2001

The Foundation gave awards in 2001 with a total of $2,500

Mapping the fossils of isolated animals
Category : Astrobiology / Use of space technology to help study the Earth’s environments.
Institution : State University of New York at Stony Brook, USA

The animals and plants of the African island of Madagascar have been isolated and on their own evolutionary trajectory for 85 million years. Over 90% of the species on this island are found no-where else in the world. The origins of this extraordinary biota are unknown. This expedition, led by the State University of New York at Stony Brook, USA studied the fossils of ecosystems that once existed on this island, yielding fascinating insights into how isolation can alter the direction of evolution and how organisms co-evolve with island environments. As well as this astrobiological objective, the expedition used satellite-based global positioning systems and geographical information systems to map these unusual fossils for future studies.

Extreme life living in snow
Category : Astrobiology / exobiology
Institution : Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, USA

Snow algae are photosynthetic microbes that live within snow pack from Antarctica to high mountains at more northern latitude. These brightly coloured microbes gather nutrients from the snowmelt and use the water that trickles around them from the melting snow. As they are embedded in the snow, they live in a short-lived and extreme environment, being subjected to extreme ultraviolet radiation. This expedition, led by Brian Duval of the Massachusetts Department of the Environment, studied snow algae in the isolated Windmill Islands of Antarctica near the Australian Casey Station. The expedition made collections of these unusual microbes. They are considered to be potential analogs for microbes and simple life forms that could inhabit cold polar-like planets elsewhere. A greater understanding of these microbes will aid in our understanding of how life can inhabit extreme polar environments and the implications for life elsewhere.

Mapping ice under the ground in preparation for exploring Mars
Category : Use of Earth environments to assist the exploration of space
Institution : Queen’s University, Belfast, Ireland

Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) is a method that uses high-frequency electromagnetic energy to determine the structure and characteristics of the subsurface which otherwise cannot be easily studied. The Queen’s University, Belfast used GPR to study glaciers in the Lyngen Alps in arctic Norway. The glaciers studied are those that were mapped five to ten years before the expedition and the information yielded important insights into how glaciers are formed and how they move. The expedition, as well as gathering important new insights into a glacial region that now has an excellent baseline set of information, allowing it to be used in accurate and detailed climate change analysis, also validated GPR as a means of studying polar ground-ice regions, eventually applicable to studying the surface of Mars and its polar regions.

Uncharted coral reefs in Africa
Category : Use of space technology to study the Earth’s environment
Institution : University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Off the southeast coast of Madagascar are completely uncharted coral reefs. The expedition from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, mapped these previously undescribed reefs using satellite technology. The purpose of this work is to provide data for the National Strategy for Conservation of Biodiversity in Madagascar, which seeks to protect Madagascar and its rich source of biodiversity. This protection cannot be afforded until baseline data is gathered to understand exactly what is there. Furthermore, the data will add to the knowledge of the global data on reefs, one of the mandates of the International Coral Reef Initiative.

Educating the next generation of space professionals in environmental sciences
Category : Education linking environmentalism and space exploration
Institution : International Space University

The International Space University is an interdisciplinary organization that seeks to bring together space professionals around the world to understand diverse topics from space business to space engineering. As well as a year-long Masters course, it also has a summer school that runs for 10 weeks in a different country each year. In 2001 the Foundation paid for all of that year’s summer students to travel to a major new environmental exhibit in Bremen, Germany the location of that year’s summer school. The exhibit focused on the biosphere and how it works, discussing how the great cycles of elements in the biosphere function and providing exhibits on the state of the world’s ecosystems. The trip was acclaimed as a great success, helping the space professionals of the future understand how space exploration might be used to understand the biosphere in more detail using satellite mapping and communications and giving them ideas of where their work might connect with environmentalism.