Operation Earth

Operation Earth

09/02/2018Written by Tori Tasker

The science behind 'Operation Earth' - launching at the Space Centre during February half-term.

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Ask any astronaut and chances are they’ll say that the most fascinating thing about space is planet Earth. It is a stunning oasis in the vastness of space, and the only place we know that’s suited for life.

Space exploration has helped us realise that our Earth is changing, and it’s vital for us to understand what’s happening and why.

Thanks to environmental scientists across the world this is an achievable goal. Many of these scientists in the UK are supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). NERC has combined forces with the Association for Science and Discovery Centres to bring their science out of the lab and into science centres across the UK in 2018.

Here at the National Space Centre, we are delighted to be bringing you Operation Earth – a programme of hands-on experiments and interactive shows. Join us between 10-25 February 2018 to learn more about the amazing stories and science behind the water, the land, and the air of our planet Earth.

Acid Lab: Water

Acid Lab: Water
Acid Lab. Credit: Operation Earth
Acid Lab: Water
Credit: Operation Earth

Our oceans currently sit at an alkaline pH of 8.06. Alkaline levels like these are good for creatures and life in our oceans, However, the increasing levels of carbon dioxide in out atmosphere may change this in the future. Carbon dioxide in our atmosphere dissolves into our oceans resulting in slightly more acidic waters. When carbon dioxide is absorbed into the ocean, a series of chemical reactions occur that result in the formation of carbonic acid. This process is called ocean acidification. If this happens, our ocean ecosystems will not survive and thrive as they are now. This would be detrimental to every environment and species on our planet. An important question for us and scientists to ask, is, why are the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rising? Evidence has shown that this increase can be attributed to some human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels. When it comes to increasing carbon dioxide levels it is clear that our actions have an impact.

At the National Space Centre we are able to show what this process looks like at an accelerated rate. Using a pH indicator and carbon dioxide gas from dry ice, we can see the increase in the acidity levels by the colour change of the indicator.

See the Acid Lab in action between 10-25 February 2018.

Biodiversity: Land

Biodiversity: Land
Credit: Operation Earth
Biodiversity: Land
Credit: Operation Earth

Biodiversity is crucial part of our planet. The complex and numerous ecosystems that live on Earth survive on a foundation of biodiversity. Environments and the species that inhabit them, exist in a complex web of dependent relationships. Humans included. From this web, we are able to have an abundant supply of varying foods and clean water. Animals and plants pollinate our crops, help clear our waste, recycle nutrients, and absorb some of the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. This web also supports our technological development through materials and other resources. NERC scientists, as well as many others around the world, are helping us understand where biodiversity is being affected and how we can go about finding solutions. From earth observation to polar extremes and geological surveys, observing our Earth in different ways is helping us to this. Satellite images taken over many years allow us to see changes in the same area over time just like we can see in these images to the right.

On a smaller scale, having a search on our biodiversity map at the National Space Centre might help you see how many different species exist in one environment.

Become an Earth detective with our biodiversity map and satellite imagery between 10-15 February 2018.

Pollution: Air

Pollution: Air
Credit: Operation Earth

As we, and all other living creatures on Earth, breath in everything that is in our air, harmful or not, it is important for us to understand what makes up our air (which makes up our atmosphere). ‘Air’ contains a few different gases: 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and 1% argon and other gases. In addition to these gases, it also contains harmful gases and particulate matter. The main contributors of these harmful additions are the burning of fossil fuels and biomass (for example coal or oil), emissions from industrial plants and household and farming chemicals. Throughout the UK more than 300 air monitoring sites are constantly checking the amount of these gases and particulate matter in our air. In recent years, air pollution has decreased significantly across Europe however, there is still quite a way to go reduce these toxic chemicals even further.

To see how air quality compares in your city to another, come into the National Space Centre to use our AirVisual Node; laser technology that counts microscopic PM2.5 particles in the air and gives cities around the world with air quality sensors a rating of air quality.

Check on Leicester’s air quality between 10-15 February 2018.

Credit: NASA

The land, air and oceans of planet Earth are changing, but thankfully scientists across the world are working to help us understand these changes and find solutions to problems we may face.

These scientists would like your help to record and monitor our Earth, so come and visit the National Space Centre to take part in our brand new climate science programme, Operation Earth!

For more info and to book tickets, visit our What’s On page.

Operation Earth is led by ASDC in collaboration with Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh, Eden Project in Cornwall and the Natural History Museum in London. It is fully funded by NERC.

About the author: Tori Tasker is the Public Programmes Team Leader at the National Space Centre.