Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Scientists Want to Build a Solar-Powered Ark on the Moon to Protect Earth Species

Science
Scientists Want to Build a Solar-Powered Ark on the Moon to Protect Earth Species
Scientists want to freeze samples of Earth life and store it on the moon. John M Lund Photography Inc / DigitalVistion / Getty Images

Scientists at the University of Arizona have proposed a literal conservation moonshot.


The plan? A solar-powered ark containing seed, spore, sperm and egg samples from 6.7 million Earth species, to be stored in empty lava tunnels on the moon.

"This could be a modern global insurance policy," University of Arizona aerospace and mechanical engineering professor Jekan Thanga said in a presentation of his team's idea at the IEEE Aerospace Conference this month.

One one level, this is an ancient idea. Thanga drew inspiration from the Biblical story of Noah's Ark, as well as the "doomsday" seed vault in Svalbard, Norway. However, he pointed out that this seed bank is itself vulnerable to rising sea levels due to the climate crisis. In addition, Earth itself is vulnerable to more than just human activity.

"Earth is naturally a volatile environment," Thanga said in a press release. "As humans, we had a close call about 75,000 years ago with the Toba supervolcanic eruption, which caused a 1,000-year cooling period and, according to some, aligns with an estimated drop in human diversity. Because human civilization has such a large footprint, if it were to collapse, that could have a negative cascading effect on the rest of the planet."

In addition to super-volcanic eruptions and accelerated climate change, other potential mass extinction events include nuclear war, an asteroid strike, pandemics, solar storms and a global drought.

"We need a modern ark that is safe and away from all the possible cataclysms," Thanga said.

That's where the moon comes in. In 2013, scientists discovered a network of 200 lava tubes beneath the moon's surface, the press release noted. This could be an ideal location for the ark, as they have remained undisturbed for three to four billion years.

"Unless there is a direct hit from a meteor or a nuclear strike, the ark should be okay," Thanga told LiveScience.

Not all of the technology required for the ark currently exists. The genetic material in the ark would need to be kept extremely cold — between minus 292 and minus 321 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of this, robots would be needed to retrieve the samples, but they would fuse to the floor because of the cold under existing conditions. What is needed is quantum levitation, an as-of-yet theoretical means of fixing objects in a magnetic field using superconductors. Since this is likely to be needed for other space travel projects that require deep freezing, Thanga thought it would be developed soon.

Overall, he thought the ark would cost hundreds of billions of dollars to complete and could be ready in thirty years. While the price tag is high, "it isn't totally out of the question," Thanga told LiveScience.

He also thought the ark could be completed in just 10 to 15 years if circumstances demanded it.

"This is a project that would require real urgency to have a lot of people energized enough to go after it," he told LiveScience.

However, he thought it was ultimately worth that energy.

"Humanity has a fundamental responsibility to protect the diversity of life on Earth," he said in the presentation.

Plastic bails, left, and aluminum bails, right, are photographed at the Green Waste material recovery facility on Thursday, March 28, 2019, in San Jose, California. Aric Crabb / Digital First Media / Bay Area News via Getty Images

By Courtney Lindwall

Coined in the 1970s, the classic Earth Day mantra "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" has encouraged consumers to take stock of the materials they buy, use, and often quickly pitch — all in the name of curbing pollution and saving the earth's resources. Most of us listened, or lord knows we tried. We've carried totes and refused straws and dutifully rinsed yogurt cartons before placing them in the appropriately marked bins. And yet, nearly half a century later, the United States still produces more than 35 million tons of plastic annually, and sends more and more of it into our oceans, lakes, soils, and bodies.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Rise and Resist activist group marched together to demand climate and racial justice. Steve Sanchez / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Alexandria Villaseñor

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

My journey to becoming an activist began in late 2018. During a trip to California to visit family, the Camp Fire broke out. At the time, it was the most devastating and destructive wildfire in California history. Thousands of acres and structures burned, and many lives were lost. Since then, California's wildfires have accelerated: This past year, we saw the first-ever "gigafire," and by the end of 2020, more than four million acres had burned.

Read More Show Less
Trending
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced a pair of climate-related secretarial orders on Friday, April 16. U.S. Department of the Interior

By Jessica Corbett

As the Biden administration reviews the U.S. government's federal fossil fuels program and faces pressure to block any new dirty energy development, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland won praise from environmentalists on Friday for issuing a pair of climate-related secretarial orders.

Read More Show Less
David Attenborough narrates "The Year Earth Changed," premiering globally April 16 on Apple TV+. Apple

Next week marks the second Earth Day of the coronavirus pandemic. While a year of lockdowns and travel restrictions has limited our ability to explore the natural world and gather with others for its defense, it is still possible to experience the wonder and inspiration from the safety of your home.

Read More Show Less

By Michael Svoboda

For April's bookshelf we take a cue from Earth Day and step back to look at the bigger picture. It wasn't climate change that motivated people to attend the teach-ins and protests that marked that first observance in 1970; it was pollution, the destruction of wild lands and habitats, and the consequent deaths of species.

Read More Show Less