Pluto’s ‘Heart’

Pluto's Heart

Sputnik Planum is the informal name of the smooth, light-bulb shaped region on the left of this composite of several New Horizons images of Pluto. The brilliantly white upland region to the right may be coated by nitrogen ice that has been transported through the atmosphere from the surface of Sputnik Planum, and deposited on these uplands. The box shows the location of the glacier detail images below.

(Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Source: NASA

Study maps 15 years of carbon dioxide emissions on Earth

Global fossil fuel CO2 emissions

Global fossil fuel CO2 emissions as represented by the Fossil Fuel Data Assimilation System (FFDAS).
Photo by: Gurney lab

World leaders face multiple barriers in their efforts to reach agreement on greenhouse gas emission policies. And, according to Arizona State University researchers, without globally consistent, independent emissions assessments, climate agreements will remain burdened by errors, self-reporting and the inability to verify emissions progress.

Now, an international research team led by ASU scientists has developed a new approach to estimate CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels – one that provides crucial information to policymakers. Called the “Fossil Fuel Data Assimilation System,” or FFDAS, this new system was used to quantify 15 years of CO2 emissions, every hour, for the entire planet – down to the city scale. Until now, scientists have estimated greenhouse gas emissions at coarser scales or used less reliable techniques.

Researchers unveiled the new system in an article published Sept. 10 in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

The FFDAS uses information from satellite feeds, national fuel accounts and a new global database on power plants to create high-resolution planetary maps. These maps provide a scientific, independent assessment of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions – something policymakers can use and the public can understand.

“With this system, we are taking a big step toward creating a global monitoring system for greenhouse gases, something that is needed as the world considers how best to meet greenhouse gas reductions,” said Kevin Robert Gurney, lead investigator and associate professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences. “Now we can provide all countries with detailed information about their CO2 emissions and show that independent, scientific monitoring of greenhouse gases is possible.”

The research team combined information from space-based “nighttime lights,” a new population database, national statistics on fuel use, and a global database on power plants to create a CO2 emissions map broken down by hour, year and region.

The School of Life Sciences is an academic unit in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“The accuracy of the FFDAS results is confirmed by independent, ground-based data in the United States,” said Salvi Asefi-Najafabady, lead author of the report and postdoctoral researcher at ASU. “This makes us confident that the system is working well and can provide useable, policy-salient information.”

“This is an incredibly helpful tool for national and international policymakers and the public to get a grasp of whether strategies to reduce greenhouse gases are effective,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of the Climate and Energy Program at World Resources Institute. “It serves as a complementary approach to current bottom-up accounting methodologies. No longer will there be a delay in understanding the latest GHG trends.”

The FFDAS showed surprising detail on global emissions before and after the Global Financial Crisis, with portions of the U.S., Europe and India recovering sooner and more dramatically. The multiyear results also showed the dramatic rise of CO2 emissions in China and South Asia. Hence, the sub-national details offer insights into economic activity at scales for which traditional economic data has been limited.

“It used to take years to assemble all the statistics on CO2 emissions,” said Peter Rayner, lead investigator from the University of Melbourne, Australia. “With this system, once the satellite data is flowing, we can update our emissions maps each year. It gives a quick check on efforts to limit climate change.”

The research team includes ASU, University of Melbourne, Australia, NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center, Colorado State University and Purdue University. NASA funded the three-year FFDAS project.

Source: Arizona State University (

Algorithm Spotted the Ebola Outbreak Before WHO Announced It

Disease surveillance—monitoring the spread of infection in order to predict its pattern—is vital to any attempt to prevent a pandemic. In the case of the current Ebola outbreak in Central and Western Africa, on-the-ground surveillance is tough. With too few medical resources such as labs to process diagnostic tests, and with international organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) strapped for cash, everything slows down. But what if a computer algorithm could report an outbreak faster than people on the ground?

Ebola Map, 8/8/14 HealthMap

 Click on the map to check the tool

HealthMap, a sophisticated online mapping tool, appears to have done just that. The website, which is run by a group of researchers, epidemiologists and software developers at Boston Children’s Hospital, noted a “mystery hemorrhagic fever” spreading in Guinea nine days before the WHO issued its first statement on the outbreak.

The tool’s algorithm sifts through social media sites, local news reports, medical workers’ social networks and government websites to track instances of disease and plots them on a map. On March 14, HealthMap noted reports of “mystery hemorrhagic fever” cases that had killed eight in Guinea, according to the blog Public Health Watch. Less than a week later, on March 19, it posted a dot on its map of Guinea, with a link to a local news report of a possible Ebola outbreak that had by that time killed 23, and HealthMap issued an alert. Finally, on March 23, the WHO confirmed the outbreak. (The day before, the Ministry of Health of Guinea had officially notified the WHO about the outbreak.)

Of course, HealthMap is not perfect. As of this writing, its map still shows heavy purple dots denoting “high activity” for Ebola in the New York area, where there are no cases. A click on one of the dots reveals that they appeared after reports last week of a man being treated in a New York City hospital with Ebola-like symptoms. It has since been confirmed that he does not have Ebola.

Any easily alarmed user must take care to read beyond the visuals, which HealthMap’s attractive interface makes easy to do. But despite its imperfections, the tool may be an important source of quickly shareable data for public health professionals who badly need it.

“[Ebola] was spreading as an outbreak for four months before there was sufficient laboratory confirmation that this is what it is,” says Stephen Morrison, the director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The capacities for surveillance, diagnosis, responding are just not there in these countries. If you throw a match into there, it just bursts into flames.”

While no media-trawling bot could ever replace national and international health agencies, such tools may be starting to help fill in some of the most gaping holes in real-time knowledge.

Source:  (Newsweek)