≡ Menu

Terraforming Ascension Island

Terraforming is an extreme notion, modifying an entire planet to create a biosphere within which Earth-based live could thrive. But a recent BBC story (thanks to Erik Anderson for the tip) takes on a kind of terraforming that we’ve already accomplished on the South Atlantic island of Ascension. Up until now, I had always thought of Ascension in terms of the BBC transmitter there — in my shortwave days, I always knew who had a relay station where and on what frequencies. But the vision I had was solely of high-tech antennae amidst volcanic debris. Now I learn Ascension has its green side.

Image: British programmer and traveler Les Smith has made several trips to Ascension Island and has produced a wonderful photo log of his travels. This image shows the view looking down from Green Mountain. Further on in the story is a second image from Smith, this one of a garden showing how verdant some places on the island have become as a once barren landscape takes on new life.

David Catling (University of Washington) has been following the travels of Charles Darwin and investigating his association with botanist and explorer Joseph Hooker. Darwin reached Ascension in 1836 at the tail end of his epic voyage aboard the Beagle. The island in those days was, as the inhabitants of the more southerly island of St. Helena told him, no more than a cinder, a volcanic outcropping between Africa and South America, and a long way from each.

The description reminds me of Iceland, which can be unexpectedly verdant in places (particularly the southwest, south of Reykjavik), but which also houses landscapes that are positively lunar in appearance, so devoid of evident life in all directions that you are reminded sharply of the place’s geological immaturity. But just as Iceland has its areas of farmland and growth, so Ascension has acquired a green patina on Green Mountain, its highest peak. The difference is that Ascension’s burgeoning ‘cloud forest’ is entirely artificial. Catling speculates that Darwin had a hand in the eventual growth, which Joseph Hooker became instrumental in creating.

Darwin evidently goaded Hooker to advise the Royal Navy to begin sending trees to Ascension, the idea being to create more water for the growing naval base on the island. From the BBC story:

The idea was breathtakingly simple. Trees would capture more rain, reduce evaporation and create rich, loamy soils. The “cinder” would become a garden.

So, beginning in 1850 and continuing year after year, ships started to come. Each deposited a motley assortment of plants from botanical gardens in Europe, South Africa and Argentina.

Soon, on the highest peak at 859m (2,817ft), great changes were afoot. By the late 1870s, eucalyptus, Norfolk Island pine, bamboo, and banana had all run riot.

Back in England, Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution were busily uprooting the Garden of Eden.

But on a green hill far away, a new “island Eden” was being created.

The story goes on to quote Dave Wilkinson (Liverpool John Moores University), who discovered plants that seldom co-exist growing together on Green Mountain. Wilkinson is interested in the principles Ascension demonstrates, the notion that brute force terraforming should give way to helping life gradually transform an environment. Could such principles take hold on other planets? The answer is at the other side of a great and necessary debate, one that questions whether we have the right to impact possible life forms on other worlds, and whether even on a lifeless world, such terraforming is more important than preserving what nature hath wrought.

Meanwhile, Les Smith’s photography renews my interest in one day making the South Atlantic island tour, which would take in Ascension, St. Helena, and the incredibly remote Tristan da Cunha, along with a side journey to the Falklands. The Darwinian echoes at Ascension spur me on, as does interest in how the community on Tristan has survived its long isolation.

tzf_img_post

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • andy September 2, 2010, 14:00

    Nice to have a more positive outlook for small-scale ecological experiments to somewhat counterbalance the grim fate of Rapa Nui. I’ve always wanted to visit the South Atlantic islands, they look like truly fascinating places. You need a lot of spare time to do it though, particularly for islands like St Helena or Tristan da Cunha where the only way in is by boat.

  • Tulse September 2, 2010, 14:01

    The Ascension story is truly fascinating — it’s great to see such a radical human-induced change to a biosphere that seems to have been an unalloyed good.

    And I have always been spellbound by Tristan da Cunha, and wondered what it would be like to live in the most isolated spot on the globe. Since the end of the Apollo missions, these people are regularly the farthest distance from any other human beings. Amazing.

