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Science

Charles Darwin's Best-Kept Secret 254

Posted by samzenpus
from the garden-of-darwin dept.
beschra writes "BBC writes of 'terra-forming' Ascension Island, one of the islands Charles Darwin visited. He and a friend encouraged the Royal Navy to import boatloads of trees and plants in an attempt to capture the little bit of water that fell on the island. They were quite successful. The island even has a cloud forest now. From the article: '[British ecologist] Wilkinson thinks that the principles that emerge from that experiment could be used to transform future colonies on Mars. In other words, rather than trying to improve an environment by force, the best approach might be to work with life to help it "find its own way."'"
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Charles Darwin's Best-Kept Secret

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  • Mars? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by drumcat (1659893) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @01:01AM (#33445890)
    We can't even terraform Earth right. What makes anyone believe that an oxygen-less place like Mars is going to just suddenly sprout weeds? Unless you can turn rust into Miracle-Gro, you're pretty borked.
  • by BradleyUffner (103496) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @01:04AM (#33445912) Homepage

    Turning a desert island into a cloud forest is hardly preserving anything...

    I am not terribly bothered by the idea of 'improving' Mother Earth, will anybody have a problem with 'improving' Mars?

    I don't know if you have ever read Red Mars, and the other books in this series, but it gets in to this question (among MANY others) rather seriously. An entire splinter group of people dedicated to preserving Mars in its cold lifeless state. It's a great set of books that deals with many psychological, and logistical terraforming questions.

  • Re:Mars? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sir_Lewk (967686) <sirlewkNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday September 02, 2010 @01:10AM (#33445936)

    Well for one thing, plants usually need CO2, not oxygen....

    Suddenly sprout weeds? Of course not. With sufficient money and engineering eventually support plant growth? Why not?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 02, 2010 @01:13AM (#33445952)

    An entire splinter group of people dedicated to preserving Mars in its cold lifeless state.

    That's like trying to preserve death. Why would you want too?

  • Re:Mars? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sir_Lewk (967686) <sirlewkNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday September 02, 2010 @01:13AM (#33445958)

    Why of course! That explains all the severe weather there! Wait, that's not how weather works at all... Mars most certainly has an atmosphere, and it is quite active. It just doesn't have a particularly dense atmosphere.

  • Re:Mars? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sir_Lewk (967686) <sirlewkNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday September 02, 2010 @01:32AM (#33446050)

    The lack of a magnetosphere will always present an issue for human life, but it wouldn't prevent life in general from getting a foothold. You wouldn't want to terraform the entirety of Mars to human standards anyways, it'd take far too long. More realistically you'd get some sort of 'crop' going to over time convert the soil into something usable and in the meantime set up sealed colonies. Far easier to terraform a geodesic dome or a martian cave than an entire planet.

  • by FooAtWFU (699187) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @01:39AM (#33446092) Homepage

    Having Mars as a pristine monument to the universe's beauty would be nice.

    Ultimately, though, it may easily mean giving up many trillions of dollars' worth of economic activity annually - trillions of dollars of the things people need or value - for tens of thousands of years on end, and that's a pretty steep price to pay for a monument. We have a 30,000 light-year monument to the universe's beauty called the "Milky Way" of which humans have affected approximately 0.000%. What makes Mars special? Is it that people can enjoy it more? Trillions of dollars' worth of enjoyment and moral satisfaction at its unblemished state every year? That's a hell of a trade-off.

    (Unless you're pushing a sort of conscientious asceticism spirituality agenda or what-not, which is all well and good, but I don't think you get to speak for the rest of Humanity to make that decision, even if they are a bunch of vapid hedonists).

  • by Gorimek (61128) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @02:15AM (#33446272) Homepage

    Think about it.

    Why would a martian microbe be specialized in feeding off Earth mammals? How would evolution end up there?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 02, 2010 @02:34AM (#33446360)

    There's a billion planets in our galaxy alone.

    Only one besides earth is conveniently close and possibly capable of supporting human life.

    You and almost everyone else on the planet will stop pretending to care when overpopulation threatens to starve you to death.

  • by bytesex (112972) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @03:14AM (#33446510) Homepage

    In that case, it's probably already contaminated. I doubt that Russian tech of the seventies, or US tech of the nineties for that matter, could render a huge object 100% sterile.

  • by Vertigo Acid (1164963) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @04:53AM (#33446926)

    If you think that the Grand Canyon, or any desert region really, is without any plant or animal life at all, you're not paying attention

  • by someone1234 (830754) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @05:07AM (#33446980)

    If there were 10 livable planets in our reach, i would support keeping Mars intact.
    But we have only one Earth, and a half-assed Mars, that, with some adjustments could be made somewhat livable.
    A single 100km asteroid can destroy earth, but it is unlikely to destroy both Mars and Earth.
    So, i think it is humanity's best interest to colonise Mars as soon as possible (within 100 years).

