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Many people do not see a direct connection between the releases of energy by the sun and the currents of the oceans and winds that flow on Earth. But, there is a direct link between them. Last week, NASA published this animation which shows how that connection works. The sun is shown releasing an explosion of energy called a coronal mass ejection toward the Earth. The Earth is usually shielded from the worst effects by its magnetic field. The Earth is also constantly exposed to light and radiant energy from the sun. Much of this energy is redirected by the atmosphere. Clouds, ice and snow also reflect much of it back into space. What gets absorbed drives the Earth's climate.

The solar heating is uneven due to the variations of the surface. Heat flows from high to lower temperatures. This fact, and the cycles of day and night, and changes in surface heating due to the seasons cause wind currents to circulate around the world. These persistent winds drive surface ocean currents. One of these important currents is flowing off the coast of Florida. It is the Gulf Stream. This river of warm waters is a major factor that drives the climate of the Atlantic and the British Isles.

This 4 minute video is best viewed in full screen mode. It highlights the connection between the energy of the sun and the dynamics that drive this component of the climate of the Earth.

For more about this video, come below the swirl of currents.

An annual conference, SIGGRAPH, that presents and publishes the best in computer graphics and technical research chose a NASA excerpt from the presentation, "Dynamic Earth: Exploring Earth's Climate Engine," as one of its select entries of 2012.

The Association for Computer Machinery's Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques is known as SIGGRAPH and is widely considered the most prestigious forum of its kind.

"Major Hollywood studios submit pieces, so there is a high standard," says Joshua Grow, SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival Chair, Los Angeles. "Clearly NASA has exceeded that standard with their submission."

The full-length "Dynamic Earth" presentation is narrated by actor Liam Neeson and illustrates how equilibrium between Earth's climatic systems sustains life and what could happen if the balance is tipped.

The immersive 24-minute, ultra-high resolution, full-dome show is a joint production of NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio (SVS) in Greenbelt, Md., Spitz Creative Media in Chadds Ford, Pa., the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Ill., the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Colo., and Thomas Lucas Productions in Ossining, N.Y.

"'Dynamic Earth,' the show is also going around the world," says Horace Mitchell of NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio (SVS). "It's currently being dubbed into Spanish, Arabic, Turkish and Greek."

The show is now playing at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., at the Museum of Science and History in Jacksonville, Fla., and will launch at the Museum of Science, Boston, Mass., this summer. The show has also been licensed to more than 20 schools, museums and other locations.

The 2012 SIGGRAPH conference and exhibition takes place Aug. 5 to 9, 2012 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The "Dynamic Earth" excerpt will be one of only 31 presentations featured in its "Electronic Theatre" during the Computer Animation Festival.

The 4 minute visualization above was also published June 19 as the 100th story for the award-winning NASA Viz iPad application. If you own an iPad, I recommend this app. Another app you will enjoy if you are a space geek is called simply NASA. With it you can access NASA TV, launch schedules, the latest science, videos, and much more. It is one of my most valued apps. I use it all the time.

Originally posted to SciTech on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 07:30 AM PDT.

Also republished by Astro Kos and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  This also from Dynamic Earth... (64+ / 0-)

    Best viewed in full screen mode.

    In this segment of Dynamic Earth, the audience dives below the ocean surface and into a swarm of microscopic organisms that hold the key to our climate: DIATOMS, RADIOLARIANS, COPEPODS, and colorful OCTUPUS LARVAE: all rendered in exquisite detail for giant screens. As these creatures fade into the background, the audience finds itself in the middle of schools of JACKFISH and HAMMERHEAD SHARKS, before rubbing shoulders with an enormous HUMPBACK WHALE.


    Universe started with a Big Bang. It's big, getting bigger, and mostly dark.

    by jim in IA on Mon Jun 25, 2012 at 05:32:23 PM PDT

  •  So variable solar activity is an important driver (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jfromga, jim in IA, jrooth, palantir, Aunt Pat

    of climate variability?  Svensmark will be happy to welcome you on board, but Mike Mann is going to be pissed.

    Where are we, now that we need us most?

    by Frank Knarf on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 08:20:34 AM PDT

    •  The sun is the driver of the winds and ocean... (11+ / 0-)

      currents. I doubt if they would argue about that. Whether there is a connection between the variability of solar activity and climate variability is not addressed by this animation. I wouldn't want anyone upset.

      Thanks for the comment.


      Universe started with a Big Bang. It's big, getting bigger, and mostly dark.

      by jim in IA on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 08:34:29 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, it seems the title of the video (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        pollwatcher, jim in IA, palantir, Aunt Pat

        is a bit misleading (no doubt unintentionally.)  At first I read it as saying solar storms have some important impact on climate and ocean currents, but it seems all that was meant is that both topics get covered by the video.