  • Scott G September 2, 2010, 14:30

    Reading this makes me think that successfully terraforming Mars is entirely possible. If we aggressively study the martian climate and it’s soil properties in the coming decades, maybe we can develop an advanced, high-resolution climate model that will allow us to consider adding a bit of life here and there — as was done with Ascension island — each time providing the impetus to alter the martian environment in a direction more favorable to life.

    Maybe we don’t need to approach terraforming Mars with the idea that some upfront grand transformational warming of the planet has to take place before life can take hold. Maybe we can do it with precision placement of robust genetically modified plants brought from Earth that will gradually nudge the martian climate towards habitability.

  • Eniac September 2, 2010, 16:55

    It seems unavoidable now that we will find habitable planets. If we find them to be lifeless, terraforming will be very similar to the greening of Ascension: Plant the seeds and watch them grow. Perhaps the first interstellar travelers will be the seeds of trees and shrubs….

    Oxygen will then follow, but it is anyone’s guess how many thousands or billions of years it will take to oxidize the crust and accumulate in the atmosphere.

  • Matt Robare September 3, 2010, 0:04

    It seems to me that it doesn’t make much sense to terraform planets, especially geologically inactive, low-gravity ones such as Mars. Constantly replacing atmosphere (not to mention maintaining pressure people could survive in) and heat would seem to me wasteful. The most important thing though, is that it’s like deliberately going down a dead end when you were already on the highway.

    Yes, Mars is less massive than Earth, but it still requires delta-v to get back into space where orbital habitats mean never having to give any back.

  • Ronald September 3, 2010, 8:49

    Eniac: rather starting with blue-green algae (Cyanobacteria) instead of trees and shrubs. Some of them are amazingly hardy and can thrive under very extreme conditions, with regard to high/low temperature, low air pressure, atmospheric composition, radiation, lack of moisture, etc.

    And according to most authoritative sources on terraforming, the terraformation of Mars would not take much longer than some millennia.

    See foe example the Terraforming Information Pages, by Martyn Fogg:
    http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~mfogg/

    Matt Robare: it does make a lot of sense, it is a way to jump-start a potentially habitable planet. And even if there would never be a real equilibrium with regard to atmospheric composition, it would still take many millennia for an oxygen-rich atmosphere to lose all its oxygen again.
    So it’s quite worthwhile. Compare it to greening a desert, but with much larger scale and longer term benefits.

  • Eniac September 3, 2010, 11:28

    And according to most authoritative sources on terraforming, the terraformation of Mars would not take much longer than some millennia.

    See foe example the Terraforming Information Pages, by Martyn Fogg:
    http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~mfogg/

    As far as I have looked at that, the calculations regarding oxygen accumulation do not account for any oxygen sinks. Since currently there is no oxygen at all, it is likely that the ground is not fully oxidized, and any oxygen getting into the atmosphere will first be absorbed there. That’s what I was referring to, since I remember reading somewhere that on Earth it took on the order of a billion years to reach saturation. Probably, without plate tectonics and much erosion to mix up the surface, the truth is somewhere in between, but it could still be a LOT longer than millennia.

  • Ron S September 3, 2010, 15:15

    Oxygen is, by mass, the most abundant element in the Earth’s crust. I haven’t checked but I would assume a similar situation on Mars. In other words, Mars’ crust is already heavily oxidized since it’s there and because it is so reactive it is bound up in mineral form, including water. Creating an oxygen atmosphere using local mass requires biological or chemical processes to liberate the bound oxygen, and to do it fast enough that it is not drawn out by mineral oxidation faster than it can be liberated. Fooling around with CO2 biochemistry can come later when the atmosphere is partially established.

    Once set in motion you will only occasionally (per Eniac’s observation), perhaps every several million years, have to top up the atmosphere’s mass. If the atmosphere can be created in the first place, the topping up process will be totally routine.

