Geeking Science: Gardening the Black

Photo by Neslihan Gunaydin on Unsplash

Going into the dark, the vastness of space, is a challenge. Earth is our womb, our soil and roots, our air, our home, our food, the water of our blood. When we leave home, we will need to take our basic needs with us – air, water, the ability to grow food, the tools to make shelter – or figure out a way to do so out there in the dark.

Scientists are working on that as we speak. And one of the biggest helpers we might take with us is the all-time best grow-in-the-shadows food: mushrooms. To build soil and build houses.

Our food system depends on our top soil, and we will need a lot of it in space. One of the major producers of soil is fungus. Scientists are thinking they can jump start soil production with some carefully chosen and trained mushrooms.

And also build houses. I know, right? Fungus houses!

This fascinating subject is laid out in “Fungi Could Make Soil from Asteroids and Homes on Mars” by Madeleine Gregory. (April 8, 2022, on discovermagazine.com – https://www.discovermagazine.com/the-sciences/fungi-could-make-soil-from-asteroids-and-homes-on-mars – last viewed 10/14/2022)

Another part of the investigation is actually attempting to grow plants in lunar soil brought back by the Apollo missions. The too long-didn’t watch the whole 5 minutes of the video breakdown is (1) they did add nutrient rich water to grow the plants in the soil (what the other scientists mentioned above are trying to by-pass with the fungi because carting nutrients and water into space is EXPENSIVE) and (2) the plants still didn’t grow as well on the space soil as they did in similar soil found on Earth – and the scientists are excited about this because it means there is a difference between their simulation and the actual soil, now they just need to figure out what that is. As I mentioned before in Geeking Science posts, scientists love it when they have more questions than answers. (University of Florida scientists grow plants in soil from the moon – May 13, 2022 – youtube)

Geeking Science: Tree Talk

Photo by Sebastian Unrau on Unsplash

Scientists have discover trees gossip, after a fashion.

Through a fungal network, they share information about insect attacks, can request nutrients, and even nurture their young. So much happening right under our feet!

Within a multi-layer, diverse-culture forest, mother trees can make sure her seedlings get the food they need even under the shade of her branches. But here is a twist on that sharing nutrient network, trees do it with other trees outside their family line and even species. Initially, this might seem counter intutive to the Darwinian “survival of the fittest” concept of every creature and lifeform is out for themselves. When ecology professor Suzanne Simard ran a test, she discovered Birch and Fir trees talk to each other.

When the fir was shaded by the birch in summer, the birch sent more carbon to it. When the birch was leafless in the winter, the fir sent more carbon to it. (Burrows, 2018)

By working together, the two trees had a steady supply of “food” year round.

Cooperation for the win.

This interaction within the forest gives some concerns to clear-cutting and replacing with mono-culture tree species. Even removing the “largest” trees might not be the best option for a healthy forest, as the mother trees are teaching other trees how to share resources. This massive interaction is something loggers need to study to maximize production of good wood products.

<Simard> says, “<Trees> live longest and reproduce most often in a healthy stable forest. That’s why they’ve evolved to help their neighbors.” (Grant, 2018)

As a writer interested in science fiction, all this geeks me out. The interconnectedness of forests brings so much to the conceptual plate of Terraforming. Making oxygen and water won’t bring a planet paradise into existence. We must understand soil, trees sharing water and nutrients, fungi taking 30% of the sugar to provide a communication network and replaying the sugar with nutrients they gather to the tree roots. All these interactions will need to be brought into play on New-Earth, both fictional and in real life.

Bibliography

BBC News. “How trees secretly talk to each other” YouTube. June 29, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWOqeyPIVRo – last viewed 12/18/2022.

Burrows, Sue. “Trees Talk to Each Other in a Language We Can Learn, Ecologist Claims”. ReturnToNow.net. February 28, 2018. https://returntonow.net/2018/02/28/trees-talk/ – last viewed 12/18/2022 (Note 4/26/2024: website cancelled).

Grant, Richard. “Do Trees Talk to Each Other?”. Smithsonian Magazine. March 2018. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-whispering-trees-180968084/ – Last viewed 12/18/2022.

McClenaghan, Beverly. “STEM in Context – Talking Trees: How Do Trees Communicate?” Let’s Talk Science. July 23, 2019. – last viewed 12/18/2022 (Note from 9/20/2023 – looks like it is now behind a paywall).

 

Geeking Science: Walking on Eggshells

Exoplanets continue to be discovered and the scientists gather what little information is available from our distant observation point: closeness to its star, size, …. oh, maybe atmosphere if the light bounces right. We can infer temperature, composition, and minerals available.  Year length and day cycle need just a bit of number crunching.

