In September 1987, many nations came together in Montreal, Canada, in response to an environmental alarm sounded by researchers. The stratospheric ozone layer, which shields the planet from the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation, was disintegrating over Antarctica. The culprit was clear: chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a class of chemical used in cooling systems and in products such as spray cans and foam insulation.
That meeting is where the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was adopted — it would be ratified in 1989. CFC emissions fell as countries and corporations rolled out less-damaging chemicals.
Studies1 confirm that the ozone layer has begun its long recovery. And this has strengthened the Montreal Protocol’s reputation as one of the best case studies for science-based policy: researchers identified a looming threat; governments took meaningful action; and the threat began to recede.
But CFCs didn’t just deplete ozone. They have climatic effects, too, as greenhouse gases, and also in that they have changed how air circulates in the Southern Hemisphere — and probably beyond. Now a team led by researchers at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences in Boulder, Colorado, reports2 in Nature how the Montreal Protocol has been helping to pause — or in some cases possibly reverse – the recent changes in atmospheric circulation driven by ozone depletion. Less ozone meant less absorption of incoming solar energy in the stratosphere. This cooled the lower stratosphere, strengthening the upper-atmospheric winds that circulate around Antarctica during austral summer. But as stratospheric-ozone conditions began to improve around the turn of the millennium, the previous change started to stabilize, and might even have begun to reverse, the researchers found.
This study demonstrates the enduring power of the Montreal Protocol — and of international environmental agreements — to protect the global commons. But another study, published in Nature Communications last week, reminds us why it is vital for researchers to remain vigilant — and why their work is still needed.
There’s no requirement in the Montreal Protocol to find and dispose of older CFC sources — such as old fridges and air-conditioning units — partly because the agreement was about future sources. Also, CFC banks have been regarded as small, but quite how ‘small’ has been the subject of considerable debate and study. Now, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge report3 that two types of CFC (CFC-11 and CFC-12) are leaking out of old cooling equipment and from building insulation — in greater quantities than had been estimated.
The researchers have calculated that these CFC “banks” are so large that they could potentially delay ozone recovery by six years, also adding the equivalent of nine billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere — similar to the amount that the entire European Union has pledged to cut from its emissions under the United Nations Paris climate agreement. The researchers also found higher-than-expected levels of CFC-113, a chemical previously used in solvents whose direct production is banned.
These latest findings follow research from 2018 and 2019 in which China was traced as a source of illegal CFC-11 emissions. China’s government has reportedly cracked down on this, and the latest analyses — still preliminary — suggest that these emissions have decreased.
Tracking and disposing of older CFC sources will be essential if the Montreal Protocol is finally to achieve its goals. That will need some degree of action by the protocol’s signatory countries — and sooner rather than later. That said, the protocol is a shining example for researchers and policymakers in other domains — not least in climate change — of how scientific evidence can drive global action.
How NASA experts say a pandemic prepares humans for life on Mars – CTV News
As people around the world rethink many aspects of their lives to combat the coronavirus pandemic, NASA experts say that knowledge and understanding of how to stay safe and healthy will help us prepare for landing on another planet.
After all, NASA’s robotic explorers are already on Mars paving the way for future astronaut-led missions to the Red Planet — and those expeditions will require a level of safety planning that would put a germophobe to shame.
Astronauts don’t want to carry Earth bacteria to the surface of Mars because it could contaminate the environment, or even show up as a false positive of life on the planet. And they also have to be careful to quarantine any samples returned.
It requires a level of care and caution we haven’t had to exercise in our daily lives — until now.
During the Apollo program, astronauts were quarantined before and after moon landings for weeks in case they encountered pathogens on the lunar surface. Samples returned from the moon were treated with the same level of care as biohazards.
Now we know that the astronauts didn’t pick up any diseases during their moon walks, and there’s no life that we know of on the moon. The surface is hit by micrometeorites and radiation, with no atmosphere to protect it.
