Welcome to The Deep science and technology column where we cover topics from the deep sea to deep space and beyond.
Water. When you live on an island, you’re surrounded by it and you tend to take it for granted. But there have been years when more people drowned than died in car wrecks here on Guam and I have always maintained that all beaches should have signs posted on them that say, “Mama Ocean does not forgive.”
We all must have water, we’re walking bags of the stuff and water has long been THE limiting factor of space exploration. It has for years cost about $10,000 a pound to put anything in low Earth orbit (LEO). You can quickly figure how much it would cost to put you in orbit.
But the figures quoted by the Russians to put tourists into LEO are in the multiple millions. Why? Because you have to eat in space, and most importantly you must drink and water weighs eight pounds a gallon. Every human on Earth consumes roughly five gallons of water every day. No, you don’t drink that much, but you water your lawn, eat meat from animals that drank water, eat fruits and vegetables that had to have water to grow and you go to the bathroom.
Although the bathrooms in space are different, space exploration and most importantly colonization, requires those five gallons of water every single day for every single person on the trip. Let’s see, that’s $80,000 for every gallon of water boosted into space and $400,000 for one day’s water ration for everybody involved. No wonder the Russians want all that money!!
That’s why the new water reclamation system on the International Space Station is so important and why scientists have been SO interested in trying to locate water on the Moon. If you can find water where you’re going, you don’t have to take so much with you.
As I’ve mentioned before, the Moon has a very harsh environment. It gets up to +250 degrees in the daytime and to –250 degrees at night. If you make your colonies underground, the average temperature is zero, which helps things out as far as easily making an Earth-normal environment, but doesn’t help you at all with the water requirements.
Now most people think that the Earth is the only place in the solar system with water, but that’s not true. Water is made from two elements, oxygen and hydrogen. Oxygen is fairly common in the solar system although its state as a free gas is found only on Earth because oxygen combines with almost everything and free oxygen has to be continually generated.
Hydrogen is THE most common element in the universe, not just the solar system. Probably somewhere between 98 and 99 percent of ALL the atoms in the universe are hydrogen which should give you some idea of how rare the rest of the elements truly are.
Water, it turns out is very common in our solar system, but virtually all water exists in the form of ice. And not just ice-as-we-know-it. Water is a very malleable molecule and there are at least 15 forms of solid water; some of them are not ice at all, but what we would call rocks. Earth is one of the few places in the solar system (but not the only one) that has the right temperatures to support lots of liquid water.
The Moon has no atmosphere and that 500-degree temperature range mentioned earlier virtually guarantees that when the Sun shines on the lunar surface, the +250 degree heat boils all the water off into space. The Moon is as dry as . . . well, anywhere where there is NO water. And despite the old ‘dark side of the Moon’ legend, the Sun does shine everywhere on the Moon. Well, almost everywhere.
The Moon rotates virtually straight up and that means that the area around both poles would be strange worlds indeed. The Earth rotates tilted and that means that the north pole gets sunlight half the year and darkness half the year. Ditto the south pole.
If you’re a billiard ball and you spin straight up and down, you’d see the Sun endlessly circle your horizon at each pole; but the Moon is not a billiard ball. It’s a big hunk of rock that’s been battered by other rocks for 4 or 5 billion years. One of the largest craters in the solar system is located at the Moon’s south pole.
Hmmmm . . . . big deep hole . . . that would be a place where literally, the Sun don’t shine. And if the Sun never shines there and that big deep hole happened to be made by a comet (read ‘great big iceberg’) then at the bottom of that hole, there could be . . . . water ice.
And it’s apparently true. Three different spacecraft have independently confirmed the presence of water on the Moon. Not only is there water at the poles, there are hydroxyl ions over the entire surface. Scientist still don’t know how those survive the heat of the Sun, but ice on the Moon means that you don’t have to take all your water with you at $400,000 per human per day. Even recycling can’t keep the cost down that much. Water on the Moon makes lunar colonization possible.
But what about beyond? You have to take your water with you when you go to the Moon, but the trip would last, at most two days. If you want to explore further; say travel to Mars, you’re looking at a six-month journey minimum. Go ahead; figure out how much that costs at $400,000 per human per day. Of course, recycling would be the norm, and we know how to do it, but what happens once you get to Mars and want to settle there?
I’ve always been amused by the frequent stories about how we’ve recently discovered that there’s WATER on Mars. We’ve known there’s water on Mars since at least the mid-1800’s. Mars has ice caps, and the one at the north pole is made mostly of water ice. The one at the south pole is made mostly of frozen carbon dioxide or dry ice which should make you readers with experience with dry ice realize just how cold it is on Mars.
But as near as we could tell, water on Mars was basically confined to the polar regions which severely limits the location of your colony. Mars does spin tilted and has definite seasons. Living near the north pole so you could harvest the water introduces a whole new world of risks.
But we know more about the surface of Mars than we do about the surface of the Earth because we’ve put several increasingly sophisticated satellites in orbit around the Red Planet. (And why do we know more about Mars than Earth? Most of the land on Earth is covered by that liquid water stuff and orbiting satellites can’t see it!)
