Sunday, December 30, 2007

Terraforming Mars

Perhaps you've heard in the news about the US (and perhaps other countries), trying to travel to Mars. One of the goals of the project is to finally either confirm or deny the existance of life on Mars, be it now or thousands of years ago.

Many people are complaining, as this mission is expensive and doesn't produce a material result. (It wouldn't be worth bringing back any materials that didn't have a large scientific interest, and mining is done in tons anyway.) Well, for material results, I've got something for you that I read in a magazine once.

Terraforming is a slow process that would make Mars more Earthlike, until we could build cities and wildlife reserves on it. It'd be like gaining another Eurasia for all of earthly life. (Mars is smaller than earth, and the lowest land on Mars would become flooded by the new ocean.)

The first step would be to crash Mars's two moons into the surface, as the moons aren't as scenic as ours and would be inside the Martian atmosphere by the time we finished, which would crash them anyway. Then have satellites release CFCs from the surface. This would not erode the Ozone layer as it does on earth, because Mars does not have an ozone layer. The thickening of the atmosphere would increase the temperature, which would allow for better options. At this point, we would release large amounts of methane and CO2 into the Martian atmosphere, which is useful to us as both of those are essentially waste in our atmosphere.

By this point, Mars is like the polar regions of earth: cold and miserable, but able to support some life. Lichens would be seeded at strategic points on the Martian surface. Mars has some water to sustain them, but probably not enough for, say, a penguin, or a polar bear. We would want to add more. NASA would find asteroids in the asteroid belt rich in water, and crash them into Mars. As it warms, small lakes would develop. More CO2 and methane would keep it from freezing back over.

In addition to providing oceans and life support, vaporized water is a greenhouse gas, further raising the temperatures. We're at the three quarters completed point, and now some regions of mars resemble Siberia. The wetter areas would support arboreal trees.

We continue to add CO2, but now we're planting more plants. The plants break down the CO2 with the power of the sun. The carbon becomes their food and bodies, the oxygen is released into the atmosphere. The original CFCs have probably decayed or escaped into space, so an ozone layer would form, protecting Martian life from the powerful radiation of the sun. Water would also need to be added. Contaminated earthly water could be used too, if bacteria are added to break down the pollution.

It would also be wise to find a way to reactivate the magnetic core of Mars. Earth's molten core provides a magnetic field that in addition to aiding in navigation through the use of compases, also reflects harmful radiation from space.

At the end of the project, mars has oceans, plants, and the deserts on which plants continue to expand into. We add animals now, including ourselves. Any humans there build cities, and run civilizations, be it as a colony of the sponsoring nation, or independantly. Space travel would connect the two planets economically, and I imagine the Martian population booming from the rich resources and lack of people to compete with the colonists.

All in all, this project would cost trillions of dollars and take over a thousand years to complete, and there is some risk of Mars slowly de-terraforming, returning to the lifeless husk it is today. I am absolutely convinced that it is worth doing

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Farming Tower

I have a vision. Sometime in the future, a peasant in a poor country hears from a friend about a new government project. He gathers together his family, a few bags of seeds, and some farm tools, and loads them into a truck that his brother managed to buy before a random militia killed him. They drive to the site.

The site is a building that covers hundreds of acres. A worker there explains that the building contains farms enough for everyone, and that this worker may have one for 5% of his yield. This is agreeable to our farming family. They are given a card-key (the kind that some fancy hotels give out to allow access to exactly one room), and a pair of sunglasses each, and told to drive the truck into the far part of the building. They are told to bring everything into the room, then put the card into the slot in the wall.
After loading the room up, our intrepid farming leader puts the card into the small slot in the wall, which accepts it. Suddenly, there is a feeling of movement. This entire room is an enormous elevator. It moves for a long time, then stops. With a ding, the doors open to a non-descript room. The card is returned from the slot, and our farming family walks in. The doors close behind them. The elevator leaves with a wirr, presumably back to the surface.
An electronic sign on the wall notes that this is the entrance to this family's farm in the local language. Another sign, this one hand made, informs visitors that they should wear their sunglasses while in the farm. The enormous door, large enough to drive a truck through, has a slot next to it, the same as the
elevator room. Our family puts on their sunglasses and inserts their card. The large doors swing open revealing a light brighter than the sun.
After everyone's eyes adjust, it becomes apparent that this light is coming from the ceiling, which is covered in LEDs. The room is a farm, hundreds of acres in size. In fact, it is the same size as the building, but 20 feet tall. The soil is warm, moist, and composty, but nothing has been planted yet.
With the feeling that their new farm was good indeed, our family gets right to work planting. Clearly this will be a good year, barring no disasters and little government corruption. Gentle music combined with quiet nature sounds fills the air, apparently coming from the walls. The seeds are quickly all planted.
Our family then wishes to return to their dwelling. They close the enormous doors and remove the keycard. They then use the keycard on the wall with the elevator, which returns within ten minutes. They drive the truck into it and insert the keycard into the elevator's slot to indicate that they are ready. The elevator wirrs as it pulls them back to the surface.
Meanwhile at the farm, the pleasant music has been replaced with loud cacophanous sounds that would be quite objectionable to any people present, if there were any. These loud sounds benefit the plants by causing vibrations in the air. (An experiment showed that plants grow best in the presence of loud heavy metal and worst in complete silence.) The light remains on until 6pm local time, at which time it is extinguished. The plants grow in the darkness until 3am, when sprinklers in the ceiling spray them with water for two hours. At 6am, the bright lights are once again lit. All of this happens by automated computer control, without any human intervention.
Some time in the next morning, our farming family returns. Before they open the door, the cacophanous noise is replaced by gentle music and nature sounds. The plants are growing well, our family observes. There are no pests here, no vandalism, and disease has not taken hold, and with care it never will.
Our family doesn't necessarily know this, but there are hundreds, possibly even thousands, of these layers, each one only accessable with the right keycard. Some layers have mechanical equipment, or tanks of water, but most are farms, just like our family's. This building roots deep into the earth, so deep that it can supply the immense energy needs party by purely geothermal sources. Though utlimately, more exotic technologies must supply most of the immense needs, probably around 2-5 megawatts per layer.

