The Terraformer's Handbook

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Edeski Edeski's picture
The Terraformer's Handbook
Ok - having seen lots of really creative ideas for terraforming a planet (such as on the Meltwater) thread, how about a discussion of actually what a Terraformer would do on a day to day basis - I'm thinking Mars mostly, but I guess exoplanets and moons might warrant discussion. As I see it (on Mars), the ideas are mainly:- 1. Make the atmosphere more breathable, by using extrolysis to liberate O2 from ice, 2. Increase pressure by amplifying the amount of atmospheric H20 (heating of subsurface ice or comet impacts) 3. Heat the world by increasing Chloro-Flourocarbons, redirected solar heating, decreasing albedo 4. Building simple ecosystems - introducing micro-organisms (like Water bears and bacteria) and simple, cold/radiation/low o2/low pressure resistant plants Have I missed anything? How do we actually do these things??
"For those who fight for it, life has a flavour the sheltered will never know"
rfmcdonald rfmcdonald's picture
Megascale engineering and
Megascale engineering and construction would be required, on scales scarcely imaginable. These planets are worlds that cannot support Earth-like life--or, as in the case of marginal worlds like Luca II, cannot do so very comfortable--for very good reasons. Technological fixes are going to be proportionately expensive. It could be on a vast scale. Kim Stanley Robinson in his recent [URL="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2312_%28novel%29"][i]2312[/i][/URL] suggested that Mars' well-known deficit of nitrogen could be remedied by exporting half of the atmosphere of Titan to the Red Planet. The less hospitable Venus, in his universe only partially terraformed, was first put into shadow by a massive soletta array until the planet entered a global ice age and carbon dioxide rained down like snow, then was hit by ice chunks from Saturn's disassembled moon Dione to create a global ocean, [i]then[/i] was projected to experience a series of impacts from the Kuiper belt to speed up its rotation. (And even then, maintaining the soletta array would probably be necessary to prevent the planet from overheating again.)
Arenamontanus Arenamontanus's picture
Edeski wrote:
Edeski wrote:
1. Make the atmosphere more breathable, by using extrolysis to liberate O2 from ice, 2. Increase pressure by amplifying the amount of atmospheric H20 (heating of subsurface ice or comet impacts) 3. Heat the world by increasing Chloro-Flourocarbons, redirected solar heating, decreasing albedo 4. Building simple ecosystems - introducing micro-organisms (like Water bears and bacteria) and simple, cold/radiation/low o2/low pressure resistant plants
I think these are the local, small-scale things terraformers are involved in. 1 is probably less about oxygen than getting water onto the surface and into the atmosphere: it is a good greenhouse gas, and enables the ecosystems. This is also why there are big comet impacts, which (for the right choice of source) has more nitrogen in the form of ammonia. Nitrogen is the headache: it is scarce on Mars, yet necessary for bulking up the atmosphere (cannot use too much CO2 if Earthlife is to thrive, oxygen is too reactive) and enabling a biosphere. It would be great if those Titanians were to cooperate rather than play commonwealth, but in lieu of that prospectors scour the outer system looking for high-ammonia ice to send inwards. Water also has the annoying tendency to freeze in inaccessible places, and form high albedo ice. That has to be stopped: channels must be dug (so many ditches to dig on Mars!) to channel it away from the highland craters, and ice must be covered with low albedo dust so it melts. This is plenty of heavy unglamorous work for the terraformers. Dust must be bound: it interferes with everything, it can bury ice and insulate it, and it can likely act as a reflective material. Another reason to seed lichens, crabgrass or whatever can grow and bind it. Or just spray nano-glue on dunes and other problematic landforms to try to catch it. In space Red Eden is likely setting up solettas to shine extra light on the poles and aquifers to warm them. When they do, ground staff better stand ready for unexpected flash floods. Getting UV down is likely a low priority, given the good genetic engineering.
Extropian
Jay Dugger Jay Dugger's picture
Quote:Nitrogen is the
Quote:
Nitrogen is the headache: it is scarce on Mars, yet necessary for bulking up the atmosphere (cannot use too much CO2 if Earthlife is to thrive, oxygen is too reactive) and enabling a biosphere. It would be great if those Titanians were to cooperate rather than play commonwealth, but in lieu of that prospectors scour the outer system looking for high-ammonia ice to send inwards.
