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Climate Change OMG with Josh Willis of NASA
Episode 1444th October 2021 • Your Positive Imprint • Catherine Praiswater
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Climate change is a massive shift of our planet. Our civilization is built on the climate we've had for thousands of years. Principal Investigator Josh Willis of Nasa’s Ocean’s Melting Greenland (OMG) shares his studies and research measuring the oceans and ice and how they change over time. 

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Catherine:

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Catherine:

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Catherine:

Before I introduce my guest, I would like to provide a quick note.

Catherine:

This episode was recorded with NASA's principal investigator.

Catherine:

Josh Willis in August, 2019.

Catherine:

Climate change is something that is so important to understand.

Catherine:

And the climate change oceanographers that I've had on my podcast

Catherine:

have provided excellent verbiage in understanding the research and the data.

Catherine:

And I think it's important that I continue to bring this information to you so that you hear the information.

Catherine:

. So today's guest is NASA's Josh Willis who is the principal investigator for Greenland's OMGs research project.

Catherine:

OMG, meaning OCEANS MELTING GREENLAND.

Catherine:

you can learn more about NASA's OMG's research at their website, OMg.jpl.nasa.gov.

Catherine:

. Or of course right here on your positive imprint podcast with Josh Willis.

Catherine:

Josh continues to do his research over in Greenland.

Catherine:

. And this episode explains what the research is that he is doing

Catherine:

and why NASA is doing this research in Greenland.

Catherine:

NASA oceans, melting Greenland, a five-year mission to explore ice melt and warming oceans.

Catherine:

To seek out solutions and causes to boldly go where the water meets the ice.

Catherine:

. Welcome principal investigator for NASA and the Oceans Melting Greenland Josh Willis, a K a.

Catherine:

Climate Elvis.

Josh Willis:

Oh, wow.

Josh Willis:

Wow.

Josh Willis:

Thank you for that introduction.

Josh Willis:

That was amazing.

Josh Willis:

I could hear the Star Trek theme in the background.

Catherine:

It was, uh, well, I'm so thrilled to have you, and I'm so excited to talk about your research, but also not just the research, but what you're doing to spread the word,

Catherine:

Climate Elvis is pretty awesome.

Catherine:

. Josh, give us a little bit of background on why you're here in this role as principal investigator.

Josh Willis:

Oh, well, thanks Catherine.

Josh Willis:

First of all, for having me, it's a pleasure to be here.

Josh Willis:

, I'm a climate scientist.

Josh Willis:

I started studying, really global warming and the oceans as a graduate student,.

Josh Willis:

a really long time ago now, 20 years ago.

Josh Willis:

I thought I wanted to be a physicist for awhile, and then it turned out that my physics professors didn't want me to be a physicist.

Josh Willis:

And after that, uh, to be a physicist, I wasn't very good at it.

Josh Willis:

I actually, I failed out of graduate school in physics.

Josh Willis:

That was my first great achievement.

Josh Willis:

But , I, I really wanted to be a scientist ever since I was very young and, I just, wasn't quite sure what I wanted to study.

Josh Willis:

I found the Scripps Institution of Oceanography right down the hill from where I was studying at UC San Diego.

Josh Willis:

And they took me and I started studying the oceans and especially how the oceans, help shape our climate because to me, climate change was one of

Josh Willis:

And it still is today.

Catherine:

Oh, absolutely.

Catherine:

So then that kind of set your career.

Catherine:

You are with NASA, a program with NASA, what did you do before you landed this amazing principal investigator with NASA?

Josh Willis:

I started working at NASA right after graduate school at the jet propulsion laboratory here in California.

Josh Willis:

The jet propulsion laboratory JPL here in Pasadena, California.

Josh Willis:

I started working there as what's called a post-doc which is sort of like two years of indentured servitude after you get your PhD.

Josh Willis:

After that, they hired me as a, as a researcher and I started working on the satellites that measure sea level rise from space.

Josh Willis:

And now I'm the lead NASA scientist for those.

Catherine:

Cool.

Josh Willis:

Yeah, it's a, it's a really cool actually.

Josh Willis:

And in a way it's one of the simplest things we measure from space.

Josh Willis:

So these satellites fly along and they have a radar.

Josh Willis:

Just like, just like the cops use to get you speeding and

Josh Willis:

it bounces a radar wave off the ocean and it comes back up and the satellite measures how long it takes to go down and come back.

Josh Willis:

And that tells it the satellite very accurately, how far away the, the seawater is.

Josh Willis:

So then you need one more piece of information.

Josh Willis:

You need to know the location of the satellite.

Josh Willis:

So if you know where the satellite is, how far above the earth it is, uh, and how far it is down to the water then it tells you sea level, essentially it measures how tall the oceans are.

