The transformative value of liberating Mars

Haqq-Misra, J.

New Space, 446, in press.

doi:10.1089/space.2015.0030, 2015.

[arXiv] [Popular Science] [BBC] [Smithsonian]

Brief summary

This paper looks at the prospect of liberating Mars from the controlling interests of governments and private organizations, and encouraging human settlement on the planet. The author suggests that instead of extending the present day civilization on the Red Planet, it would be wiser to establish an autonomously functioning human civilization. Liberating Mars will entitle humans with a sense of planetary citizenship and no corporate colonies on Earth will be able to interfere with this model of Mars.

Extended Summary

In today’s world, humanity faces major problems such as overpopulation, climate change, and poverty among many others. In order to reduce these impacts on our civilization, we must extend our morality. Venturing out of our comfort zone and experiencing new things will push us to think and act in a different manner. These transformative events will challenge our preconceived notions and enable us to consider new perspectives. The effects of transformative experiences, however, varies from individual to individual and are impossible to predict.

It is believed that stepping on the Martian soil will carry enormous transformative value to the citizens of Earth. Some private organizations have plans to establish a permanent settlement on Martian land in the near future. This implies that they are claiming ownership over the planet, which according to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 is forbidden. Other problems such as the equal sharing of finite resources of Mars and colonization by various countries arise. In order to avoid these complications, new policies need to be implemented for appropriate land use on Mars.

Liberation of the Red Planet can transform our preferences and maybe allow us to resolve global issues. This can be effectively achieved by creating an autonomously functioning human civilization rather than extending our present civilization. Provisions such as allowing humans to permanently settle on Mars by offering them planetary citizenship as Martians but revoking their citizenship as Earthlings, restricting interference from governments and corporations on political and socio-economic matters, and permitting only Martians to make all the decisions regarding the land and resource use, should be made.

Mars is on our horizon and humanity will be transformed by the ways in which we decide to use it. We should make conscious efforts to discover innovative methods of
avoiding past mistakes in space explorations. At the end, our goal should be to develop Mars as an individual planet with its own set of rules and regulations and hope for the development of a wonderful new civilization.

Microbial communities can be described by metabolic structure: A general framework and application to a seasonally variable, depth-stratified microbial community from the coastal west Antarctic peninsula

Bowman, J.S. & Ducklow, H.W.

PLoS ONE, 10(8), e0135868.

doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0135868, 2015.


Brief summary

In the journal PLoS ONE, BMSIS researcher Jeff Bowman, working in collaboration with Hugh Ducklow at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, describe a new method for inferring the function of a microbial community from its taxonomic composition. Microbial communities control almost every aspect of our lives, from individual health to the planetary biosphere. Determining what microbes are performing what ecosystem functions however, has been a challenge for microbial ecologists. While modern sequencing techniques make it easy to evaluate the taxonomic composition of a microbial community extending these methods to evaluate the complete genetic capacity of a microbial community is costly and time consuming. This makes the continual monitoring of microbial community function difficult. The new method, which the researchers titled PAPRICA (PAthway PRediction by phylogenetIC plAcement), improves on existing metabolic inference techniques. In an analysis of marine microbial communities from the West Antarctic Peninsula, an ecologically vulnerable region experiencing rapid climate change, the researchers show that predicted functions change across key ecological gradients, such as depth and season. PAPRICA and similar tools will allow microbial ecologists to monitor microbial community function at an unprecedented level of detail, and better understand the function of novel microbial communities.

Alkane hydroxylase genes in psychrophile genomes and the potential for cold active analysis

Bowman, J.S. & Deming, J.W.

BMC Genomics, 15, pp 1120.

doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-1120, 2014.


Brief summary

Crude oil from natural and anthropogenic sources is degraded by bacteria through a process known as bioremediation. Because the rate of bacterial degradation is closely linked to temperature, with degradation proceeding more slowly at lower temperatures, there is concern about the ability of psychrophilic (cold-adapted) microbial communities–such as those in Arctic waters–to undertake bioremediation. To further explore this phenomenon, BMSIS researcher Jeff Bowman, working with Jody Deming at the University of Washington, evaluated the genomes of psychrophilic and mesophilic (not cold adapted) bacteria for genes likely to be involved in crude oil degradation. They identified a number of genes previously not recognized as crude oil degradation genes that are likely to play a role in this process. In some cases the psychrophilic putative crude oil degradation genes are substantially different from their mesophilic counterparts, suggesting enhancements for improved function at low temperature.

