15 March 2007

Global Warming Threatens to Drown the Planet Mars Under 36 Feet of Water

New radar measurements of the Martian South Pole Ice Cap indicates that enough ice exists there to cover the entire Martian surface under 36 feet of water, were the ice to melt.
This new estimate comes from mapping the thickness of the ice. The Mars Express orbiter's radar instrument has made more than 300 virtual slices through layered deposits covering the pole to map the ice. The radar sees through icy layers to the lower boundary, which is as deep as 2.3 miles below the surface.

"The south polar layered deposits of Mars cover an area bigger than Texas. The amount of water they contain has been estimated before, but never with the level of confidence this radar makes possible," said Jeffrey Plaut of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena Calif. Plaut is co-principal investigator for the radar and lead author of a new report on these findings published in the March 15 online edition of the journal Science.

The instrument, named the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS), also is mapping the thickness of similar layered deposits at the north pole of Mars.

"Our radar is doing its job extremely well," said Giovanni Picardi, a professor at the University of Rome "La Sapienza," and principal investigator for the instrument.

Those who follow the work of Robert Zubrin will immediately see the significance of this finding. If these latest measurements are accurate, the prospects for people like Zubrin, the Mars Foundation, the Mars Society, and other groups who aspire to settle the red planet, have gotten measurably better.

Beginning with that amount of water, settlers could build ambitious colonies and industrial plants--and establish Mars as a springboard to the asteroids and the outer solar system. Given the additional capabilities of molecular manufacturing, such space-going pioneers, adventurers, and swashbuckling entrepreneurs could easily reach the moons of Jupiter, then Saturn, within as little as a single generation after establishing a permanent Mars outpost.

Of course, better space launch and propulsion technologies would catapult humans farther and deeper into space, much more quickly. Regardless, the massive quantities of water on Mars cannot help but act as a powerful magnet for humans with the ambition and adventurous spirit to reach further.

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