Josh Willis:

And these satellites are so accurate that they can measure a change in sea level of about one inch from 800 miles up.

Catherine:

Wow.

Catherine:

Wow.

Josh Willis:

So this data is, transmitted back down to earth and, scientists and engineers, process it and, and look at it.

Josh Willis:

And one of the things that we do is calculate sea level not just in each location, but averaged over the whole planet.

Josh Willis:

And when we average over the whole globe, we can see global sea level rise, which is one of the main consequences of human caused global warming.

Catherine:

Okay.

Catherine:

With these satellites, is it United States alone or is it a shared?

Josh Willis:

It's a, it's a shared, it's a, it's kind of an interesting story.

Josh Willis:

The very first one of these satellites was called Topix Poseidon and it was launched in 1992.

Josh Willis:

And it was the first time the United States teamed up with the French space agency called Kineis, uh, which is a very long French acronym that I will mess up if I try to pronounce.

Josh Willis:

Um, But Kineis and NASA, uh, together launched this satellite.

Josh Willis:

And, , ever since then there have been several more.

Josh Willis:

There was Jason I,

Josh Willis:

Jason II, now Jason III.

Josh Willis:

Three, we're working on the next set of Jason missions right now to, to build them and launch them.

Josh Willis:

But each one has continued measuring, how sea level has changed.

Josh Willis:

And, as the satellite matured the relationships have matured.

Josh Willis:

And so now, , it's not just NASA and the French space agency, but also NOAA the national oceanic and atmospheric administration here in the U S.

Josh Willis:

A similar agency called

Josh Willis:

EUMETSAT which is the European meteorological satellite agency.

Josh Willis:

And also now, , ESA, which is the European space agency are all teaming up together to continue building these satellites.

Josh Willis:

So it's a huge international partnership.

Josh Willis:

And in part that's a reflection of the fact that measuring global sea level rise is such an important thing.

Josh Willis:

Absolutely.

Josh Willis:

I interviewed somebody, from Woods Hole who works on the instruments.

Josh Willis:

His name was Kurt Pultzen, and I was able to go out there and actually touch these instruments and look at them.

Josh Willis:

And I was amazed at the size of these.

Catherine:

Several of them were profilers..

Catherine:

And then Helen Phillips from the university of Tasmania who measures the Antarctic circumpolar current.

Catherine:

And she's been doing that for years.

Catherine:

And it's it's all of these scientists worldwide that are bringing information together so that the scientists and policy makers can seek out solutions.

Catherine:

I think this is absolutely fabulous, especially because it's an international effort,

Catherine:

. Josh Willis: Yeah.

Catherine:

I, I love it too.

Catherine:

In my job as a, NASA scientist for these missions, one of the things I have to do is, every couple of years I help plan a science meeting

Catherine:

for about 200 scientists from all over the world.

Catherine:

And we all come together, look at the data from the satellites and try to understand them and try to make sure that the data is as accurate as possible.

Catherine:

And, uh, it's, it's funny because one of the things that, uh, that we struggle with it as scientists is to communicate what we're doing.

Catherine:

And, you know, there's a lot of misinformation out there too, especially about climate change.

Catherine:

I've had folks write me emails, or, uh, you know, even in person sometimes say, well, you guys are faking all that sea level data, the oceans aren't really rising.

Catherine:

It's hard to deal with that for one thing, but, uh, you know, there's literally hundreds of people and every day their full-time day job

Catherine:

is to make sure this data is accurate and correct.

Catherine:

And they've been doing it for 30 years and so

Catherine:

There is a quote and I learned it from, and I love this quote.

Catherine:

I don't know if it came from you

Catherine:

but it was an IMAX movie and the scientist said climate change is a science.

Catherine:

I mean, that to me, that just sums it up.

Catherine:

It's a science.

Catherine:

And so I want to get into the science and I want to hear about what it is that you're doing to do these measurements.

Catherine:

So in your information, in your data, you're talking about

Catherine:

the heat that gets trapped within the oceans and the calving of these glaciers out in Greenland and really worldwide, but Greenland, because that's where you're doing this work.

Catherine:

When it heats up, it expands, right?

Catherine:

, that adds to our rising oceans.

Josh Willis:

Absolutely.

Josh Willis:

Absolutely.

Josh Willis:

About one-third of modern day sea level rise is caused by this warming and expansion of the oceans.

Josh Willis:

Uh, and in fact, that's what I got my PhD on was calculate how much of it is the warming, because we know the warming is happening.

Josh Willis:

We know seawater expands when it warms.

Josh Willis:

So how much of sea level rise is caused by that?

Josh Willis:

And it turns out it's about a third to a half, depending on the time, the period of time you're looking at.

