Martian Terraforming Program

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William-Black's avatar
This journal entry is a compendium of proposed terraforming techniques. I have focused and narrowed the information to reflect the specific conditions of my future history.

Because the terraforming program is enacted on an inhabited Mars with numerous far flung settlements and a burgeoning industrial infrastructure in place, I have ruled out all importation methods which involve impact scenarios.

Directing ice asteroids to impact would have the consequence of atmospheric and tectonic shockwave events. My Martians cannot bomb their own infrastructure in this manner.

I have settled on the long term program of Resource Importation and gaseous diffusion of atmospheric gasses, green house gasses and green house agents into the Martian atmosphere.

Importation of green house gasses requires thousands of manned space flights between Mars and targets among the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, a program of extensive mining of the appropriate chemical ices, and the ability to package these materials on-site, the spacecraft required to launch these materials from the surfaces of the moons where they are mined and packaged, placing them into orbit of the respective moons, for transfer to unmanned interplanetary transports for return shipment to Mars, where they are de-orbited aboard heavy atmospheric entry vehicles.

Diffusion of these gasses and green house agents is managed by construction of gaseous diffusion towers, a thousand feet high, at minimum. The materials are heated in a solution of water, and released. I envision three rings of diffusion towers, one in the Northern latitudes, one encircling the equator, and one encircling the Southern latitudes. These would be massive constructions, shrouded in veils and shifting curtains, a mist of water vapor and haze rising from a ground hugging fog. The orbiting Polar Mirrors might have dedicated sub-elements intended to focus constant sunlight on the sites of these towers, heating the atmosphere at these locations, since physics dictates that warm gases rise and flow into colder gases, these sites would generate a circular fronts of outrushing wind, spreading denser atmospheric compounds, heat, and moisture.

Terraforming Mars via this methodology is estimated (at minimum) to encompass 500 years.

Terraforming Mars would entail a series of major interlaced changes: warming the poles, building up the atmosphere, keeping it warm, and keeping the atmosphere from being lost into outer space – although, one consideration is that atmospheric loss is a process concerning individual molecules accelerated by charged particle interactions at the very top of the atmosphere – glaciers, by comparison, race along at break-neck speeds which are a blur to the eye. Maintaining the atmosphere with the infusion of green house gasses and agents would effectively combat the dominant loss process even without establishing a magnetic field.

The atmosphere of Mars is relatively thin and thus has a very low surface pressure of 0.6 kilopascals (0.087 psi); compared to Earth with 101.3 kilopascals (14.69 psi) at sea level and 0.86 kilopascals (0.125 psi) at an altitude of 32 kilometres (20 mi). The atmosphere on Mars consists of 95% carbon dioxide (CO₂), 3% nitrogen, 1.6% argon, and contains only traces of oxygen, water, and methane. Since its atmosphere consists mainly of CO₂, a known greenhouse gas, once the planet begins to heat, more CO₂ enters the atmosphere from the frozen reserves on the poles, adding to the greenhouse effect. This means that the two processes of building the atmosphere and heating it would augment one another, favoring terraforming. However, on a large scale, controlled application of certain techniques (explained below) over enough time to achieve sustainable changes would be required to make this hypothesis a reality.

Building the Martian atmosphere

Orbiting Mirrors & Adding Heat

Adding heat and conserving the heat present is a particularly important stage of this process, as heat from the Sun is the primary driver of planetary climate. As the planet would become warmer through various methods the CO₂ on the polar caps would sublime into the atmosphere and would further contribute to the warming effect. The tremendous air currents generated by the moving gasses would create large, sustained dust storms, which would heat (through absorbing solar radiation) the molecules in the atmosphere.

Mirrors made of thin aluminized PET film could be placed in orbit around Mars to increase the total insolation it receives. This would direct the sunlight onto the surface and could increase the planet's surface temperature directly. The mirrors could be positioned as a statite, using its effectiveness as a solar sail to orbit in a stationary position relative to Mars, near the poles, to sublimate the CO₂ ice sheet and contribute to the warming greenhouse effect.

Large amounts of water ice exist below the Martian surface, as well as on the surface at the poles, where it is mixed with dry ice, frozen CO₂. It has been found that significant amounts of water are stored in the south pole of Mars, and if all of this ice suddenly melted, it would form a planet wide ocean 11 meters deep. Frozen carbon dioxide (CO₂) at the poles sublimates into the atmosphere during the Martian summer, and small amounts of water residue are left behind, which fast winds sweep off the poles at speeds approaching 250 mph (400 km/h). This seasonal occurrence transports large amounts of dust and water vapor into the atmosphere, giving potential for Earth-like cirrus clouds.