  • Rob Henry September 3, 2010, 20:59

    I feel strangely compelled to participate in this discussion, particularly over the terraforming of Mars. Firstly Matt Robare’s comments seem close to the truth, but no cigar. His implication that the depth of the Martian gravitational well is the long term problem for atmospheric loss is wrong. True Martian gravity is insufficient to retain helium over geological time whereas Earth’s can retain all but hydrogen against thermal loss, but it is spluttering, allowed by Mars’ lack of a magnetic field, that is causing the real damage. It should be a given that any technology powerful enough to terraform Mars could also find a way to protect it from the solar wind. Secondly it is true that human’s could lead a far more comfortable life in ‘orbiting’ habitats than they could on Earth or Mars, but there is a severe size limitation on such fast rotating structures. If our population continues to grow, and some extraverted fraction of humanity wants to live in vast cities, only Mars and Earth seem suitable. If ever such cities were hundreds of stories high, the refrigeration of such cities would place intolerable heat strain on any established ecosystem, meaning that they must eventually be placed on Mars with Earth becoming just a nature reserve. Actually because parent will soon be able to select the genes of their children, and height is a highly desirable characteristic, future generations will be much taller than us. Back problems will almost certainly mean that most people of the far future would be very uncomfortable on any return to Earth. Mars is our future.

  • Ronald September 4, 2010, 7:23

    I agree with Ron S: Mars’s surface is already strongly oxidized, hence the red rust color: iron(III)oxide.
    However, I would not primarily create an oxygen atmosphere by liberating oxygen bound in the soil, this will probably take lots of energy and runs the risk of renewed oxidization.
    I would rather get the oxygen initially from the polar CO2 ice caps.

    Rob Henry: nice contribution! But zero gravity poses serious longer-term health problems. Another argument for planetary habitation (besides the huge stochastic risk of a fatal catastrophy hitting a relatively small space habitat).
    BTW: even the Dutch male population (tallest in the world) here isn’t increasing in height anymore, according to recent research. As most developments and growth processes, it has recently leveled off.

  • Ron S September 4, 2010, 9:58

    Ronald,

    Atmospheric pressure on Mars is ~1% that of Earth, and it is almost entirely CO2. There is a continuous 25% movement of that CO2 between the atmosphere and ice caps that follows the seasons. I think this makes it clear there is simply not enough oxygen there to exploit. Leave the CO2 alone since it can be used to fuel plant life, and instead go to the large, exploitable reservoir: the crust. You can leave the soil alone, if you wish, just focus on rock. What you need for an atmosphere is a tiny fraction of what’s in the rock. Of course you will need energy, but then so will any terraforming.

  • Eniac September 4, 2010, 23:11

    I agree that the soil is highly oxidized, but atmospheric oxygen will only accumulate after the soil is fully oxidized, and there may be a substantial gap between “highly” and “fully”. There is mention of magnetism proving incomplete oxidation here: http://www.space.com/news/spacehistory/viking_life_010728-1.html, but I am not sure I completely follow the argument.

    Whatever their nature, I think oxygen sinks should be expected, simply because there is no free oxygen (where did it go?). Calculations assuming no sink whatsoever are likely overly optimistic.

  • Ronald September 5, 2010, 7:52

    Ron S and Eniac: ok, very convincing.

  • bigdan201 September 5, 2010, 20:37

    Ah yes, terraforming, one of my favorite topics.

    First of all, fascinating story! I hadn’t heard of that before.

    Mars is a cold desert, and would need an atmosphere and water imported. With enough resources, it could be done. Atmospheric leaking into space would be very minor and on the scale of 1,000 years or more, long enough to easily replace any losses. A properly established greenhouse effect should warm up Mars quite a bit. A major question is whether the gravity of Mars, one third of earths, is enough to prevent the problems of weightlessness, or to what extent.

    One advantage of space station habitats is that they can rotate and provide a centrifugal force to take the place of gravity.

    Venus would be an attractive place due to its earthlike gravity, except of course its atmosphere – an ocean of carbon dioxide gas which causes massive pressure and temperature at the surface. In order to terraform Venus, you would have to cool it down and/or hit it with a very large amount of hydrogen gas to convert the atmosphere to graphite and water via the bosch reaction. Ideally it could be a tropical version of earth. However, you’d have to go to lengths to terraform Venus, so most likely we’ll focus on Mars which is much easier to deal with.

