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Charles Darwin's Best-Kept Secret 254

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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  • Re:Mars? (Score:4, Informative)

    by LiENUS ( 207736 ) <slashdot@vetma n a g e . com> on Thursday September 02, 2010 @01:18AM (#33445982) Homepage
    Mars has a serious problem in that any time any reasonable level of gases begin to accumulate. You know approaching the levels we might need to terraform it. The sun strips it all away.
  • Re:Mars? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @01:20AM (#33445998) Journal

    Let alone radiation galore because it has no magnetic field.

  • Re:Mars? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Aliotroph ( 1297659 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @01:26AM (#33446014)

    They need both. This gets overlooked a lot, but plant cells, at least in plants they showed us in high-school biology, needed oxygen too. In an ecosystem like we have, perhaps they use a lot of the oxygen they create, but they need some to start with. Perhaps it's best to start with even simpler life.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 02, 2010 @01:34AM (#33446060)

    According to this AscensionIsland government press release :

    "Goats were released onto Ascension by Portuguese explorers in the 1500s, and ate their way voraciously
    through the island’s greenery for 350 years before the flora was even described to science. By this stage, there wasn’t much left, and the introduction of rabbits, sheep, rats and donkeys, together with over 200 species of invasive plants, further squeezed out the island’s original plant inhabitants. With the rediscovery of Anogramma ascensionis the island’s surviving six endemic plant species are now boosted to a magnificent seven."

  • funny (Score:4, Informative)

    by garyisabusyguy ( 732330 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @02:04AM (#33446212)

    Here is the breakdown of the Martian atmosphere:

    carbon dioxide 95.32%
    nitrogen 2.7%
    argon 1.6%
    oxygen 0.13%
    carbon monoxide 0.07%
    water vapor 0.03%
    neon, krypton, xenon, ozone, methane trace
    The average surface pressure is only about 7 millibars (less than 1% of the Earth's) []

    So, Mars does have an atmosphere, but is it usable to Earth life?
    You would need s source of nitrogen, lotsa miracle gro would be handy

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 02, 2010 @02:50AM (#33446414)

    Umm Have they forgotton, Mars has no Magnetic Field!! practically useless for humans since any new atmosphere we create through greenhouse effect will be blown away by solar winds, plus we will be in more danger from Cosmic Rays and Solar flares without a Magnetic field

  • Re:Mars? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 02, 2010 @03:49AM (#33446688)

    Yes they do. They breathe. Even if a plant produces more oxygen than it consumes, that won't help it on Mars because the oxygen would spread evenly in the atmosphere, so it can't be recaptured later.

  • by ( 1396063 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @04:21AM (#33446814)
    At least not at a planatary scale. It's core is near frozen solid. Leaving it's magnetosphere too weak to protect the planet from solar wind. So, unless they plan to reignight it's core, better start looking at Venus as a new home.
  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @04:42AM (#33446890) Journal

    The entire point is that with extremely primitive means, they turned a volcanic (read liveless) island into a lush paradise. It proves that the creation of an eco system is something that CAN be managed without waiting for nature to do it very very slowly.

    It shows we CAN reverse de-forestation and it shows that man CAN have a large impact.

    Of course you need to be able to get your head past "but it is not 100% the same so it must be fail" that capability is what seperates the leaders from the sheep. Guess which group you belong too? Baaah!

  • Re:ok... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Xest ( 935314 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @04:56AM (#33446934)

    How about Guanacos too.

    When I was in Chile, up high in the Andes crossing into Argentina, there were two living things up there; Lichen, and Guanacos. Even the drought tolerant and hardy cacti weren't alive at that altitude in such a barren area, nor was there grass or any such thing.

    Lichen sure, but I still to this day have no idea how the fuck the Guanacos survived up there!

  • Re:yea ok... sure. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Xest ( 935314 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @05:05AM (#33446966)

    This isn't true. Even some species of cacti, for example, those in Canada are hardy down to that temperature. Opuntia humifusa (syn. O. compressa), and Escobaria vivipara have proven hardy down to -120c in the lab. Whilst they wont do much at this temperature, they're examples of more complex plantlife being able to clearly survive it. Cactaceae are also hardly the most adapted to this sort of climate, I'm sure there is plantlife that is even far more adapted to survive such temperatures than these examples.

  • ridge != volcanoes (Score:2, Informative)

    by piotru ( 124109 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @05:20AM (#33447032) Homepage Journal

    From the BBC article:
    "Its existence depends entirely on what geologists call the mid-Atlantic ridge. This is a chain of underwater volcanoes formed as the ocean is wrenched apart."
    I beg to differ. mid-Atlantic ridge forms above the spreading zone, and is by no means a chain of volcanoes.

  • Re:Interesting tool (Score:5, Informative)

    by Xest ( 935314 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @05:21AM (#33447042)

    "Something like the grand canyon, without any plant or animal life at all, is worthy of being preserved."

    Well it depends, for those lazy people who just pay for a helicopter tour over the top maybe, but as someone whose walked down it, some of the greatest memories I have are not simply the canyon itself, but witnessing life managing to thrive there. For example, having to stop for a family of deer to cross our path as the stag stood guarding the path, catching a magnificent picture of a Raven perched on a rock mid-squawk with a good shot of the canyon in the background, seeing the beautiful purple hue on some Opuntia species and their blooms, turning around on the way back up to see sheep with the biggest horns I've ever seen staring at me from the cliff side.

    Sure the likes of the Grand Canyon may look impressive without life, but it's far better with.

  • by cyclomedia ( 882859 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @07:19AM (#33447536) Homepage Journal

    BBC News - Beer microbes live 553 days outside ISS []

  • Re:Mars? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 02, 2010 @10:33AM (#33450030)

    Inverse square law. Solar already isn't exactly highly efficient on Earth. Mars is a bit further from the sun. Unless you get some really inexpensive solar panel fabs set up on Mars, this is probably not a cost-effective solution.

"If you lived today as if it were your last, you'd buy up a box of rockets and fire them all off, wouldn't you?" -- Garrison Keillor