A View of Mars With Water
If Mars were to be populated it would need an
abundant water supply. Of course creating a water supply would be a
massive undertaking but conceivably could be done over a period of
several centuries by planetary engineers. This raises an interesting
question. What would Mars look like if it were transformed?
To answer the question Mark Rogers wrote a computer
simulation using Martian topographical data from NASA's Mars Orbiting
Laser Altimeter, or MOLA. The map is overlayed with contour data that
can be colored blue one contour at a time to represent oceans. What emerges is an amazing transformation.
We begin in the present. Mars is a very cold and dry
desert planet. Note the prominent features on the map shown in Figure
1. These are provided as points of reference but they also will
into new types of formations such as lakes and islands.
Mars Without Terraforming
The conversion of Mars to a habitable planet with an
abundant water supply would begin by warming the climate.
Obviously, water is not very useful if it exists only as ice. There is
water in the northern polar cap. Also some amount of water is probably frozen in the soil.
Indeed large ice deposits may exist under millions of years worth of
dust accumulation. Much of the ice could be turned to liquid form
merely by warming the planet.
Mars could be warmed by positioning large mirrors in
outer space so that they reflected additional sun light on the planet.
From the standpoint of liberating water these mirrors could probably
be positioned to shine additional light on the northern polar cap.
Greenhouse gas producing chemical plants could also be set up on the
surface and used to deliberately dump greenhouse gasses into the
atmosphere. These types of activities would probably require the
establishment of an intuitor colony on the surface.
We refer to the collection of Martian settlements as
an intuitor colony because intuitors are the type of people who would
likely settle this distant planet.
Once the carbon dioxide in the polar caps began
melting, the warming process would tend to be self sustaining. Since
carbon dioxide is an effective greenhouse gas, releasing more of it
into the atmosphere would warm the climate. This in turn would release
even more carbon dioxide.
Figure 2. Early Stages of Terraforming
After warming the planet for a few centuries liquid water would begin collecting in low
lying areas as shown in Figure 2 . The computer simulation does not account for
weather patterns or snow fall at higher elevations. This could prevent
water from being evenly distributed resulting in low lying dry regions. These would be similar to the below-sea-level desert of Death
Valley in California. It's possible that the lake forming in the
Hellas impact basin might not actually exist. However, if it did it
would certainly become one of Mars' prominent features.
The computer simulation also does not account for
the growth of plants. Obviously this would be part of any major
terraforming effort. However, we will save it for future simulations.
With further warming, an ocean would begin to
stretch unbroken around the northern hemisphere as shown in Figure 3.
Mars would now have numerous intuitor settlements which could be
centuries old. It would no longer be merely a colony but a new world.
Figure 3. Early Formation of the Martian Ocean
At some point , the terraforming of Mars might enter a new and
very dramatic phase. Frozen water bearing asteroids or iceteroids could
be crashed into the surface to increase the amount of water
beyond the amount available on the planet itself or to simply speed
the water accumulation process. Numerous large objects of this
type exist in the Kuiper belt. Unfortunately this belt lies beyond
Locating suitable water bearing objects and steering them
towards the surface of Mars would be a major undertaking. This would
be made worse by the fact that Mars would probably have numerous intuitor
settlements by the time the technology was developed enough to handle
the task. Hence, the objects crashing onto
the surface of Mars would have to land in uninhabited areas. However,
given a large intuitor population and a few centuries to perfect the
technology, this might be doable.
The best collision sites would be in the vast
deserts of the southern hemisphere. The "collision" would
probably vaporize most of the frozen object in the atmosphere before
it hit the ground. This would minimize the impact crater and airborne
debris but would, nevertheless, disrupt the Martian atmosphere for
months if not years. Eventually the vapor would condense and run off
into the lakes and seas of Mars causing them to appear as shown in
Figure 4. Major changes in the appearance of Mars would now be
happening in a matter of decades or even years.
Figure 4: Appearance of Mars Near The End of Terraforming
Figure 5. Mars With fully Formed Oceans
The planet would eventually reach its full potential
for releasing the water already existing on the planet. No one knows
how much water this would amount to but perhaps it might appear as
shown in Figure 4.
Even if water were transported from the Kuiper
belt, the dangers and expense of crashing
water bearing objects into Mars surface would eventually outweigh any
gains. Conditions might stabilize as shown in Figure 5. With no more deliberate
crashes planned and no more local water to release, it would be the end of an era for an entire terraforming industry. However, it
will have created a
remarkable new intuitor habitat with a uniquely beautiful appearance.
We have made no attempt to estimate the amount of
water required to produce the lakes and oceans or to determine if it
is realistically available. As mentioned earlier, we also have not
attempted to accounted for many of the major effects which could
influence the distribution of water. The distinctive blue spot for
instance might not exist if the mountains surrounding it block rain
clouds. So the images
of Mars with water must be considered a work of science fiction.
Still there's something about them which sparks the imagination.
< contents |