  • by circletimessquare (444983) <circletimessquare&gmail,com> on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:06AM (#33447830) Homepage Journal

    i think you've been watching "resident evil" "alien" or "andromeda strain" too much and don't really have much epidemiology or biochemistry under your belt. those are pleasant fictional entertainments, but they ignore the economics of basic evolution and biology

    a plague or a predator or a parasite is something a long time in the making, exquisitely crafted by evolution to its intended host. it is not something floating out there on mars or anywhere else that suddenly is able to take advantage of any plant or animal life on earth with sudden and voracious ability. out in space, life is trying its damnedest to survive things like radiation and starvation. things it wouldn't have to worry about on earth, but earth is not something it would be adapted to

    life in space would be hermits, long hibernators, very tough and resilient and specializing in slow growth and long dormancy. life in space would be poor, weak, and asocial. it wouldn't know what to do with other sudden bountiful sources of life around it like on earth, because it would be in isolation for millions of years. it is entirely possible, like andromeda strain, that alien life has been raining down on us, forever. but it is quickly outcompeted by life right here, because life right here knows how to live here and compete against other life. alien space life meanwhile, would be poorly suited to such tasks, and quickly be killed. predators and disease and parasites are forms of life evolved in the raucous promiscuous environment of many different kinds of life around it for millions of years: the opposite environment of space

    life in space has no time nor inclination to be a plague, nor preserve any such ability to do that, even if it somehow could, out there eking by in the cold and the empty. fish in caves quickly lose the ability to see through evolution, because evolution favors losing abilities that are expensive and provide no survival advantage. many times in natural history, birds have found isolated islands and promptly lost the ability to fly, becoming fat slow ground things that a predator from a large continent could easily and quickly dispatch. working wings are very expensive biologically, and only are useful in a high competition environment. likewise in space, where the most pressing issue might be radiation, cold, and starvation, the complex ability to be a plague or a predator or a parasite, is just too dang expensive to keep around, when there is no one else around. an ability to consume or infect other life would quickly degenerate and atrophy

    on earth, for millions of years, life has been pitted against life and has been trying to be that plague you fear to the best of its ability. in other words, the best training ground for a plague is right here, all around you, not out in the cold of space or on some desiccated planet. out there, any form of life has no time nor ability to evolve to be able to do anything with something as exotic as us or anything else on earth. but exposed to us for millions of years? yes, then it is a threat. and that's exactly what you already have here on earth all around you

    fear not mars. fear dhaka. fear taipei. fear moscow. a plague IS possible. it is breeding right now, maybe in your city, maybe in you. in terms of mother nature, our technological and agricultural advances have rendered humanity as a huge sudden recent population boom that, to the eyes of the rest of life on earth, is just a giant food source, winning a lottery ticket. all someone has to do is take advantage of us, and someone will take advantage of us, someday, somehow: influenza, SARS, bed bugs... its a relentless march of close calls, until there are no more close calls, but a direct hit instead. to the parasites and diseases, we are untapped riches. they've been working very hard via evolution to crack the code that will decimate us, and will continue to try hard to make us their food

    but... then they will evolve into something less virulent. because to disease, it doesn't pay to kill your hosts so fast as

  • by DeepBlueC (1892178) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:26AM (#33448014)
    Hey /. Change the photo on this article! Thankew.
  • by Thiez (1281866) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:59AM (#33448334)

    Why do you value humanity instead of humans? BOOM the asteroid strikes, 9 billion earthlings are now dead, but luckily for humanity, there are 500 humans left on mars! Sure, they're alone, cut of from their home planet, from millions of years of history and culture... many tribes in less developed country won't be represented among those few hundred, and will be lost forever. Depending on the state of terraforming (if any), our martians may be permanently stuck in domes, now that over 99.99999% percent of the humans are dead, science is unlikely to advance very fast so they're going to be stuck like this for a very long time.

    What is left? A few primates on a hostile planet, alone.
    What have we lost? Everything else.

    But at least *humanity* survives!

    Screw the colonization of Mars, let's invest in Earth-destroying-asteroid detection and prevention.

  • Re:Mars? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 02, 2010 @09:58AM (#33449310)

    Of course, it's possible that the rate of atmosphere loss is directly proportional to atmospheric pressure, since the more tenuous the atmosphere, the less pressure from the solar wind ...

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