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  1. Good description of unknowns about aerosols. Curious of what you think might be at stake here from finally pinning down climate sensitivity.

    Comment by Donald A. Brown — 4 Mar 2011 @ 9:10 AM

  2. I am of the opinion that the solid rocket boosters used in these vehicles are simply too abusive to the electronics and instrumentation. They were originally designed for high g force hypersonic reentry vehicles which were their own extremely rugged payload shrouds.

    It’s well past time to move beyond these launchers.

    Comment by Thomas Lee Elifritz — 4 Mar 2011 @ 9:13 AM

  3. As a small clarification, a third version of the French satellite, POLDER (called PARASOL) was launched in 2004 and remains in orbit.

    APS, however, would have observed many more scattering angles, meaning a much improved ability to determine cloud optical properties along with aerosols. Furthermore, APS would have a wider specular range, which would have improved the ability to differentiate aerosols from the effects of ground reflectance.

    In any case, this is quite a tragedy.

    [Response: Thanks for the clarification. And, yes, it is. – gavin]

    Comment by Kirk Knobelspiesse — 4 Mar 2011 @ 9:13 AM

  4. This was the first Taurus XL launch since the OCO launch failure. Virtually the same failure mode, despite hardware changes. My condolences to the excellent Glory team.

    Comment by Jim — 4 Mar 2011 @ 9:20 AM

  5. Can’t say I’m surprised.

    Comment by jyyh — 4 Mar 2011 @ 9:22 AM

  6. As far as I understood, it was not a problem of stage separation, but instead the rocket’s nosecone didn’t release properly. With the additional weight of the cone, the rocket couldn’t reach orbit.

    “Similar problem” seems like an understatement – as far as is currently known, this was the exact same problem as that in the case of OCO. The rocket manufacturer spent over a year trying to fix it. As such, it’s an unusual space failure, as it came from a source that everyone totally did see coming.

    Comment by Jussi Leinonen — 4 Mar 2011 @ 9:33 AM

  7. This failure is indeed extremely unfortunate for the scientific community as a whole.
    Concerning the continuation of solar irradiance measurements, note that the French satellite Picard was launched successfully last June from Russia:

    Comment by Edouard Bard — 4 Mar 2011 @ 9:52 AM

  8. My heart goes out to the mission team. What a disaster.

    Comment by Andy — 4 Mar 2011 @ 11:28 AM

  9. Really unfortunate. Maybe NASA has enough spare parts that they won’t have to start from scratch.

    Comment by Doug Clark — 4 Mar 2011 @ 11:56 AM

  10. An absolute tragedy.

    The 2009 Orbiting Carbon Observatory launch failure (same Taurus XL rocket, same problem) was equally such – and is now tentatively scheduled for a 2013 re-launch. I doubt Glory will secure any more timely re-launch window – if any.

    These missions are important, and there should be live backup satellites ready to go – as is typical for commercial missions.

    Reality is that nothing will even be looked at until after the 2012 elections – and only then if the Democrats are considerably more successful at the polls than in 2010: which looks likely, given recent Republican insanities: but who knows?

    Isn’t it wonderful – having our lives and planet dependent on the voting acumen of the average U.S. citizen, and upon the amounts of cash which those who manipulate the process are willing to spend?

    Comment by Jaime Frontero — 4 Mar 2011 @ 12:04 PM

  11. Twas sad when the great ship went down .

    Has Brin volunteered to haul up a spare ?

    Comment by Russell — 4 Mar 2011 @ 12:12 PM

  12. Gosh, didn’t the exact same technical failure happen in 2009? What a coincidence. However, the last thing we want to do is criticize NASA – let alone float any ‘conspiracy theories.’

    The less data you collect on global warming, the more room there is for a handful of denialists to claim that it isn’t really happening – that’s been the story on ocean warming for the past decade, hasn’t it? There is also the still-mothballed Triana – but wait, has it been scrubbed entirely?

    “The White House is requesting $47 million in fiscal year 2012 to convert a climate satellite grounded by politics into an observatory to monitor space weather and warn of solar storms.” (Feb 2011)

    U.S. science programs are turning into little more than bad jokes, it seems. This is simply the inevitable result of the political and commercial control of science that is such a hallmark of the past few decades – Lysenkoism is the best description of it. Of course, you’ll find plenty of people acting as apologists for the system, but what else can they do if they want to keep their academic-government careers intact?

    [Response: Grow up. This is nothing but a tragedy, and using this is pile on some ongoing issue you have with something or other is juvenile. Of course, current procedures for getting instruments into space are sub-optimal, of course, contractual issues are frustrating, of course things get in the way of doing science, but conspiracy mongering? Leave that for the idiots at WUWT. – gavin]

    Comment by Ike Solem — 4 Mar 2011 @ 12:28 PM

  13. Meanwhile, over at the Wall St. Journal, readers are commenting on the story with hoots of derision that the satellites were ever built in the first place. I guess if you can’t measure it, it must not be happening….

    Comment by David Graves — 4 Mar 2011 @ 12:57 PM

  14. Denialists doesn’t need to sabotage satellites for the simple reason that they won’t believe the data produced by the satellites anyway.

