Life In A Bubble


There are many different reasons to be interested in the science of climate change. Maybe you are a lover of nature, like the gringa. Maybe you are a doomsday prepper, anticipating worldwide failures of critical natural resources necessary for humanity’s survival. Perhaps you are a problem solver, interested in creating solutions to help us all survive. Or you could be an author of science fiction and fantasy and the realities of climate change provide a plethora of creative resources. Whatever the reason, then you will find the possibility of life in a bio-sphere bubble interesting to ponder.

Tucson, Arizona was recently host to an environmental event sponsored by One Young World, a group of leaders in innovative climate change survival solutions, particularly Biosphere 2 (Earth is #1).  The event featured experts in science, international diplomacy, political science and commercial industry who are all interested in humanity’s need for sustainable sources for food and energy. The speakers whom event attendees were, perhaps, most interested in were probably the former astronaut and individuals who have been living in Biosphere 2.

If a person was to take a tour of Biosphere 2, you might be expecting a sterile, technical, enclosed life support environment like the International Space Station. However, you will probably be pleasantly surprised to find a faux ocean the size of an Olympic swimming pool surrounded by a bamboo forest. As you continue exploration, you will stumble across a desert recreation complete with species of ants and cockroaches.

The Biosphere idea was birthed more than two decades ago. In 1991 the dream was realized when eight individuals, four women and four men, donned their uniforms and entered the three acre terrarium smack dab in the middle of an Arizona desert where they would live confined for twenty-four months.

The habitat was constructed thanks to the generosity of a wealthy Texan who wants a place of safe retreat when the Apocalypse crashes down around our ears. He shelled out about $150 mill to recreate miniaturized versions of South America’s rainforest, the African Savannah, and a single ocean. The Biosphereans worked for two years to determine if this earthly microcosm would interconnect, survive and become a self-sustaining world producing oxygen and food.

Beneath the multiple geodesic domes of steel, glass and plastic transplanted nature began to fail the moments the doors were sealed. Precious oxygen was leaking and making its escape to the outside world. Despite the threat of suffocation, the Biosphereans soldiered on. They planted crops near the ocean. A sophisticated underground bellows system created wind. But small crops of oxygen producing plants and man-made breeze were not enough to make the habitat a survivable, much less pleasant, environment. For the sake of science the Biosphereans persevered through two years of oxygen deprivation yet finally called it quits when survival was only possible by pumping in outside-sourced oxygen.

But was this experiment really a failure? Of course not. It was a very valuable learning experience. Think of all the research that was accomplished on learning how vegetation, geography, water and air movement, and fresh water sources can all be successfully recreated and the knowledge of certain mistakes not to repeat in the process.

The Biosphere 2 is not a total physical loss either. The University of Arizona will continue studies on how to succeed in a biosphere lifestyle. Part of the property will be open to the public and re-christened “Land Evolution Observatory”. The university will launch a project that, over the span of a decade, will attempt to perfect the methods the Biosphereans began. The gringa considers these self-sacrificing and brave Biosphereans to be the pioneers of the Millennia.

The Biosphere story also has a romantic twist. The gringa, madly in love with her caveman, loves a good romance and is happy to learn that two of the individuals fell in love during their confinement together and married as soon as they had regained their freedom to the outside world. The couple, speaking to the Tucson audience, explained how profound their sense of inter-connectedness to their environment became. Daily they tracked carbon and oxygen levels, strongly aware that their survival depended on the right balance.  They felt aware, moment by moment, of each breath they took and each CO2 exhalation they made. The reality of the co-dependence the humans, plants, animals and insects all had with one another was always at the forefront of their mind.

When former astronaut Ron Garan addressed the audience, he discussed his six month stint enclosed in the self-sustained environment of the International Space Station. It was a profound experience that increased his environmental awareness and how tiny, fragile and singular our Earth is. His individual life perspective was completely changed as he worked beside the two Russian cosmonauts he shared duties with. Upon his return to Earth, he dedicated himself to collaboration with projects that will promote the survival of humans and the planet we call home. The only planet, mind you, that we have.

