Lunar Noah’s Ark might help threatened species

“Fair Moon, to thee I sing…” Might it one day be a possible celestial lifeboat? Photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash

Desperate times demand desperate measures. So just possibly a lunar Noah’s Ark might help to avert the threat of extinction.

CO. MAYO, IRELAND, 16 March, 2021 – What if a collision with an asteroid, a giant volcanic eruption – or runaway climate change – caused human civilisation to collapse and threatened the survival of life as we know it on Earth? What could be done to preserve the world’s wonderful biodiversity? A lunar Noah’s Ark?

Scientists and students at the University of Arizona have come up with a solution which might seem slightly fanciful to some, but feasible to the more space-minded.

Their proposal is for a modern version of Noah’s Ark, not bobbing about on the Earth’s oceans but hidden below the surface of the moon.

Jekan Thanga of the university’s College of Engineering described his project and what he refers to as a “modern global insurance policy” at a meeting of international aerospace experts.

The idea is to store frozen seed, spores, sperm and egg samples transported from 6.7 million species on Earth in caverns below the moon’s surface.

“It’s not crazy big. We were a little bit surprised about that”

If climate change accelerates and sea levels continue to rise, many of the Earth’s dry places will be under water, says Thanga.

This would include the global seed vault on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard which holds hundreds of thousands of seed samples in order to protect the world against loss of biodiversity.

Professor Thanga and his team say that if seed and other samples were stored on a celestial body separate from our own planet, then there would be less likelihood of biodiversity being completely lost if and when an event happened causing total annihilation on Earth.

“Earth is naturally a volatile environment”, he says. “As humans, we had a close call about 75,000 years ago with the Toba supervolcanic eruption, which caused a thousand-year cooling period and, according to some, aligns with an estimated drop in human diversity.

Lava tubes

“Because human civilisation has such a large footprint, if it were to collapse, that could have a negative, cascading effect on the rest of the planet.”

The lunar storage facility would make use of about 200 giant lava tubes located beneath the moon’s surface. Formed between three and four billion years ago, these underground caverns would provide shelter from solar radiation, micrometeorites and surface temperature changes, says Profesor Thanga.

He and his colleagues admit that constructing the lunar ark would not be easy, but might not be as overwhelming as it could seem.

Transporting about 50 samples from each of the 6.7 million species on Earth would require 250 rocket launches. It took 40 rocket launches to build the international space station.

“It’s not crazy big”, says Thanga. “We were a little bit surprised about that.”

‘Please try later’

The model of the ark sketched out by the Arizona team includes a set of solar panels on the moon’s surface to provide electricity.

Two or more lift shafts would lead down into the facility where seeds, cooled down to temperatures of minus 180°C, would be preserved in a series of petri dishes.

Professor Thanga and his team admit that a lot more research needs to be carried out on the building and operation of the proposed lunar ark. There’s the question of how the preserved seeds might be affected by the lack of gravity on the moon.

And then there’s the issue of establishing communications with a base on Earth – if, of course, there is anyone left to receive calls. – Climate News Network