Charles Darwin and Mars? Where's the connection? The BBC's Howard Falcon-Lang
talking to ecologist Dave Wilkinson, says it lies in a little-known
experiment on an island in the South Atlantic. Darwin apparently came
across Ascension Island, a desolate mound of volcanic ash, in 1836. He
thought it would be a great site on which to create a "Little
England"--an entirely artificial ecosystem. Coincidentally, the Royal
Navy also used the island as a "strategic base," but had difficulty
procuring fresh water. Thus began, in 1847, a joint enterprise of
Darwin's botanist friend Joseph Hooker, the navy, and the Royal Botanic
Gardens at Kew:
The idea was breathtakingly simple. Trees
would capture more rain, reduce evaporation and create rich, loamy
soils. The "cinder" would become a garden.So, beginning in 1850
and continuing year after year, ships started to come. Each deposited a
motley assortment of plants from botanical gardens in Europe, South
Africa and Argentina.
The reason modern ecologist Dave Wilkinson finds this "really exciting" is that these 19th-century folks essentially created their own habitable ecosystem:
Wilkinson thinks that the principles that
emerge from that experiment could be used to transform future colonies
on Mars. ... "It's a terrible waste that no-one is studying it,"
remarked Wilkinson at the end of the interview.
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