If we ever decide to colonize Mars, it might be fairly simple to grow crops in that red soil, according to a new study. Mars' reduced gravity could let us use less water and fertilizer than we do on Earth.
Visions of future space farms usually involve greenery thriving inside hydroponic systems, but as bio-geo researchers Federico Maggia and Céline Pallud note, using old-fashioned soil has plenty of advantages.
Soil-based agriculture can use settlers' waste for fertilizer; it can sequester carbon and produce oxygen; and it's a reliable way to biologically filter water, for instance.
The problem is that Mars is not Earth, gravitationally speaking. Gravity affects the rate at which water and nutrients flow through soil, and plants have evolved to these constraints.
Martian gravity is about one-third as strong as Earth's, meaning water would flow at a slower rate. This could lead to suffocation of microorganisms and roots, along with emissions of toxic gases, Maggia and Pallud write in a study published early online this week in Advances in Space Research.
To study this effect, Maggi, a University of Sydney biogeochemist, and Pallud, a biogeophysicist at UC-Berkeley, simulated both Mars- and Earth-gravity root processes using BIOTOUGHREACT, a model of soil nutrient transport and microbe dynamics developed at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
As Wired Science notes, they realized slower water transport is a good thing. Soil under Martian gravity is able to hold more water, so less of it leaches through and is lost, the authors say.
This increased efficiency means you could use a whopping 90 percent less water for Martian irrigation than what you'd need on Earth. You could also use fewer fertilizers, the authors add.
On the flip side, Martian soil allows for faster consumption of oxygen and dissolved organic carbon, which resulted in a 10 percent increase in CO2 emissions.
So once we start terraforming Mars, our agriculture might be more efficient, but we'll still have to worry about those blasted greenhouse gases.
But I thought plants used CO2 and produced O2..where is the CO2 coming from?
Good news for future setlers of mars! But wouldn't CO2 and other greenhouse gases be something we want? I.E. greenhouse effect = warmer planet. (From a terraforming point of view.)
did the author take highschool biology?
"On the flip side, Martian soil allows for faster consumption of oxygen and dissolved organic carbon, which resulted in a 10 percent increase in CO2 emissions."
someone explain this to me...plants consume oxygen now?
Plants do consume oxygen, at least at night when they metabolize stored sugar instead of photosynthesizing. But they seem to be talking about the soil itself, or possibly organisms in the soil.
It doesn't seem so :P. Likely an accident though, but I'm not suprised. Greenhouse gasses though are a GOOD thing in this case, so long as they slow down emissions when they finally get it earth-like (assuming that is possible). After thousands of years though, at least.
Plants DO consume oxygen: during the night. They use oxygen to keep themselves alive until the sun comes back up.
Looks like some smarty pants messed up logic, since plants use CO2. Plus, mars needs those "Pesky" "greenhouse gases", that would at least help it develop an atmosphere. Unfortunately humans aren't very good at doing that... at all. Even so, i would love to be a mars farmer, sign me up.
Somebody forgot the fact of the temps of the surface of mars? To keep the plants off freezing, we have to develop some kind of greenhouse on steroids, maybe, using pure CO2 and pressurizing this greenhose. Furthermore, a greenhouse will need some kind of radiation shield.
I think íf we want to go to mars, we have to have first a greenhouse (or several ones) in order to create a sustentable habitat. This chore has to be made it by robots.
I say build a large solar or small nuclear power facility to flash boil gases out of the martian soil. Somehow we also need to generate large magnetic fields to protect us from radiation... I don't know much about that but I'm sure there is a solution. It's nice to know farming won't be made even more difficult on Mars. It's not like the idea isn't hard enough already.
After careful consideration of the incredibly harsh environment, the radiation, the inevitably nauseating potential to never want to see the color red again, I have come to the inevitable conclusion: I'm ready, send me. I'm a decent plant grower, can keep myself entertained easily, and am fairly adept at problem solving. I'll need a launch-transit-landing vehicle, and habitat. Go!
Unless agriculture increases the rate of atmospheric sequestration (rocks "inhale") and the authour decided to leave out what the hell they're talking about, it really seems Popular Science rolls out the B-team for online articles.
Wow, so pretty much the only thing to be gotten out of this whole article is that water moves through Martian soil slower due to reduced gravity. Surprise!
At least when we start to try and terraform Mars and realize the we dont have the technology to change the average temperature of a planet, then we can dig up Al (I invented the internet) Gore and kick him in his corpsey baby-maker.
This article is misleading. Instead of saying Mars is "ideally suited for crop farming", you should have said Mars is "more water-efficient for crop farming". Because water efficiency is NOT the only thing you have to worry about when it comes to growing crops.
But what's interesting here is this: plants that evolved in Earth's gravity (an acceleration of ~9.8m/s^2) can live more efficiently on Mars (an acceleration of ~3.7m/s^2), assuming the radiation and temperature issues are considered. So people who think every living creature is "designed" to live here should think about that... just a little.
-IMP ;) :)
you're saying that there is no God because mars has weaker gravity?
If you believe that mars will ever be colonized by humans then I got a plot of land on Mars I would like to sell ya.
Now colonized by robots? That's definitely possible. Humans can't live anywhere but earth. We are here for the duration.
In fifty words or less would someone PLEASE tell me why ?
What's with other than 'make work for scientists' going to Mars ? I ain't going to live on Mars. Neither is my kid. NOBODY wants to live on Mars. Who would want to ? It is a waste of good cash. Imho.
Fifty words or less, eh?
Necessity is the mother of invention.
Hardship is the father of innovation.
Accordingly, the hardships we'll necessarily face when we go to Mars will inspire the birth of the inventions, the innovations, that will pave our future.
Let's not miss them.