Carbon Dioxide Sublimation

There is presently enough carbon dioxide (CO₂) as ice in the Martian South Pole and absorbed by regolith (soil) around the planet that, if sublimated to gas by a climate warming of only a few degrees, would increase the atmospheric pressure to 300 millibars, which is comparable to that at the peak of Mount Everest. While this would not be breathable by humans, it would eliminate the present need for pressure suits, melt the water ice at Mars' North Pole (flooding the northern basin), and bring the year-round climate above freezing over approximately half of Mars' surface. This would enable the introduction of plant life, particularly plankton in the new northern sea, to start converting the atmospheric CO₂ into oxygen.

Ammonia Importation

Another, more intricate method, uses ammonia as a powerful greenhouse gas. Since ammonia (NH₃) is high in nitrogen it might also take care of the problem of needing a buffer gas in the atmosphere.

The need for a buffer gas is a challenge that will face any potential atmosphere builders. On Earth, nitrogen is the primary atmospheric component making up 77% of the atmosphere. Mars would require a similar buffer gas component although not necessarily as much.

Hydrocarbons Importation

Another way would be to import methane or other hydrocarbons, which are common in Titan's atmosphere (and on its surface). The methane could be vented into the atmosphere where it would act to compound the greenhouse effect.

Methane (or other hydrocarbons) also can be helpful to produce a quick increase for the insufficient Martian atmospheric pressure. These gases also can be used for production (at the next step of terraforming of Mars) of water and CO2 for Martian atmosphere, by reaction:

CH₄ + 4 Fe₂O₃ → CO₂ + 2 H₂O + 8 FeO

This reaction could probably be initiated by heat or by Martian solar UV-irradiation. Large amounts of the resulting products (CO₂ and water) are necessary to initiate the photosynthetic processes.

Hydrogen Importation

Hydrogen importation could also be done for atmospheric and hydrospheric engineering.For example, hydrogen could react with iron(III) oxide from the martian soil, that would give water as a product:

H₂ + Fe₂O₃ → H₂O + 2FeO

Depending on the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, importation and reaction of hydrogen would produce heat, water and graphite via the Bosch reaction. Alternatively, reacting hydrogen with the carbon dioxide atmosphere via the Sabatier reaction would yield methane and water.

Using Perfluorocarbons

Mars already consists of many soil minerals that could theoretically be used for terraforming.

Since long-term climate stability would be required for sustaining a human population, the use of especially powerful greenhouse gases possibly including halocarbons such as chlorofluorocarbons (or CFC's) and perfluorocarbons (or PFC's) has been suggested. These gases are the most cited candidates for artificial insertion into the Martian atmosphere because of their strong effect as a greenhouse gas. CFC diffusion, along with very large orbiting polar mirrors set to bath the Martian poles in continuous sunlight, would be used to kick start the process. CFC diffusion into the atmosphere would need to be sustained while the planet changes chemically (with the introduction of Ammonia and Methane) and becomes warmer. Diffusion of water vapor (along with Nitrogen harvested from Saturn's moon Titan) along with CFC's could conceivably maintain the Martian atmosphere.

In order to sublimate the south polar CO₂ glaciers, Mars would require the introduction of approximately 0.3 microbars of CFC (chloro-fluoro-carbons) into Mars' atmosphere. CFC are powerful greenhouse gases that are thousands of times more effective at warming than CO₂. The 0.3 microbars needed would mass approximately 39 million metric tons, which is about three times the amount of CFC manufactured on Earth from 1972 to 1992. Mineralogical surveys of Mars have found significant amounts of the ores necessary to produce the amount of CFC gas required.

A proposal to mine fluorine-containing minerals as a source of CFCs and PFCs is supported by the belief that since the quantities present are expected to be at least as common on Mars as on Earth, this process could sustain the production of sufficient quantities of optimal greenhouse compounds (CF₃SCF₃, CF₃OCF₂OCF₃, CF₃SCF₂SCF₃, CF₃OCF₂NFCF₃) to maintain Mars at 'comfortable' temperatures.
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sincebecomeswhy's avatar
This is a fascinating topic. Since there are already planetary storms do you think they would increase our decrease in severity with these processes?

I use a similar idea for mile wide gas factories, similar to your towers, in my story here….