IGLUNA: students work towards building an icy human habitat on the Moon!

IGLUNA: students work towards building an icy human habitat on the Moon!

What does it take to build a habitat in ice on the Moon? An international group of university students and professionals is working together to provide this answer and develop a sustainable and operational habitat in lunar ice. The project is called IGLUNA and is organised by the Swiss Space Center and the European Space Agency (ESA) as the first initiative from ESA_Lab, an ESA interuniversity research platform where young professionals across Europe can work together on space projects.

Many of the participating students from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands presented their work on IGLUNA at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna last month. Arlene Dingemans, a VU Amsterdam student and project participant, says,

At the moment, we are a pilot team, the first one working on this project, and we really hope that future teams will develop further this research and maybe, one day, we can go to the Moon!

The North Pole of the Moon where potential lunar cups would be located. Credit: NASA

Human life as we know it today, can only survive under specific environmental conditions; we need the right kind temperature, atmosphere, gravity, radiation, and access to oxygen and water to properly function. On Earth, we have all the necessary resources but as far as we know, our planet is the only place where human life can thrive. Thus, it is vital to carry out research and experiments in order to better understand how human life can be sustainable in places with harsh conditions. The Moon is our closest planetary object and the best place to investigate how life can be supported there.

As part of their project, the group will be testing an analog lunar habitat on Earth, on a glacier in Zermatt, Switzerland, under cold and harsh conditions similar to the Moon’s ice craters in the south pole.

Building a habitat in ice on the Moon also has several benefits. Firstly, water (ice) is essential for life as we know it on Earth, but it can also be used to produce oxygen and fuels. Furthermore, ice is a great insulator for cosmic and solar radiation, and it can function as a shield against micrometeorites.

The field campaign will also involve operating several different experiments that could hypothetically  be done on the moon. Operations will start operations on 17 June, lasting until 3 July; during this time the habitat will also be open to the public, allowing visitors to watch and even take part in experiments.

The entrance tunnel into the Glacier Palace in Klein Matterhorn, Zermatt, Switzerland, where the IGLUNA habitat will be constructed. Credit: Swiss Space Center (SSC) / IGLUNA

The research conducted by the VU Amsterdam team in IGLUNA will focus on geological, glaciological, and astrobiological experiments. Bernard Foing, a professor at VU Amsterdam supervising the student team, highlights: “It’s important not only to live on the Moon, but also to do something really useful. We are going to learn about the Moon, about the Earth, [and] do astronomy. Also this project is a way to exchange expertise and to learn a lot through hands-on activities.”

Marc Heemskerk, participant and student coordinator explains:

The simulation aims to prepare ourselves and humanity in the best possible way for going to the Moon and living there in a semi-permanent or permanent basis. And I really think that it’s not a question of whether we will go to the Moon, but of when we will go. So, eventually, we will have to learn how to live there and how to use local resources.

Transferring resources from the Earth to the Moon in order to build a base it is extremely expensive in terms of energy and money, hence, it is vital to use local materials, Heemskerk explains.

The cave in which the IGLUNA habitat will be constructed – 15m below the surface of the Matterhorn Glacier, Switzerland. Credit: Swiss Space Center (SSC) / IGLUNA

The construction of an operational habitat requires knowledge and skill exchange between people from different backgrounds. 20 student teams coming from 13 universities in nine countries around Europe  from multiple disciplines work together to address the challenges of building an effective structure, which one day could be fully independent and operational on the Moon.

Dieke Beentjes, a participating student emphasizes:

What is also interesting is that our research team is already multidisciplinary. We started out as a team of geologists and now we also have biologists, as biological research is different and needs different instruments – to look at DNA and life traces for example.

The scientific equipment includes cameras, a spectrometer, a microscope, telescopes, a seismometer, drones and many others.

This initiative inspires students to think about the idea of a habitat, while increasing international relationships and collaborations. Marjolein Daeter, another project participant says, “It’s more like an opportunity to get to know this world and we get help from our university and ESA to do that. It’s fun to work with different people on this.”