        “What’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?” - Sherwood Rowland

        by jrooth on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 09:23:56 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I agree. That video could have a better title. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pollwatcher, jrooth, palantir, Aunt Pat


          Universe started with a Big Bang. It's big, getting bigger, and mostly dark.

          by jim in IA on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 12:27:02 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  solar radiance varies from about (8+ / 0-)

          1360 to 1362 W m-2.  See http://lasp.colorado.edu/... which shows the solar radiance since 2003.  See that there are lots more wiggles in the beginning and the end of the time series?  That's the result of sunspot activity, which basically went to nothing from 2008-2010.  One thing I find interesting in the time series is that if you smooth out those wrinkles, there's maybe a 0.5 or so W m-2 decrease from the solar minimum.  0.5/1360 is about 0.04%, and then you have to account for only 1/2 the earth's disk getting hit by sunlight, and much of that at an angle.  Forcing from all greenhouse gas emissions is about a factor of 5 to 10 more than that.

          "Mitt Romney has more positions than the Kama Sutra." -- me "Social justice is love, made public." -- Cornel West

          by billlaurelMD on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 01:03:15 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The sun is surprisingly steady in total output. (8+ / 0-)

            Our human impact is pretty clear, at least to those with open minds about science.

            Thanks for that great link and your comments.


            Universe started with a Big Bang. It's big, getting bigger, and mostly dark.

            by jim in IA on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 02:00:12 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Ah, the TSI strawman. (0+ / 0-)

            What is the variance in <300nm?  What effect does that have on upper atmosphere chemistry?  How does the solar magnetic field vary and what is the effect of that variance on the earth's electromagnetic environment?  Is there anything interesting about GCR flux variability and potential effects on cloud formation?  Did the Maunder minimum have something to do with the Little Ice Age?

            Never mind,it's all settled.

            Where are we, now that we need us most?

            by Frank Knarf on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 07:30:56 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  okay, give me links to what it is .... (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              jim in IA, jfromga

              you're referring to.  Is it about a particular wavelength of solar insolation that changes the environment?  300 nm is ultraviolet, and constitutes about % of the solar spectrum?

              Is what you are referring to from peer-reviewed research?  And do you have a particular axe to grind, perchance?

              Out of curiosity, I decided to do a bit of Googling on this topic.  I note that there has been knowledge of the stronger variations in solar insolation in the 200-300 nm range since about 1990 or so, perhaps further back.  In 1995, Lean et al. found that 0.51°C of the increase in temperature from the Maunder Minimum (late 1600s) to today is accounted for by solar insolation increases, and they state that's essentially in agreement with the climate model response. One-half of warming from 1860 to 1970 can be accounted for by solar insolation. But only 1/3 of the increase since 1970 to 1990 can account for the warming during that time.

              There's one other problem with UV light.  A pretty large proportion of it is absorbed in the stratosphere by ozone.  Impacts nearer the surface are related more to the visible and near-infrared part of the solar spectrum.

              "Mitt Romney has more positions than the Kama Sutra." -- me "Social justice is love, made public." -- Cornel West

              by billlaurelMD on Wed Jun 27, 2012 at 09:06:46 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I didn't put in the % (0+ / 0-)

                but it's not all that much.  Looks like from Google links that it ranges from 2-3% of total solar irradiance.

                "Mitt Romney has more positions than the Kama Sutra." -- me "Social justice is love, made public." -- Cornel West

                by billlaurelMD on Wed Jun 27, 2012 at 09:41:05 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

    •  No, solar variability is NOT a driver... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Frank Knarf, jfromga

      ...of climatic variability.

      The video is a bit confused, when it shows a coronal mass ejection, and then talks about the ways that the Earth is "protected" from it.  In reality, those "protection" forces are acting on the solar radiation constantly.  Particles (present in mass ejections) ARE deflected by our magnetic fields, as we see in the aurora borealis (and australis) during these rare, short-term events.

      The other processes described modulate the normal solar radiation.  First, the ozone layer strips away (by absorption and re-radiation) the strongest UV rays.  Much of the sunlight is reflected by ice, snow and clouds.  What reaches the Earth's surface is absorbed, and re-radiation from Earth's surface heats the atmosphere.  Much of the re-radiated heat is trapped by our CO2, which keeps us warm enough to have a habitable planet.  Global warming is another topic.

      At low latitudes, there's more heat entering our system than is radiated back to space, and at the poles, there's a heat deficit.  Atmospheric circulation moves heat from the tropics towards the poles in both wind and water currents to keep the system balanced.  There's all sorts of complications that make the pathways complicated - Earth's rotation, atmospheric turbulence, and topography (on land) and bathymetry (in the oceans).

      Most heat is carried by ocean currents, which are driven by the winds.  The ocean circulation cycle takes years to decades to complete; therefore, any change due to solar variability needs to be decades long as well.

      The 11 year sunspot cycle is just barely long enough to possibly affect our climate, and some climate scientists have attributed some features of our global warming, in part, to sunspots.  Coronal mass ejections are simply too short to have any real impact on climate - they're over too fast, and just get buried in the variability of our climate.

      Human-induced global warming, on the other hand, has lasted for over 150 years, and therefore can and does have a MAJOR impact on our climate.

      The Scout Law (trustworthy, loyal, helpful...) is a GREAT liberal manifesto.

      by DaytonMike on Wed Jun 27, 2012 at 05:48:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I like the way you explained those factors. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        DaytonMike

        It sounds like you are well versed in this. Do you work in the field?

