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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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  • ok... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by garyisabusyguy ( 732330 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @12:52AM (#33445834)

    let's spray the bugger with lichen, they seem to survive everywhere []

  • Re:Interesting tool (Score:3, Interesting)

    by garyisabusyguy ( 732330 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @12:56AM (#33445856)

    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?

  • Re:ok... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sir_Lewk ( 967686 ) < minus herbivore> on Thursday September 02, 2010 @01:19AM (#33445986)

    You were modded funny, but it is not particularly hard to imagine a specially engineered lichen growing in the northern hemisphere of Mars. It could go dormant during the winter, and briefly grow during the summer when the sun begins to melt the (mostly CO2) icecap creating strong southward winds.

    Scientists discover new extremophiles every year, the more we learn the more we discover the window that life can survive in is larger than we originally thought.

  • yea ok... sure. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bakamorgan ( 1854434 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @01:20AM (#33445994)
    Thats not going to happen since mars climate can dip to -100 degrees C (-150 degrees F) late at night, even near the equator. That will kill about anything there is trying to grow.
  • Re:ok... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @01:28AM (#33446032) Homepage
    On a tangentially related note, I hear that peas are one of the prime candidates for farming on the Moon (which has month-long day/night cycles and plenty of cold).
  • Re:Interesting tool (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BradleyUffner ( 103496 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @01:30AM (#33446038) Homepage

    I had a hard time relating to that group in the book also. But I think it came down to how you see beauty. Something like the grand canyon, without any plant or animal life at all, is worthy of being preserved. The geography of Mars dwarfed anything seen in the Grand Canyon many times over, at a planetary scale. The splinter group felt that it was it's duty to preserve that geography so that people could better understand the solar system as a whole. At least that's the what I got from it. Red Mars really is a great series of books, it's worth the read.

  • Re:Interesting tool (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <> on Thursday September 02, 2010 @01:36AM (#33446070) Journal

    I think the bigger worry would be what "sprung up" if we actually started turning that "cold dead" world into a green oasis. After all we have seen there are microorganisms that can live for who knows how long in a dessicated state, so how do we know that there aren't bugs that would make the black plague look like a summer cold buried in those rocks?

    I think the first colonists better be prepared for a one way trip, as it would probably be too dangerous for someone who has lived on Martian soil and food grown there to interact with us Earthlings, at least without some serious isolation and a buttload of testing.

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

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @01:44AM (#33446106) Journal
    A year or so ago I came across an article about some protesters who opposed creating garbage dumps in Nevada. They said, "sure, there's nothing here, but how many places are there with nothing??" Apparently not enough.
  • by ebcreasoner ( 1890888 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @02:08AM (#33446226)

    Isn't a whole butt load of rust covering the planet? Iron oxide? Iron and oxygen. What now?

  • by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Thursday September 02, 2010 @02:29AM (#33446342) Homepage Journal

    What if it shared DNA with Earth critters, for whatever reason?

    What if it was an unspecialized parasite? What if all it needed was a carbon or nitrogen source?

    I think it's all unlikely in the extreme, but still not something we should entirely ignore.

  • by Slur ( 61510 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @02:32AM (#33446354) Homepage Journal

    Here's a video about how a rainforest was created in only 20 years, altering weather and creating a habitat for abundant life. This could be done all over the world to mediate the effects of Human activity. []

  • Re:Mars? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dargaud ( 518470 ) <slashdot2@gdarga[ ]net ['ud.' in gap]> on Thursday September 02, 2010 @03:30AM (#33446584) Homepage

    The lack of a magnetosphere will always present an issue for human life

    I could probably run the computation, but I don't feel like it right now, so, would it be possible to create a magnetosphere by laying down a (supraconducting) cable along the equator and running a current through it ? Or more simply two shorter cables circling the poles ?

  • Darwin also... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by drkim ( 1559875 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @03:55AM (#33446708)
    Darwin was also a genius in many other ways...

    Many years before the fossil and DNA discoveries that might have helped him, he conjectured that human life evolved on the continent of Africa and spread outward.
  • by qwerty8ytrewq ( 1726472 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @03:55AM (#33446710) Journal
    And the first recorded modern practice of permaculture as a systematic method was by Austrian farmer Sepp Holzer in the 1960s.
    Permaculture []Essentially one designs systems that run using existing natural ecologies using paths of least resistance and capturing energy/matter.
    Interestingly enough natural agriculture systems designed using these principle have no theoretical maximum yield.
  • by hellop2 ( 1271166 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @05:06AM (#33446974)
    Looks more like a few dozen trees and some scrub to me. []

    I was thinking "Terraformed!" Like Jurassic Park style.
  • Re:Mars? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 02, 2010 @05:25AM (#33447054)

    Yes you could!