If you are interested about the project, you can follow the link here: 

By Anastasia Kokori, EGU Press Assistant


Benavides, T. et al.: IGLUNA – Habitat in Ice: An ESA_Lab project hosted by the SSC. Geophysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 21, EGU2019-17807, 2019 (conference abstract)

Daeter, M. and Dingemans, A.: VU Science Experiments (VUSE) for Igluna, a science showcase for a Moon ice habitat. Geophysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 21, EGU2019-17500, 2019 (conference abstract)

De Winter, B. et al.: VUSE, VU Science Experiments at Igluna, a Science Showcase for a Moon Ice Habitat. 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference 2019 (LPI Contrib. No. 2132) (conference abstract)

Heemskerk, M. V. et al.: IGLUNA Habitat in Ice: An ESA_Lab project hosted by the Swiss Space Center. 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference 2019 (LPI Contrib. No. 2132) (conference abstract)

Imaggeo on Mondays: Dust devil sighting in the Atacama Desert

Imaggeo on Mondays: Dust devil sighting in the Atacama Desert

Dust devils are like miniature tornadoes, they form when a pocket of hot air near the surface moves fast upward and meets cooler air above it. As the air rapidly rises, the column of hot air is stretched vertically, thereby moving mass closer to the axis of rotation, which causes intensification of the spinning effect by conservation of angular momentum. In the Atacama Desert [in Chile] they are really common, and the desert is a perfect “lab” to observe and study their formation!

Description by Rita Nogherotto, as it first appeared on

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at

Geosciences Column: climate modelling the world of Game of Thrones

Geosciences Column: climate modelling the world of Game of Thrones

Disclaimer: This article contains minor spoilers for Season 8 of “Game of Thrones.” A basic understanding of the world of Game of Thrones is assumed in this post.

The Game of Thrones world of ice and fire is an unpredictable place both politically and environmentally. While the fate of the Iron Throne is yet to be confirmed, a humble steward has been working diligently to make some sense of the planet’s peculiar climate. The results could help scholars assess when future winters will be coming or how wind patterns may influence where eastern attacks on Westeros from invading dragons and ships would occur.  

It is known that the realms of Westeros and Essos are subject to long-living seasons, with many extending over several years, but Samwell Tarly, the former heir of House Tarly and current steward of the Night’s Watch, has developed a new theory to explain this long seasonal cycle.

His research suggests that the seasons’ extended lifespans could be due to periodic changes in the planet’s tilt as it orbits around the Sun. The results were published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of King’s Landing in the Common Tongue, with translations available in Dothraki and High Valyrian.

Tarly carried out his analysis while on sabbatical at the Citadel in Oldtown, Westeros. In the published article he notes that his study was “inspired by the terrible weather on the way here to Oldtown”.

Uncovering climate observations and models

Tarly’s first developed his theory after studying observational climate records stored in the Citadel library’s collections. Many of these manuscripts contain useful information on a number of climate conditions present within the Game of Thrones world, including the multiyear length of seasons.

Seasons occur when regions of a planet receive different levels of sunlight exposure throughout a year. The southern and northern hemispheres experience opposite degrees of sunlight exposure due to the natural tilt of the planet’s axis as it orbits around the Sun. For example, when the southern hemisphere is tilted closer to the Sun it experiences a warmer season; at the same time the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the Sun, so it experiences a colder season.

When a planet is consistently tilted on one side as it orbits around the Sun, the world experiences four seasons during one year. Tarly proposed that seasons could last over several years if the tilt of a planet changes during its orbit: “so that the Earth ‘tumbles’ on its spin axis, a bit like a spinning top”, he explains. If a planet were to only change the side of its tilt once a year, it would experience permanent seasons.