    On the other hand, you could colonize Venus without terraforming by setting up floating colonies in the clouds. Likewise, domed habitats on Mars are doable, at least until the terraforming process is complete.

    The gas giants could support floating colonies as well.. although Jupiter has alot of gravity, the other gas giants have surface gravity similar to earth.

    One planet that doesn’t get mentioned often is Mercury. Although terraforming isn’t possible there, colonization is. There are polar areas which don’t have extremes of temperature, and it has lots of solar power – as well as potential for mining.

    Terraforming is something I see as a great undertaking, but well within the realm of possibility. We can terraform+colonize or simply colonize, we’re not limited to just one or the other.

    An exoplanet similar to earth will open up a whole new avenue of possibilities, but I won’t get into that right now.

    I’ve probably talked about this stuff on here before, just wanted to recap since this is a terraforming thread.

  • intercostal September 5, 2010, 23:29

    “But zero gravity poses serious longer-term health problems.”

    Does it — presuming you do not intend to go back to gravity? Sure, it is dangerous to go *to Earth* once you have been in zero g for a long time. But if you plan to *live* in zero g, does bone atrophy etc. actually matter?

    There are *potential* problems with embryonic development in zero g, but studies go both ways — it currently doesn’t seem to be prohibitive.

    “Another argument for planetary habitation (besides the huge stochastic risk of a fatal catastrophy hitting a relatively small space habitat).”

    Is the risk actually any higher than Earth? It might be less so, as you can keep a closer watch on your ecosystem and stuff. And steer out of the way of asteroids, hide behind a moon or something if the Sun flares really badly…

  • Ronald September 6, 2010, 10:45

    @Intercostal;

    Besides atrophy of bones there is the weakening of muscles, the heart muscle among them. Plus there seems to be a gradual weakening of the immune system.

    “Is the risk actually any higher than Earth?”

    Yes, in fact vastly so. This is a stochastic (statistical) matter, closely related to the issue of island biogeography, or the reason why small (habitat) islands and small populations run much greater risks of extinction. On large earthly continents, there may be local extinction, but there will nearly always be recolonization from areas not hit. The smaller the habitat the greater the risk per time unit of a fatal event and complete extinction. This must be even greatly more so in the case of complex space habitats where lots of things can go wrong, hence lots of possible fatal chance events.
    The fact that in a confined space habitat everything has to be controlled and regulated does not work for you but against you, since many more things can go wrong.

    It is just another way of saying ´s..t happens` and the smaller the habitat, the easier that s..t will be fatal.

  • Tobias Holbrook September 6, 2010, 12:42

    Considering embryo’s essentially develop in zero-G, yet appear to need gravity to develop properly, perhaps they only need it to define a “down” direction? In which case, only slight accelerations might be needed – mankind might be able to colonize dwarf planets and moons without having to worry about gravity. Iron boots, bracelets, and such, in an intense magentic field, could perhaps simulate the effects of gravity?

  • Eniac September 6, 2010, 23:39

    Venus would be an attractive place due to its earthlike gravity, except of course its atmosphere – an ocean of carbon dioxide gas which causes massive pressure and temperature at the surface. In order to terraform Venus, you would have to cool it down and/or hit it with a very large amount of hydrogen gas to convert the atmosphere to graphite and water via the bosch reaction. Ideally it could be a tropical version of earth. However, you’d have to go to lengths to terraform Venus, so most likely we’ll focus on Mars which is much easier to deal with.

    Maybe it is not so difficult after all. If you can get plants established (some kind of floating algae perhaps), they might over time fix all of the carbon (as apparently happened on Earth) and the remaining atmosphere might be as thin as the Earth’s. In fact, I am wondering if Earth’s primordial atmosphere might not have been similar to Venus’s today, with the greenhouse effect giving life a chance in the then much colder sun.

    You’d still need water, though.

