Greenhouse Gases May Stimulate Life on Mars

Times Staff Writer

Global warming may be a scourge on Earth, but injecting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere of Mars might be just the thing to turn the barren planet into a living and breathing world that could support future human colonies, NASA researchers said.

Scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., propose using fluorine-based gases, elements of which already exist on the Martian surface, to start the warming process.

The compound octafluoropropane produced the greatest warming effects, the scientists wrote in a study published in this month’s Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

Increasing the level of greenhouse gases in the Martian atmosphere by 300 parts per million would initiate a runaway greenhouse effect, melting the polar ice sheets on the planet and releasing carbon dioxide, the study said. This in turn would thicken the atmosphere.


The process could take centuries or millenniums, researchers said. But since the raw materials are available on Mars, astronauts could create the gases on a manned mission to the planet.

“Bringing life to Mars and studying its growth would contribute to our understanding of evolution, and the ability of life to adapt and proliferate on other worlds,” said Margarita Marinova, formerly at Ames, who was part of the team that led the study.

“Since warming Mars effectively reverts it to its past, more habitable state, this would give any possibly dormant life on Mars the chance to revive and develop further,” she said.