard with satellite data to help track and forecast where these icy hazards will drift, working to ensure safe travel for seafaring vessels. When viewing the images from satellites that track these icebergs (such as the one below), it is awe-inspiring to realize just how new this technology is and how rapidly it has developed in so short a time.
It logically follows that the number and type of icebergs corresponds to the condition of the Greenland ice sheet. In a fascinating article posted on ESA’s website from November 16th of this year, scientists Ann Hogg and Andrew Shepherd are studying ice cores to assist in the development of the next generation of satellites that will do far more than forecast icebergs, but give us insight into how our changing climate is impacting the fragile state of our planet’s ice levels. Reading about these and other scientific advancements in Earth Observation provides both excitement and concern. In regard to excitement, we are on the precipice of new discoveries and insights into our common home. In regard to concern, much of the research that has already been done signals a deteriorating environment that needs to be addressed. In many ways, this twofold revelation of our common home reminds me of the spiritual life: The more we come to know ourselves, we also confront our inner brokenness that is in need of God’s healing grace.
When looking at weather forecasting and the health of Greenland’s ice sheets, we are led to another area of study in the more frigid parts of our common home: Arctic Sea Ice. Recently, NASA Goddard released a fascinating time-lapse video from 1984-2016 that shows how ice from the Arctic is not being replaced as it has been in the past due to rising temperatures. This leads us to another logical question: What is causing the rising temperatures that are contributing to lower ice levels in the Arctic? To explore this question opens the door to the full spectrum of scientific investigation into our common home. Whether it be the study of ecosystems under the sea or the migration patterns of birds in the air, once we begin to understand one part of creation, it points to another, and another, and another.
I could go on, but I hope this brief reflection has shown that, when it comes to understanding our Earth’s climate, it is analogous to putting together a giant puzzle. Each piece of a puzzle is unique, presenting a small portion of the overall image being developed. Yet, it is only when all the pieces are seen together that the full image reveals its beauty. Our environment is similar, revealing millions of individual “pieces” to the “puzzle” that is the Earth’s climate. However, to view each piece in isolation risks an inadequate image of what is happening to our planet. It is only when we understand the broad, interconnected nature of our environment that we begin to see the true “image” of our climate and the overall health of our planet’s environment.
Though there is much of our environment that is out of our control, it is important to remember that, just as Pope Francis has reminded us in Laudato Si’, the human person is not separated from this “puzzle,” but is a part of creation. Yes, we possess the most unique piece of this puzzle being made in God’s image and likeness, but we also need to realize that our decisions can have a profound impact on our common home. If our common home is damaged, it becomes harder to uphold human dignity given the lack of natural resources necessary to care for our basic needs.
As a final bow to our puzzle metaphor, there is nothing more frustrating to the avid puzzle maker than to have key pieces of their creation missing, not allowing for the completion of the image. In a similar way, it is important for us to respect our place in creation, respecting our surroundings, and use the best science of the day to understand how to best let God’s creation reveal its beauty, avoiding damage to our common home that would do harm or remove “pieces” form creation’s puzzle unnecessarily. Put another way, we need to resist the temptation to only focus upon our place in God’s creation and realize that it is only when we take in the totally of what God has created that we come to a full appreciation and realization of our place as a part of creation.
Spiritual Exercise: How do you understand your place in God’s creation? How is God calling you to care for the environment around you? Pray with these questions this week and, together, may we work toward allowing the beauty of God’s creation to be revealed by understanding how we are to be good stewards of creation.