  • Stan September 7, 2010, 4:32

    Terraforming sounds great, but I keep stumbling over the cost. Would taxpayers on Earth who could never go there pay for it? The cost would be astronomical, yet we can hardly find the funds to subsidize a few commercial tin cans.

  • Ronald September 7, 2010, 8:11

    Eniac; the real problem on Venus at present is not primarily the excess CO2 (though that is a problem too), but rather the lack of water. It seems that all the water in the atmosphere and topsoil of Venus equals a layer of only some 15 – 20 cm (6 – 8 inches), which is at most 1% of the amount on Mars. And the algae will need water.
    And that is rather irrevocable, since most water has been lost to Venus in its early stages, see recent tread https://www.centauri-dreams.org/?p=14086.
    Summarized simply: because of the proximity of Venus to the sun the heat and solar wind resulted in evaporation and dissociation of most water, where the H2 went lost into space and the O2 was bound by C into CO2. This is probably also a cause of the absence of plate tectonics on Venus, because the water seems to play an important role in the ‘lubrication’ of the mantle.
    So the real issue is how/where to get the water. Some, such as Zubrin, have suggested to import is by means of comet-like objects from the Kuiper Belt and/or Oort Cloud, at the same time speeding up Venus’s rotation through the impacts. However, a humongous number of these objects would be needed. In fact so many, that from a point of view of investment and energy terraforming Mars would be peanuts in comparison, as would be sending some colony ships to a neighboring planetary system.

  • Tobias Holbrook September 7, 2010, 8:53

    “Terraforming sounds great, but I keep stumbling over the cost. Would taxpayers on Earth who could never go there pay for it? The cost would be astronomical, yet we can hardly find the funds to subsidize a few commercial tin cans.”

    Terraforming’s not going to happen until we have a fully established solar wide economy, and it’ll be paid for by the people who live there. Even if it cost the equivelent of 50 billion dollars to get a thick CO2 atmosphere on Mars, if the population is 1 million they’d be able to afford it easily, if they want.

  • Ronald September 7, 2010, 9:38

    Correction: I wrote: “all the water in the atmosphere and topsoil of Venus equals a layer of only some 15 – 20 cm (6 – 8 inches), which is at most *1%* of the amount on Mars.”
    That should have been *0.1%*.

    The difference is that extreme: that thin layer of water equivalent on Venus is only about 0.1 % of the amount of water on Mars, since all the water in the upper layers and polar caps of Mars would equal a layer of (at least) some 150 – 200 meters, according to what I have read.

  • Eniac September 7, 2010, 10:13

    Ronald,

    Eniac; the real problem on Venus at present is not primarily the excess CO2 (though that is a problem too), but rather the lack of water. It seems that all the water in the atmosphere and topsoil of Venus equals a layer of only some 15 – 20 cm (6 – 8 inches), which is at most 1% of the amount on Mars. And the algae will need water.

    You are right, of course, lack of water is a problem. Come to think of it, though, there is 20 ppm of water in the atmosphere. At almost 100 fold density, that would correspond to 0.2 % in Earth’s atmosphere, not too far off the 1% average water content on Earth. It would require quite a superbug to live under those conditions, but we have quite some wondercritters right here on Earth, too. The carbon would have to be fixed in pure or mineral form, since there is not enough hydrogen to produce hydrocarbons. Fixing elemental carbon is of no use to the organism, so there is a problem of stability against mutation.

    Stan,

    Terraforming sounds great, but I keep stumbling over the cost. Would taxpayers on Earth who could never go there pay for it? The cost would be astronomical, yet we can hardly find the funds to subsidize a few commercial tin cans.

    That is why the “Ascension method” is so attractive. It costs very little to engineer and release an organism, and they can grow quickly to planetary scale. If a planet is suitable for purely biological terraforming, it can be done on the cheap. Probably none of our local planets are suitable, but out there among the stars, there should be plenty of proto-Earths waiting to be brought to life.

    It is also conceivable to use von-Neumann machines, which have the same property of exponential growth and are good at fixing metal (i.e. separating the oxygen from the metal in rock), meaning that any rocky planet could be given an oxygen containing atmosphere. Other chemical transformations, such as carbon and sulfur fixing, could also be programmed as needed.