Geothermal heating enhances atmospheric asymmetries on synchronously rotating planets

Haqq-Misra, J. & Kopparapu, R.K.

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 446, pp 428-438.

doi:10.1093/mnras/stu2052, 2014.

[arXiv] [Sciworthy]

Brief summary

Earth-like planets that orbit small, red stars (M-dwarfs) might be able to sustain liquid water on the surface and provide habitable conditions where life could develop. However, such planets orbit their parent star so closely that they are prone to fall into synchronous rotation so that the “sub-stellar point” of the planet always faces the star and is constantly heated, while the opposing “anti-stellar point” never receives starlight and is constantly cooled. These atmospheres can be at risk of collapsing into huge ice caps on the anti-stellar side, but the large-scale motions of the atmosphere can provide enough energy transport from the warm side to the cold side to keep the climate stable.

In this study we use a general circulation climate model (GCM) to find that geothermal heating from tidal interactions can act to amplify warming on the night side of a synchronously rotating planet due to changes in energy transport by large-scale atmospheric dynamics. We show that the patterns of circulation on these planets (which on Earth is known as the Hadley circulation) changes direction depending on the eastward or westward position from the sub-stellar point. We also demonstrate the presence of a cross-polar circulation that transports energy and mass from the sub-stellar to anti-stellar point across the northern and southern poles and also contributes to climate stability. Understanding the impact of physical processes on the dynamics of the atmosphere is critical to assessing the habitability of terrestrial planets orbiting low-mass stars.

Damping of glacial-interglacial cycles from anthropogenic forcing

Haqq-Misra, J.

Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems, 6, 294-299.

doi:10.1002/2014MS000326, 2014.

[arXiv] [Sciworthy]

Brief summary

Geologic records over the past million years indicate a 100,000 year cycle in the extent of Earth’s surface covered by ice. These ice age cycles are a result of variations in Earth’s orbital geometry, but it is unclear how these variations will continue in the presence of significant human emissions. Here I develop a simple climate model to demonstrate the potential for human-induced climate change to damp out these variations in ice coverage, which suggests that human actions today could have long-lasting impacts into the future.

Extended summary

Long-term patterns in Earth’s climate show glacial cycles that correspond to variations in Earth’s orbital geometry and affect the overall amount of sunlight that the planet receives. Known as “Milankovitch cycles”, these variations are observed in geologic reconstructions of temperature and isotopes to show periodic changes every 23,000, 41,000 and 100,000 years. The first two of these correspond directly to changes in Earth’s tilt (i.e. obliquity) and wobble (i.e. precession), but the longer 100,000 year variations in orbit seem too weak in magnitude to drive the strong climate signals we observe.

One solution to this problem is that the climate system itself amplifies these small changes to create more noticeable periodic signals. These amplification mechanisms could be the large thermal intertia of the oceans, the vast energy required to move giant ice sheets, or long-term cycles in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. Any combination of mechanisms such as these could magnify small changes in sunlight from Milankovitch cycles and create the dominant 100,000 year cycle in ice coverage seen in the geologic record.

Studying this problem has proven to be challenging because of the long time scales involved. Most contemporary climate models are focused on patterns of climate on Earth today and in the near future of a few hundred years from now, but few modelers have focused their attention on the more distant future of climate. In this paper I develop a simple climate model that uses stochastic (i.e. randomly generated) forcing to achieve a state of resonance that displays a 100,000 year cycle in ice coverage. The model is an idealization of the more complicated Earth system and provides a tool for exploring the behavior of climate over these long time scales.

Calculations with this model show that the influence of human emissions into the atmosphere can affect the presence of the ice age cycles, either by damping the magnitude of changes or by ceasing the cycles altogether. The simplified calculations here cannot predict exactly when this should occur, but this study points toward the existence of a threshold beyond which ice age cycles may cease as a result of human emissions.

The future of Earth’s climate is becoming increasingly marked by the presence of human activity. Depending on the course of events over the next few hundred years, we may find that the damping or cessation of ice age cycles is yet another indicator of the dawning of the age of the anthropocene.