Then scientist group the planet into something that matches our system of planets – the rocky inner, the gas giants, ice rocks, and maybe, terrestrial in the life zone. But in the infinite possibilities of the universe, will every planet be a “Jupiter” or “Venus”?

Using computer modeling, other possibilities are coming to light. One is eggshell planets. The thin lithosphere means no plate tectonics, which I was surprised to learn meant uninhabitable because one of the job of plate tectonics is to control the minerals related to controlling carbon.

You know the stuff humanity is trying to control to rein in climate change.

The eggshell planets, according to theory, will have runaway greenhouse heating because of the lack of recycling crust. Other peculiarities include a crust that might bow and dip with heat cycles of the lower levels, but not create mountains or valleys.

As a science fiction writer, I thinking about how would industries take advantage of these planets? Could ships hide in the unique crust features? Scientists suspect life as we know it can’t live there, but what other options might play out?

The fact is there are over a dozen suspected planetary types. As writers, we don’t need to limit ourselves to the standard four.

Bibliography
Choi, Charles Q. “Strange ‘eggshell’ exoplanets may have ultra-smooth surface.” 2021 November 29. Space.com. https://www.space.com/eggshell-exoplanets-ultra-smooth-surfaces?utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=socialflow&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_content=space.com&fbclid=IwAR16dotQSs-WVpo4DkyXOjhdxprXNrungCtjFYlGDMAvxAIpX8ZLxK-sa2I – Last viewed 1/12/2022.

Gough, Evan. “Eggshell Planets Have a Thin Brittle Crust and No Mountains or Tectonics.” 2021 November 18. Universe Today. https://www.universetoday.com/153328/eggshell-planets-have-a-thin-brittle-crust-and-no-mountains-or-tectonics/ – Last viewed 1/12/2022.

Unveiled. “Why Scientists Are Studying Unique Eggshell Planets.” 2022 January 5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FiA57KKDqo – Last viewed 1/12/2022.

Geeking Science: Plant Trees

Photo by Eyoel Kahssay on Unsplash

Planting trees is essential for reversing climate change.

I mentioned my “duh” moment of the important of trees back in 2018 (Geeking Science: Trees and Oxygen). Because trees are MUCH taller than everything humanity replaces them with, the VOLUME of tree oxygen production is much higher than crops or grass.

Trees also STORE a lot of carbon, much more than grass. A study shows that trees planted in a manner that doesn’t impact human cities or agriculture can still store two-thirds of the carbon humanity needs to pull out of the atmosphere to mitigate the worse aspects of climate change. (Good News Network, 2019)

You may wonder if planting trees will really make a difference. Seems possible based on what happened in the 1500s when within a single century the indigenous population of the Americas was reduced by 90% from 60 million to 6 million. All that farmland used by the Inca, Sioux, Cree, etc. became reclaimed by the forest. Antarctic ice core studies show a reduction in carbon by 7 to 10 part per million because of that. While the Little Ice Age started before the 1500s, its onset spurred by volcanic eruptions, the temperatures reached their all-time lows during century where nearly all farmland in America disappeared. (Geggel, 2019)

Now this particular study of agriculture losses in the Americas impacting carbon levels is still in the “lots of questions” stage of scientific investigation. Until at least two or three other studies are needed to support or refute the postulate; a grain of salt needs to be taken with these “facts.” They are not facts per se, just theories, and not widely accepted ones as yet. But they have enough heft, they do warrant further study.

Trees also have other benefits, especially when added to an urban area. They reduce pollutants. Make life prettier and reduce noise. Decreases stress and family violence. Connect eco-spheres isolated within the urban setting. Control storm water, holding water in their leaves and roots to reduce flooding issues. And, most importantly (and easiest to prove), reduce urban heat island effects – reducing heat-related illness and death, air conditioning costs, and road maintenance.  All this on top of controlling carbon levels which MAY help mitigate climate change. (Grants Pass Oregon)

I’m willing to take climate change as a BONUS, and make Urban Forests into reality just for all the other benefits.

Acquired from the internet hive brain (Copyright © 2014 CartoonArts International)

Bibliography

Geggel, Laura. “European Slaughters of Indigenous Americans May Have Cooled the Planet. LiveScience. 2019 February 8. https://www.livescience.com/64723-great-dying-little-ice-age.html (last viewed 4/10/2022)

Good News Network. “For First Time Ever, Scientists Identify How Many Trees to Plant and Where to Plant Them to Stop Climate Crisis.” 2019 July 7. https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/how-many-trees-to-plant-to-stop-climate-crisis/ (last viewed 4/10/2022)

Grants Pass Oregon. “Appendix A: Benefits of Trees in Urban Areas.” https://www.grantspassoregon.gov/DocumentCenter/View/1626/Chapter-3-Appendix-A-PDF (last viewed 4/10/2022)

Geeking Science: Fashion Meets the Surveillance Age

From the Reflectacles Kickstarter

So after writing the Dark Web Trope Editing Rant in September, my paranoia is running higher. Just a little.

