blue marble, climate change, computer modeling, climate, cop26, climate change

The “Blue Marble” was one of the most iconic pictures of the Apollo era. Taken by the astronauts of Apollo 17 on their return trip from the moon, the first fully illuminated image of the Earth taken by a person captured how the world looked on December 7th, 1972, just over 50 years ago. Now, a team from the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology has recreated that iconic image using a climate model.

As a new press release described, they didn’t do this for a publicity stunt. This effort has been a culmination of two decades worth of work on climate modeling that the team has been working on. Their climate model, which they ran with the help of researchers at the German Climate Computing Center, is now capable of drawing up details as fine as 1 km to accurately recreate environmental conditions at a given time.

To feed that model, though, they need data. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a whole lot available in terms of data that could be fed into the mode from 1972, let alone any data from the southern hemisphere, where the image was focused. So the researchers did their best to model what they could based on the data they had by using the equations that had already been developed and the Levante supercomputer at the German Climate Computing Center.

Video showing the new climate model in action – compared to the original image. Credit – Science Magazine YouTube Channel

The result was spectacularly similar to the actual image captured by the Apollo 17 astronauts. So much so that even the team was surprised by the fidelity, given the data limitations that went into the algorithm that fed the image.

However, the outcome of models isn’t always graphical, and for the sake of inspiration, the team wanted to take it a step further. So they enlisted the help of one of the world’s foremost graphics companies – nVIDIA. 

They used a tool nVIDIA has developed called Omniverse to visualize the model’s output in a format similar to that captured by the Blue Marble Image. It also used a ray tracing technique commonly used in the other main use case for nVIDIA chips – video games, to make the image as lifelike as possible. And then, the model also introduces its other major advantage – it moves.

An Economist video on how to model climate change. Credit – The Economist YouTube Channel

The Blue Marble has always been a static image – a one-time snapshot of how the Earth looked on that day in 1972. But, if the model is correct (and it appears to be given its outcome on the day the picture was taken), it can be rewound or pushed forward to watch as the clouds, temperatures, and atmospheric makeup change both before and after the iconic picture. 

Effectively, it’s like watching what the Apollo 17 astronauts would have seen if they had remained stationary and had a video camera set up to constantly monitor their homeworld. The effect is mesmerizing, but more importantly, it’s useful. Plenty of weather and climate phenomena can only be explored if we understand their input factors at the 1 km scale. That is the output of these climate models, and they can be helpful for more than just looking back into the past. 

While this particular effort was a way to commemorate a great picture and the original founding of the Max Planck Institute of Meteorology, where many of the researchers work, it is, in essence, a test of a fully functional, high-resolution climate model. That will be ever more useful as we go forward into an uncertain changing climate, though its future outputs might be more disheartening than inspiring as this one was.

Lead Image:The original Blue Marble Picture.
Credit – NASA


10 quantum myths that need to be busted

For centuries, the laws of physics seemed completely deterministic. If you knew where every particle was, how fast it was moving, and what the forces were between them at any one instant, you could know exactly where they’d be and what they’d be doing at any point in the ...

View more: 10 quantum myths that need to be busted

Christina Maslach

Christina Maslach is a Professor of Psychology (Emerita) and a core researcher at the Healthy Workplaces Center at the University of California, Berkeley. She received her A.B., magna cum laude, from Harvard-Radcliffe College (1967), and her Ph.D. from Stanford University (1971), and has been on the Berkeley faculty since ...

View more: Christina Maslach

The Japanese call this practice tsundoku, and it may provide lasting benefits

This article was first published on Big Think in October 2018. It was updated in December 2022. I love books. If I go to the bookstore to check a price, I walk out with three books I probably didn’t know existed beforehand. I buy second-hand books by the bagful ...

View more: The Japanese call this practice tsundoku, and it may provide lasting benefits

Navigation Could be Done on the Moon Just by Looking at Nearby Landmarks

When humans start living and working on the Moon in the Artemis missions, they’re going to need good navigational aids. Sure, they’ll have a GPS equivalent to help them find their way around. And, there’ll be LunaNet, the Moon’s equivalent to the Internet. But, there are places on the ...

View more: Navigation Could be Done on the Moon Just by Looking at Nearby Landmarks

What causes burnout, and how to prevent it

Excerpted from THE BURNOUT CHALLENGE: MANAGING PEOPLE’S RELATIONSHIP WITH THEIR JOBS, by Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter, published by The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Copyright © 2022 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Used by permission. All rights reserved. In recent Gallup polls, majorities ...

View more: What causes burnout, and how to prevent it

The surprising reason secrets destroy us - Big Think

jQuery(function(){ if (typeof jwplayer_load == typeof indefined) { var jwplayer_load = 1; jQuery(window).load(function(){ jQuery(".sc_video_shortcode_jwplayer").each(function(){ var _this = $(this); jQuery.get(jQuery(this).attr("url"), function(data, status){ if (typeof data.split("\n") !== typeof undefined) { var src = data.split("\n")[4]; src = src.replace(".m3u8", ""); _this.attr("src", src); } }); }); }); } }); Holding secrets can negatively impact ...

View more: The surprising reason secrets destroy us - Big Think

SpaceX aces 60th orbital launch of 2022

SpaceX has completed its 60th orbital launch of 2022, marking the first time the company has fully hit a public cadence target set by one of its executives. By every possible measure, 2022 has been a groundbreaking year for SpaceX even when considering the vast list of achievements it’s racked ...

View more: SpaceX aces 60th orbital launch of 2022

Brain-computer interfaces could let soldiers control weapons with their thoughts

Imagine that a soldier has a tiny computer device injected into their bloodstream that can be guided with a magnet to specific regions of their brain. With training, the soldier could then control weapon systems thousands of miles away using their thoughts alone. Embedding a similar type of computer ...

View more: Brain-computer interfaces could let soldiers control weapons with their thoughts

The surprising quantum reason why the Sun shines

We’re Going to see at Least Five More SLS Rockets Launch in the Coming Years

Power on the Moon. What Will it Take to Survive the Lunar Night?

Iwan Rhys Morus

How do lie detectors work?

How electricity stormed past steam and became the power of the future

Stellantis reaffirms climate change commitment, new solar panels installed at Gurun plant

Blockchain Based Climate Tech Startup YES WORLD Reaches 100k Holders Mark, Holders Doubled in 2 Months

What is the true nature of our quantum reality?

Planetary Interiors in TRAPPIST-1 System Could be Affected by Solar Flares

SpaceX’s last Starlink launch of 2022 is a bit of a mystery

Is Mining in Space Socially Acceptable?


Top Car News Car News