But it was a smart move because humans were exploring the unknown and they wanted to protect the astronauts.
It’s also part of the reason why COSPAR, the global Committee on Space Research, exists. It was formed in 1958 to further research, exploration and the peaceful use of outer space through international cooperation, according to the COSPAR mission statement.
COSPAR has a planetary protection policy (PDF) ensuring that the world’s space agencies protect the safety of our planet as well as any that we explore.
“The Planetary Protection Requirements are an international NATO treaty, ratified by COSPAR,” said Moogega Cooper, Planetary Protection Lead Engineer for NASA’s Perseverance rover mission. “It’s an international policy that we have to abide by. Agencies around the world have to make sure their hardware and their spacecraft is clean enough.”
This governs the level of sterilization that spacecraft and robotic explorers endure before launch. The rovers and landers were assembled in NASA’s “cleanrooms,” where the only people allowed to enter are covered head-to-toe in white coveralls called “bunny suits,” complete with face shields.
And even more precautions will be taken when humans are sent to explore Mars.
Here’s how NASA prepares for safe exploration.
RETURNING SAMPLES FROM MARS
NASA’s next generation of Martian rover, named Perseverance, will land on Mars in Jezero Crater next year. The site is where a lake once existed 3.5 billion years ago. Perseverance will collect samples and seal them up to preserve them until they can be returned to Earth, hopefully sometime in the 2020s.
Cooper’s job is to “make sure that we don’t contaminate Mars with Earth germs when we go and explore that planet.”
In his lab, the team take samples that they collect from the spacecraft and grow them in Petri dishes to see how clean the spacecraft really is before launch. They look for evidence of spores that can attach to the spacecraft.
“We look for these seeds that certain microbes can produce, and those are the things that would survive the journey in deep space, the harsh environments — that’s why we look for those on our Petri dishes every single day when we swab the spacecraft,” Cooper said.
They also look for viable organisms, like E. coli, that can live on skin. Although something like this can’t survive without a host, if it was found on the Martian surface it could be confused with fossilized life, Cooper said.
The room where the rover is constructed is “cleaner than an operating room, cleaner than a lot of the things we interact with,” he said.
Parts of the spacecraft that will actually touch the Martian surface are sterilized, fired at 662 degrees Fahrenheit. “It’s just the cleanest thing you’re ever going to see,” Cooper said. This includes collection tubes for samples on Mars.
Perseverance will collect rock, mineral and soil samples — and those soil samples could even include microfossils from ancient organisms that may have once lived in the lake. The data it collects may be able to help scientists know if they’ve found a biosignature on Mars.
“On the science side, we’re really thinking about new discoveries we can make on the surface and how [that] will inform what we learn when we get the samples back,” said Katie Stack Morgan, deputy project scientist for the rover at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Our job is to find the best samples, collect and store them, and place them on the surface.”
The rover will pick up the samples, put them inside its body and seal them in tight metal tubes that were designed to withstand the Martian environment — at least, that’s the hope of NASA engineers. The samples will be dropped at specific collection sites so they can be retrieved later.
“Combining an understanding of the composition of the rocks, but also the very fine detail that we see in the rocks and the textures, can make a powerful case for ancient signs of life,” Stack Morgan said.
“We know that ancient Mars was habitable. But we haven’t yet been able to show that we have signs, real signs, of ancient life yet. And with our instrument suite, we think we can make real advances towards that on the surface.”
Returning the samples is a challenge down the road, and NASA is already planning for it. The earliest mission that could go back to Mars to retrieve the samples is set for the 2026-2027 timeframe, Stack Morgan said.
“This is a huge endeavor for the human species, and it’ll take cooperation from more than just our own space program,” Stack Morgan said. “Once the resources are there, we can develop the technology. It’s getting the buy-in from international partners and from our own space administration and government to really make this happen.”
The new rover will also be on a mission to lay the groundwork for future human exploration.