    Comment by Mr. Peabody — 4 Mar 2011 @ 1:24 PM

  15. Really sad to hear this. The urgency for better data does not change the inherent risky process of putting people or satellites into orbit. It’s unfortunate that this loss or delay of valuable information that would support solid policy shift on mitigating climate change and reducing impacts including saving human lives, is not given more meaningful coverage in mainstream press. It reflects the confusion that websites like this one are doing such good work to address. Here’s to new and reinvigorated efforts to support another mission or equivalent soon.

    Comment by Johan — 4 Mar 2011 @ 1:53 PM

  16. I’m curious if new projects are looking at SpaceX as a future supplier for the launcher? Their cheaper and their success rate so far has been great for such a young company. I know getting through NASA hoops could be substantial though (although didn’t they get the ISS resuply contract).

    Comment by sambo — 4 Mar 2011 @ 2:11 PM

  17. Yes, this is terribly frustrating for the Glory team and the scientific community. Gavin, you’ve done an excellent job at explaining the importance of this particular satellite. Has realclimate ever done (or considered doing) an entry about the immense contribution that satellite measurements have made in the past two-three decades, in helping us to understand various components of the earth system (e.g., vegetation, ozone, ice sheet mass, water vapor content, temperature, sea level height, storms, aerosols, etc.)? The failed launches probably stand out in our minds disproportionately. It might be useful to juxtapose them with the many successes and immeasurable knowledge we have gained from other programs such as this one.

    Comment by Karen Kohfeld — 4 Mar 2011 @ 2:22 PM

  18. When I got to work today and heard the news, I said, “F**K! We need to start building some submersible satellites.”

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 4 Mar 2011 @ 2:31 PM

  19. The “Heat” generated by political discourse on climate science is fierce as anybody knows. Having been scorched by the mental denial community, I have to wonder aloud “Foul Play?”

    Comment by Roger R. Hill — 4 Mar 2011 @ 2:58 PM

  20. re #11.
    Lets just stick to discussion of the science and stop the paranoia with WUWT. It just gives more publicity ..

    Comment by Bill — 4 Mar 2011 @ 3:16 PM

  21. Was the satellite insured?

    Comment by Mike — 4 Mar 2011 @ 4:45 PM

  22. sambo @16:

    SpaceX have their own issues too; remember they had three straight failures with the F1. It’s largely a matter of luck that the first two F9 flights went as smoothly as they did (for sufficiently rough definitions of “smooth”).

    While it’s definitely bad to repeat a failure mode in consecutive flights, the truth is that getting to orbit is simply damned hard to do, and plain old bad luck has an outsized influence on things.

    Comment by jfb — 4 Mar 2011 @ 5:58 PM

  23. Ya know, since there’s clearly a need for working raw materials in near Earth orbit, and we’re not going to catch an asteroid any time soon — perhaps it would be worth putting some loads of say water ice, or sheet metal, or nitrogen tanks, or something cheaper than a satellite, and making some test shots of this vehicle until they know for sure the fairing will pop off.

    If they get the raw material up there, someone could probably go get it and use it (heck, put a beacon on it and sell it to the Indian or Chinese astronauts). And if the fairing fails again, well, no great extra loss.

    “Orbital Sciences Corp. subsequently modified the fairing design, based on analyses by a NASA panel that reviewed the OCO launch failure.

    “The original version of the Taurus rocket used hot, pressurized gas to break frangible joints that hold the fairing in place, beginning a process that ends when pistons push the fairing pieces away …. The revised version used in today’s Glory launch used cold, compressed nitrogen gas to break those frangible joints. Orbital Sciences Corp. uses the same system in its Minotaur rocket, which has launched successfully three times in the last year.” — NYT

    Sounds like the same design but not exactly the same parts — the vehicles are different sized, I think.

    Some things, you don’t want to just trust are fixed, you want to verify they’re fixed before using them.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 4 Mar 2011 @ 6:20 PM

  24. @16. SpaceX actually was a bidder for the OCO-2 launch; the Taurus XL was officially selected last June after a selection process. Part of the problem with the SpaceX bid was that they can’t launch from Vandenberg (for some reason I’m not sure about). So they’d have to launch from Kennedy in Florida, and launching into the A-train from Kennedy is sketchy because you launch to the southwest, and it was deemed that the Caribbean is too populated and therefore this constituted too high a risk. There was an alternative to launch from the Kwajalein atoll in the Pacific, but for logistical reasons this option was also ruled out. So they/we went again with Orbital. Now, God knows what will happen.

    My sincerest condolences to the Glory team. This is really tragic; almost comically so given the OCO launch 2 years ago.

    Comment by Chris O'Dell — 4 Mar 2011 @ 6:28 PM

  25. Seems that you maybe suggesting that we don’t know what the aerosols are doing.

    For example, Mount Pinatubo injected significant quantities of aerosols and dust into the stratosphere, and then what?

    If the dust is still up there, what can you infer with regards to climate sensitivity?

    Comment by Isotopious — 4 Mar 2011 @ 7:05 PM

  26. Chris @23:

    Apparently SpaceX was originally going to have a spot at Vandenberg’s SLC 3 back in 2005 but got pushed out by Lockheed-Martin, at least according to this old story at So they don’t have any infrastructure at VAFB.