    Venus would still be a challenge. You would have to design your machines to happily reproduce at Venus surface conditions, where they can mine the rock. Not inconceivable, but certainly tricky. At least, machines don’t need water.

  • Tulse September 7, 2010, 11:37

    Cost is presumably traded off with time — biologically-based terraforming approaches are likely to be relatively cheap, but take a very long time, whereas “brute force” methods (such as using comets as sources of water/atmosphere) would be much faster, but much more costly.

  • Ronald September 7, 2010, 15:10

    Eniac: you are so right! The real von Neumann machines are biological i.e. living organisms. And this is the age of bio-engineering. I believe that terraforming will primarily take place by means of seeding with bio-engineered organisms, adapted to vaious conditions.
    Why use artificial machines, when you have organic ones, already naturally suited to self-replication and adaptation.

    And Tulse: don’t under-estimate the potential growth rates of organisms, some micro-organisms show incredible exponential growth under suitable conditions, the basic principle behind pests and epidemic diseases.

  • Eniac September 7, 2010, 18:10

    Why use artificial machines, when you have organic ones, already naturally suited to self-replication and adaptation.

    Well, absence of water might be one reason. Absence of carbon another. Extreme high or low temperatures. Machines could grow under many conditions where bio-engineering is useless. Machines could perhaps put a breathable atmosphere on the moon, depending on how fast it escapes into space. Or convert asteroids into space habitats. No biological organism will ever do that.

  • Vernon Notsky September 7, 2010, 21:18

    Yes, terraforming begins here on Earth! The first, large scale desert terraforming experiment is going to be the North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWAPA), to green the Great American desert shared by the U.S. and Mexico. The plans have already been made in detail; the water already exists (it uses 20% of the Alaskan run-off water); and it’s economically necessary for the U.S., Mexico, and Canada right now, in order to get us out of the current depression, Roosevelt-style.

    There is a detailed 3D fly-through of the entire project, with narration, here: A Short Tour of NAWAPA

    After you watch that, there is an interactive, Google Earth version, which has lower resolution, but you can click on all of the dams, tunnels, reservoirs, and canals (in many cases, the largest ever built in human history) for more detailed specs.

    Even more detailed tours can be found here.

    And further scientific, political, and economic implications are availablehere.

    Let’s build this! It’s waiting for you to help. :) If anyone wants the more detailed specs, I can provide them, as well as the details of sister projects for Central Asia, Africa, and Mexico, which we’ll be able to take up once we develop the expertise by building NAWAPA.

  • Ronald September 8, 2010, 4:13

    @Vernon Notsky:
    I was very pleased to read about NAWAPA again (yes, I know your site, very interesting), I thought I was one of the few remaining people even knowing about it, and also thought that it was virtually dead.
    I just read about similar plans (revived from the Sovjet era) to divert Siberian rivers to Kazahkstan, in order to irrigate the fertile and potentially very productive lands there, one of the greatest potential breadbaskets of the near future, together with southern Russia and the Ukraine (the belt of fertile land is know as the Chernozem or black earth, very similar to the Great Plains).

  • Ronald September 8, 2010, 4:19

    Eniac: “Well, absence of water might be one reason. Absence of carbon another. Extreme high or low temperatures.”

    Again, you are right. Maybe interesting for exploitation of particular resources. But for terraforming, I would expect the preference of terrestrial planets with water and carbon.

  • bigdan201 September 8, 2010, 8:28

    I had not heard of NAWAPA, that is fascinating… and well within our capabilities.

    To elaborate – as far as venus, as I said the most straightforward way would be hydrogen bombardment. The bosch reaction would create graphite (elemental carbon) and water.. thus it would eliminate the carbon dioxide atmosphere while creating oceans of water. The problem is that you would need a massive amount of hydrogen – 400 billion megatons if my figures are correct. It would take a massive effort to export so much from the gas giants. Unless we can harvest it from the sun or find a convenient large body of hydrogen, it would be daunting.

