Is Mars the Answer to California’s Drought?

By Cade Oost | UTS Staff Writer | SQ Online (2015-16)

Coincidentally within the same week of the theatrical release of “The Martian,” adapted from the novel by Andy Weir about a man forced to try and survive on Mars alone, NASA announced that survival may not be quite as difficult as the book suggests. This is because NASA newly discovered the presence of running water on the surface of Mars. The announcement sent ripples throughout the scientific community, made headlines across the nation, and sparked heated debates about the possibility of life on Mars today, as well as in the past and in the future. And due to climate change on Earth, many consider the colonization of Mars a viable option for the survival of humanity.

NASA used an imaging spectrometer to prove that salt deposits, discovered on the surface of Mars near several dark streaks, increase the freezing point of water, allowing for the presence of liquid water on the cold planet. The dark streaks were first seen on Mars five years ago, and scientists quickly speculated that running water was responsible for their formation. However, NASA’s recent announcement is the first scientific proof that water is flowing on Mars today. The presence of water on Mars, or lack thereof, has been in the scientific news for some time now. In fact, back in March of 2015, NASA posted an article estimating that at one point, Mars’ surface was covered by an ocean of liquid water larger than our Arctic Ocean. Surprisingly, it may have even been over a mile deep.

But is it feasible to think that one day humans would be able to colonize Mars? Many people certainly think so, and one of those visionaries is the billionaire founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk. He claims that within the end of the century he’ll be able to start a colony of a million humans on Mars.

Aside from the presence of running water on Mars, climate change on Earth is currently one of the hottest issues in the scientific community. Scientists agree that humans have set our planet on a downward spiral. Greenhouse gases – like carbon dioxide – absorb heat that would normally be radiated out to space, which in part causes global warming. Studies performed at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography show the continual rise of carbon emissions on Earth, which in turn leads to a raise in the global temperature. Amongst other negative effects, the rising temperature leads to droughts, ocean acidification, rising sea levels, and consequently destabilization of the ocean food-chain. The entire UC system has laid out a plan to become carbon neutral by 2025 to minimize these events, but according to NASA, even steps like these may not be enough to reverse the damage that we’ve already caused as a species.

Before the turn of the century, NASA predicts that as another result of these rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, humanity will face several “megadroughts,” set to be far worse and far longer than the drought California is currently facing. According to NASA scientist Ben Cook, most of the Western half of the United States would be faced with a drought not only more severe than the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, but also three to four times longer. That means that these intense droughts would last for 30-40 years. He wrote, “These droughts really represent events that nobody in the history of the United States has ever had to deal with.”

All of the updates about the presence of water on Mars mean exciting news for the possibility of life on the planet, and many view it as one of our last hopes for survival. So while we still have a ways to go, there’s no doubting the fact that the near future will be full of more and more interesting discoveries about both life on Mars and climate change here on Earth. And with people like Elon Musk at work, that future might be nearer than we think.

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