    Comment by jfb — 4 Mar 2011 @ 7:33 PM

  27. > Mount Pinatubo … If the dust is still up there

    “Now if it was, it might be; and if it were, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t, so there. That’s logic.” — Tweedledum

    Mount Pinatubo as a Test of Climate Feedback Mechanisms (2003)

    “The June 15, 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption was a large but relatively short- lived shock to the Earth’s atmosphere. It thus provided an excellent opportunity to study the workings of the climate system, to test climate models, and to examine the impacts of climate change on life. The largest eruption of the 20th Century inspired a large amount of research on the connection between volcanic eruptions and the Earth’s atmosphere in the 12 years since that eruption, as exemplified by the chapters in this book. Here several additional examples of our new understanding of these connections are presented….”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 4 Mar 2011 @ 8:14 PM

  28. Really sorry to hear about this Dr. Schmidt. Gut wrenching really.

    Comment by DeNihilist — 4 Mar 2011 @ 9:17 PM

  29. Particles from the Pinatubo eruption will be in the stratosphere forever, according to brownian motion.

    The cloud of dust had a cooling effect, and when it broke down, the climate system bounced back as if the eruption hadn’t even taken place.

    That may suggest a low climate sensitivity, thats all. A bit like the YD, the system bounced back and continued on its way to the holocene, as if the YD never happened!


    Comment by Isotopious — 4 Mar 2011 @ 9:17 PM

  30. Isotopious (25)

    Various combinations of surface, balloon, and satellite measurements have quantified the distribution and optical properties of aerosols for Chichon and Pinatubo, but even for these eruptions observations are not complete. See some of the SAGE results for example.

    We know volcanic aerosols only last a relatively short amount of time in the air, and thus their direct effect on the reduction in solar radiation at the surface lasts only a brief time, although (perhaps lesser known), volcanoes do carry a very long-term signature in the deep ocean. Another confirmation test would be to use a time series of stratospheric temperature as a proxy in this regard, since the stratosphere warms at volcanic eruption peaks due to the absorption of longwave radiation from below and also near-IR absorption.

    In terms of climate sensitivity, if you ask different people you’d probably get different opinions, but I don’t think they are very useful as a diagnostic for sensitivity constraints.

    Comment by chris colose — 4 Mar 2011 @ 10:21 PM

  31. Isotopious @29 — Err, no. Consider a random walk with an absorbing barrier [in the sulfate case, the troposphere]

    Comment by David B. Benson — 4 Mar 2011 @ 10:25 PM

  32. > that may suggest

    It doesn’t.
    ‘Iso’ is rebunking five year old misinformation. Yawn.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 4 Mar 2011 @ 10:54 PM

  33. Isotopious,
    Uh, no. Volcanism favors a sensitivity right around 3 K/doubling. You know, you could look this stuff up.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 4 Mar 2011 @ 10:58 PM

  34. “While it’s definitely bad to repeat a failure mode in consecutive flights, the truth is that getting to orbit is simply damned hard to do, and plain old bad luck has an outsized influence on things.” – 22

    When was the last back to back failure of a launch?

    I am not a conspiratorialist, but everyone here is asking themselves if this could be sabotage.

    So I will say it publicly. It probably was Sabotage.

    I bet some good little Republican “Patriot” on the assembly team rigged the canopy to fail, and that is why the engineering team couldn’t fix the design flaw.

    Comment by Vendicar Decarian — 4 Mar 2011 @ 11:06 PM

  35. 24 Chris O’Dell: Vandenberg is Air Force and polar launches, I think. Look at for Vandenberg AFB, CA. It has a clear shot to the south over deep water. From Kennedy in Florida, the Panama Canal and the western tip of South America are in the way. We also have a launch complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska, but I think it is for SDI [Star Wars] only.

    I am reading Grant W. Petty’s “A First Course in Atmospheric Radiation.” Gavin: How do the aerosols polarize sunlight? I know some materials do strange things to light. That kind of experiment gives amazing results. I haven’t seen the explanation yet.

    Comment by Edward Greisch — 4 Mar 2011 @ 11:35 PM

  36. A story of the insulative properties and heat conductance of snow vs. ice could be nice.

    Comment by jyyh — 4 Mar 2011 @ 11:41 PM

  37. Really a bummer.

    I’m an admitted skeptic, but I also worked on defense related satellites many moons ago, and I can sympathize with the crushing feeling of having something you worked so hard and so long on go down so dramatically.

    The design team for the failing cone is not having a good week one can assume, and I would not be surprised if this cone design it totally scrapped. More delays.

    I support these efforts 100%, as much of my skepticism comes from the overstatements made based on inadequate data IMO, and this type of effort is exactly what is needed.

    To the engineering team, take heart, there will be better days ahead.

    Comment by Tom Scharf — 5 Mar 2011 @ 9:08 AM

  38. Particles from the Pinatubo eruption will be in the stratosphere forever, according to brownian motion. Then why aren’t the particles from billions of years of eruptions still up there too? Surely if they were they would block all light getting through the atmosphere.

    Comment by turboblocke — 5 Mar 2011 @ 9:14 AM

  39. I am really sorry to hear about the loss of the Glory. Will they try again?

    When I first began to notice the global warming debate, I read articles that mocked NASA’s mission of studying global warming. Now I read about the satellites and learn a lot. All those government agencies have really interesting articles.

