NASA scientist looks to Mars to solve the Middle East's problems
The Arab world, and indeed all Earth, could solve some of its most fundamental problems by looking at Mars, an Egyptian scientist said on Thursday, DPA reported.
"We, as Arab nations, must use space technology to find water. It is a duty, not a choice," Egyptian-born NASA research scientist Essam Heggy told a UN conference on environmental threats to the security of the Arab world.
Heggy has spent years searching for water on Mars using, among other techniques, ground-penetrating radar that he says have direct applications to the search for water in the largely arid Arab world. More water would spur development in the region and could head off future conflicts and wars, he said.
But such a "daring, audacious project" would require investment, Heggy told the conference, sponsored by the UN Development Programme to present its annual Arab Human Development Report.
Heggy said the budget for searching for water on Mars is 3 billion dollars per year. The population of Mars, he noted, is two robot rovers.
By contrast, only 130,000 dollars is spent using space technology to search for water in the Arab world, which is home to some 500 million people, Heggy said.
Radar images of the Sahara desert show that it was once a lush environment, crisscrossed by river valleys. Over thousands of years the valleys filled with sand, leaving few traces visible from the surface.
If research teams were to look for water in northern Darfur, for example, they should begin their search in the old, disappeared river valleys.
"The Arab world is the world's largest oil-producing region, but the poorest in water resources. It is the largest investor in oil exploration, but the poorest in water exploration," Heggy said.
"This should be reversed," the scientist said. "Water is the basis of all life on Earth. We must monitor the desert as a part of the global warming indicators."
Mars could also serve as a warning to the inhabitants of Earth. "We can learn from the experience of other planets," he added.
NASA's research showed that Mars' water disappeared over the space of only hundreds of years, a very short and "catastrophic" period by a planetary scale.
"This changes our conception of how climate change could take place in Earth," Heggy said.
"This is not just a problem for the far distant feature over millions of years. This could take place in the next few hundred years," he said.
"Millions of years ago Mars was a blue planet, like Earth," the scientist said. "Then it turned from that blue planet to the desert we see now."
The changing of Mars' climate and its loss of water began with the melting of its ice caps, a process now seen on earth.
Space imaging shows that over the space of 2005-2008, Heggy said, Greenland lost 25 per cent of its ice cover, or enough to cover Egypt.
"Mars, like much of the Arab world, is now covered by sand," the scientist said.
"Some say climate change is an exaggerated threat. They should look at Mars," Heggy said. "It is now a complete desert, an environment visually not too different than the Sahara."