A tale of two climates. Tracking climate change on Earth and on Mars
Climate change doesn't just impact Earth, it affects other planets drastically too. NASA is tracking the Earth’s temperature and exploring the possibility of slowing climate change.
NASA said last month was the hottest on record based on temperature data dating back to 1880. The agency uses a fleet of climate sensors here on the ground and in space.
Gavin Schmidt is the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He said that NASA has been monitoring these warmer temperatures that are part of a trend of long-term, human-driven climate change fueled by greenhouse gas emissions.
"It turns out that the trends for the future are really a function of our actions in the future," Shmidt said. "If we were to stop emitting carbon dioxide tomorrow, global warming would stop, it would stabilize, it would not get any warmer."
Earth’s changing climate isn’t unique. Scientists are uncovering the climate history of Mars. Amy Williams is an astrobiologist at the University of Florida and scientists on NASA's Perseverance rover.
"It is this really cold, dry desert now. It is what appears to be almost as a global climatic shift from water being on the surface, to moving towards the cold and dry desert that we know today. All of Mars, you know, was subjected to this dramatic climatic shift over some period of time," said Williams.
Understanding the planet's climate history will help in one of her main science goals — uncovering possible signs of ancient life on Mars.
"That becomes so important when you think about when might life have arisen on Mars, if it did, and how long did it have to be in the surface or near surface before the environment became so dramatically inhospitable that you know that life maybe it died out. Maybe it went to the subsurface to protect itself. Or maybe it was never there."
Similar to Shmidt, Williams has concerns about Earth's wellbeing. Although she is actively studying climate on Mars, Williams said there is no chance the human population could live on the Mars surface.
"It's exciting to talk about exploring the moon exploring Mars, but we're not going to move the population of the Earth to any of these worlds anytime soon," Williams said. "When I look and I see Earth, as we're dealing with dramatic climate shifts right now, I see a world that is becoming less hospitable."