Josh Willis:

But out in the future, the big enchilada is going to be the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, and understanding how fast those are melting and adding extra water to the ocean.

Josh Willis:

That's the real challenge for figuring out what's going to happen in the next hundred years.

Josh Willis:

And that's how uh, came to, to do Oceans Melting Greenland.

Catherine:

And why is it a five-year mission?

Catherine:

The funding.

Josh Willis:

Right, right, right.

Josh Willis:

Well, so, uh, uh, Ocean's Melting Greenland or OMG as, uh, right.

Josh Willis:

Uh, yes, I, I have to confess that I did pick that name.

Josh Willis:

In one of my very first ever comedy classes here in California, I studied improvisational theater at the second city, school here in Hollywood.

Josh Willis:

And it's one of the things that I like to do, , to communicate about this stuff.

Josh Willis:

But OMG really came about because NASA has , a program called Earth Ventures and this is a set of missions

Josh Willis:

that get funded by NASA that are driven by principal investigators like myself.

Josh Willis:

So, for a long time, a lot of NASA science happened by NASA or the community saying, Hey, we need to measure this.

Josh Willis:

And then NASA says, okay, here's one of our labs that's really good at building that thing you guys go build it and we'll launch it.

Josh Willis:

And in recent years, especially for earth science about 10 or 15 years ago, earth scientists got together and said, Hey, you know, it's great that NASA does all this stuff, but we'd

Josh Willis:

And so NASA created this program and the Earth Ventures program has a few different pieces, but one of them is, , aircraft missions.

Josh Willis:

So airplane missions, and , that's what we propose with OMG was essentially to fly around Greenland, measure the oceans, using these sensors we drop out of a plane and then also write the little probes.

Josh Willis:

Exactly.

Josh Willis:

And, and ask, how are those two things related?

Josh Willis:

We measure the oceans, we measure the ice and then watch them change together over time.

Catherine:

Okay.

Catherine:

And because NASA is NASA, we're talking air missions.

Catherine:

Why not boats?

Josh Willis:

And it's a good question.

Josh Willis:

I mean, certainly there are other researchers around who use ships to study Greenland.

Josh Willis:

Greenland's a big place.

Josh Willis:

So ships are great for studying sort of a single glacier or a few glaciers that empty into one Fjord.

Josh Willis:

But if you want to get the big picture of what's going on all the way around Greenland, then you need to be in the air or even in space.

Catherine:

Oh, okay.

Catherine:

So let's talk about what you're actually doing over in Greenland.

Josh Willis:

Oh yeah.

Josh Willis:

Yeah.

Josh Willis:

We use probes to measure profiles.

Josh Willis:

So we use these instruments to measure, not just the temperature and salinity, right at the surface of the ocean, but all the way down to the bottom.

Josh Willis:

. It's a few hundred meters or sometimes even a thousand meters.

Josh Willis:

So, you know, a thousand meters is like 3000 feet.

Josh Willis:

So it's many thousands of feet uh, the depth of the water around Greenland.

Josh Willis:

Now that's a lot shallower than most places.

Josh Willis:

The middle part of the ocean is about 4,000 meters deep over most of the ocean.

Josh Willis:

That's 12,000 feet, so it's really deep.

Josh Willis:

But when you get close to land, of course it gets shallower, , but a lot of, islands and places have what's called a continental shelf and Greenland does too.

Josh Willis:

It's a place where it gets kind of shallow.

Josh Willis:

And you have a, a layer of water and then the island kind of comes up out of that layer of water.

Josh Willis:

So this shallow shelf is where a lot of the interesting oceanography is happening, but so far, no, one's really measured it, not in a very comprehensive way.

Josh Willis:

We don't have any, measurements before OMG of what's going on on the shelf around Greenland.

Catherine:

and why did you choose the shelf as opposed

Catherine:

to where currents meet or,

Josh Willis:

yeah.

Josh Willis:

Yeah.

Josh Willis:

It's a, it's a great question.

Josh Willis:

The water around Greenland is very interesting on the shelf.

Josh Willis:

So off shore, the oceanography pretty well understood.

Josh Willis:

We have other instruments.

Josh Willis:

We have these things called Argo floats that drift around in the open ocean.

Josh Willis:

You might've seen some at Woods Hole.

Josh Willis:

Those are cool.

Josh Willis:

It's an amazing system of these floats, but the problem is they go down about 2000 meters when they dive.

Josh Willis:

And that means they don't really work on the shelves.

Josh Willis:

They don't, we don't really have any on the shelves.

Josh Willis:

So the shelves are kind of the last place where we're not really measuring very much.

Josh Willis:

We don't really know what's going on.

