Mars - The New Intuitor Frontier

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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 eventually turn into new types of formations such as lakes and islands.



Figure 1. 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 Mars

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 Neptune.

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 Efforts
  Figure 5. Mars With fully Formed Oceans and Lakes

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 iceteroid 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.



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