EAST BOOTHBAY, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Last week, one of President-elect Donald Trump’s advisers made a statement that has rocked the environment and research worlds. Bob Walker told the Guardian newspaper that NASA should no longer conduct climate research; to focus, instead, solely on space.
The fallout includes right here in Maine.
Bigelow Labs senior research scientist William Balch shared this analogy: he said dismantling NASA’s climate research would be akin to asking a doctor to not use a stethoscope. The climate work they do at Bigelow relies heavily on NASA and its satellites.
"Take your stethoscope away from your doctor and ask them to tell you what’s wrong with you, and take away a satellite from a climate scientist or an earth scientist and ask them to tell you what’s happening on earth," he said. "It’s very difficult," Balch runs the ocean observing and optics laboratory at Bigelow Labs. The East Boothbay center specializes in ocean sciences.
As he shows us around the modern Bigelow building, he stops in front of a monitor to explain how the images work. “This is all the remote sensing information about ocean color.” The screen is filled with swirls of color as an image of the world slowly moves across the screen. The colors shift every few moments, indicating changes to the sea and to the land.
Balch and his team rely on the multi-colored images NASA sends back to earth through their satellites. From way out in space, they can capture microcosmically tiny phytoplankton on the ocean floor.
"These are microscopic plants," he said. "Smaller than the pointy end of the pen, but they are responsible for half of all the plant vegetative production on Earth."
At Bigelow, Balch and his team scour the images of vegetation and tiny organisms to zero in on the most productive regions here in the gulf of Maine and around the world. As for those NASA satellites? Balch said they are vital in helping them plot out large-scale patterns for the future. Patterns that will help scientists know whether the waters in the gulf will warm to dangerous levels and whether the absence of phytoplankton will mean diminished fish populations.
“Losing that ability to look at change over large spatial scales over decade time scales would be really a great loss to the science, to the earth science,” he said.
The Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland also relies on the NASA satellites. Scientists there said they help give a better, more realistic understanding of what our future may look like.
NASA has been involved in climate research for the past 50 years when they sent their first satellite into space.
Donald Trump’s advisers say they see NASA’s future in an exploration role in deep space research and that earth-centric science should be handled by other agencies.