An ecologist has shared a futuristic idea for when humans will colonize Mars — an “alien nature preserve” (ETNR) inside a bubble.
The “forest bubble” would contain a 50-hectare earth-like ecosystem with trees, wetlands, air currents and atmospheric pressure that would serve as a refuge for humans while providing them with food and resources.
Paul Smith, a lecturer in the University of Bristol’s civil engineering department, proposed the idea as an alternative to terraforming the whole of Mars, as the Martian planet could take as long as 100 million years to transform.
In addition to providing an oasis for space-faring heroes, ETNR would give them a sense of living on Earth, as that’s all humans have known and act as a psychological refuge.
A scientist proposed placing an Earth-like ecosystem in a bubble on the surface of Mars that he calls an “alien nature reserve”
Terraforming Mars has been a long-held goal of scientists and NASA, which aims to land humans on the Red Planet within the next decade.
Ideas included placing a magnetic field around Mars, sending genetically engineered organisms, and Elon Musk’s theory of destroying the planet.
While some of the suggestions are bizarre, they would take millions of years to be successful – and this is where Smith’s forest bubble comes in.
“There is a case for the development of an enclosed facsimile, old-growth forest on Mars, which forms an oasis and provides vital ecosystem functions (a forest bubble),” Smith wrote in his study published in the International Journal of Astrobiology.
“It would serve as an alien nature reserve (ETNR), psychological refuge and utilitarian botanical garden, supporting species of value to settlers for secondary metabolites (vitamins, flavors, perfumes, drugs, colors and mood enhancers).”
It would give them a feeling of living on Earth as all humans know it and act as a psychological refuge. This has been compared to the desolate landscape of Mars
The bubble would have a shield to protect against shortwave ultraviolet light, ionizing radiation and meteorites, along with positive atmospheric pressure.
With the atmospheric pressure, weather patterns and artificially generated wind would be inside the air-closed dome.
High-altitude forest canopy, wetlands, hills and other vegetation would line the ground, consisting of modified Martian regolith containing microbial components.
Smith notes that the organism would come from Earth and “can tolerate local environmental variations and coalesce into a new, bioregenerative forest ecosystem,” he shared in the study.
‘ETNR designers should think of species as ecological cogs that can be assembled into functional ecosystems.
“Replication of terrestrial forests is currently not feasible, but the development of new ecosystems, which function in unexpected ways, is conceivable.”
The design would include some organisms that Smith says are “problematic on Earth” but have been shown to be able to adopt or have terraforming value.
This echoes research released by the US Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which suggested using organisms with specific genes to create something with certain characteristics.
The “forest bubble” would contain a 50-hectare Earth-like ecosystem with trees, wetlands, air currents and atmospheric pressure that would serve as a refuge for humans while providing them with food and resources
For example, there’s a theory that some could be bioengineered to extract certain gases from the Martian atmosphere – such as carbon dioxide – and create nitrogen and oxygen.
Both are abundant in Earth’s atmosphere – and would be necessary for all humans who want to breathe on Mars without a space suit.
The ETNR would also contain wetlands, which provide food and clean water to people on Earth.
Wetlands are crucial to the water cycle because they clean and recycle water so that biological activity can function properly.
And they circulate nutrients in a way that other ecosystems cannot.
“The designers’ task is daunting, but to ensure the survival of terrestrial life, challenges must be overcome,” Smith wrote.
‘The design of ETNR will be inspired by human dependence on ecosystem services, even in a purely utilitarian way, because despite technology, that dependency cannot be abandoned.
‘We need plants as chemical factories, which produce secondary metabolites with greater ease and autonomy than industry.
“Ultimately, humans should take the Earth’s ecosystem and act as the medium through which it colonizes the planetary archipelago of space.”