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Piloting a Modern-Day Time Machine
Who Are NASA's Earth Explorers?

The elementary school student wondering how El Niño will affect tomorrow's weather. The scientist studying connections between ozone and climate change. And the farmer using satellite pictures to keep track of crops. All of these people are Earth Explorers -- they are all curious about the Earth system. This series will introduce you to NASA Earth Explorers, young and old, with many backgrounds and interests.

Mark Chandler

Mark Chandler is a geoscientist -- a scientist who studies Earth. He studies past climates to see what Earth's future climate may be. Image Credit: Mark Chandler

Like many children, Mark Chandler liked fossils when he was young. As a child, he often made trips to an old limestone mine close to his house. There he searched for dinosaur bones and other remains in the rocks.

Chandler did not think about a career in science until college. He took some science classes. Once he found himself in his second geology course, he was sure of his future.

That summer, he signed up for a dinosaur dig in South Dakota. For him, it was a real adventure.

As much as Chandler loved the hands-on part of science, he struggled with some of his classes. At the time, math was hard for him. "It seems silly ... since I now realize that math is just another tool to learn to use, and tools can take time to master." Chandler now uses math regularly in his work.

While learning math and science in school is important, Chandler says spending time doing science is also important. Doing science connects what you learn to what is happening in the real world. Those experiences outside of the classroom, like digging up dinosaur bones, helped Chandler realize how amazing our Earth is.

Chandler was working on the Colorado Plateau when he became interested in climate change. Climate is what the weather is like over a very long period of time. The rocks of the Colorado Plateau are the remains of a 150-250-million-year-old desert -- a desert that was once larger than the Sahara Desert. The Colorado desert had sand dunes the size of skyscrapers. Today, the plateau has water and green plants. Chandler found himself wondering how the area could have changed so much.

Working at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, Chandler had the chance to explore the old climate and try to find out why it changed. He gathered a lot of data about the area and entered the data into a computer. The computer then helped show him how an area could go from being a desert to having water and plants. "The results gave me a way to understand so much better what the Earth of the past was like." Studying how Earth's climate has changed in the past allows scientists to make some guesses about how it will change in the future. "We now realize that the Earth of the future -- the not-so-distant future -- may have a very different climate too." If the climate changes a lot, it could really affect humans.

Luckily, Chandler says we have tools to show us what Earth's future climate may be. Those tools will help us figure out how to change our lives when the climate changes. The tools also will help us decide when we need to take action to avoid certain types of changes.

Chandler's work with computers and collecting data keeps him busy. "I never get bored," he says.

Chandler reminds students, "Be interested in the world around you." You should not be scared that there is so much to understand or learn. Science will help you answer the questions you have.

Related Resources:
› Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet   →
› What Are Climate and Climate Change?
› Earth Explorers Series
› NASA Career Resources

Brandi Bernoskie/Institute for Global Environmental Strategies