Josh Willis:

And the shelves around Greenland are very interesting because the water there is upside down.

Josh Willis:

That's interesting.

Josh Willis:

I'm trying to visualize that right upside down.

Josh Willis:

And the reason I say that is because there's a layer of cold water on top, and a layer of warm water down below.

Josh Willis:

It's one of the few places in the world that happens because usually warm water, what it rises because it's lighter because the heat, remember we talked about the thermal expansion, right?

Josh Willis:

So if it's warmer, the same amount of water takes up more space.

Josh Willis:

And so its density is lower and .That means it's usually closer to the surface.

Catherine:

So why would that phenomenon be taking place in Greenland and not Antarctica?

Josh Willis:

Well, actually Antarctica is similar.

Josh Willis:

What's different around Greenland and Antarctica is actually the solidity.

Josh Willis:

The temperature is warm.

Josh Willis:

So that would normally make it light, but the water there is also very salty.

Josh Willis:

So around Greenland, what you have is a layer of warm, salty water from the Atlantic ocean, which is the saltiest ocean, and then a layer of cold, fresh water from the Arctic ocean, which is the freshest ocean.

Josh Willis:

And because the water is so fresh, it has so little salt in it

Josh Willis:

then it's, it's exactly it's lighter and it's, it's on top of.

Josh Willis:

Uh, the warm water from the Atlantic and that warmer water for the glaciers that's, what's really important because that's what can melt away, the ice, the quickest.

Josh Willis:

The cold water, you know, I don't know.

Josh Willis:

Have you ever made a homemade ice cream?

Catherine:

I sure have.

Josh Willis:

You know, you know, you put the ice in the little bucket, right.

Josh Willis:

And then what do you do to the ice?

Josh Willis:

You put salt on it.

Josh Willis:

I forgot about that stuff.

Josh Willis:

Nobody makes homemade ice cream anymore.

Josh Willis:

, you put salt on the ice and the reason you do that is because salty water, actually has a freezing temperature below zero or below a 32.

Josh Willis:

So it's zero degrees Celsius to freeze normal freshwater, but it's actually minus two degrees to freeze saltwater.

Josh Willis:

So the ocean water does it actually freeze until it gets below minus two Celsius.

Josh Willis:

And a lot of this water from the Arctic actually, is colder than freezing.

Josh Willis:

It's below zero.

Josh Willis:

And so it can't melt the glaciers because the glaciers will only melt if the temperature is above zero degrees Celsius.

Josh Willis:

So, The Arctic water is kind of protecting the glaciers and the Atlantic water underneath is eating away at them.

Catherine:

I'm seeing the picture now because of course the glaciers are deep, deep, deep.

Catherine:

We only see a little tiny piece of them.

Catherine:

That's right.

Catherine:

That's right.

Catherine:

Exactly.

Josh Willis:

The glaciers in Greenland, the ice in Greenland is so heavy that it's actually pressed the land down.

Josh Willis:

And a lot of these glaciers sit below sea level so, when they reach the ocean, they're actually sitting in, hundreds of meters of water in some cases.

Josh Willis:

They feel the ocean water directly right on the face of the glacier.

Josh Willis:

And that means that , if they're shallow and they're sitting in that cold Arctic water, they're fine.

Josh Willis:

Right.

Josh Willis:

But if they're deep and they feel that warm Atlantic water, then they melt away at the bottom.

Josh Willis:

And when they melt away at the bottom, then big chunks break off more quickly.

Catherine:

Thank you for that because I, yeah, that was great understanding.

Catherine:

So you're doing this ice survey up there and you're flying the airplanes and you're dropping these probes.

Catherine:

So you're the one that actually chooses the places to drop these probes.

Catherine:

Right.

Catherine:

Tell us how this happens.

Catherine:

Well,

Josh Willis:

yeah, so, uh, there's two different surveys.

Josh Willis:

We fly around and measure the ice with a radar.

Josh Willis:

So the plane flies really high that it uses a radar and it looks down and it measures how, the glaciers are

Josh Willis:

either advancing or retreating and getting thicker or thinner.

Josh Willis:

So it's kind of monitoring the health of all the glaciers all the way around Greenland.

Josh Willis:

And then in the summer, we fly around over the oceans and drop these probes and the probes are kind of neat.

Josh Willis:

They're these gray cylinders.

Josh Willis:

They're about three feet long.

Josh Willis:

And about this big around.

Josh Willis:

How do you give me the diameter?

Josh Willis:

So it's about, uh, it's about five, four or five inches in diameter plate.

Josh Willis:

It's like a salad plate.

Josh Willis:

Yes.

Josh Willis:

Uh, and, and, and tall, you know, there, there are three feet and they weigh about 15 pounds, something like that.

