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Polluting Plants

written by Steven Wintergerst on June 16, 2003 | contact me
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Credit: Borrego Solar Systems, Inc
Many folks on this website, and elsewhere have suggested raising the temperature of Mars by intentionally producing greenhouse gasses by way of factories set up on mars for such a purpose.

The generally agreed upon "Ideal" gas is generally some form of long lived CFC, specifically one which would perhaps block UV radiation itself and would not break up Ozone gasses. Such a compound is known on Earth and has been synthesized in the laboratory.

Heating the planet in such a way is currently within the bounds of possibility, however, to my knowledge, no designs for such factories have been produced which can withstand the rigors of transportation to the red planet, and I do not know of any such things being in the works.

There are also other drawbacks to such a method. Factories break down, require energy, human maintenance, and other regulation. Once such gasses are made, a certain amount of effort will be needed to keep the atmosphere in this same balance, more or less, by the continued production of more gasses as they break down.

These are by no means impossible tasks, they just seem like they would be a terrible bother, and a constant source of inconvenience to the would-be-terraformers. I would like to suggest an alternative possibility.

Lichens have been much touted on this website, and for good reasons, as they are perhaps the hardiest form of photosynthesizing life on earth. Some have gone so far as to suggest genetically manipulating the chloroplasts within these plants to produce a black chlorophyll.

Like many things relating to the terraforming of mars, I know of no such research being funded at this time. It seems that changing the pigment in such a complex energy transferring process as photosynthesis would be a rather complicated action, and I propose that anyone able to successfully perform such a task could easily induce a mere lichen to produce CFCs by itself.

Lichens capable of producing CFCs would be of great advantage in the terraforming question. At first, they might need to grow inside a greenhouse of sorts (though there are some hearty souls which might survive out there now)

As the lichens spread, they would produce more CFCs, causing the various gasses trapped in the regolith to cook out, thickening the atmosphere, and making conditions more favorable to plant life on mars, causing a strong positive feedback process to occur.

Another good thing about this is that lichens produce oxygen. With oxygen and CFC production going hand in hand, the production of oxygen at a later date would not so significantly reduce the total inventory of greenhouse gasses at one time.

Works Cited:

1) The Case for Mars - Robert Zubrin

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