These satellites have been orbiting Mars for years and comparing current data with the old pictures has revealed some interesting things. In a report in the journal Science, NASA says that its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted ice in the bottom of five new Martian craters that were made by meteor impacts. And these craters aren’t at the poles; they’re in the middle latitudes. And they’re small and shallow, which means the water isn’t very deep below the surface.
Above: A fresh crater on Mars photographed on Oct. 18, 2008, and again on Jan. 14, 2009, by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE camera. The crater is about 15 feet wide and 4 feet deep.
So far, the MRO camera team has found bright ice exposed at five Martian sites with new craters that one and half to eight feet deep. None of the craters existed in earlier images of the same sites. The bright patches of exposed ice darkened within weeks as the ice vaporized into the thin Martian atmosphere.
Right: The patch of ice exposed at this late-2008 crater was large enough for the orbiter’s spectrometers to take readings and confirm that it is water.
An image taken by the MRO on 10 August 2008, showed a new crater that appeared after an image of the same ground was taken 67 days earlier. The opportunity to study such a fresh impact site prompted a look by the orbiter’s higher resolution camera on 12 September 2009, confirming a cluster of small craters.
The bright material at that site didn’t cover enough area for the MRO’s spectrometer to determine what it was made from. But the team quickly discovered another crater with a much larger area of bright material.
Above: This map shows five locations where fresh impact craters have excavated water ice from just beneath the surface of Mars (sites 1 through 5) and the Viking Lander 2 landing site (VL2), in the context of color coding to indicate estimated depth to ice.
The ice exposed by these fresh impacts suggests that NASA’s Viking Lander 2, digging into mid-latitude Mars in 1976, might have struck ice if it had dug only 4 inches deeper. The Viking 2 mission, which consisted of an orbiter and a lander, was launched in September 1975 and became one of the first two space probes to land successfully on the Martian surface. The Viking 1 and 2 landers also conducted on-the-spot biological tests for life on another planet. The results of some of those tests have never been adequately explained.
What if the Viking 2 arm had dug that extra four inches and revealed unmistakable evidence that there is life on Mars? Would we be there already? Probably. But we’ll get there eventually, and water, water everywhere will certainly help us make the trip!
(IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE)
By Pam Eastlick
Welcome to The Deep science and technology column where we cover topics from the deep sea to deep space and beyond. Visit our website at www.thedeepradioshow.com
I thought I’d start today with a little news update. Do you remember the mud volcano in Indonesia? Well, let’s take a little trip down memory lane because there’s recent news about Lusi. Keep reading! I wrote this first section two years ago, and the figures on size and people displaced have changed. You’ll get the latest figures in the last section of the article.
I’ve followed with great interest the saga of the Indonesian mud volcano called Lusi that first erupted near Surabaya, the second largest city in Indonesia three years ago in May of 2006. Mud volcanoes are not unheard of. There are at least 2,000 worldwide including one in the Santa Barbara Channel near Redondo Beach California. But the mud volcano in Indonesia may be one of the few caused by humans.
The viscosity of mud volcanoes is wildly variable. Some look like volcanoes with thick mud flowing from a raised central crater, while others simply look like slowly growing mounds of dirt that are squeezed out of a crack like toothpaste. Others erupt mud that is much thinner and this describes what’s flowing out of the ground in Indonesia. Lusi’s mud is about 70% water and instead of mounding up, is flowing disastrously over the countryside. Since Lusi erupted in May 2006, the soupy mud has covered four square miles to a depth of 16 feet in some places, submerged parts of four villages and displaced about 25,000 people.
When the flow started in May of 2006, Lusi was erupting about a quarter of a million cubic feet of mud every single day. Now, however, the rate has increased to over 5 million cubic feet a day and it shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. In addition, scientists predict that if the underlying mud is drained, the land above it will begin to sag and there may be a dramatic collapse into the empty hole left behind. (Lusi is already sinking and may in fact form that gigantic hole.)
So, what caused Lusi? Lusi erupted from a gas well that was operated by Lapindo Brantas, Inc. one of Indonesia’s biggest oil companies. And we have two interesting opinions about what caused that eruption. On the one hand, we have a statement from Indonesia’s coordinating minister for social welfare, Aburizal Bakrie. He says the volcano is a “natural disaster” unrelated to the drilling activities. Mr. Bakrie stated, “It is not because of the Lapindo drill case but it is because of the quake.” He was referring to an earthquake that occurred two days before the Lusi eruption near the ancient city of Yogyakarta that killed around 6,000 people.
Now that ‘drill case’ he mentions is in response to a finding made by a team led by British scientist Richard Davies, a professor at the University of Durham’s Center for Research into Earth Energy Systems in northeastern England.
That study reported that the kind of drilling done by Lapindo in the geographical regions into which they drilled requires the use of steel casing to support the borehole, to protect against the pressure of fluids such as water, oil or gas.