Josh Willis:

And we drop them out of the plane.

Josh Willis:

There's a little tube and we literally push them out of the bottom of the plane.

Josh Willis:

And when they fall, , there's a parachute so they don't hit too fast.

Josh Willis:

And when they reach the water, they separate into two pieces and one piece stays at the surface.

Josh Willis:

So it's got a little float and in that float is an antenna that can radio data back to the airplane in real time.

Josh Willis:

Then the other piece actually drops on a tiny, thin wire about the thickness of a human hair, or maybe a little thicker.

Josh Willis:

It falls and as it goes, it measures the temperature and the saltiness and that data gets radioed back to the plane in real time.

Josh Willis:

Then the probe falls all the way down to the sea floor

Josh Willis:

usually.

Josh Willis:

And so we're able to measure not just the temperature, right at the surface, but all the way down into that warm salty layer as well.

Catherine:

And so what's the lifespan of the probe once it hits the water?

Josh Willis:

About 10 minutes

Catherine:

because of the cold?

Josh Willis:

Well, no, it has, it's really, it's a single use

Josh Willis:

instrument.

Josh Willis:

So we get one profile out of it.

Josh Willis:

And then the floating part actually, sinks itself.

Josh Willis:

So in about 15 or 20 minutes, the whole thing winds up on the sea floor where it slowly dissolves and gets covered by sediments.

Josh Willis:

But.

Josh Willis:

We only get one profile out of most of these because they're just designed to measure the one profile.

Josh Willis:

It'd be, it'd be nice if we could get lots and lots of profiles out of them, but, uh, but doing that requires much more expensive equipment.

Josh Willis:

And the thing about OMG is we're trying to see the big picture.

Josh Willis:

So we're really trying to see temperatures all the way around Greenland and to do that uh, this sort of single use instrument is kind of the best, the best tool we have for now.

Catherine:

Well, do you use any of Argo around there?

Josh Willis:

There is Argo data close, but it's all off the shelf because the Argo floats sink down too deep.

Josh Willis:

So they go down to 2000 meters, but the shelf is only a 500 meters.

Josh Willis:

Okay.

Josh Willis:

So if they start to get close to the shelf, they start to run into the bottom.

Josh Willis:

Uh, and then after a while they die.

Josh Willis:

Argos great for telling us what's going on offshore and that Atlantic water that eventually melts the glaciers comes from offshore and Argo is definitely measuring that, but how it gets up onto the

Catherine:

You said you have two missions, you have spring, right.

Catherine:

And then this, the next one.

Josh Willis:

That's where we measure the ice and we did that in March.

Josh Willis:

We typically do them in March.

Josh Willis:

There's a chance we might do it again next March.

Josh Willis:

But actually since we started OMG a new satellite launched called , ISAT and ISAT is sort of like, you know, we talked about the Jason missions, which measure the height of the ocean.

Josh Willis:

I sat does the same thing, but it does it for ice.

Josh Willis:

, and it uses a laser to look down from space and see how tall the ice is.

Josh Willis:

So probably we'll be able to use data going forward to see how the glaciers are changing, uh, from last year to this year and next year.

Catherine:

Okay.

Catherine:

When did the mission start your five-year mission?

Josh Willis:

We started in really in 2016, we started the regular surveys.

Josh Willis:

We're trying to do five ocean surveys.

Josh Willis:

So this year we'll do our fourth and then next year we'll do one more and then that'll be, that'll be it for OMG,

Catherine:

unless you get funding again,

Josh Willis:

unless we get funding or, or, or permission to do another year.

Josh Willis:

the five-year mission was really designed so that we could do this experiment.

Josh Willis:

We could watch.

Josh Willis:

Okay.

Josh Willis:

We see the oceans are doing xYZ and the ice is doing 1, 2, 3.

Josh Willis:

And if we understand how those things change together, then going forward in the future, the idea is that we'll be able to watch the oceans from farther off shore and still have

Catherine:

That's interesting.

Catherine:

What happens if you continue to see the rising temperatures and the breaking of ice?

Catherine:

In fact, this is where you can talk about this wonderful website that you have that has all of this information and your webmaster, Sean Hardeman is taking your

Josh Willis:

All of our data is public as soon as we can make it, as soon as we, have processed it and it's usable, then we make it public.

Josh Willis:

And that's an important part of, of NASA missions.

Josh Willis:

And I personally think it's an important part of climate science as well, because

Josh Willis:

the earth is changing and we're, we're all in this together.

Josh Willis:

And so sharing that kind of data in my opinion is, is extremely important and something that I've always emphasized in, in OMG.

