The Great Outdoors: My Nautilus #SparkofScience

It should be no surprise to anyone that my spark of science, a term coined by Nautilus Magazine, came from the great outdoors.

Nautilus was kind enough to accept my submission, wherein I talked about how my love for science, even though I’m not a scientist, came from spending time in wild places with my family.

I always thought my spark of science came from my Earth 100 class at Penn State with Dr. Laura Guertin, a kick-ass marine geologist and professor who introduced me to the connection between educational technology and Earth science. Who better to teach me about our changing planet than an American Geophysical Union blogger (and #SparkofScience blogger)?

But after a bit of introspective thought, I found that Dr. G’s class was just different path on my love for the Earth.

Read the whole post here. Thanks, Nautilus!

Outdoor Exploration: Southern Arizona

What’s better than a January vacation to Arizona? Basically nothing.

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Sitting on the edge of Arizona (or, more specifically, the Wind Cave trail outside of Phoenix)

Despite Arizona’s record warmth, the week I chose to go was quite cool and damp due to El Niño’s impacts of increased precipitation and cool air in the Southwest. There was even snow at the Grand Canyon!

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I spent part of my trip in Southern Arizona outside of Phoenix, and OH MAN. THE CACTI.

We spent one day in the Desert Botanical Garden, which is home to hundreds of species of cacti, desert plants and wildflowers, as well as roadrunners! The garden also focuses on conservation genetics of rare desert plants, all showcased throughout the gardens.

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Next up — snowy Sedona! Stunning red rocks surround the valley.

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Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona.

After visiting the Grand Canyon, we headed back down to the Phoenix area — and back to the saguaros.

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We also visited the Biosphere 2 in Tucson, and ended my trip with a hike! Until next time, desert Southwest!

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Exploration: Biosphere 2

Imagine (voluntarily) locking yourself in an enclosed space for two years, growing your own food within a glass bubble.

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The rainforest inside Biosphere 2.

This was reality for eight scientists and researchers — the “Biospherians” — who entered in the Biosphere 2‘s first mission from 1991-1993. The Biosphere, tucked in the mountains in Tucson, Arizona, was invented to see if humans could survive in an enclosed space in case of extreme future CO2 levels (which is already becoming a reality) or a space colony, for example.

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An outside look of the main room, which houses the mangroves, savanna, desert and ocean.

The Biospherians lived off the 5 ecosystems in the Biosphere 2, producing crops in a self-sustaining bubble. The bubble is made up of several ecosystems, including the rainforest, ocean, savanna and desert, to name a few, all of which are populated by plants and animals.

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The rainforest room.

The Biospherians cultivated their own garden, which produced a very “farm to table” approach to food, as they could only prepare what was ready to eat.

Over the next two years they grew 80 percent of their food, something NASA has never attempted. They recycled their sewage and effluent, drinking the same water countless times, totally purified by their plants, soil, atmosphere, and machines. (Discovery Magazine)

Despite good intentions and fact that the scientists made it 2 years within the walls, the experiment has largely been publicized as a failure. Rising CO2 levels inside the glass dropped oxygen levels, and food production waned.

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Plants in the main room above the “ocean,”

As oxygen was converted to carbon dioxide, free oxygen in the atmosphere declined. By January 1993, Biosphere 2’s carbon dioxide levels were 12 times that of the outside, and oxygen levels were what mountaineers get at 17,000 feet. The crew’s doctor was having trouble adding up simple figures and disqualified himself from duty. So, a year and four months into the mission, tank trucks containing 31,000 pounds of liquid oxygen started driving up the access road to the site. (Discovery Magazine)

Despite the deemed “failure,” the Biosphere 2 experiment left behind some great science, namely an entirely enclosed infrastructure with the aim of keeping humans (and plants and animals) alive. I walked around the basement of the dome, as well as the “lungs,” and was blown away by the recycled sewage and water systems, which they recycled for 2 years.

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It also informed how the carbon cycle and oxygen dynamics in humans connect, as well as continues to provide ecological data and fodder for visiting scientists.

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Backside of the Biosphere 2 where the Biospherian’s lived.

And why Biosphere 2, you may be wondering? Because Earth is the original Biosphere. Read more about the Biosphere 2 here.

Outdoor Exploration: Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is everything I expected it to be — and more. There was snow! I traveled all the way from the snowy East Coast to hang out at the snowy Grand Canyon in January 2016.

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Yup. I love National Parks.

We walked around the icy South Rim to take pictures, and then headed down the road to a few overlooks. Unfortunately, due to snow and time constraints, we were only able to walk around for a few hours and not take on many trails. But I still stood on the edge of it.

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Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most visited National Parks in the U.S. (if not the most!) and has been a big driver of park traffic this year for the National Park Service’s Centennial celebration.

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Seeing it in person is MIND-BLOWING. You’ll never know how majestic it is until you visit.

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Alexa and I at the South Rim. Thanks for taking me!!!

Until next time, Grand Canyon!