Mr. Davies reported in a press release; “In the case of Lusi, a pressured limestone rock containing water — a water aquifer — was drilled while the lower part of the borehole was exposed and not protected by casing. As a result, rocks fractured and a mix of mud and water worked its way to the surface. Our research brings us to the conclusion that the incident was most probably the result of drilling.”
So was it drilling or was it the earthquake? Does it make a difference when I tell you that Mr. Aburizal Bakrie, whose job it is to be concerned about social welfare, is one of the wealthiest men in Indonesia and his family firm controls Lapindo Brantas? Apparently that fact made a difference to the president of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono who ordered Lapindo to pay 3.8 trillion rupiah ($421 million) in compensation and costs related to the mudflow.
Aerial view of Lusi
IT WAS THE DRILLING
In more of the ongoing Lusi story, in 2008, an international team of petroleum geologists met at Cape Town, South Africa and concluded that Lusi was not a ‘natural’ volcano. She’s man-made.
The 74 scientists considered the evidence presented by four experts in the field and then voted on two scenarios. Forty-two scientists voted that Lusi was triggered when Lapindo Brantas, an Indonesian oil company drilled the gas exploration well called Banjar-Panji-1. Only three scientists voted for the alternative explanation. This hypothesis stated that Luisi’s eruption was triggered by an earthquake that occurred two days earlier with an epicenter located 175 miles from Lusi. Sixteen scientists voted that the evidence was inconclusive and 13 said that a combination of earthquake and drilling were the cause.
There was some pretty strong evidence that the drilling triggered Lusi. The key points presented to support the drilling hypothesis were:
· the earthquake was too small and too far away to have been the trigger.
· the well was being drilled when Lusi erupted and is only 500 feet from the volcano site.
· large amounts of water were pumped into the well the day before the eruption, resulting in pressures the sides of the well couldn’t tolerate.
· the pressure measured in the well after the influx provides strong evidence that the well was leaking and even evidence for the initial eruption at the surface.
One of the speakers, leading geologist Professor Richard Davies of Durham University, UK, commented: “The conference allowed us to present new data on the pressures in the well the day before the eruption and these provide a compelling tape recording of the well as it started to leak. We were particularly grateful to Lapindo, the company involved in the drilling, who were widely applauded at the meeting for their willingness to take part in the discussion.”
Prof Davies added: “I remain convinced that drilling was the cause of the mud volcano. The opinion of the international scientists at the event in South Africa adds further weight to my conviction and the conclusions of many other leading scientists who have studied Lusi.”
Susila Lusiaga a drilling engineer and part of the Indonesian police investigation team said: “There is no question, the pressures in the well went way beyond what it could tolerate – and it triggered the mud volcano.”
Michael Manga, Professor of Earth and Planetary Science at the University of California, Berkeley, said: “The key observation from an earthquake perspective is that there were many much larger and quite a bit closer earthquakes that did not trigger an eruption. The Yogyakarta earthquake was simply too small and too far away to initiate an eruption.”
IT WAS THE EARTHQUAKE
Brave words, guys but it didn’t do any good. In the latest news on Lusi, almost three years to the day from the eruption, Indonesia’s supreme court ruled that it had cleared the government and Lapindo of any wrongdoing related to Lusi’s eruption. The mud has now wiped out 12 villages, killed 13 people and displaced more than 42,000 people in the Sidoarjo district of East Java since it burst from a drilling well operated by the Lapindo company on May 29, 2006.
The company, which is connected to powerful Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie, has however agreed to pay millions of dollars in damages to help affected villagers rebuild their lives. However, three years later many victims complain they have received only a fraction of the payout.
In a short statement, court spokesman Nurhadi said judges agreed with earlier rulings in lower courts that cleared the company and the government of neglect related to the disaster.
“The Supreme court has rejected an appeal filed by YLBHI,” he told reporters, referring to the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation. The YLBHI had argued that the government and Lapindo had failed to prevent the disaster and properly compensate thousands of displaced families.
YLBHI lawyer Zainal Abidin said the supreme court’s judgement was a major blow to the victims, many of whom are now unemployed and live in squalid bamboo shacks awaiting full compensation.
“The judges should have taken into consideration the people’s needs. The court has failed to deliver justice,” he told AFP.
Some 800 hectares (1,977 acres) of villages and fertile farming land now lie beneath the stinking, hot sludge, which continues to spew out of the Lapindo well despite the company’s containment efforts. About 6,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since October as the volcano, dubbed ‘Lusi,’ breaks man-made embankments and devours more land, officials said.
But the people who have lost their homes and are in danger of losing their homes to Lusi don’t have to worry. In a stunning show of compassion, Lapindo Brantas came up with the ultimate solution for them. The company funded a soap opera called “Digging a Hole, Filling a Hole.” Set amidst the misery of the mud, “Digging …” was a love story that reportedly shows the virtues of patience – something in short supply these days.
And in the ultimate news update? “Digging . . . “ was NOT a hit in Indonesian TV. Big surprise, huh?
Cruise on over to the Deep Website at www.thedeepradioshow.com to learn more about taking mud baths and many other topics. Enjoy!