Josh Willis:

But in addition to that, I think we also have a responsibility to explain to the public, what we're doing because NASA and most science research is paid for, with public funding.

Josh Willis:

And we do this research so that people better understand what's happening to the earth.

Josh Willis:

And so I think it's part of our job, not just to explain the science to each other, but scientists should also be explaining it to the general public.

Catherine:

That will bring me to your Climate Elvis in a moment, because I want to ask you about the people of Greenland over in Colossae.

Josh Willis:

Yes.

Catherine:

What kinds of conversations do you have with them?

Catherine:

Do they know very well about what's happening to their country?

Josh Willis:

Yeah, it's, it's really interesting.

Josh Willis:

Greenland is it is a, uh, it's a very large country in terms of its area, but it's very small in terms of people.

Josh Willis:

Only about 50 or 55,000 people live very tiny.

Josh Willis:

Uh, and most of them are, , descendants of, uh, Inuit, so, uh, native.

Josh Willis:

People who've lived on Greenland for thousands of years, and they've watched Greenland change, , in the recent past and are very aware that climate change is altering their whole way of life.

Josh Willis:

But of course by definition, these folks live in a place that's an incredibly challenging climate in the first place.

Josh Willis:

It's incredibly difficult.

Josh Willis:

, they use the ice to their advantage in many ways.

Josh Willis:

, they live on the ice.

Josh Willis:

They, a lot of them, , are, are basically subsistence, fishermen and hunters.

Josh Willis:

And, that by its very nature means that they're very adaptable.

Josh Willis:

They're very much , , prepared for changes in their environment.

Josh Willis:

So climate change is sort of just one more big thing that they're ready to adapt to.

Josh Willis:

So it's been interesting because I, I think they're aware that the climate is changing, of course.

Josh Willis:

, but they're also, I think, confident in their ability to, to adapt to it, which, is something that's sort of unique to Greenland.

Catherine:

Interesting because they've, when you say subsistence living with the changing of the ice and so on, certainly migration migrants, animal migratory would be different.

Josh Willis:

Absolutely.

Josh Willis:

And you know, they're beginning to already see some effects, I think of climate change, , and, and how it affects the wildlife.

Josh Willis:

There is a sizable commercial fishing industry there as well that they are working hard to maintain sustainably.

Josh Willis:

But, , it is, it is affecting the way of life and, and, you know, it's going to continue to do so.

Josh Willis:

But they're, they're tough folks.

Josh Willis:

They'll figure it out.

Josh Willis:

I think, I mean it, which is not to be flippant about the changes.

Josh Willis:

Of course, they're, they're big and they're important.

Josh Willis:

You know, I think if, if you're a subsistence hunter that's known, a certain way of life for, uh, for generations, then it's going to be quite a big change.

Josh Willis:

But they have a very, , I think Lively and tough spirit there, which I, I find admirable.

Catherine:

I agree.

Catherine:

I was up in not Greenland, but I was with some other Inuits up in Arctic Kaktovik, which is in Alaska way up there.

Catherine:

It's the same and they're subsistence hunters and survivors, but, I think for everybody on this planet, Climate change is definitely something that, , some

Catherine:

But the way I see it is if we can slow it down, I would like to see that because where I live.

Catherine:

We are told that if climate change continues that we will have certain trees, move into our Ponderosa pine area.

Catherine:

And our Aspen area, and that's not what I want to see

Catherine:

I want to, I like the forest the way they are.

Josh Willis:

You know, make no . Climate change is a massive shift of our planet and our civilization is built on the climate we've had for thousands of years.

Josh Willis:

So to shift that climate in such a dramatic way is going to have a massive consequences.

Josh Willis:

They're going to be huge difficult to deal with.

Josh Willis:

And you're exactly right.

Josh Willis:

It's a, it's a question of how bad do we want to let it get?

Josh Willis:

The, the changes are, are almost going to have no benefits that there's not going to be much benefit to climate change.

Josh Willis:

Mostly it will be, expensive to deal with in terms of dollars and in terms of lives.

Josh Willis:

So it's, it's a real crisis.

Josh Willis:

And one that we have to figure out how to address and the best way to address it is to avoid it.

Josh Willis:

I mean, as much as we can.

Josh Willis:

Sure there's going to be some climate change, but we have to decide how much.

Josh Willis:

Less is definitely better.

Catherine:

Well, your work is so much needed and I wish I could be up there taking pictures because I think what you're doing is totally awesome.

Catherine:

And I urge my listeners to, and new listeners to go to your website.

Josh Willis:

If you want to learn more about OMG, you can, Google OMG NASA, that's the easiest way to find it.

Josh Willis:

But it's, uh, omg.jpl.nasa.gov.

