Lowline Park: What it is and Why You Need to Go

The Lowline is the world’s first underground park. Well, almost: it’s testing the science of growing plants underground on Manhattan’s Lower East Side - and it’s a literal urban jungle.

Lowline Underground Park


The Lowline is the world’s first underground park. Well, almost: the concept successfully raised funds on Kickstarter. It’s now testing the science on Manhattan’s Lower East Side with the Lowline Lab, and it’s a literal urban jungle.

Founders Dan Barasch and James Ramsay has long dreamed of an underground park. Inspired by The Highline project - a reclaimed chunk of train tracks that’s now a thriving park and public space - they got input from over 50 scientists to figure out how to make their dream real. Determined to create a socially beneficial space in a neighborhood at a crossroads, they chose to use solar technology to cultivate it. “All architectural design is one big game to optimize light,” Dan said during my tour. What they’re creating in the lab is the only environment of its kind in North America --  a football-field-sized landscape entirely supported by light.

But how do you ground plants underground? What kinds of plants grow underground? Would people even want to go underground for a park? All of these are questions the Lowline Lab is trying to answer -- and it all boils down to filtering sunlight.

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The Lowline Lab uses two solar collectors, one stand-alone and one hooked up to a large mirror. Both are on the roof of the building. The mirror is called a Heliostat, and it tips up and down to reflect sunlight into the collector. The collector is a satellite-dish-shaped device with a condenser in the middle: Here’s how it works, according to the site::

Sunlight passes through a glass shield above the parabolic collector, and is reflected and gathered at one focal point, and directed underground. Sunlight is transmitted onto a reflective surface on the distributor dish underground, transmitting that sunlight into the space. This technology would transmit the necessary wavelengths of light to support photosynthesis, enabling plants and trees to grow.

Thus far, the technology’s been a great success. The full spectrum of light is retained and brought directly to the plants. All the sunlight gets funneled through a clear tube that glows warm pink during the day. The brightness and intensity of the light filtered into the lab by the collectors can be up to 30 times that of the sun It doesn’t get too hot, though, because the biggest heat-generating light wavelengths are filtered out.

So how do plants grow with all that light? Here’s a handy graphic from the tour:

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Landscape architect firm John Mini was in charge of the plants. Their biggest challenge was to create a landscape of plants that would survive underground for the duration of the lab until March 2017. They also wanted to impress people, and show them the most unexpected environment possible underground. After calculating the amount, types, and frequencies of light that would come into the space, they worked with landscape architect Signe Nielsen to create a space with three different footprints of light, a ceiling that can change shape to suit those footprints -- and, most importantly, a map for which plants would survive best in those footprints.

The result is a mix of plants that resembles a lush, tropical canopy. They’re small plants with different textures and colors. Most of them were never meant to live together. Having them in the same space creates different microclimates.

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It really does feel like you’ve walked into the jungle. The temperature is warm, but not overbearingly so. The plants are lush and vibrant, almost convincing you that they’re growing wild. You can smell the humidity in the air. You can sit on hilly embankments and smell the flowers. The only things that make you believe you’re not in a jungle is the lack of wind, weeds, and bugs. And the secret tunnel:

But that’s just the lab. The final Lowline park landscape will be determined by the community. They survey every single visitor to figure out what they want -- and 50,000 have come through in the last 6 months. Visitors will help determine the final plants, lighting, and layout of the Lowline Park. There may even be different light sources -- including ones for selfies that mimic different Instagram filters. It’s all up to you. Check it out on the weekends from 7-7. How often you do get to play in the jungle?

Massive 'Darth Vader' isopod found lurking in the Indian Ocean

The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.

A close up of Bathynomus raksasa

SJADE 2018
Surprising Science
  • A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
  • It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
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Volcanoes to power bitcoin mining in El Salvador

The first nation to make bitcoin legal tender will use geothermal energy to mine it.

Credit: Aaron Thomas via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

In June 2021, El Salvador became the first nation in the world to make bitcoin legal tender. Soon after, President Nayib Bukele instructed a state-owned power company to provide bitcoin mining facilities with cheap, clean energy — harnessed from the country's volcanoes.

The challenge: Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, a digital form of money and a payment system. Crypto has several advantages over physical dollars and cents — it's incredibly difficult to counterfeit, and transactions are more secure — but it also has a major downside.

Crypto transactions are recorded and new coins are added into circulation through a process called mining.

Crypto mining involves computers solving incredibly difficult mathematical puzzles. It is also incredibly energy-intensive — Cambridge University researchers estimate that bitcoin mining alone consumes more electricity every year than Argentina.

Most of that electricity is generated by carbon-emitting fossil fuels. As it stands, bitcoin mining produces an estimated 36.95 megatons of CO2 annually.

A world first: On June 9, El Salvador became the first nation to make bitcoin legal tender, meaning businesses have to accept it as payment and citizens can use it to pay taxes.

Less than a day later, Bukele tweeted that he'd instructed a state-owned geothermal electric company to put together a plan to provide bitcoin mining facilities with "very cheap, 100% clean, 100% renewable, 0 emissions energy."

Geothermal electricity is produced by capturing heat from the Earth itself. In El Salvador, that heat comes from volcanoes, and an estimated two-thirds of their energy potential is currently untapped.

Why it matters: El Salvador's decision to make bitcoin legal tender could be a win for both the crypto and the nation itself.

"(W)hat it does for bitcoin is further legitimizes its status as a potential reserve asset for sovereign and super sovereign entities," Greg King, CEO of crypto asset management firm Osprey Funds, told CBS News of the legislation.

Meanwhile, El Salvador is one of the poorest nations in North America, and bitcoin miners — the people who own and operate the computers doing the mining — receive bitcoins as a reward for their efforts.

"This is going to evolve fast!"
NAYIB BUKELE

If El Salvador begins operating bitcoin mining facilities powered by clean, cheap geothermal energy, it could become a global hub for mining — and receive a much-needed economic boost in the process.

The next steps: It remains to be seen whether Salvadorans will fully embrace bitcoin — which is notoriously volatile — or continue business-as-usual with the nation's other legal tender, the U.S. dollar.

Only time will tell if Bukele's plan for volcano-powered bitcoin mining facilities comes to fruition, too — but based on the speed of things so far, we won't have to wait long to find out.

Less than three hours after tweeting about the idea, Bukele followed up with another tweet claiming that the nation's geothermal energy company had already dug a new well and was designing a "mining hub" around it.

"This is going to evolve fast!" the president promised.

How Pfizer and BioNTech made history with their vaccine

How were mRNA vaccines developed? Pfizer's Dr Bill Gruber explains the science behind this record-breaking achievement and how it was developed without compromising safety.

How Pfizer and BioNTech made history with their vaccine
Sponsored by Pfizer
  • Wondering how Pfizer and partner BioNTech developed a COVID-19 vaccine in record time without compromising safety? Dr Bill Gruber, SVP of Pfizer Vaccine Clinical Research and Development, explains the process from start to finish.
  • "I told my team, at first we were inspired by hope and now we're inspired by reality," Dr Gruber said. "If you bring critical science together, talented team members together, government, academia, industry, public health officials—you can achieve what was previously the unachievable."
  • The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine has not been approved or licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but has been authorized for emergency use by FDA under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to prevent COVID-19 for use in individuals 12 years of age and older. The emergency use of this product is only authorized for the duration of the emergency declaration unless ended sooner. See Fact Sheet: cvdvaccine-us.com/recipients.

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