    To also elaborate on floating colonies, there is a region in the Venusian atmosphere where the pressure and temperature are similar to earth. Breathable air is a lifting gas there. You could also use the carbon present for building structures. So, that is probably how we will colonize Venus if we go there.. at least at first. We may establish a presence with floating colonies while undertaking a long-term terraforming process.

    Mars is definitely the most realistic target. It would just need greenhouse gasses, oxygen, and water to be added. It seems that we could create a self-perpetuating cycle there, as more heat would melt the CO2 at the poles to build the greenhouse effect further.. and water vapor is a greenhouse gas as well. As far as economics, the iron oxides could be useful for mining.. and releasing the bound oxygen could further augment the terraforming process.

    Seeding definitely seems like an effective and inexpensive method.

  • Vernon Notsky September 9, 2010, 12:59

    @Ronald:
    Keep your eye on the site! We’re preparing a detailed video on the Siberian Rivers project, and another on the Bering Strait bridge/tunnel. We are thinking of all of this as one massive, inter-linked terraforming project. We’ve already documented the sister projects in Mexico, Africa, and the necessity for Mars colonization, (and more Mars colonization) as part of the NAWAPA push.

    Also, incidentally: I was just recently walking around on the Chernozem, and my screen name is derived from the name of the first Russian-Ukrainian scientist to research those soils, after Dokuchaev. =)

    @bigdan201:
    Do you think that the colonization and economic development of Earth’s oceans might provide a bridge technology to what you’re proposing for Venus? And do you have more documentation on the floating colonies? My team wants to make sure that the implementation of NAWAPA today is carried out with a clear eye to where it must lead in the future. Politically, it is already in motion, but it’s important to constantly make sure that the people involved aren’t thinking too small about it. Anybody who’d like to discuss the details and the implications for solar system colonization over lunch, or a drink, is invited!

    –Vern

  • bigdan201 September 10, 2010, 8:39

    Do you think that the colonization and economic development of Earth’s oceans might provide a bridge technology to what you’re proposing for Venus? And do you have more documentation on the floating colonies? My team wants to make sure that the implementation of NAWAPA today is carried out with a clear eye to where it must lead in the future. Politically, it is already in motion, but it’s important to constantly make sure that the people involved aren’t thinking too small about it. Anybody who’d like to discuss the details and the implications for solar system colonization over lunch, or a drink, is invited!

    Probably. It depends on what idea you’re considering for ocean colonization, but that could certainly give us valuable tools and experience. After all, we’ve taken lessons from living in nuclear submarines to prepare for space voyages. And if we could find a low-energy/economic method to process saltwater into freshwater, that would be a breakthrough technology with lasting impact.

    As far as floating colonies, wiki has more information here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonization_of_venus#Aerostat_habitats_and_floating_cities
    as does Paul Birch, in his paper about terraforming Venus quickly – http://www.paulbirch.net/TerraformingVenusQuickly.pdf check section 8 for relevant info.
    You can download that and see more papers at http://www.paulbirch.net/#paper

    NAWAPA is a very promising development. I’m sure it’ll get lots of press as it advances, as this is the first place I’ve heard about it.

  • Slamlander February 23, 2011, 7:33

    It’s not terraforming. The word you want is ecoforming; creating or modifying an ecology to suit.

  • Martin J Sallberg October 17, 2011, 7:21

    Liquid water has been found to appear in deep trenches on Mars during summer “months”. Maybe seed those regions with robust lichen. The already oxidized soil gives off the small amounts of oxygen such lichens need to grow actively. Maybe the lichens should be genetically engineered to produce CO2-liberating acid or something to widen the habitable part of Mars by densening the atmosphere. For Venus, maybe cool it by explosions causing a atomic winter, dump excess water from melting ices on Earth to Venus when it is cool enough for the dense atmosphere to keep water liquid, vapor condenses on the particles and forms CO2-weathering rain. Introduce genetically engineered plants with ultra-light pollen that can hover up high in the atmosphere and replace the explosion dust.