Caption: an example of Earth’s orbit in which (a) the angle of tilt of the spinning axis of the Earth stays constant through the year (Credit: Dan Lunt, University of Bristol)

Caption: an example of Earth’s orbit in which (b) the tilt “tumbles” as the planet rotates round the Sun, such that the angle of tilt changes, so that the same Hemisphere always faces the Sun, giving a permanent season (Credit: Dan Lunt, University of Bristol)

Tarly put this theory to the test with the help of a climate model that he discovered on a computing machine stored in the Citadel cellars. “Luckily I learned how to code when I was back in Horn Hill avoiding sword practice,” Tarly explains in the text.

By running climate simulations with the proposed parameters of his theory, Tarly found that his model was consistent with much of the observational data present within the Citadel library. The models also estimated many climatic features of the world of Game of Thrones, including the seasonal change in temperature, precipitation and wind direction across Westeros.

In the published article, Tarly notes that his theory doesn’t explain how the planet transitions between summer and winter. He guesses that the tumbling pattern of the planet’s tilt persists for a few years, but then flips at one point so that the hemispheres experience new seasons. “The reasons for this flip are unclear, but may be a passing comet, or just the magic of the Seven (or magic of the red Lord of Light if your name is Melisandre),” Tarly writes.

Caption: The Northern Hemisphere winter (top row (a,b,c)) and summer (bottom row (d,e,f)) modelled climate, in terms of surface temperature (◦C; left column (a,d)) precipitation (mm/day; middle column; (b,e)) and surface pressure and winds (mbar; right column (c,f)). (Credit: Dan Lunt, University of Bristol)

The world of Game of Thrones compared to ‘real’ Earth

Tarly then compared the climate of the world of the Game of Thrones to that of a fictional planet called the ‘real’ Earth; Gilly, his partner and research associate, had found records of this planet’s climate in the Citadel library. The analysis revealed that in winter, The Wall, the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms, was similar in climate to many areas of the ‘real’ Earth, including parts of Alaska in the US, Canada, western Greenland, Russia, and the Lapland region in Sweden and Finland. “I always suspected that Maester St. Nicholas was a member of the Night’s Watch,” Tarly noted.

Caption: High-resolution (0.5◦ longitude ×0.5◦ latitude) mountain height for the whole planet. (b) Model-resolution (3.75◦ longitude ×2.5◦ latitude) mountain height for the region of Westeros and western Essos. (Credit: Dan Lunt, University of Bristol)

On the other hand, the models showed that the climate of Casterly Rock, the southern home of House Lannister, was similar to that of the Sahel region in Africa, eastern China, and a small region nearby Houston, Texas in the US.

Climate sensitivity in a world of ice and fire

Finally, Tarly used the climate models to investigate how climate change might impact the world of Game of Thrones. The simulations were done in response to some “worrying reports from monitoring stations on the island of Lys”; the stations have recently observed increasing concentrations of methane and carbon dioxide in the world’s atmosphere. It is suggested that this spike in greenhouse gas emissions could be due to the rising dragon population in Essos, deforestation from global shipbuilding, and excessive wildfire.

Tarly found that, by doubling the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide in his models, the world would warm on average by 2.1°C over 100 years. The results showed that the greatest warming would occur in the polar regions, since warming-induced sea ice and snow melt can trigger additional warming as a positive feedback.

By comparing this level of warming to the Pliocene period of the ‘real’ Earth 3 million years ago, Tarly predicted that the sea level of the world of Game of Thrones could rise by 10 metres in the long term. This degree of sea level rise is sufficient to flood several coastal cities, including King’s Landing.

In the paper, Tarly stresses that climate action from all the Kingdoms is needed to prevent even more social instability and unrest from climate change. He suggests that all governing bodies should work on reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and invest in renewable energy, such as windmills.

If he survives the war for Westeros, Tarly expects that improving his climate analysis will keep him busy for years to come.

By Olivia Trani, EGU Communications Officer

This unfunded work was carried out by Dan Lunt, from the University of Bristol School of Geographical Sciences and Cabot Institute, Carrie Lear from Cardiff University and Gavin Foster from the University of Southampton during their spare time, using supercomputers from the Advanced Centre for Research Computing at the University of Bristol. You can learn more about the climate models online here.