    I am glad that NASA studies global warming and doesn’t only go to other planets. Sometimes we start out with one goal, but REALITY shows us that we need to take a different path. Saving our own planet is more important than visiting other planets. This is where we have evolved, and we have to take care of our home.

    I have written about Rusalka, a Russian satellite that studies greenhouse gasses.
    A video and news article in Vesti about Rusalka appeared in the Russian media.

    If you use the Google translation tool to read the Vesti “Mermaid” article, you will be able to understand most of what the authors are explaining as you view “A Mermaid Hovers Over Russia” (“Русалка” парит над Сибирью). I explain it a bit here.

    It really enrages me when stupid Amerian politicians quote the Russians claiming that global warming is not a big problem. Don’t the politicians listen to what real experts show them at all instead of what Russian propagandists and morons with institutes housed in mailboxes at parcel post boxes say?

    Although the Russian authorities may downplay their concerns because they don’t really have any good solutions, they are very concerned about the economic consequences of the thawing because much of Russia’s natural gas and oil is extracted from the permafrost. They are also concerned about the problems of migrants coming to Russia. They are not so worried about the humanitarian issues in other people’s countries, but they are studying how global warming will affect Russia.

    Russia expert Paul Goble (6-20-07) reports:

    “A new study, prepared at the request of the Russian security agencies, concludes that global warming is likely to make it impossible for Moscow to continue to export oil and gas at current rates and thus over the next decade or more will undermine the foundations of Russia’s economic recovery and international standing…

    Russia…faces a variety of threats from global warming, ranging from the possible influx of immigrants from countries becoming too hot to the loss of access to its oil and gas fields as a result of the melting of the permafrost in many petroleum-rich regions of the Russian north.”

    Some American politicians don’t want NASA to send up satellites that study “polar bears,” so I point out that the Russians have Rusalka.

    Some American politicians say that we should not let the CIA study the national security implications of climate change, but the Russian state security has hired scientists to study climate change.

    Comment by Snapple — 5 Mar 2011 @ 9:32 AM

  40. Iso@29 & David @31.
    Particles that are heavier than the medium they are embedded in will have a net drift in the direction of the gravitational gradient. Rather than a random walk, you would have a random walk, but biased in the negative z direction.

    Must be tough to have been waiting for data from Glory to use in one’s research. I imagine quite a few researchers will have to change their plans.

    Comment by Thomas — 5 Mar 2011 @ 1:19 PM

  41. Sad indeed! Though I’m going to bet there are a few people out there who are gloating over this event and will use it to denigrate climate science and scientists. Not to mention that as we move forward in time and as our empire continues to decline, I’m sure it will become harder and harder to get funding for any science that goes against the prevailing interests of TPTB. It will become less and less likely that this country will remain in the forefront of any science… Welcome to the new dark ages!

    Comment by Fred Magyar — 5 Mar 2011 @ 2:51 PM

  42. Ray, Hank, I can think for myself thankyou. It always bounces back, so it’s probably negative.

    38 “Then why aren’t the particles from billions of years of eruptions still up there too?”

    Maybe not forever, but a long time, although nano particles probably are still up there. The smoke from the eruption would be precipitated out eventually, and probably plays some role in the formation of Noctilucent cloud.

    As Lindzen has pointed out, with regards to aerosols, even the sign is in question. It seems any number of variables could contributed to warming, which makes one wonder whether any of them have a significant effect.

    echati influence

    [Response: Assuming that something uncertain implies we know nothing is standard contrarian fare. There is *no* question about whether the sulphate aerosols emitted by Pinatubo were a cooling effect – we have direct radiative flux measurements through both the SW and LW. There is very high confidence that the net 20th C aerosol effect was a cooling – mostly because estimates of tropospheric sulphate aerosols dominate the changes, and because BC and OC changes for many sources almost balance out. As for Pinatubo aerosols, the residence time for such particles is around 3 to 4 years before they are advected/settle out the stratosphere – there are effectively none left. – gavin]

    Comment by Isotopious — 5 Mar 2011 @ 4:52 PM

  43. #35 The polarization of reflected and refracted light depends on polarization

    Comment by Eli Rabett — 5 Mar 2011 @ 7:36 PM

  44. jfb (#22)

    I agree. Getting to space is extremely hard. The reason why I’m asking about SpaceX is their new and they haven’t been weened on Cost plus contracts that encourage over budget projects. So far they’ve done a good job in keeping costs down and they’re bolstering the New Space industry (Mojave, Bigelow and all the suborbital ventures).

    My point (for the climate community) is that a company like SpaceX is more likely to leverage the contract in order to develop cheaper access to space as well as developing in space capabilities (I know this one is a few years away). Not only is it cheaper right now, but the future upside is larger.

    Comment by sambo — 5 Mar 2011 @ 10:52 PM

  45. I think it should be policy that whenever a scientific satellite is built, a duplicate should be built as well. It shouldn’t cost much more to build two or even three than to build just one. Accidents like this happen, and we need to be better prepared for them.

    Comment by Michael Klein — 5 Mar 2011 @ 11:21 PM

  46. Mmmh, wondering if launches of climate-change related satellite missions have a higher failure rate (at a statistically significant level) compared to other missions ? Thinking of OCO in 2009 etc

    Orr would this just be a conspiracy theory ?