He recounted one of his most poignant experiences. It was the moment he returned to Earth. He peeked out the window of the capsule, saw a landscape of rocks, flowers and grass. His immediate mental and emotional response was, “I’m home” despite the fact that this American was actually in Kazakhstan. Once you’ve been off world, any square inch at any spot on the globe is home, regardless of politics, religion, nationality or ethnicity. The gringa finds this philosophy beautiful and inspirational. And I hope that we all figure it out together, how to save our home.

Source & Image Credit:  www.newsweek.com

 

 

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How Climate Change Affects Vacation Priorities


So, when the climate change poop hits the fan, who is going to be in for the worst ride? What parts of the world should I vacation at now because they will be uninhabitable in the future? Exactly where will be the safest place for the gringa and the caveman to diddle away their golden years?

Well, we better get busy and visit all the beach hotspots that are alive and kicking right now. With sea levels rising, the coastal cabanas of today will be reef material tomorrow. And, considering that climate change creates erratic and extreme weather patterns such as: heavy rain here, drought there, devastating tornadoes everywhere; well, there is no uniform model of what’s going to change where or when. The only concrete expectation right now is what models predict about low elevation islands and coastal beachlands. They are pretty much going to be history, some maybe within my lifetime.

Other areas scientists expect to change dramatically are regions that have a delicate ecosystem balance and are already experiencing hyper-sensitivity to environmental stressors. These areas include:

  • Arctic, specifically the tundra region
  • Boreal forest belt – This is the conifer forest that stretches across North America, particularly dense in the Pacific Northwest
  • Tropical Rainforest
  • Alpine regions
  • Steppes of Asia and the Americas
  • Prairies of Asia and the Americas
  • Deciduous forests of South America and Australia

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the Earth. The permafrost layer is melting. Glaciers are getting smaller and sea ice is disintegrating. The wildlife of the Arctic will probably be a loss to the world. They depend on a habitat that is going to grow too warm to support their needs. The indigenous people of this region will experience a loss of their culture that is strongly dependent on the wildlife and natural geography. The humans will have the adaptation advantage that the wildlife and fauna do not have. But the loss of their culture is still something to mourn over.

The boreal forests of North America are important carbon sponges for the earth. What will a degree or two warmer mean? As temperatures warm the center of the United States, the boreal forest will shift northward. Predictive models sees the United States losing its boreal forest as it relocates to Canada and Alaska. So, we won’t lose them, they will relocate. That’s good news in the aspect that at least the Earth will retain a critical carbon filter.

Researchers in tropical rainforests mark trees and track them for years, measuring them to see how they are responding to climate change. A group in the Bolivian Andes are studying a swath of diverse trees and plants that thrive in a limited temperature range. As temperatures rise, so do the trees. New, baby trees are growing uphill. Just as the North American model predicted a forest migration, the same is expected of the tropical rainforests. They will abandon the lowland jungle regions and migrate up the mountainsides, seeking cooler temperatures.

Alpine regions are going to experience the same forest creeping phenomena. As glaciers continue to recede, alpine plants will continue to move upwards looking for cooler temperatures and water. However, eventually, when all the glacier water has melted and run off or evaporated, this critical component of the annual water budget will be gone forever. Plants and trees dependent upon it will eventually be extinct. So Alpine ecosystems will not only migrate, they will migrate to a slow death.

The upside of forest migration is that the Earth is trying to compensate and save herself. The downside is that the migration process is slower than the warming process. This means there will still be catastrophic loss of tropical rainforest and alpine habitat. This will affect the wildlife dependent on these ecosystems as well as their indigenous people.

Experts predict the possibility of losing over half of the steppe habitats due to the effects of climate change. They are not modeling a migration of fauna, but a loss. Steppes are critical grazing areas. As the steppes experience habitat loss, growing smaller, overgrazing occurs on the remaining areas. The effects then are coupled: climate change related drought and overgrazing. Things look dire for the future of the steppes and the animals and shepherds and ranchers who depend on them. The steppes could become the Earth’s future Sahara’s.