Martyn Fogg argues in his Terraforming (1992) the best source for such nitrogen would lie on Mars itself in mineral deposits. This means prospecting for nitrate beds would count as day-to-day work for terraformers or miners. Fogg also proposes thickening the Martian atmosphere by vaporizing such deposits with lots (4 billion to 4 million) of high-yield (700 kT-707 MT) atomic explosives. He estimates this would cost between 414 and 1 times Earth's 1975 Gross World Product. The civil engineering explosions would make lousy weapons, and if pure fusion bombs exploded subsurface, actually pose little radiation risk. (Just tritium, with a 12.3 year half-life, but you'd need to check your water supplies for HTO vice H2O.) Possible jobs include designing and placing nuclear explosives, buying antimatter or other unobtainium macguffin (if used as a trigger for the fusion reaction), and of course--lawyers and lobbyists to make certain you're indemnified, insured, and generally squared away. Interested readers should refer to the source. I've elided many important details in favor of dramatic numbers.
Sometimes the delete key serves best.
Arenamontanus Arenamontanus's picture
Jay Dugger wrote:
Jay Dugger wrote:
Martyn Fogg argues in his Terraforming (1992) the best source for such nitrogen would lie on Mars itself in mineral deposits. This means prospecting for nitrate beds would count as day-to-day work for terraformers or miners.
And finding a good deposit would be worth a fortune. Fogg's book is old, but still THE book on the topic. He likely has newer papers we ought to consult.
Quote:
Fogg also proposes thickening the Martian atmosphere by vaporizing such deposits with lots (4 billion to 4 million) of high-yield (700 kT-707 MT) atomic explosives. He estimates this would cost between 414 and 1 times Earth's 1975 Gross World Product. The civil engineering explosions would make lousy weapons, and if pure fusion bombs exploded subsurface, actually pose little radiation risk. (Just tritium, with a 12.3 year half-life, but you'd need to check your water supplies for HTO vice H2O.)
Hehehe... the terraforming nukes. They played a fun role in my Land of the Ten Suns campaign, where some noble families had a few stashed away. Chekov's nuke and all that. One fun use mentioned by Fogg is to use a very long pipeline with fusable material and a trigger to explode channels. This is a great way to quickly fix some of the hydrology. Edward Teller would approve.
Extropian
Edeski Edeski's picture
Terraforming
Thanks for the refs - have now read up about the subject and appreciate a bit more about the problems involved - I like the idea of nuclear Bangalore Torpedos to explode channels!!! So, your Barsoomians would need some mining and engineering skills, a bit of explosives knowledge(to blow stuff up with nukes or hot dust), some ecology (for identifying and planting mini ecosystems), a bit of nano-programming, and some nav skills and networking so they can get the Icejacks to drop ammonia comets onto suitable N2 deposits. Most important seems to be some sort of prospecting skill, to identify suitable ecosystem/chemical/geological sites that would be suitable for various other operations. No wonder the PC suits would be wary of them - wandering about the desert, exploding things with mininukes and calling in asteroid strikes - I imagine that a nomad's most important skill would be admin/paperwork/audit skills..!
"For those who fight for it, life has a flavour the sheltered will never know"
Edeski Edeski's picture
Evenk Yak Herders of Mars
Considering that N2 (and Methane) will be so important, how about gene-tweaked Yaks or Musk Oxen herds roaming across Mars, nibbling the couch grass and reindeer moss, looked after by nomads on their blimps/ATVs/Yaks or even remotely by Google Mars Live, drones, bots or spimes - lots of Methane and Manure will be produced - ideal for micro-habitats to start forming, or material for nanoswarms to build organic forms from (nano moss!)...
"For those who fight for it, life has a flavour the sheltered will never know"
nerdnumber1 nerdnumber1's picture
I think the nukes, antimater,
I think the nukes, antimater, and major comet strikes are mostly restricted to the larger corporate interests (often doing a bit of collateral damage). After all, unrestricted WMDs are frowned upon even in anarchist habs like Locus and Mars has PC influence (meaning you need a mountain of credits and a fancy suit to get all the WMDs you want). Then again, mars is a big place filled with clever people, so it is likely that they can somehow make or otherwise obtain a serious explosive device for the occasional "project". Nano-tech is a very promising and dangerous option, since it can do things on the monecular level, but a self-reproducing nano-swarm can get out of hand.
Arenamontanus Arenamontanus's picture
Sure, big booms are not part
Sure, big booms are not part of individual private terraformers' toolbox. Not just for safety reasons, but also for coordination reasons: you do not want some wildcat operation to dig a channel that opens the major aquifer you have surveyed and planned to use for later, or drops a comet on the crater biome. This is where the terraforming authorities insist on joint planning, and most likely the Tharsis League does not licence people to use dangerous tech unless they are signed on to the project. But just like engineers today can have licence for really dangerous equipment, one should not be surprised that companies and engineers on Mars may have legal access to some serious hardware. It is just a tad bit more self-documenting ("Sorry sir, but I am not allowed to detonate without clearance from TTO. Still waiting... waiting...")
Extropian