“We’re very much thinking about how Mars could be inhabited, how humans could come to Mars and make use of the resources that we have there in the Martian environment today,” said Stack Morgan. “We send our robotic scouts first to learn about these other places, hopefully for us to prepare the way for us to go ourselves.”
Returning samples could also inform how, when and where we land humans on Mars.
When Martian samples are returned to Earth and searched for evidence of life, they will be sent to biosafety level 4 laboratories, which are used to research pathogens that cause fatal diseases like coronavirus, said Jim Green, NASA’s Chief Scientist.
If life, ancient or existing, is found on Mars through studying these samples, the discovery will cause COSPAR members to change the COSPAR guidelines so we can “come up with a way to explore Mars,” Green said.
And frankly, it would change everything.
“It would mean that the possibilities now are endless for other potential civilizations or even microbial populations out there,” Cooper said. “It doesn’t have to be intelligent and complex. Microbes are actually quite intelligent and complex and should be admired. So if we found signs of life, it will shift our idea of being alone, or where we stand, in this universe.”
HUMANS ON MARS
In a conversation this week hosted by non-profit organization Explore Mars, Inc., Green and Penelope Boston, Director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, considered how humans can safely explore Mars.
Green’s idea of a Mars mission includes landing in one spot and separately living in another and setting up an “exploration zone.” It allows the astronauts to work in a confined area on Mars and perform scientific experiments. He suggests that future missions land and live in the same spots created by that first mission.
“It gives us a wonderful opportunity over several decades of going there, building and developing things at that site,” said Green. “We can gain a deep understanding of what Mars is all about.”
So far, robotic exploration has revealed that the similarities between soil on Earth and Mars is strong. But human exploration and experiments could reveal even more.
If life is found on Mars, Boston’s research has led her to believe that it will be deep beneath the surface. Recent studies have shown that life can exist in rock cracks below Earth’s ocean floor, and it could be the same in the Martian subsurface.
But care will need to be taken that any potential subsurface groundwater sources on Mars aren’t contaminated by human exploration.
“I’d love to see boots on Mars, but I’m very aware of the deep ecology aspects of another biosphere,” Boston said. “How do we study and cohabit with it without doing damage? Luckily the surface environment is harsh. It’s not entirely self-sterilizing, but it will do a lot to reduce contaminants.”
Cooper’s job will evolve if humans land on Mars, as he’ll need to develop stringent safety rules — not unlike the ones we’re implementing today.
“We have to make sure if there are people living there, for example, that their crops stay intact,” he said. “A lot of the things they bring along need to not be contaminated by weird bugs.”
He compared it to flying from one country to another with certain restricted food items.
“We have to make sure there aren’t any weird fruits, bacteria, fungus — something that may contaminate the livelihood, the life supply that they have on Mars,” he said. “We want to make sure we do the best job at preserving whatever is native.”
Covid-19 lockdowns have caused the Earth's crust to stop shaking – EsquireMe
Covid-19 lockdowns around the world has brought close to 4 billion people, more than half of the world’s entire population, to a complete and utter standstill. This is having a surprising effect on nature, from more visible wildlife interactions in cities to the earth’s upper crust shaking less than usual.
Scientists have noted that machinery and car movement across the globe that cause imperceptible shakes to the Earth’s crust have effectively stopped. Seismologists around the globe have reported a drop in seismic noise, according to an article in the scientific journal Nature.
Usually this kind of drop in seismic activity occurs around Christmas day and experts say that they can now find smaller earthquakes and monitor volcanic activity a lot better.
In Belgium, vibrations caused by human activity have decreased by approximately one-third since Covid-19 isolation measures were introduced by the government. The reduction in noise is 100% related to the closure of offices and schools as well as a ban of all non-essential travel on March 18.
