Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Climate catastrophes in the Solar System

27.04.2007
Earth sits between two worlds that have been devastated by climate catastrophes. In the effort to combat global warming, our neighbours can provide valuable insights into the way climate catastrophes affect planets.
Modelling Earth’s climate to predict its future has assumed tremendous importance in the light of mankind’s influence on the atmosphere. The climate of our two neighbours is in stark contrast to that of our home planet, making data from ESA’s Venus Express and Mars Express invaluable to climate scientists.

Venus is a cloudy inferno whilst Mars is a frigid desert. As current concerns about global warming have now achieved widespread acceptance, pressure has increased on scientists to propose solutions.

The key weapon in a climate scientist’s arsenal is the climate model, a computer programme that uses the equations of physics to investigate the way in which Earth’s atmosphere works. The programme helps predict how the atmosphere might change in the future.

“To members of the public it must seem like climate models are crystal balls, but they are actually just complex equations” says David Grinspoon, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and one of Venus Express’s interdisciplinary scientists.

The more scientists look at those equations, the more they realise just how complicated Earth’s climate system is. Grinspoon puts the predicament like this: “In fifty or a hundred years, we will know whether today’s climate models were right but if they are wrong, by then it will be too late.”

To help increase confidence in the computer models, Grinspoon believes that scientists should look at our neighbouring planets. “It seems that both Mars and Venus started out much more like Earth and then changed. They both hold priceless climate information for Earth,” says Grinspoon.

The atmosphere of Venus is much thicker than Earth’s. Nevertheless, current climate models can reproduce its present temperature structure well. Now planetary scientists want to turn the clock back to understand why and how Venus changed from its former Earth-like conditions into the inferno of today.

They believe that the planet experienced a runaway greenhouse effect as the Sun gradually heated up. Astronomers believe that the young Sun was dimmer than the present-day Sun by 30 percent. Over the last 4 thousand million years, it has gradually brightened. During this increase, Venus’s surface water evaporated and entered the atmosphere.

“Water vapour is a powerful greenhouse gas and it caused the planet to heat-up even more. This is turn caused more water to evaporate and led to a powerful positive feedback response known as the runaway greenhouse effect,” says Grinspoon.

As Earth warms in response to manmade pollution, it risks the same fate. Reconstructing the climate of the past on Venus can give scientists a better understanding of how close our planet is to such a catastrophe. However, determining when Venus passed the point of no return is not easy. That’s where ESA’s Venus Express comes in.

The spacecraft is in orbit around Venus collecting data that will help unlock the planet’s past. Venus is losing gas from its atmosphere, so Venus Express is measuring the rate of this loss and the composition of the gas being lost. It also watches the movement of clouds in the planet’s atmosphere. This reveals the way Venus responds to the absorption of sunlight, because the energy from the Sun provides the power that allows the atmosphere to move.

In addition, Venus Express is charting the amount and location of sulphur dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere. Sulphur dioxide is a greenhouse gas and is released by volcanoes on Venus.

“Understanding all of this will help us pin down when Venus lost its water,” says Grinspoon. That knowledge can feed into the interpretation of climate models on the Earth because although both planets seem very different now, the same laws of physics govern both worlds.

Understanding Mars’ past is equally important. ESA’s Mars Express is currently investigating the fate of the Red Planet. Smaller than the Earth, Mars is thought to have lost its atmosphere to space. When Martian volcanoes became extinct, so did the planet’s means of replenishing its atmosphere turning it into an almost-airless desert.

“What happened on these two worlds is very different but either would be equally disastrous for Earth. We are banking on our ability to accurately predict Earth’s future climate,” says Grinspoon. Anything that can shed light on our own future is valuable. That is why the study of our neighbouring worlds is vital.

So, when planetary scientists talk of exploring other worlds, they are also increasing their ability to understand our own planet.

Håkan Svedhem | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esa.int/esaSC/SEM2EHMJC0F_index_0.html

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Massive impact crater from a kilometer-wide iron meteorite discovered in Greenland
15.11.2018 | Faculty of Science - University of Copenhagen

nachricht The unintended consequences of dams and reservoirs
14.11.2018 | Uppsala University

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: UNH scientists help provide first-ever views of elusive energy explosion

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.

Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...

Im Focus: A Chip with Blood Vessels

Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.

Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...

Im Focus: A Leap Into Quantum Technology

Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.

In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...

Im Focus: Research icebreaker Polarstern begins the Antarctic season

What does it look like below the ice shelf of the calved massive iceberg A68?

On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.

Im Focus: Penn engineers develop ultrathin, ultralight 'nanocardboard'

When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure

Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

“3rd Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2018” Attracts International Experts and Users

09.11.2018 | Event News

On the brain’s ability to find the right direction

06.11.2018 | Event News

European Space Talks: Weltraumschrott – eine Gefahr für die Gesellschaft?

23.10.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Purdue cancer identity technology makes it easier to find a tumor's 'address'

16.11.2018 | Health and Medicine

Good preparation is half the digestion

16.11.2018 | Life Sciences

Microscope measures muscle weakness

16.11.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>