    And the problem is not the electricity that has to flow to build up the magnetic field (building the magnetic field takes energy, but given enough time, it can be done.) The real problem is the solar wind itself. As it tries to strip away the atmosphere, it pushes against the magnetic field. This costs energy and therefore a minimum power output to the superconducting cables.

    I didn't do any calculations for this effect, but prepare to build a few BIG nuclear power plants.

  • Re:Mars? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wisdom_brewing ( 557753 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @05:56AM (#33447160) Homepage
    1) Build temperature regulated greenhouse
    2) Fill it with higher pressure martian atmosphere (say 10x pressurised)
    3) Pump in a "bit" more oxygen
    4) Plant sugar cane first thing in the morning thats been kept alive elsewhere before
    5) Sugar cane is bottlenecked by CO2 content of air on earth, on mars probably not, but it should create enough oxygen over the day to sustain itself at night.
    6) ?????
    7) Profit!!!
  • Re:Mars? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sunspot42 ( 455706 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @07:04AM (#33447456)

    According to this article from 2007, that might not be the case: []

    Combining two years of observations by the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft, researchers determined that Mars is currently losing only about 20 grams of air per second into space.

    Extrapolating this measurement back over 3.5 billion years, they estimate that only a small fraction, 0.2 to 4 millibars, of carbon dioxide and a few centimeters of water could have been lost to solar winds during that timeframe. (A bar is a unit for measuring pressure; Earth's atmospheric pressure is about 1 bar.)

  • Re:Interesting tool (Score:3, Interesting)

    by corbettw ( 214229 ) <corbettw&yahoo,com> on Thursday September 02, 2010 @08:57AM (#33448298) Journal

    Let's assume for the sake of argument that we had the technology to stop a life-ending asteroid in its tracks, there would still be a strong argument for colonizing Mars (and other bodies): resources. As times goes on, we continue to consume the metals and energy we need for technology to function on this planet. Eventually, we're going to have to start mining the other bodies in the solar system, just to keep our technology moving forward. It might not be for 100 years or more, but that day will come, and when it does concerns about preserving some lifeless hunk of rock floating in space are going to sound pretty short sighted.

  • by nten ( 709128 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @10:15AM (#33449668)

    Rather than terraform earth, we should martianform people. Or adapt ourselves more generally to life on the average desolate locale. I have no ethical objection to modifying whole planets, but I have no ethical objections to modifying a single species either. The latter seems far easier than genetically engineering or otherwise adapting hundreds of species to drag a frozen rock without much gravity into the narrow window of conditions our current physical form can tolerate.

  • Re:Darwin & racism? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 02, 2010 @10:38AM (#33450144)

    replying to self here - I found the passage I was thinking of:

    While staying at this estate, I was very nearly being an eye-witness to one of those atrocious acts which can only take place in a slave country. Owing to a quarrel and a lawsuit, the owner was on the point of taking all the women and children from the male slaves, and selling them separately at the public auction at Rio. Interest, and not any feeling of compassion, prevented this act. Indeed, I do not believe the inhumanity of separating thirty families, who had lived together for many years, even occurred to the owner. Yet I will pledge myself, that in humanity and good feeling he was superior to the common run of men. It may be said there exists no limit to the blindness of interest and selfish habit. I may mention one very trifling anecdote, which at the time struck me more forcibly than any story of cruelty. I was crossing a ferry with a negro, who was uncommonly stupid. In endeavouring to make him understand, I talked loud, and made signs, in doing which I passed my hand near his face. He, I suppose, thought I was in a passion, and was going to strike him; for instantly, with a frightened look and half-shut eyes, he dropped his hands. I shall never forget my feelings of surprise, disgust, and shame, at seeing a great powerful man afraid even to ward off a blow, directed, as he thought, at his face. This man had been trained to a degradation lower than the slavery of the most helpless animal.

  • Re:Interesting tool (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 02, 2010 @10:46AM (#33450360)

    Someone should write a book about a small Mars colony that toughs it out for 500 years, and then recolonizes the Earth after a super asteroid. Who knows what they would find?

  • by Alsee ( 515537 ) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @02:29PM (#33454740) Homepage

    Cool overhead shot. It lead me to some even more illuminating ground photos.

    This barren photo [] appears to represent the natural state of the island. If you go about one mile there's this photo from the edge of the green zone looking out over the barren island. [] A mere quarter mile further we find this photo at the heart of the green zone. []

    I'd say it's quite a striking transition from dry barren red rock to that wet greenery. I'd say it pretty well qualifies as "Terraformed! Like Jurassic Park style." It's all the more striking when you realize that you can walk from the barren desert on one side in to that third photo, and walk back out to barren desert on the other side, in probably less than two hours. I expect boundary is advancing at a decent rate each year, and the area of the biome increasing by the square of the radius.


Vitamin C deficiency is apauling.