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Scientists to grow potatoes on Earth under Mars conditions

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Washington:  To save millions of lives on Earth, a team of world-class scientists is ready to grow potatoes in the most inhospitable environments under the tough Martian conditions.

The experiment, led by the International Potato Centre (CIP) in Peru and NASA, is a major step towards building a controlled dome on Mars capable of farming the invaluable crop.

“I am excited to put potatoes on Mars and even more so that we can use a simulated Martian terrain so close to the area where potatoes originated,” said Julio E Valdivia-Silva, research associate of NASA who is leading the project’s science team.

By using soils almost identical to those found on Mars, sourced from the Pampas de La Joya Desert in Peru, the teams will replicate Martian atmospheric conditions in a laboratory and grow potatoes.

The increased levels of carbon dioxide will benefit the crop, whose yield is two to four times that of a regular grain crop under normal Earth conditions.

The Martian atmosphere is near 95 percent carbon dioxide.

“The extraordinary efforts of the team have set the bar for extraterrestrial farming. The idea of growing food for human colonies in space could be a reality very soon,” added Chris McKay, planetary scientist of the NASA Ames research centre.

Beyond the ability to thrive in challenging conditions, potatoes are also highly nutritious.

An excellent source of vitamin C, iron and zinc, they contain critical micro-nutrients missing in vulnerable communities globally.

“How better to learn about climate change than by growing crops on a planet that died two billion years ago?” noted Joel Ranck, CIP head of communications.

“We need people to understand that if we can grow potatoes in extreme conditions like those on Mars, we can save lives on Earth,” he added.

Currently, famine affects 842 million people around the world.

Global warming creates poor soil conditions and increases the number of pests and disease which have the combined effect of limiting harvests globally but particularly in vulnerable areas where poverty, malnutrition and food insecurity already exist.

Understanding atmospheric changes on the surface of Mars will help build more dynamic and accurate simulation centres on the Earth.

The goal is to raise awareness of the incredible illness due to potatoes and fund further research and farming in devastated areas across the globe where malnutrition and poverty are common, the authors concluded. (IANS) (image courtesy:i.imgur.com)

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Wintertime Ice Growth in Arctic Sea Slows Long-Term Decline: NASA

The switch will happen once the sea ice is less than 1.6 feet thick at the beginning of winter, or its concentration

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Wintertime ice growth in Arctic sea slows long-term decline: NASA. Flcikr

While sea ice in the Arctic continues to be on the decline, a new research from the US Space agency NASA suggests that it is regrowing at faster rates during the winter than it was a few decades ago.

The findings showed that since 1958, the Arctic sea ice cover has lost on average around two-thirds of its thickness and now 70 per cent of the sea ice cap is made of seasonal ice, or ice that forms and melts within a single year.

But at the same time, that sea ice is vanishing quicker than it has ever been observed in the satellite record, it is also thickening at a faster rate during winter.

This increase in growth rate might last for decades, explained the researchers, in the paper to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

However, this does not mean that the ice cover is recovering, though. Just delaying its demise.

“This increase in the amount of sea ice growing in winter doesn’t overcome the large increase in melting we’ve observed in recent decades,” said lead author Alek Petty, a sea ice scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

NASA, Hubble, Keplar, asteroids
However, this does not mean that the ice cover is recovering, though. Just delaying its demise. Flickr

“Overall, thickness is decreasing. Arctic sea ice is still very much in decline across all seasons and is projected to continue its decline over the coming decades,” she added.

To explore sea ice growth variability across the Arctic, the team used climate models and observations of sea ice thickness from the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite.

They found that in the 1980s, when Arctic sea ice was on average 6.6 feet thick in October, about 3.3 extra feet of ice would form over the winter.

This rate of growth may continue to increase, and in the coming decades, we could also have an ice pack that would on average be only around 3.3 feet thick in October, but could experience up to five feet of ice growth over the winter.

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However, by the middle of the century, the strong increases in atmospheric and oceanic temperatures will outweigh the mechanism that allows ice to regrow faster, and the Arctic sea ice cover will decline further, Petty said.

The switch will happen once the sea ice is less than 1.6 feet thick at the beginning of winter, or its concentration — the percentage of an area that is covered in sea ice — is less than 50 per cent, she noted. (IANS)