Josh Willis:

That's the main website where we house the data, but there's a page that's about OMG that has a, the nice video and, and a really nice explanation of what we're

Josh Willis:

That's me.

Josh Willis:

Yeah.

Catherine:

Yes it is.

Catherine:

And you definitely resemble him with the long sideburns.

Josh Willis:

Thank

Josh Willis:

you.

Josh Willis:

Thank you very much.

Catherine:

There you go.

Catherine:

So that is a great opening to Climate Elvis.

Josh Willis:

Yeah.

Josh Willis:

So Climate Elvis.

Catherine:

I love the name.

Catherine:

Why Elvis?

Catherine:

I'm sure you were going to go into that.

Catherine:

And I probably jumped the gun there, but to hear, yeah.

Josh Willis:

It's, it's fun for me to do.

Josh Willis:

And, , Elvis has always been somebody that I've admired.

Josh Willis:

And enjoyed, uh, but a few years back, I, I went to the national portrait gallery in Washington, DC, and they had an exhibit on Elvis and they had this amazing photograph of him from, , it was over

Josh Willis:

And he was just kind of standing there with his hip, tilted out to the side a little bit looking cool.

Josh Willis:

And, , the title of the photograph was I believe 19, which is how old he was when it was taken.

Josh Willis:

, and I was blown away.

Josh Willis:

I couldn't believe that somebody could have such charisma and really connect to so many people

Josh Willis:

at such a young age and I thought that's, that's really amazing.

Josh Willis:

And, and he was really a national treasure.

Josh Willis:

And so I, I kind of rediscovered Elvis, , when I got a little bit older and, and uh, he really became somebody that I admired.

Josh Willis:

And when I started doing climate science, you know, I, I had these little sideburns which have gotten longer and my hair's kinda tall.

Josh Willis:

And, uh, you know, I'm kind of a doughy middle-aged white guy, so it seemed, it seemed right,

Josh Willis:

but Facebook page actually came first.

Josh Willis:

Climate Elvis was something I sort of just dubbed myself.

Josh Willis:

By the way, you can follow along, uh, in, in sort of real time with us, uh, on the Facebook page, I posted photographs, uh, I post where we are and maps of what we've done so far.

Josh Willis:

So check out climate Elvis on Facebook.

Josh Willis:

But this contest came up.

Josh Willis:

The, the Elvis video came from a contest before that which I did not win, but nevertheless, uh, it stimulated me to make this video

Josh Willis:

the climate rock where I play Elvis and I sing an Elvis song that I wrote the lyrics for a sort of a tribute to Jailhouse Rock.

Josh Willis:

It's called the climate rock.

Josh Willis:

And if you Google Climate Elvis, then it's the first thing that comes up.

Josh Willis:

The video really, uh, was something that I, I had been wanting for a long time to find a way to sort of connect these different worlds that I lived in.

Josh Willis:

Uh, you know, I've been a scientist for pretty much 20 years now.

Josh Willis:

But I about seven or eight years ago, I, I kind of rediscovered my love of theater.

Josh Willis:

, and I started taking improv classes and I did this because I wanted to be better at communicating, about climate change and global warming.

Josh Willis:

And I felt like comedy was for me a natural way to do it.

Josh Willis:

So I started taking classes in and I fell in love with it all over again.

Josh Willis:

And so I have this, a secret you know, nightlife where I go out

Josh Willis:

and, and do all this stuff.

Josh Willis:

And I've been trying to figure out how to kind of bring that together with my, with my day job.

Josh Willis:

And so Climate Elvis so far is the best example of that.

Catherine:

I think it's awesome.

Catherine:

And how does NASA feel about that?

Catherine:

They're fine with it.

Catherine:

I mean, you know, as long as.

Catherine:

Keep doing my day job, they Elvis, they don't want to lose their principal investigator in the middle of the research.

Catherine:

I haven't gotten any record deal offers yet though.

Catherine:

So they're safe.

Catherine:

Well, I think it's, it's just, it's fun.

Catherine:

And like you say, and I really, really love the fact that you said for you, comedy is a natural way to communicate.

Catherine:

And you have a gabillion messages that you need to be communicating to the world.

Josh Willis:

But I, I think I think you said exactly right, that, that for me, comedy is sort of a natural language because I, I enjoy laughing.

Josh Willis:

I always have, I enjoy, uh, getting other people to laugh, but I think for

Josh Willis:

such a serious topic like climate change it helps break the ice, so to speak on land right..

Josh Willis:

But I feel like if it's, if we can laugh about it a little bit, then it makes it easier to talk about it.

Josh Willis:

And I hope it makes it easier to accept it because accepting that it's happening is really the first step of figuring out what to do about it.

Josh Willis:

And that's something we desperately need to do.