Will it happen? Probably not. It's too expensive.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Ending Global Warming

Climate change is occurring, and while there's a big debate raging about how much of it is human-caused (and those that believe that humans cause 'none' are clearly kidding themselves, as are those who insist that humans cause 'all' of it,), no one seems interested in doing much about it.
Partially this is because two of the main causes, an increase in carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, both of which come from industry and farming, which in turn makes our lives directly better. No one wants to quit their job or live in a smaller house, or eat less for the earth's sake. Well, maybe a few people, but they are a distinct minority.
However, besides reduction, there is also a way we could remove existing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere: plants. A plant is, for as long as it is alive, keeping its own weight in greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere. This is because the proteins that make up the plant's body are constructed from sugar that the plant makes itself, and nitrogen compounds from the soil. Some plants can even extract nitrogen straight from the atmosphere, enriching the soil with yet more nitrogen compounds.
So my plan is this: Deliberately grow fast-growing short-lived plants, and when they die, either sink them to the bottom of a swamp (where, over the course of millions of years, they will become new fossil fuels,) or lacking a swamp, encase them in cement and sink them to the bottom of the ocean. Should fertility slow down, harvest the current plants and grow clover, which is one of those plants that can get nitrogen from the atmosphere. One year's growth of clover should refresh the soil enough to grow five years of faster growing plants.
On the US west coast, Eucalyptus would work best. In the US gulf coast and east coast, kudzu would be better.
Transportation still needs to be worked out, as this plan will be useless if the dead plants are sent by truck. (The gas burned by the truck might very well return every molecule of CO2 that the plant extracted, statistically.)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Harvest the Red tide

Last time, I talked about eutrophic lakes and now they can be harvested in a way that benefits both people and the lake. This also happens in the ocean, in which farm runoff, rich in fertilizers with phosphorous and iron, leech out of the farm, into rivers, and finally to the ocean. This benefits certain algae, which reproduce to an absurd degree until no other life is possible in that area. The algae stains the water red with their single-celled bodies, which is why this is called the red tide. Red tide is undesirable to us because the algae produce an anti-animal poison that kills the fish in the area and irritates the bejebus out of any humans that eat any of the sealife nearby. (And I don't just mean it's annoying. I mean brain damage from toxic chemicals in the water.)

Just like before in the eutrophic lake situation, the undesirable situation occurs because of an excess of nutrients benefiting one organism over all the others. So I propose a similar solution: Harvest the red tide by physically removing it from the ocean.

Boats would strain the red tide, physically removing the algae for later use. (This later use would almost assuredly be research into economic uses.) Kelp would be planted in its place. Kelp can be eaten by humans, but it is also a reliable source of grease. Grease being important because it can be refined into biodeisel to provide useful mechanical energy. Biodeisel would replace, to a degree, petrodeisel, saving large amounts of money annually. (Deisel fuels power most trains, trucking, and some aircraft in the United States.) To provide for the entire energy needs of the United States, an area of the ocean the size of Texas would have to be dedicated to growing algae and farmed regularly. The ocean has room for that, seeing as it is 70% of the earth's surface. Probably the entire earth's energy needs could be farmed out of the Pacific ocean alone, although the environmental effects of this would need to be demonstrated to be safe first, as more and more countries rely on a crop of fish to keep their populations fed.