Update for Brussels (Station BE.UCCS): The background level remains low and stable (~-33%). We’ve added more time to the plot so last weeks are more in context. #StayHomeBelgium #StayAtHome #StayHome @CrisiscenterBE pic.twitter.com/bRSPeuxNcG— Seismologie.be (@Seismologie_be) March 27, 2020
But it’s not just in Belgium. Seimic activity has decreased in these places as well:
A marked reduction in human activity due to the #COVD19NZ Level 4 lock-down continues in Auckland, New Zealand, as measured by @Geonet‘s Herne Bay seismometer.#COVID19 @ChiefSciAdvisor https://t.co/KpalNxuydV pic.twitter.com/IVuQ28AxFR— ******* Pax (@matarikipax) April 1, 2020
Bit late to the party but here is the University of Aberdeen COVID-19 seismic ‘noise’ decrease from @healy_dave‘s office @raspishake in the Meston Building. Last normal day on campus was 18/3. @abdngeology @UoAGeosciences @aberdeenuni Thx @seismotom for the Jupyter notebook. pic.twitter.com/K001CW9W0W— Dave Cornwell (@seismodave) April 3, 2020
How the seismic noise on our little @raspishake seismometer running in West London (Twickenham) has been affected by the #covid19UK lockdown. This is a month of data for station R091F. The average noise levels are down reflecting fewer trains, buses and cars. pic.twitter.com/WmJLmAO18k— Paula Koelemeijer (@seismo_koel) March 31, 2020
How does @Princeton “sound” different now that everyone must #stayathome? Here is the seismic “noise” we record in the basement of Guyot Hall. Campus really is quieter now, especially after the tighter restrictions were put in place. Code via @seismotom. pic.twitter.com/YqkRdHObaC— Jessica Irving (@jess_irving) April 2, 2020
Le bruit sismique ambiant en France a légèrement diminué depuis le début du confinement améliorant ainsi notre capacité de détection des séismes. #restecheztoi (anecdotiquement tu aideras aussi les sismologues …) pic.twitter.com/8Vo8Nn2KuJ— jerome vergne (@jerome_vergne) March 20, 2020
While we’re all stuck at home, atleast we know most of us are listening to offical advice and staying home.
The Coronavirus pandemic has caused the Earth to vibrarte less – Happy Mag
The Coronavirus Pandemic is affecting Earth and our way of life in many different ways. One of the strangest outcomes, however, is that the Earth is vibrating less.
With pollution decreasing and wildlife returning to cities and urban places around the world, scientists have discovered that the upper layer of Earths crust has visibly started shaking less.
Scientists have recorded a decrease in seismic noise of the Earth’s crust since the implementation of stronger social distancing measures.
This is due to a decrease in seismic noise. This noise is mainly caused by human movement. A lot of which is due to cars, trains, and most automatic vehicles travelling from point A to point B.
A lot of this movement continually affects the movement of Earths upper crust. However, scientists have noticed a slight decline in the average movement since the beginning of the pandemic.
Thomas Lecocq from the Royal Observatory in Brussels began seeing a reduction in this noise of between 30% and 50% since the middle of March. This was also around the same time most of Belgium began implementing stronger social distancing measures.
With this decrease in movement, Lecocq said that the station in Brussels has been able to detect smaller earthquakes, along with other seismic events that normally wouldn’t be detectable.
Paula Koelemeijer in West London has also stated they are seeing similar results. This at least shows that people are following the rules implemented by the government.
Have a look at the results below.
Our staff is teleworking. The earth continues shaking. Ground movements at frequencies 1-20 Hz, mainly due to human activity (cars, trains, industries,…) are much lower since the implementation of the containment measures by the government. #StayHome @ibzbe @CrisiscenterBE pic.twitter.com/pGgQAyLuUP
— Seismologie.be (@Seismologie_be) March 20, 2020
How the seismic noise on our little @raspishake seismometer running in West London (Twickenham) has been affected by the #covid19UK lockdown. This is a month of data for station R091F. The average noise levels are down reflecting fewer trains, buses and cars. pic.twitter.com/WmJLmAO18k
— Paula Koelemeijer (@seismo_koel) March 31, 2020
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