Josh Willis:

So part of the reason I approach it that way is in the hopes that I'll be able to to help people who don't believe that climate change is happening, begin to at least have a conversation

Josh Willis:

And, you know, I feel like a good laugh and an old Elvis song is the way to go.

Catherine:

I think it's wonderful.

Catherine:

And it does open up for communication for dialogue.

Catherine:

And when you look at our past scientists whom have had an a charismatic personality, Bill Nye help me out here yes.

Catherine:

Yes.

Catherine:

So some of, some of those folks who have, who have used comedy have really communicated messages, because what happens when you love a line in a song,

Catherine:

you repeat it over and over.

Catherine:

It's it's like watching a commercial jingle and you constantly are singing that in your head because it, it resonated with you in some way.

Catherine:

And then the more you say it, or the more you see it, the more you understand it and you think about it.

Catherine:

And so I think that Climate Elvis is fabulous and I loved the part with you on the street, in the Elvis outfit.

Josh Willis:

Well, thank you for that.

Josh Willis:

It was, , it was a lot of fun to do.

Josh Willis:

The, the young woman who was in the video is, someone I've known because I we've also done a few other comedy videos, with a good friend of mine who is a budding filmmaker.

Josh Willis:

Her name is Lizzie Gordon.

Josh Willis:

She directed that, Climate Elvis video.

Josh Willis:

But, uh, she really helped inspire me to.

Josh Willis:

Uh, to get out and do it.

Josh Willis:

And the young woman was someone that we had where as a young actress that we'd worked with, uh, on a previous short, and she was fascinated by global warming.

Josh Willis:

And, uh, talked to me when she found out I was a scientist, talked to me about it for a while.

Josh Willis:

And so, uh, I thought, oh, she'd be perfect for this video.

Josh Willis:

And she's a.

Josh Willis:

, you know, clearly a better actress and performer.

Catherine:

The young girl,

Josh Willis:

the young girl asked me on the street, uh, what's climate,

Catherine:

Yes she was amazing.

Josh Willis:

Right.

Josh Willis:

A young budding actress, Tessa Espanola is her name.

Josh Willis:

She's also, fantastic.

Josh Willis:

That's one of the fun things about living in LA is there's so many amazing people that are, willing to work with you.

Catherine:

Who's the band?

Josh Willis:

Oh, the band was a couple of friends.

Josh Willis:

The two girls in the band were, uh, friends of ours, , and they have an actual band called lion's mouth, which is excellent.

Josh Willis:

And then the keyboardist, was another friend from my improv days.

Catherine:

Goodness.

Josh Willis:

We had a track.

Josh Willis:

Yes.

Josh Willis:

I had a, I had another friend also from my improv days who, uh, performed the music for the song and, and then, had it mixed and produced.

Josh Willis:

So it sounded, sounded pretty good.

Josh Willis:

He recorded me singing too.

Josh Willis:

And then mix it all on the track together like a, like a wizard so that I sounded good.

Catherine:

Well, I thought it was wonderful and I urge you listeners to go on and, and Google Climate Elvis and check him out he's on YouTube.

Catherine:

Is there anything else about Climate Elvis that I forgot to ask you?

Josh Willis:

Oh, I think that's it.

Josh Willis:

I'll, I'll, I'll still continue to be doing this character for a while.

Josh Willis:

A few folks have, have asked me to perform it.

Josh Willis:

So I've had to learn to play the guitar, which was a huge challenge.

Josh Willis:

But it's, it's something I'm kind of working on, turning into something I can do live on stage.

Catherine:

Well, what's truly awesome about this is not just because it's you and you are just an amazing you, but because you are

Catherine:

a scientist.

Catherine:

You are a principal engineer for Oceans Melting Greenland.

Catherine:

And the knowledge that you have is sincere and it is true.

Catherine:

So the message you're bringing is not just somebody paid to go out and spread a message.

Catherine:

You are doing this because you are trying to get that message out in two different ways.

Catherine:

So you're twofold.

Catherine:

You have your scientist papers and all the data, and then you have your Climate Elvis in trying to reach the public in two different ways.

Catherine:

You are very talented and your positive imprints are much appreciated.

Catherine:

And I'm so glad that you're sharing those here on my podcast.

Catherine:

Your positive.

Catherine:

Thank you so much, Catherine.

Catherine:

Great to talk to you.

Catherine:

Oh, it's great to talk to you.

Catherine:

So your five-year mission is going to be ending soon, but your exploration of the ice melting and the warming oceans and seeking out those solutions and causes will continue.

Catherine:

You have a legacy.

Josh Willis:

I'm excited about that.

Josh Willis:

Thank you.

Catherine:

your positive imprint.

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