Hmmm, not only is it an oddball stamp, being round, it isn’t even of actual sea surface temperatures, it’s a model output. That’s not a real El Niño pattern you see on the stamp, it’s a simulation frame. See the “Inside the science” below. You’d think they would use one that depicts reality, not a model projection. Our current SST image looks a lot different than the stamp – no reds, lots of blues, which show our current reality to be cooler than the modeled one.
On the plus side, the stamp is $1.15, so it won’t get much circulation, it might be a collectors item though in a few years.
This round stamp features a visual representation of our planet’s sea surface temperatures. It shows the Earth with North America at the center and parts of South America, Asia, and Europe just visible on the edges, surrounded by vivid bands of color throughout the oceans. The image is one frame in a 1,460-frame animation created from the output of a computer model of Earth’s climate by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. The full animation shows how the surface temperatures of the oceans vary seasonally and change over time, and how surface ocean currents and eddies transport heat and water around the globe.
This image also combines the depiction of sea-surface temperatures with visible vegetation on the land masses, an element derived from a satellite composite created by NASA. Text repeated twice around the circumference of the stamp reads “GLOBAL USA FOREVER 2014.”
Art director William J. Gicker designed this stamp.
From the Inside the science page at USPS.gov
Inside the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey, scientists Keith Dixon and Tom Delworth and their team are busy predicting the future. Their “crystal ball” is a virtual model of Earth powered by one of the world’s largest supercomputers.
Working with meteorologists, oceanographers, computer scientists, biologists, statisticians, and others to manipulate the models, the team at GFDL, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration center, is pushing to understand how the climate will respond to agents like volcanic eruption or industrial pollution. They use these elegant, complex climate models, whose ancestors can be traced back to the 1960s, to stage “what if” scenarios: What happens if the state of the Atlantic changes dramatically? Or if greenhouse gases continue to change the chemical composition of the atmosphere?
“The reason we need to do this is we can’t perform real experiments,” Dixon says. “We don’t have a twin planet Earth.”
To make a prediction — say, whether or not an El Niño is going to form next year — the researchers gather observations and start the model using a set of conditions that reflects the real world at a given time. The model isn’t absorbing ongoing, real-time truths from the Earth, per se, through a satellite or weather balloon like some might suspect. Rather, it’s using general conditions — such as the composition of land and water, and how the Earth revolves around the sun — in tandem with the great laws of physics to mimic the climate’s behavior. Millions of grid boxes tell a story about what’s happening in a particular space, interacting with each other in a dance of physics to tell a greater global narrative.
Drawing on this data, the New Jersey team uses software to create a series of images that each represent one day in the life of the virtual Earth. From there, the images are sent to a sister NOAA center in Colorado, Earth System Research Laboratory, where they’re stitched into animations that show how heat and water travel through the globe over several years. (These animations are then projected onto room-sized globes that help people understand, and become captivated by, the environment.)
The Global: Sea Surface Temperatures stamp image — one frame in a 1,460-frame (or four-year) animation — is a single snapshot of the team’s studies. To understand climate trends both past and future, the researchers must first grasp the pattern of sea surface temperatures. The two are inseparable. The ocean is a massive bank of heat from the sun and, as such, it stabilizes the Earth’s temperature, governing the seasons and stimulating changes in weather.
During the 1970s and ’80s, for example, there was a severe drought in sub-Saharan Africa. Using the global climate model to investigate the cause, GFDL scientists found that shifting sea surface temperatures were largely to blame. During those decades, the temperature of the North Atlantic was slightly cooler than normal and the South Atlantic slightly warmer, causing the rains to shift southward.
“The reason we need to do this is we can’t perform real experiments. We don’t have a twin planet earth.”
“Patterns of sea surface temperatures influence weather around the planet sometimes for months and even years,” Delworth says.
The stamp image shows how heat pools near the equator, travels ribbon-like along the Gulf Stream, or wiggles in the tropics where warm and cooler waters mingle. (While some of these features are evident at stamp size, the researchers laugh that they’re used to viewing the graphic at a much larger scale.)
But data is of course meaningless apart from the insights of human beings — and climate researchers like Dixon and Delworth are driven toward discoveries that will speak to some of society’s big questions.
“The field [of climate study] is really moving toward trying to understand how climate change will impact weather on very regional and local scales,” Delworth says, “and how it will impact extremes like storms, droughts, and floods that cause society a tremendous amount of damage.”
Delworth says there’s been broad consensus over the past 10 to 15 years that the Earth has warmed considerably since the middle of the 20th century, that the warming is largely due to human activity, and that the warming will continue. So now the question becomes: What are the aftereffects?
As GFDL’s computer power increases — and the grid boxes multiply, the global climate model growing sharper in resolution — the answers in the swirling globe will likely become ever clearer.