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Mars ‘Forest Bubble’: 50 Acre Dome Proposed As Red Planet Nature Preserve

Mars ‘Forest Bubble’: 50 Acre Dome Proposed As Red Planet Nature Preserve

Mars 'Forest Bubble': 50 Acre Dome Proposed As Red Planet Nature Preserve

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Science fiction has a long history of imagining off-world environments filled with plants and animals, often living under a transparent structure. Essentially, the Earth in a bubble. Now, a botanist and ecologist has drawn up a detailed proposal for an extraterrestrial nature reserve that could be built on Mars.

The proposed ETNR would be a confined “forest bubble” designed to mimic an Earth-like ecosystem. While acting as a nature reserve, it would also be a place of refuge for humans and provide food and raw materials for settlers.

Paul Smith, a lecturer in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Bristol, published the proposal in the International Journal of Astrobiology last month. It may seem like a far-fetched idea, but Smith lays out the basic concepts and addresses some of the many challenges.

A conceptual drawing shows the many components required for a Martian “forest bubble”.

Paul Smith

Smith’s proposal addresses the unique challenges of Mars’ atmosphere, temperature, seasons, radiation, weather, gravity, and available sunlight, and Smith offers a list of terrestrial life that could adapt to life on Mars. On the plant side, this includes some junipers and birches. For creatures, Smith suggests soil microbes, fungi, and invertebrates like earthworms and spiders.

Notably, non-human vertebrates, such as birds, fish, and raccoons, are not on the list. Smith addresses the ethical considerations of forcing animals into an alien habitat where they may not be able to engage in their natural behaviors.

Smith is not looking to create a clone of an existing terrestrial forest. “ETNR designers should view species as ecological cogs that could be assembled into functioning ecosystems,” he writes. “The reproduction of terrestrial forests is currently unfeasible, but the development of new ecosystems, functioning in unexpected ways, is conceivable.”

However, Smith notes that he did not consider the economics of the situation in his article. Sending people into space is already expensive enough… just look at the billionaires who have been on rides – so you can imagine how expensive establishing a whole range of lives can be.

It’s a good time for a thought experiment like this. As Smith calls it in the article, the human population on Earth is booming (up to 8 billion now) and puts pressure on nature as people expand and appropriate land for living, farming and extracting resources.

Combine this with the growing climate crisis and it’s no wonder some people are looking to Mars as a possible refuge not just for humans, but for other species, both plant and animal.

“The task of designers is arduous but, if the survival of earthly life is to be assured, challenges must be overcome,” Smith writes in his conclusion.

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