Unlike a conifer boreal forest or tropical rainforest that are green year round, a deciduous forest becomes barren in the winter season as the trees lose their leaves. Deciduous forests exist in tropical and temperate climates. Climate change models predict warmer winters affecting deciduous forests. This could lead to tree loss from pests and disease. In regions where devastating drought occurs, there will be higher tree loss. When a tree dies in the forest it also becomes fuel. In regions experiencing drought related tree loss, the dry conditions and increased fuel of more dead trees makes conditions ripe for voracious wildfires. So, if the drought or the bugs don’t wipe out the deciduous forests, the wildfires probably will.

The gringa thinks the list of vacation priorities should go something like this:

  • Arctic expedition
  • Steppe pack-mule trip
  • Deciduous and Alpine forest camp outs
  • Beach parties around the world
  • Tropical rainforest excursion
  • Bigfoot safari in the boreal forests of the Pacific Northwest

I don’t think climate change is going to sound the death knell for planet Earth and mankind. The gringa does believe it will be the end of many species of animals and plants that are with us today. It is also highly likely that entire cultures will be wiped out when they lose the habitats they rely upon. And usually species loss does not mean a gaping hole is left behind. Usually, another species fills the gap or a species evolves and adapts. So, the key word to focus on is “change”. It’s climate “change” not climate “loss”. But the change is as significant as the past disappearances of entire civilizations such as the Maya or entire animal classes like the dinosaurs.

At this point, I believe the consensus among scientists is that we have passed the tipping point. There is no going back and “fixing” things. We simply have to ride the lightning and deal with it. So, if a person is able and so inclined, they need to enjoy the world as we know it today and document it for the children of the future.

 

Source:  www.nasa.gov

Image Credit: http://www.notenoughgood.com

 

3D Expandables Student Challenge for NASA’s BEAM Project


If you are the parent of a creative child or if you are a teacher with a classroom of clever, aspiring young scientists, listen up! NASA is looking for future engineers and participation in any of their challenges is one way for aspiring engineers, scientists and designers to get their attention. Coming up in July is the opening date of a great opportunity for anyone who can “think outside the box”, because that is EXACTLY what NASA is asking everyone who participates to do.

So, dear reader, now that the gringa has sufficiently gotten hold of your interest, I’m sure you want to know what the heck this is all about. Well, the challenge centers around BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module). This new space program is developing and testing the next phase of the International Space Station. Space agencies will begin integrating habitat technology that is expandable as they test the technology for possible use in deeper space missions. This will enable crews to have an immediate habitat available for use when they arrive somewhere in the galaxy after a long duration flight, somewhere like Mars. After a space flight that has lasted months, crews will not have the strength or time to build a traditional life supporting structure. They need a “pop-up” version.

BEAM arrived on ISS April 10 of this year and was installed successfully on its Tranquility node. In another few weeks it will be inflated and the real tests will begin. Astronauts will determine if the technology meets the demand of the needed readiness level, if it will provide sufficient protection for the crew against radiation in space, evaluate the performance of an inflatable structure and see if it can be safely deployed and utilized by a crew in space.

So what is NASA challenging students from Kindergarten to Seniors to do? NASA needs some 3D printing designs. They need designs of objects that will be useful to astronauts in outer space. We’re not talking about backscratchers and toothbrushes. No, NASA wants kids to think BIG, like expandable BIG, stuff that GROWS! Astronauts need all kinds of expandable stuff like:

  • Hinges
  • Accordion connectors
  • Telescopes

And what does a prize winning student or class have to look forward to?

  • Grand Prize – VIP visit to Bigelow Aerospace, the manufacturers of BEAM
  • Finalist – An inflatable tent by Heimplanet
  • Semifinalist – Gift Code to Shapeways valued at $50

So, get ready to sign up July 16. For more information or to sign-up, log on to www.futureengineers.org/thinkoutsidethebox. And, GOOD LUCK! Drop the gringa a note and let me know all about your experience!