    Comment by temorea — 6 Mar 2011 @ 2:59 AM

  47. Vendicar Decarian @34

    I bet some good little Republican “Patriot” on the assembly team rigged the canopy to fail, and that is why the engineering team couldn’t fix the design flaw.

    Hey, if you’re willing to throw money away…

    What’s far more likely is that the OSC guys found and fixed the fault that caused the original failure, and the fairing on this flight failed to separate for a completely different reason than on the previous flight.

    Random failures are random. Just because the odds of flipping heads is 50% doesn’t mean you can’t flip 50 heads in a row.

    I mean, invoking ZOMG CONSPIRACY for this failure is every bit as silly as the idiotic Apollo hoax “theories”.

    Comment by jfb — 6 Mar 2011 @ 11:08 AM

  48. Folks, please, do check:
    one of the net’s best known experts in facilitated digression; dftt.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 6 Mar 2011 @ 12:36 PM

  49. The loss of this satellite was undeniably heart breaking as the data it was to supply is critical to our understanding of important climate issues. My heart goes out to the whole mission team, the scientific community who were anxiously awaiting working with the data, the American people, and really the world community affected by climate issues.

    But what do we do now? How do we move on and make try to ensure that something positive (no matter how small) might come from this?

    1)Completely abandon the use of this type of launch vehicle for any such launches in the future, unless a complete overhaul and redesign of the failed mechanisms is instituted. There are more reliable launch vehicles.

    2) Given design, engineering, machining, and construction costs, it is more cost effective (in the long run) to parallel build two identical satellites that are both ready for launch at approximately the same time. With the failure of one, the other could be ready for launch in a few weeks to a few months, (but not a few years!) It is rather expensive insurance to do this, but the research teams and programs that are in place, or ready to be in place are also a consideration, and the costs of re-assembling these teams must also be factored in the parallel build model. Additionally, even with a successful launch of a satellite, there can be failures that occur before the useful life of the satellite has come, and these failure can of course cause disruptions and discontinuities in the data. With a parallel build, this disruption caused by the early death of a satellite would be minimized. With such a parallel build, the costs are of course more, but not 100% more, and so, it makes sense. Parallel build of course is a tough sell in tough budget environments, but needs to be looked at and presented as an excellent value in insurance of mission success, especially when the data supplied is vital.

    3) There is what I see as an anti-science, anti-Nasa, and related anti-government theme existing amongst some in the general population, and though these voices are for the moment, a minority, they can be a loud minority at times. Those of us who believe in the value of what Nasa does and of the value of high-level climate science in general need to make sure that we continually counter those loud minority voices with our own constant messages (especially to our elected officials) of how essential and vital Nasa and climate research are to our county in general. Setbacks like the failure of Glory can only help the anti-science, anti-Nasa crowd if we let their voices remain the loudest.

    I would hope that those working on projects such as ICESat II think about the lessons of Glory’s failure. It is not too late into that project’s cycle that a parallel build model could not be instituted. It would take some strong political effort to make this happen, but perhaps Glory’s failure could show how the funding of this parallel construction “insurance” is a smart use of money for the collection of vital science data.

    Comment by R.Gates — 6 Mar 2011 @ 2:44 PM

  50. R.Gates says:
    6 Mar 2011 at 2:44 PM

    Orbital, which launced the failed Glory satellite, also launches military satellites.
    So, if science is competing with military in the same 3rd party corporation, whom do you think has edge?
    Given constraints on budget considerations, I’d say science is the odd man out.

    Comment by rbateman — 6 Mar 2011 @ 3:15 PM

  51. Speculating on the causes of the failure–and particularly looking for nefarious conspiracies–is completely irresponsible at this point.

    I would say, however, that provided the FRB did its job on the OCO launch failure (which is likely), the fact that we have seen a second straight failure that looks similar could point to a systematic vulnerability in the Taurus system.

    Looking deeper, though, what we should be asking is why satellites that could give us information critical to our survival are being launched on vehicles of questionable reliability. If you look for the cause of that, you will find that the Earth Sciences at NASA are not just run on a shoestring, but on a shoestring that has broken and been tied in square notes many times. Not only are projects too few and those few underfunded, the Earth Sciences budget is a favorite of Red State raiding parties looking to send some more money down the black hole of manned space flight. And with NASA again on the chopping block and Gulf State delegations again looking to raid Earth Sciences, look for more cancellations, more failures and fewer eyes in the sky watching over our planet when we need them most.

    This failure is the fruits of the “Starve the Beast” approach to shrinking government writ small.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 6 Mar 2011 @ 4:12 PM

  52. Maybe you know who Severn Suzuki is. Her speech is famous from 1992 UN Conference….
    I’ve found a remix of her speech, for fun :DD (its actually good)

    Comment by Adam — 6 Mar 2011 @ 4:54 PM

  53. On the contrarian, Gavin.

    “Since 1981 the following volcanic eruptions are known to have placed material directly into the stratosphere: El Chichon (March 1982), Nevado del Ruiz (Nov. 1985), Mt. Augustine (March 1986), and Mt. Pinatubo (June 1991). After each of these eruptions we have noted the presence of (generally) submicrometer-sized ash particles and aerosol droplets on collectors, although we cannot always be certain of the identity of the volcano responsible for the material. For example, collectors from March 1981 contain abundant silicic volcanic ash although no volcanic eruption was known to have directly penetrated the stratosphere (Zolensky and Mackinnon, J. Geophysical Research 90, No. D3, pp 5801-5808, 1985). In addition, we have noted the presence of coarse-grained (less than or equal to 25 microns) volcanic ash on collectors with samples from August 1989 to April 1990, which cannot have been derived from any of the aforementioned eruptions. ”

    [Response: No idea what point you are making. How does the presence on occassional of volcanic sourced material from an unidentified eruption (local? tropospheric?) imply that material from pinatubo last forever? – gavin]

    Comment by Isotopious — 6 Mar 2011 @ 6:28 PM

  54. It doesn’t. But if a 25 micron particle can maybe last for 4 to 5 years, how long would a sub micron particle last?

    I would expect that after an eruption cloud has dispersed, that all you would find is the occassional particle, even if all of the material was still up there. The volume of the atmosphere is enormous compared with a tiny volcano.

    Sure the volcanic cloud will have an effect, because it’s concentrated near the tropics, but spread out it does nothing.

    So I’m a layman wondering how you relate the distribution of dust to a climate forcing, thats all.

    Comment by Isotopious — 6 Mar 2011 @ 7:14 PM

  55. Iso’s arguing for uncertainty.

    He starts by ‘thinking for himself’ instead of looking up facts. He imagines something must be true forever — itty bitty things float in the air due to Brownian motion. He didn’t look at what’s known about aging over time of particulates of all sorts. He could find this by starting with one of the early surveys, e.g.
    Atmospheric effects of the Mt Pinatubo eruption
    McCormick, LW Thomason… – Nature, 1995

    and looking at the hundreds of papers citing it:,5&hl=en

    Clue: they react chemically; they adsorb moisture; they act as nuclei for condensation. They fall out. After a while what’s left makes no difference large enough to detect in ‘noise’ of natural variation.

    Look at the work documenting radioactive traces from bomb tests. Stuff will show up for a while. Fallout happens.

    What if there were particles this small?

    “if you take a deep breath right now, at least one of the molecules entering your lungs literally came from Caesar’s last breath. That’s what they say…. you will find professors who say we take in three of Caesar’s molecules per breath, or eight, or 10. It all depends on your assumptions ”

    Does this molecule or eight or ten make a difference to you? Nope.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 6 Mar 2011 @ 7:19 PM

  56. The chance of two successive mission failures can be pretty substantial:

    So I think we shouldn’t entertain conspiracy theories.

    Comment by tamino — 6 Mar 2011 @ 9:28 PM

  57. Isotopious,

    You’re touching on a number of different issues here, and you’re mostly off-base with all of them.

    For one thing, in the troposphere particles less than 0.1 μm (i.e “Aitken particles”), have a short residence time since they are removed quickly by diffusion. Giant particles are also removed relatively quickly (say, over a micron) by gravitational settling. There’s a range in between (called the Greenfield Gap) where it’s tougher to remove aerosols, but it’s still done. If water vapor condenses on aerosol particles and then precipitates you can remove that way too. In the stratosphere, particles last longer but can still be removed eventually by gravitational sedimentation or troposphere-stratosphere exchange (maybe upper-level fronts?). The stratospheric post-volcano removal has an e-folding time of about ~1 year. I haven’t studied aerosol removal mechanisms in any detail though I am slightly familiar with a few, but a brief look through google scholar suggests there’s a large literature on the theory of aerosol removal and on the settling after volcanic eruptions. For confirmation, there are also optical depth time series available derived from solar extinction measurements (McCormick et al 1993). See also the series from Ammann et al 2003 or this paper based on Mauna Loa Lidar measurements showing the decay to pre-eruption conditions. You can search this stuff out a bit better.

    Concerning sensitivity, I respectfully disagree with Ray that “volcanoes favor a sensitivity of 3 C” although they do help rule out very low sensitivities. They do virtually nothing to eliminate very high sensitivities. I still can’t follow your logic though in what you’re trying to say with this.

    Comment by chris colose — 6 Mar 2011 @ 11:37 PM

  58. 57

    Thanks chris, the Lidar measurements are robust enough. I was just trying to find a hole in the method of estimating climate sensitivity from eruptions…..but crash landed in the south pacific.


    Comment by Isotopious — 7 Mar 2011 @ 12:23 AM

  59. But some Republicans, who hold a majority in the House of Representatives, want to see NASA give up climate science so it can focus on returning astronauts to space once the 30-year-old shuttle program ends later this year.

    “NASA’s primary purpose is human space exploration and directing NASA funds to study global warming undermines our ability to maintain our competitive edge in human space flight,” said Republican Congressman Bill Posey last month.

    Comment by Vendicar Decarian — 7 Mar 2011 @ 12:26 AM

  60. @51: Ray, I completely agree that the Glory failure mode does seem to point to a systemic problem with the Taurus. Meaning, i see it as unlikely that the OCO and GLory launch failures were unrelated and due to different problems. But of course there will certainly be a new investigation to try to determine exactly that.

    @56: Tamino – well, OCO and Glory did use the same launch vehicle before. let’s push your math just a bit further. Prior to OCO, the Taurus had had k=1 failures in n=7 launches. applying your (k+1)/(n+2) formula, yields a failure probably of 22%. Applying it for your two-in-a-row formula yields a probability of ~7%. Seems reasonable. But, GIVEN the failure of OCO, we get a probably of glory failure at 30% (only slightly higher than the failure probably for OCO, which seems counterintuitive to me). A failure probability of 30% seems unacceptably high for a $424M mission. But maybe that’s just me ;).