To top off this cycle, the harvesting boat could also be powered by biodeisel, entirely utilizing the biological power of the red tide.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Eutrophic Lakes

Near a lot of farming communities, there is another problem with water. The nutrients that farmers add in fertilizer are, mostly, water soluble. They run downstream and often end up in lakes, where the extra fertilizer makes algae run wild, until the algae has choked out all other life in the lake. When that algae dies, their rotting corpses suck all the oxygen out of the lake. This is called a Eutrophic lake. An overuse of minerals, which would normally be a good thing, has turned into a bad thing by killing off everything in the lake. The lake is then a smelly pit of half-rotten algae.

I propose that this algae be farmed, with humans or robots removing large portions of it on a regular basis, and using this algae as compost, therefore not requiring quite as much fertilizer. It may also be possible to squeeze oils from this algae, and the oils could make biodeisel to run the tractors.

This is potentially giving me another idea. My finals will be done on Friday, and I can develop the idea then.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Waters of New Orleans

New Orleans, Louisiana, has the opposite problem of Atlanta: It is surrounded by water and vulnerable to hurricanes. To the north, the very large and slightly brackish lake Pontchatrain, to the south, the Missispipi river works it's way to the sea. When hurricanes occur, they pull all of this water into a storm of wet destruction.

However, north and west of Louisiana lies a gigantic reservoir, deep underground, that is being vigorously tapped by the entire Midwest region for agricultural water. This hole is large enough to hold enormous amounts of water. This hole is the Ogallala aquifer, and it extends from Texas to South Dakota.

So I propose that Lake Pontchatrain by dammed off at Green's Ditch, where it connects to Lake Catharine, and this dam be open and closable by computer. At that point, a second dam would be built on the western edge of the lake, somewhere between Ruddock and Mandeville. While this expanse consists of lands, behind the dam would be a pipe, going north, west, and slightly down. Water going through this pipe would have to be desalinated like the Atlanta solution, but less so as there is less water, as well as the water being less salty in the first place. The desalinization could occur underground, easily. One could even do it without electrical power, as gravity would give the water pressure as it flowed downwards. A worker would need to change the filters once every other year or so, but that shouldn't prove too difficult.

This pipe would, after desalinization, be put into a second pipe going into the Ogalala aquifer beneath Texas. This water would eventually be used agriculturally, somewhere in the midwest.

Lastly, I propose that a third dam be built in a canal connecting the missipipi river to Lake Pontchatrain. Again, all three dams would be computer operatable. Preferably, this canal would be on the west shore.

With all of this in place, the mayor of New Orleans could, if another hurricane threatens, close the Cathrine dam, then open the Missisipi and Pontchatrain dams, draining those bodies of water (possibly only partially depending on how large they are and how much advanced warning he or she has). New Orleans can better weather the next hurricane, with extra water available for Nebraskan corn. Due to the computer control, whoever controls the dams controls the water level around New Orleans. Opening them lowers them. Closing it raises them.

Do you suppose the Ogallala states would complain every time the dams were closed?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Atlanta Needs Water

The city of Atlanta has a bit of a problem. It gets all its water from one reservoir, one that is also legally obligated to feed a river where an endangered mollusk lives. Not only that, but it is also not allowed to deprive Florida water from downstream.

Atlanta has been growing significantly for the past few years. New developments spring up every day, and everyone wants to drink water, shower, grow a lawn, and wash their dishes and clothes. They will lose this ability if the reservoir dries up, and unfortunately both the east and west coasts of the United States are undergoing a severe drought. Atlanta had 90 days of water left....60 days ago.

Water does not appear by magic. It must come from somewhere, either rain or importation. The Los Angeles region, where I was born, imports water from northern California, which has enough for both regions. Unfortunately, the regions around Atlanta don't have spare water, so this option is out.

Water can be reprocessed, removing the pee, poop, soap, and various chemicals that go into waste water, and then filtered through the earth. This produces clean water, the natural way. If you think it's gross, I guarantee you that any given glass of water you pour, be it from a tap or a bottle, has been through at least 12 different animals in the past. But let's assume that this strategy also is rejected for the ick factor, like it is in Australia.

However, Atlanta is reasonably close to the ocean. I therefore propose that a desalinization plant be built between the two. The plant would force filtered seawater at high pressure through pipes made of a membrane. The reverse osmosis reaction would cause fresh water to leak through the membrane, and concentrate the water still in the pipe as brine. The brine could then be evaporated into sea salt, and sold at a premium. The fresh water would be piped into the reservoir.

This plant would be very harsh on the power grid, (because pumping at high pressure uses a lot of electricity), and so I also think the plant should have a power generation plant built next to it. I recommend nuclear, as it is inexpensive to run and will not pollute the air. However, since people tend to have hysterical reactions to nuclear power, coal will probably be substituted. Coal would work almost as well, if one doesn't mind the bad smelling smoke.

I estimate, very roughly, that the nuclear plant would cost about $9 billion, the water treatment another $1 billion, and $1 billion to lay out the pipes between the ocean, the plant, and the lake. For $11 billion dollars, Atlanta has fresh drinking water for the rest of American existence.
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