Did you know that there is a whole Fashion subset to avoid the surveillance cameras everywhere?

Here are some Fashion Statements to say something about the person wearing them, either tin-hat-paranoia or they-really-are-out-to-get-you. The accessories could make for some exciting additions to a near future sci-fi or a contemporary thriller.

  1. Makeup and Hair – Asymmetrical is the key. Bright splotches of color hair. Cover or obscure the eye with spikes and decorations. Squares with high differentiation of coloring – black and white. Jewels applied randomly to the face, especially the nose and cheekbones. Gorgeous and disturbing to a species hard-programmed for symmetry. The machines also freak out a little. (See cvdazzle for examples.)
  2. Pattern Recognition Disruption Scarfs – Put on a lacy scarf with dots or mini-faces. For example, the HyperFace scarf has 1,200 facial shapes to blow the surveillance camera software to bits.
  3. Health masks – Those face masks people are wearing to prevent transmission of disease. They may be keeping other transmissions and invasions at bay. Popular among protesters around the world, especially when holding a gathering near suppressive government buildings.
  4. RFID Blocking Wallets – With the credit cards being RFID chipped now, pick up a wallet to keep someone from reading accessing the credit just by talking down the street beside you.
  5. Metallic Fabric Jackets (with or without hoodies) – But the RFID and microchips go beyond just the wallet, dogs are chipped, medical history may be on chips soon, and some medical machines already are microchipped and can be programmed for injections. Pick up a metallic jacket to keep criminals from scanning the microchips … or reprogramming them.
  6. IR Privacy Eyewear – Full infrared (IR) protection on the sunglasses prevent surveillance cameras from getting eyeshape, one of the most important aspects of facial recognition. A bonus is manufacturing the frames to be extra reflective – this makes the wearer more visible at night when crossing the street while also completely screwing with the camera’s ability to see the person’s face.
  7. Antiflash Clothing – Prismatic metallic ink which interferes when paparazzi beat on a celebrity with flashbulbs. Suddenly their greatest tool of humiliation destroys the very picture they are trying to take. Also great for those days when a politician, or ordinary citizens caught up in a mess, takes a walk of shame before proof of innocence or guilt is established. Also useful for the next company party with the open bar; no pictures, no proof.
  8. Infrared Ballcaps – The brim of the cap shines an IR light on the face, making it too bright for surveillance cameras to see. Perfect for those late night run to Walmart, and you don’t want to get dolled up in an anti-surveillance fashion statement.

Bibliography

Bacchi, Umberto and Suliman, Adela. “Face masks to decoy t-shirts: The rise of anti-surveillance fashion”. Reuters. 2019 September 26. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-tech-fashion-feature/face-masks-to-decoy-t-shirts-the-rise-of-anti-surveillance-fashion-idUSKBN1WB0HT – Last viewed 11/13/2019.

CV Dazzle. “Camouflage from face detection.” cvdazzle. 2017 August 22. https://cvdazzle.com/ – Last viewed 11/13/2019.

Dobush, Grace. “Privacy by design: How fashion combats surveillance”. The Christian Science Monitor. 2017 January 27. https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Passcode/Security-culture/2017/0127/Privacy-by-design-How-fashion-combats-surveillance – Last viewed 11/13/2019.

Hern, Alex. “The fashion line designed to trick surveillance cameras”. 2019 August 14. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/13/the-fashion-line-designed-to-trick-surveillance-cameras – Last viewed 11/13/2019.

Hu, Jane C. “When Will TJ Maxx Sell Anti-Surveillance Fashion?” Slate. 2019 August 15. https://slate.com/technology/2019/08/facial-recognition-surveillance-fashion-hong-kong.html – Last viewed 11/13/2019.

Jacobs, Bel. “How what you wear can help you avoid surveillance.” BBC. 2017 March 20. https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20170320-how-what-you-wear-can-help-you-avoid-surveillance – Last viewed 11/13/2019.

Reflectables. “IRpair & Phantom – Privacy Eyewear.” Kickstarter. 2019 November. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/reflectacles/irpair-and-phantom-privacy-eyewear – Last viewed 11/13/2019.