Birur Tells of Water Bodies on Earth Viewed from Space

photo by Hal Gray
Gaj Birur discusses a
slide about various spacecraft used to explore Mars.

by Hal Gray, Community Journalist

GREENSBORO – Retired Pasadena Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) engineer and scientist Gaj Birur spoke August 9, at the Greensboro Free Library about NASA’s interest in observing water bodies on earth from space.

Climatologists, hydrologists and oceanographers around the world are trying to better understand how climate change is affecting our planet. This November, NASA will launch a satellite named “Surface Water & Ocean Topography” (SWOT) in order to better understand the earth’s water resources. SWOT will be able to map surface water resources of the entire world in 21 days.

As global warming raises ocean temperatures, water levels around the world will increase thus threatening low-lying islands and continental coast lines with flooding. Melting glaciers will further increase water levels. Changing wind patterns over the Pacific Ocean and warming of water on the western coasts of the Americas lead to weather patterns such as El Nino and resulting floods and droughts around the world.

photo by Emma Birur
Gaj Birur and his Greensboro Free Library audience included children.

Another issue is that plankton do not like warmer water and will therefore go to cooler water, which affects the fish that depend on them. This in turn affects the fishing industry. SWOT’s more-sophisticated instruments will allow more-detailed mapping and thus allow greater prediction on a global scale. This will allow for better preparation not only for flooding but also for phenomenon like drought.

With the growing scarcity of fresh water, governments are having to limit its use, as in California where homeowners are being paid thousands of dollars to convert their lawns to desert plants requiring less water. Given his background in space exploration, Birur also touched on the deep space exploration by NASA spacecraft looking on other planets and their moons for biological potential that requires water resources. Birur remarked later that he is constantly impressed by the curiosity and knowledge reflected in the questions that youngsters ask him.