    Now, let’s carry this through to a discussion that really matters for the future – namely for OCO-2, which is the next, and last, scheduled launch on a Taurus. Given the history (3 failures in 9 launches) yields a whopping 36% chance of failure. And if you consider that 3 of the last 4 launches have failed (!), your failure chances seem higher – 67%. This is just nuts to me, and therefore I hope and pray OCO-2 will *not* launch on the last Taurus as currently planned.

    Comment by Chris O — 7 Mar 2011 @ 12:43 AM

  61. Isotopius (42) wrote: “As Lindzen has pointed out, with regards to aerosols, even the sign is in question.”

    The source that Lindzen uses for this claim (Ramanathan) doesn’t actually claim what Lindzen claims he claims.

    Lindzen’s argument is implicitly built on a high level of confidence that aerosol net forcing is around zero, whereas according to the avialable evidence it is extremely likely negative while the exact value if highly uncertain. So Lindzen implicitly assumes high certainty where it doesn’t exist.

    Not to mention the peculiar fact that Lindzen recently signed a skeptic letter in which the NIPCC report was approvingly mentioned. The NIPCC report makes the *opposite* claim as Lindzen does, namely that “The IPCC dramatically underestimates the total cooling effect of aerosols.”

    Guess Lindzen tries to have it both ways.

    See for more details and refs:

    Comment by Bart Verheggen — 7 Mar 2011 @ 3:22 AM

  62. From Bruce Wielicki (via Scott Mandia) responding to why the loss of this satellite was a huge setback for climate science:

    “Your questions are good ones and I’ll try to put them in context. First: who am I? I have been a co-investigator or lead investigator on NASA Earth Science missions since 1980: ERBE, CERES, CALIPSO, CloudSat, CLARREO. So I am very familiar with space missions in general and climate missions (all of the above) in particular. If you need more details they are in the attached resume.

    The loss of the Glory satellite is a tragedy for climate science. The Glory satellite included two critical instruments: one to monitor the total energy reaching the Earth from the Sun, and a second to unravel some of the key remaining mysteries about tiny particles called aerosols: especially about the aerosols that humans emit when we burn fossil fuels in cars, power plants, or our homes. Aerosols remain one of the key uncertainties in how fast our fossil fuel burning is pushing the climate system to warmer levels. So the Glory mission was a key part of understanding how both natural (Sun) and human (aerosols) forcings are acting to change our current and future climate.

    If this loss is so serious, why was there no back up strategy? Why was this allowed to be a single point of failure? The answer is that space missions are expensive by nature, risky by nature, and our nation has decided not to spend the kind of resources it would take for a more robust set of climate research observations. Such an observation system might easily cost 4 to 5 times the current NASA Earth Science budget. Would it be worth it to make more intelligent future decisions about climate change? Without a doubt. But is there a national will to do it? Evidently not. One way to look at this is that we have a football team with only one player at most positions, and none at a few positions. When one of the players we do have gets hurt: there are no replacements. You play without him and wait until he heals. The time to heal a lost space mission is typically 3 to 7 years depending on budgets and how many spare parts remain from the last instrument builds.

    What is NASA’s role in climate science? NASA Earth Science missions are a critical part of climate science. Space is the only way to get truly global observations of the Earth and its climate system: from equator to pole, from the U.S. to China. Those observations include everything from the atmosphere to the oceans to the ice sheets to polar sea ice to land cover including vegetation and snow. They include the energy we receive from the sun as well as the solar energy we reflect back to space and the thermal energy we emit to space to shed the solar heat that we absorb. Climate is an interlinked global system including all of these key parts. Looking at just one or even a few of them typically leads to large uncertainties and low scientific confidence. NASA has led the world in global climate science since the advent of the Earth Observing System that started in 1990: the first attempt at a global Earth observing system. Ironically it was the deficit federal budgets of the mid 1990s that reduced the effort to about 1/3 of its original plan. What we have now are pieces of that system that have lived well beyond their design life. For example, the Aqua spacecraft was launched in 2002, designed for a 5yr mission life, and was originally supposed to have 3 copies launched on 5 year intervals to achieve a continuous climate record over at least 15 years. Only 1 spacecraft was ever built and launched, and has now been operating successfully for about 9 years on orbit. A follow on mission called NPP is finally planned for launch the end of this year. But there is no climate observing system in the same sense that there is a weather observing system. NASA is doing the best it can with the limited resources it has. There are no backups.

    Should NASA be doing climate science? The National Aeronautics and Space Act established the agency in 1958. In the Space Act, the first objective of the agency was listed as “the expansion of human knowledge of the earth and of phenomena in the atmosphere and space.” Earth science has been a key part of NASA’s mission throughout its history. The need for that mission today is more critical than it was in 1958. When the Space Act was written, we had little idea of potential climate change issues. The Keeling record of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was just starting in Hawaii. The Keelilng record was not the first carbon dioxide observation: but it was the first with the high accuracy over a long time period needed for climate change research. Many people confuse weather with climate. Why can’t weather satellites be used for climate data? In general they lack the high accuracy needed for climate change. Weather accuracy is 1 or 2 degrees in temperature, while climate accuracy is a tenth of a degree: a factor of ten more difficult. In the end, climate observations have requirements that are typically ten times more accurate than weather, and require 10 times as many variables to be observed. In the U.S. we have a dozen agencies that contribute to climate science and are coordinated using the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). NASA resources are the largest contributor to the USGCRP of all the agencies, but none of the agencies has climate as its highest priority. This results in a “curse of the commons” situation where none of the agencies can really lead the development of a climate observing system. Each does the best it can within its limited scope and resources.