        Thank you for the comments. They are very helpful.


        Universe started with a Big Bang. It's big, getting bigger, and mostly dark.

        by jim in IA on Wed Jun 27, 2012 at 07:02:46 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'm a geologist (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          jim in IA, jfromga, nzanne

          I taught at a university for several years, and now work in private industry.  

          I used to teach a physical geography course, which included atmospheric and ocean circulation down to climate and weather - for 20% of the course.  For atmospheric circulation, I had to start with the global energy imbalance, then to the resulting equator to pole wind circulation then to actual wind patterns due to the Coriolus effect, and then to turbulence along the polar front and ocean circulaton driven by prevailing winds - with deep return flow of cold water.

          I had to learn the hard way how to build an argument from the ground up for my non-technical students.

          The Scout Law (trustworthy, loyal, helpful...) is a GREAT liberal manifesto.

          by DaytonMike on Wed Jun 27, 2012 at 07:15:06 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  You sounded like you had well reasoned... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            jfromga, nzanne

            arguments. Your experience as a teacher shows in a positive way. I can often sense when someone has that background. I taught high school physics 37 yrs. and faced the same situations of teaching technical things to non-technical students. It forces you to learn the material more in depth so you can present it clearly.

            Thank you for responding.


            Universe started with a Big Bang. It's big, getting bigger, and mostly dark.

            by jim in IA on Wed Jun 27, 2012 at 07:32:39 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  So you think the Maunder minimum and the Little (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jim in IA

        Ice Age are unrelated, just coincidence?  Is it settled science that longer term solar variability is not an important climate forcing?

        Where are we, now that we need us most?

        by Frank Knarf on Wed Jun 27, 2012 at 08:12:43 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Time scale is important (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          jim in IA, jfromga

          In my comment, I argued that changes in solar output on the scale of a coronal mass ejection was too short to have any appreciable impact on the climate.  The 11 year sunspot cycle is marginal, as ocean circulation cycles have a similar or longer period.

          The Maunder Minimum (when the sunspots virtually disappeared between about 1645 and 1715) does match up with the first of three cold periods in the "Little Ice Age".  Since it lasted for about 85 years, it was long enough to have a potential impact on global climate.

          The Scout Law (trustworthy, loyal, helpful...) is a GREAT liberal manifesto.

          by DaytonMike on Wed Jun 27, 2012 at 09:20:57 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Wow! (6+ / 0-)

    Just.. wow!

    Do you know if there is a schedule available somewhere listing where and when the full version will be shown in various cities?

    And thanks!

  •  off topic story about SIGGRAPH convention (9+ / 0-)

    A long time ago ( late 80's  ) I was working as a Union stage hand in Orange County CA.  I.A.T.S.E. Local 504. The SIGGRAPH convention came came into town at the Anaheim Convention Center and I was assigned to work the arena where the computer generated films competition / showcase was held. This may have been the very first SIGGRAPH convention. The big hit that year was a now famous short titled  Luxor JR . Many of the shorts were on 35mm film and required projection to be shown. Some were on video tape but back then quality was not like it is now. The thing I vividly remember about this show was that there was one of the old time movie projectionists from our local assigned to run the projectors.
    This guy had been showing films for most of his life and was really good at what he did. One of the films had the audio on a separate track that required two "synced" projectors. One for picture and one for sound. There was no rehearsal as was typical for industrial gigs. When that film was shown the sound didn't sync properly and the producer was hopping mad. He was yelling and screaming at the projectionist. He called him every name in the book and accused him of sabotage!
    It turned out that the sync marks provided on the films were wrong and the studio that made the prints was at fault. I'll never forget that night.
    Aside from that, this was a really great show to work. Also, on the older computer generated animation look for patterns on the floors / ground. They needed these for points of reference to help with the required calculations.

  •  Does anyone know if this is real? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jim in IA, palantir, Aunt Pat
  •  Cool beans. Love this stuff, thank you. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jim in IA, Aunt Pat, foresterbob, stevej

    Science is hell bent on consensus. Dr. Michael Crichton said “Let’s be clear: The work of science has nothing to do with consensus... which is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right,”

    by Regina in a Sears Kit House on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 05:02:56 PM PDT

  •  Super cool videos, as usual! n/t (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jim in IA, Aunt Pat, foresterbob

    Just doing my part to piss off right wing nuts, one smart ass comment at a time.

    by tekno2600 on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 06:14:50 PM PDT

  •  Fantastic video. But climate is not the only mecha (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jim in IA

    nism that helps defray the double sided gift of the suns energy. Plants do it too and then are eaten by animals who are sustained ...  both die to lie with in the earth... Untouched until we drill for  the transformed remains and release that energy laid in the earth for millenia in a burst that has occurred in centuries.

    So now we release the suns energy that has naturally lain quietly in the earth protecting us from being overwhelmed by the sun from the past being added to the sun energy from today.

    How can you tell when Rmoney is lying? His lips are moving. Fear is the Mind Killer

    by boophus on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 08:12:49 PM PDT

  •  Nice animated reference (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jim in IA

    When the kids get up, we are going to watch it again!

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