 

Source & Image Credit:  www.nasa.gov

 

 

 

 

 

Jason & the Argonauts… and NASA, Too


Who remembers the story of Jason and the Argonauts? You know, that ancient Greek myth of seafaring Jason and his crew, the Argonauts, who embarked upon the high seas in search of the Golden Fleece. Well, Jason is back! And this time he is orbiting Earth’s high seas and measuring their levels.

SpaceX may have had a bitter disappointment a couple of days ago, but the gringa prefers to focus on their accomplishment that went unnoticed. Sunday, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched Jason into outerspace, well, the Jason-3 spacecraft, that is. Jason-3 is the product of NASA collaboration with France’s CNES and Europe’s Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites. Jason-3 is on a mission to track the rise of sea levels all around the world.

The goal of this intelligence gathering is to improve forecasting of Earth’s weather, climate and oceans. The data will also help scientists expand their knowledge on the ocean’s role in the world’s climate. Jason-3 will be working in tandem with Jason-2 that is already in a locked in orbit. Jason-2 has been in operation since 2008. Jason-3 will officially clock in and report for duty after a six-month phase of calibration and system checks. Once on duty, every ten days Jason-3 will report precise measurements of the height of 95% of Earth’s ice free oceans, this is called ocean-surface topography.

The Jason duo measurements will provide information about coastal tides, shallow seas, open ocean tides, currents and eddies. This type of topography also tells scientists how much energy from the sun is stored within the ocean which is the key to understanding how sea level rise affects climate change.

Jason’s official mission began in 1992 along with Topex/Poseidon. Since then scientists have discovered that the world’s seas are rising, on average, about 3 millimeters every year. As humans continue to make industry and lifestyle decisions that cause global warming, mankind is actually reshaping the surface of our home planet.

The gringa wants to know exactly what kind of shape we are getting ourselves into. What the heck is going to happen if sea levels keep rising?  But first, the gringa needs to know how this happens. What I’ve found out is:

  • Climate Change Causes Thermal Expansion: Water heats up, it expands, therefore it occupies more space
  • Glacial & Polar Ice Cap Melts: These natural ice formations experience a natural summer cycle of ice melt that is usually replaced in winter by evaporated seawater that creates snow. Climate change creates consistently warmer temperatures. This creates warmer Summers where more ice than usual melts. Summer usually lasts longer, Spring arrives earlier, thus winter is shorter and unable to keep up with replacing all the extra ice that is lost. Thus, all of this extra melt runoff causes sea levels to rise.
  • Greenland & West Antarctica: Climate change creates warmer temperatures that is causing the accelerated melt of massive ice sheets in these critical regions. Meltwater & seawater may also be seeping beneath these ice sheets which is causing them to slip out to sea quicker. Warmer sea temperatures are compromising the stability of underwater ice shelves causing them to weaken and break. All this contributes to rising sea levels.

Here are some of the things that happen as sea levels rise and the geography and coastlines of Earth transform:

  • Coastal habitat erosion
  • Coastal wetlands flooding
  • Contamination of coastal aquifers and agricultural land
  • Habitat loss for coastal fish, birds and plants
  • Larger, more powerful storms
  • Vulnerability to flooding for coastal dwelling people
  • Eventual mass migration of island and coastal dwelling people

The gringa wants to know, “What can we do?” Scientists seem to think that it’s a done deal with a relatively slow timeline (depending on how you look at it). So, mankind has until about the year 2100 to relocate folks from the future swamplands of the world’s coastlines. That’s the year they predict the world’s oceans could be about six feet higher than they are now, or possibly even 20 feet higher if the Greenland ice sheet bites the dust.

The gringa, however, has a plan. I’m near enough the Texas Gulf Coast that, by the time I’m in my golden years, my low rent apartment could be prime ocean front property. Sweet. My one hour drive to the beach could become a ten minute stroll when I’m too darn old to drive. So, over the next couple of decades I’ll be stocking up on fishing supplies and sunblock. I tell ya, timing is everything!

If you want to know more about Jason’s mission and follow along with the tracking of the seas, visit www.nesdis.noaa.gov/jason-3.

Source & Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov