NASA Space Apps Challenge 2015


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The Story

Our story today starts at a large city in the heart of Brazil, in a suburb of the São Paulo metropolis. It's a small house made by plywood and aluminum roof. It's a cloudy and rainy day and suddenly there is some noise with single raindrops falling at the roof. Welcome water!

What changed in our life and daily routine as water rationing took place since several month, having water at the tap during two days a week. Mommy is quickly positioning a plastic bucket of water and other, and another, capturing the precious clean liquid from the gutter and tube from the roof. Water to use for house cleaning, for laundry, for the garden, helping to reduce the water bill.

The remaining water from the roof finds its way to the next creek, a rather abandoned space having a garbage deposit at open sky with many plastic pet bottles, plastic bags, a place for rodents and breeding of mosquito. Water turns into dark color, heavily polluted by household sewage and flowing into the dams that prevents flooding, and flowing its way to the next river called River Tiete. This story begins at the source of planet Earth biggest river systems.

We are at the birthplace of River de la Plata.
Favela São Paulo


Further strange things happen to the river as it battles to find its way to the sea. There are dams that revert the river stream flow, there are walled riverbeds along the urban regions of São Paulo. There are meters of white foam covering the entire river due to use of laundry detergent by the population of 25 million of people but the river is strong and finds its way flowing an opposite direction of the sea moving countryside.

As the river Tiete gets more distant from the urban conglomeration, its starts to recover its green color and first river animals will appear: Egrets, capybara even small alligators and so on. The nature slowly finds its way back to a more balanced habitat. We start to observe some fish river life to conquer its space, when the river reaches the border between the State São Paulo and State Mato Grosso.

Large corn and sugar cane farms are positioned along the riverbed using its water for crop irrigation, areas that also return a large amount of polluted waste water with high conception of nitrates and sediments as a result of the sugar-cane fermentation process (Vinhoto). Heavy rains use to wash the flat land and deforested areas causing erosion and turning the creek waters into a red brown color. Its fertile soil that flows into the riverbed. Again, the rivers nature is strong and is able to carry all sediments diluting it in a large volume of rain waters, growing quickly in size and dimension. The Rio Tiete is a river comparable to the size of River Mississippi.

Following the river bed that joins with the Rio Parana, the waters flow into a large lake called the Itaipu dam. It is a hydroelectric dam located on the border between Brazil and Paraguay.
Itaipu Power Plant


The name "Itaipu" was taken from an isle that existed near the construction site. In the Guarani language, Itaipu means "The Sounding Stone". It generates 100 TWh a year supplying electrical energy to all south-east and southern Brazil as well as Paraguay. At this point the water from Foz Iguaçu waterfalls joins the river and cross the border between Brazil and Argentina.
Foz Iguacu Falls


Other river arms are born in Southern Brazil and Uruguay, crossing fertile regions with large scale agriculture activities like rice farming, cattle farming with pasture. The river called Uruguay that quietly flows crossing the Uruguay's territory and flows into the direction of city of Buenos Aires inside Argentina. It's a region where its inhabitants use to take a tea made of herb "Mate" called "Chimarrão. Along the river side there is intense industrial activity associated with (joined efforts between Argentina and Uruguay) actions to reduce its impact during the last years by intensified monitoring, improving overall water quality of the river Uruguay. As in Brazil, the raising levels of detergents are causing concerns.

Yet another river arm extends deep into the Brazilian and Paraguay territory, a large natural ecosystem of wetlands called "Pantanal" (an area of 200,000 square kilometers). This is one of world's richest ecosystem of biodiversity. A space for sweet water fishes, birds, amphibious, reptiles and others. It extends from Brazilian State Mato Grosso, at city Cuiaba down to the country of Paraguay. It's a highly preserved natural reserve area, although agricultural activity is constantly growing with new settlement of crop farms (soya beans, cotton, corn and cattle farming).

