2003

The Foundation gave awards in 2003 with a total of $2,500

The SoloIce3 Expedition
Category : Education linking Earth and space exploration / Use of extreme environments on Earth to understand other worlds
Institution : Independent, USA

In an age where the mass media is almost entirely focused on dramatic events unfolding on Earth, and where many people have even been persuaded to doubt that humans ever walked on the moon, it is critical to electrify and engage the minds of young people with the ideas and ideals of space exploration as an important part of the human endeavor. The SoloIce3 Expedition is American explorer Cameron M. Smith’s third expedition attempt to make a solo, winter ski crossing of Iceland’s 160km (100-mile) wide Vatnajokull Ice Cap. High-school age students of any nationality will follow Smith’s crossing by internet, learning how expeditions in difficult and dangerous regions are planned and carried out. These students will also plan their own hypothetical expeditions on the surface of Mars, to explore some specific geographical feature, such as an ice cap, dune sea, canyon, or cavern system. Thus, students will think about the practical aspects of such exploration, and imagine such a journey. Each student will prepare a narrative of their proposed journey, perhaps illustrated as well, guided by the realities of expedition life they are able to examine while monitoring Smith’s winter ski crossing of the ice cap.

Expedition to the high carbon dioxide caves of Thailand
Category : Astrobiology / exobiology
Institution : University of Bristol, UK

In the north of Thailand are caves with exceptionally high carbon dioxide concentrations, as high as 8%, at least a thousand times higher than normally found in our atmosphere. High levels of this gas are found on Mars (which has an atmosphere of over 95% carbon dioxide) and high concentrations may also have been prevalent on early Earth some 3.5 billion years ago. This expedition from the Earth Sciences department of the University of Bristol, England will begin biological investigations of what lives in the caves. The high carbon dioxide would be expected to inhibit organism that respire, which includes anything, that like us, needs oxygen. However, organisms that ferment organics might be able to survive very well in these environments, potentially giving rise to very unusual ecosystems. These caves are an unusual extreme environment and can give us insights into the extremes that life might be able to tolerate on other planets. Gas measurements are to be taken inside the caves and isotopes studied to characterize the physical environment for life. As well as the exobiological implications, these ‘bad air’ caves may also hide archaeological treasures which are undisturbed because the dangerous gas compositions may have helped deter thieves.

Glacial Retreat in Uganda
Category : Use of space technology to study the Earth’s environment
Institution : University College London, UK, Ohio State University, USA, Makerere University, Kampala

The Earth and Space Foundation has taken a long-term interest in the study of glaciers, having helped fund the University of Oxford Svalbard Expedition in 1997, the Lyngen Norway expedition in 1999, the Leeds University Svalbard Expedition in 2000, the Endless Summer Expedition in 2000 and Queen’s University Norway Expedition in 2001. Glaciers are often held up to be a metric of global warming or cooling and susceptible to changes in mean temperatures. However, to verify these claims, satellite images and global positioning systems must be used to map them extremely accurately over long time periods. They provide an excellent example of environment monitoring that requires the exploration of space (satellite technology) for accurate mapping and imaging. By accurately mapping them now we will have a database that can be drawn upon by future generations to study glacial movements. This expedition, involving Lucinda Mileham (applicant) of the UK will study the Mount Speke glacier in the Ruwenzori Mountains, Uganda. The goal is to examine changes that have occurred since 1990 and determine the rate of glacial retreat. Global Positioning Systems have never been used to map this region of the world and the data will provide valuable information on potential effects of global warming on tropical high altitude ecosystems.

Mapping of coral reefs near Madagascar
Category : Use of space technology for environmental monitoring
Institution: Oxford University, UK

The Earth and Space Foundation has for a long time considered coral reefs to be an important repository of biodiversity. They are a particularly sensitive ecosystem that can be mapped using space technologies to reveal critical insights into the health of our planet. The Foundation gave an award to the Planetary Coral Reef Foundation in 1996 to map global reefs on board the ship the Heraclitus, it helped fund participation in a Greenforce Expedition to Borneo in 2000 to study the coral reefs of Indonesia, it provided an award to the University of Edinburgh Coral Awareness Expeditions in 2001 and 2002 to Madagascar. This year it has helped the University of Oxford plan an expedition to the coral reefs of the African island of Madagascar in a region called Belo sur Mer in the southwest, an area that has been designated a potential World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. The expedition will collect coral reef information using satellite Global Positioning Systems to provide baseline data to help this region of Africa achieve this recognized protection. This mapping will involve determining species richness (one measure of biodiversity) and determining the distribution of species with depth and over wide areas using satellites.

Study of ground-penetrating radar properties of ice in preparation for the exploration of Mars
Category : Using Earth resources to prepare for the human exploration of space
Institution : University of Leeds, UK

The planet Mars is now known to have rich resources of water ice in its subsurface, in some locations half of the subsurface material is water ice. This ice will be important for any future human settlement or base on the planet as it represents a source of liquid drinking water, oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for fuel production. But we need to know the properties of this ice. To gather this data ground-penetrating radar will be used. This method studies the reflection and scattering of radar signals fired into the ice. The signal sent back can be used to determine the location of ice resources and their characteristics (gas content, salt content, temperatures etc.). This expedition from the University of Leeds will study the properties of ice in Svalbard, Norway, not only to map the ice in this region to understand its nature and how it influences glaciers in the region, but also to enhance our ability to use Ground-Penetrating Radar to understand the properties of many different types of ice. The data they gather and publish will help in the interpretation of ground-penetrating radar studies on Mars by human explorers.