    What do the successive failures of the OCO and Glory missions mean for NASA climate science? They will have a serious impact and will delay advances in understanding carbon dioxide sources and sinks (OCO), natural and man-made aerosols (Glory), and solar climate forcing (Glory). They will also force NASA to evaluate the best balance between use of small less reliable but less expensive rockets, versus larger more reliable but more expensive rockets. Unfortunately there are no easy answers. It is likely that NASA will continue to find the best option is a range of small to large missions, with a range of small to large costs, and low to high reliability. The resources are not there to design and implement a global climate observing system with a 90% chance of success. Maybe someday that will change.

    Sorry this is so long, but these are not easy questions. It is a sobering time to consider them.”

    Comment by gavin — 7 Mar 2011 @ 9:20 AM

  63. are there insurance policies for these sorts of thing? Can we expect NASA to try again (third time a charm), or is it too soon to say?

    Comment by Marlowe Johnson — 7 Mar 2011 @ 9:48 AM

  64. @59:

    It really doesn’t matter what House Republicans are saying; they’re not working on the rocket.

    I’ll ask the same questions I did over at Tamino’s – *who* would have performed the sabotage (it would have to have been be either an OSC or NASA engineer), *when* would they have performed it (during payload integration, during closeout inspection, or after closeout), and *how* would they have performed the sabotage with so many eyeballs checking and double-checking everything?

    It’s not like just any idiot can walk up to a rocket and monkey with it.

    And as so many other people have pointed out, we don’t *need* to invoke sabotage; plain bad luck accounts for all of it.

    Comment by jfb — 7 Mar 2011 @ 3:44 PM

  65. Sabotage? Too complicated! It is like a small town car rental shop. The guys with more money (and friends in congress) get the better rides, and poor folk get the cars that were bought lowest bid. No climate science program has as much money or as many friends as any of the national security programs.

    If DHS decided that knowing what was going on with the climate was essential to national security, then DHS would put the right gear into orbit even if they had to use the very pricy launch vehicles that they use for intelligence satellites. And, they would order backups, so that there would be redundant measurements.

    If DHS was smart, they would be launching more “climate” satellites and fewer “intelligence” satellites. Then, if they were really smart, they would share the data so that it could be sliced and diced by guys that are too smart to work for DHS.

    Comment by Aaron Lewis — 7 Mar 2011 @ 6:17 PM

  66. Thank you to Bruce Wielicki for the extended explanation.

    Could an outside outfit like The Aerospace Corporation come in and help in the investigation? We cannot afford to lose the second OCO satellite, just as we could not afford to lose the Glory satellite.

    Comment by AIC — 8 Mar 2011 @ 2:30 AM

  67. In light of Bruce’s lament above, I thought I’d post a link to Tom Bodett’s wonderful essay, “Home Planet” again:

    It’s the only explanation that makes sense.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 8 Mar 2011 @ 6:11 AM

  68. Very very sad for science, but then the people of the world have plenty of information & science since at least 20 years ago to have been mitigating GW to the hilt (we don’t need high confidence of disaster to strive against it), and absolutely no excuses not to.

    Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 8 Mar 2011 @ 10:18 PM

  69. Why do you need that information? You told us the science was settled.

    [Response: Did I really? Perhaps you could point that out. – gavin]

    Comment by John Dixon — 9 Mar 2011 @ 5:53 PM

  70. 69 JD:

    I suspect you think you’ve scored a point with your smug drive-by comment, but just in case you would like to learn, I’d suggest you start by reading the article and the many excellent comments above, which are informative and build knowledge (though I’d skip the conspiracy stuff, which is neither useful nor likely). In particular, the post from Bruce Wielecki which addresses factually and in detail the problems with politics and finance that clog the arteries of this necessary work. This work is partly needed because of people like you, who will never acknowledge the truth of measurement and data, or that uncertainty is a given in life and we still put one foot in front of another.

    I particularly enjoy the trenchant commentary of Ray Ladbury. The nice thing here is that the total adds up to more than the sum of its parts due to the careful avoidance of arguments that are in part intended to prevent these guys, who have work to do, from getting on with it. The denialosphere calls this censorship, but they, who *do* practice censorship, of things they disagree with, are focused solely on eliminating dissent, while here legitimate arguments are carefully answered until they reveal obdurate positions.

    As to “settled science” that mostly comes from fake skeptics. A little study will demonstrate that the words of people like Dr. Schmidt are rarely left unchanged in the reports from the political deception campaign. Those commenting on it rarely look at the original, they take the word of their “friends” as to what was said. DeepClimate has a particularly good section on this issue – the claims about “settled science” being attributed backwards and misquotation proliferation:

    Comment by Susan Anderson — 10 Mar 2011 @ 11:36 AM

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