From this economic activity, we see a constant flow of dissolved nitrogen and soil sediments flowing into the rivers. The region of Pantanal is famous for its grilled beef from cattle that was grown naturally at the rich pasture of the wetlands, as well as for the dishes prepared with big sweet water fishes from the rivers like the famous "Dourado" and "Pintado".

The floodplains are among the most productive ecosystems of the globe and are also important centers of biological diversification. Large undammed tropical rivers typically support floodplains leading to high habitat heterogeneity. Such systems are characterized by the presence of different types of aquatic and transitional land-water habitats such as wetlands, lakes, streams, and rivers. These mostly shallow systems usually support extensive banks of aquatic life, which provide conditions for algae growth.

In flooded areas in general, these communities interact closely with phytoplankton, mainly through export of matter from the substratum to open water.

All waters described above finally joins its journey to the sea at the delta of the River de la Plata. A historic place where the first conquers like Americo Vespucio, Juan Dias de Solis and Pedro Alvarez Cabral arrived at the beginning of century 15th. A place where the Capital of Argentina was funded. The city of Buenos Aires.

At this place, a large delta area, the sediments emerge from the river starts to occupy the space gradually advancing into the sea. The water color modifies at the bay and create a mix of sweet and salted water together with soil sediments and nutrients that feeds the marine sea life.

At this point we see an amazing biological process to take place, creating a battle between intensive life zone and dead zone caused by low oxygen levels. Amazing to the point that pollution levels can be for good, as well as for bad, and this process is yet modified and corrected by tropical water flows from the Brazilian sea coast which introduce warm water streams.

Together with fresh cold water from the southern Atlantic coast of Falklands islands (Malvinas). The marine ecosystem created by different influences and streams is one of the world richest places for biological life forms, like algae and plankton. This is the reason why many whale has chosen the coastal area of southern Argentina as a suitable place for birth of is babies.

In order to get a better idea about the importance of the ecosystem, we might remember that life at planet Earth started in the Oceans. In the first micro logical forms of life that started to use the photosynthesis, converting CO2 into O2 producing protein and fixing calcite. At the very begin of Earth history, the algae produced most of our atmosphere oxygen that we use to breath. Later as green plants started to spread out over the continents land, its participation started to reduce to around 50%. For sure, until today the algae and its intense blooms covering the coastal regions of the sea are important factors for fixing CO2 into the sea.

In times, where a climate change is eminent and emission of CO2 reached a peak level that never existed before, we also have to ask an important questions such as:

Will the algae banks continue to produce all required oxygen for life on Earth, or will it cease its production due to a major change in temperature? Where are our limit for life? Is it +2C, is it +3C or + 4C in the scale of general global warmth? How will the algae behave once sea temperature will rise? And a main question that address the core of this endeavor in collecting and analyzing data from satellite images:

Southern Atlantic Sea Color Picture


Can we understand and preserve this ecosystem in order to learn its nuances as well how to replicate it in a controlled environment to support future space missions? Our Biosphere in Space:

As science and progress are in constant advance, humankind will soon reach the point where our species will conquer the space, traveling for weeks, month or many generations. It will span its life through interstellar journeys. Our life form and culture will extend over planets and star systems. Even like that, the principle of our life will not change and the role of the biosphere will remain. Therefore, we need to include the unbelievable capability and strength of the marine algae, as part of our execution of the plan.

One cubic meter of concentrated algae solution under optimal exposure to its nutrients and light, will produce enough oxygen for a daily supply of one astronaut in space (550 liters / day). Once we analyze and understand the cycle of life in the delta of the River de la Plata and its southern coastal area, we will be able to deliver the knowledge required to create supportive algae colonies in space, techniques that include recycling of waste and other environmental factors.

Our laboratory on planet Earth such as the rivers, coast and oceans will give us the answer and means how conquer the space maintaining life.

Meanwhile, the Grandfather was sitting on his rocking chair at the veranda watching the green trees around him and thinking about the beauty of planet Earth, telling a story about rain, a river that quietly flows into the sea, dreaming of a journey to space, telling this lengthy story to a nephew as well inspiring friends from work!



a story written by Greeniacs