Nuke it from Orbit- Part Two of We Must Nuke Mars Now Before It Is Too Late

The year is 1987 and a 17-year-old has an epiphany. That 17-year-old was me and I was a Junior in high school. While I was obsessed with sex like all other teen males, I was also obsessed with science fiction. Heinlein, in particular, was my favorite and still is all these years later. This infatuation with Heinlein made me a little more militant and a lot less liberal than my fellow students. Don’t get me wrong all teens are liberals to some extent and in my own way, I wanted to save the environment. My plan was to seed Mars with Earth life and recreate the garden Earth. Of course, I was naive and full of progressive claptrap fed to me by teachers, but I still had a germ of an idea that I would not let go.  How to terraform Mars in my lifetime? I decided to learn why Mars is not habitable now rather than learn how people wanted to terraform it.

I suffer or am blessed with Aspergers depending on how you see it. That means I often see problems reversed from the way other people see them. So I came at this problem, like so many, backward and it quickly gave me a solution. This was years before the internet and I realize now that others had thought of this before me, but I had come up with this idea on my own. My idea was to NUKE the hell out of Mars. I wanted to do something Robert Heinlein had taught me….I wanted to use  “naked force” to solve a problem.

“Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any
other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst.
Nations and peoples who forget this basic truth have always paid for it
with their lives and freedoms.” Robert Anson Heinlein

I didn’t want to nuke it randomly. I wanted to apply pressure through the use of Nukes at strategic points on the planet’s surface. To create on the planet the optimum conditions to produce a runaway greenhouse effect. A grid of Nuclear explosions over the North and South poles of Mars during the Martian summer would accomplish the goal. These explosions would melt the Carbon Dioxide trapped in the poles and the carbon ash fallout would blanket the remaining ice raising the albedo of the poles. The water ice that wasn’t instantly unfrozen would unfreeze in the warmer temperatures of a world with a much denser CO2 atmosphere. Simple and elegant, it would be the most effective use of “Naked Force” in the history of man.

Not many years later I would be on the internet and I got in touch with several physicists and NASA personnel always pushing my idea, which I had learned by then was not unique. I always got the same answer. Doing something like this would bring out the anti-nuke nuts in droves and even if it was a good idea it would never happen. Well, folks, time is running out. If conservatives win this Presidential election and are able to maintain control of the House and take the Senate this will be the last chance to poke the environmentalists in the eye and make a new home for ourselves. It won’t render Mars habitable but it will take it a long long way down the path.

We must nuke Mars now, time is running out!!!!!

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11 thoughts on “Nuke it from Orbit- Part Two of We Must Nuke Mars Now Before It Is Too Late

  1. You talk about carbon ash, but from what? As far as I know the permanent Summer parts of the Martian Ice Caps are carbon dioxide ice over thick water ice. What would get burnt to produce the carbon ash that you need? I would expect carbon dioxide ice to be vapourized in small patches as well as some water ice underneath. But i would expect the water ice to refreeze quickly, at least at the surface restoring the original albedo.

    1. When you burn carbon dioxide depending on the temperature you get free oxygen, carbon monoxide, and carbon residue which is basically carbon ash. A single Kt1300 b83 bomb specifically designed as a ground penetrating/bunker busting Nuke can cover an area of 214 square miles in a firestorm with a further thermal blast not quite hot enough to burn wood out to a further 1000+ square miles. The Martian north pole is roughly 460,000 square miles (actually much smaller in Summer). A grid of forty of these weapons at each pole would melt at a minimum 80,000 square miles of ice and in four times that distance carbon dioxide would be released. Probably all Carbon Dioxide in the poles would be released in the initial blast. Most if not all of the water within 214 square miles of each blast would be turned to water vapor. There is enough water in the Southern polar ice cap of Mars to cover the planet in an ocean 11 feet deep. The fallout that would settle in the next days and weeks would be slightly radioactive and would blanket vast areas of the poles much further than the initial blast radius.

      If you would like to further increase the albedo you could set off a series of nuclear devices at the edges of the poles in the areas of sand dunes which circle them. This would create further fallout and much more black ash.

  2. I would expect your figures for the area affected to apply only to the air burst mode not the ground penetrating mode. If you use them in air burst mode I would not expect the sublimation to reach very deep into the ice. Much of the energy will be vented in directions of no use to you and much will be reflected. If you allow them to penetrate then more of the energy will get into the ice but a much smaller radius will be affected. I would expect thermal dissociation of carbon dioxide to only occur very close to the bombs. You would need heat of thousands of degrees to do this. Also I do not know the rate of the reaction. Would the high temperature last long enough to dissociate much carbon dioxide.

    I did a ballpark estimate of how much carbon dioxide ice would be vapourized by each bomb if all its energy went into vapourizing the carbon dioxide. If the data that I used is correct and I’ve made no slip ups this would be about 6.6 million tons each. But nowhere near all the energy would go there. I can think of plenty of ways in which most of it would be wasted. This is enough to create craters several hundreds of meters across but not enough to vapourize more than a small fraction of the carbon dioxide in the ice cap with the number of bombs you want to use. I think you would need to use lots more.

    1. We do have plenty of these bombs laying around unused if they are needed. I don’t think we need more than 60 at the most at each pole, 40 being the low number default I use when discussing this. The heat at the center of a nuclear explosion is in the millions of degrees while it dissipates quickly in all directions away from the blast even if exploded on the surface it will melt the ice (both CO2 and water Ice) all the way to the bedrock. Using a combination of ground penetrating and surface blasts I would expect we would affect most if not all of the CO2 which at its thickest on the Southern pole is only 10 meters. I remind you the melting point of carbon dioxide is -109 degrees F. The coldest winter temperature on Mars is at the South Martian pole, -207 degrees F. In the summer that temperature rises to just below the melting point. A slight tip in temperature would create a feedback loop freeing all the carbon dioxide that is untouched and certainly any that is left would be unfrozen by fallout settling on the surface. Not to mention the addition of hot water vapor and heavy steam clouds rushing across the surface in front of the shock wave created by each weapon. I am much more concerned with the amount of water vapor created than the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Water vapor holds heat more readily than carbon dioxide and is a much better planetary insulator.

      But let us use your number of 6.6 million tons of carbon dioxide released by each nuclear blast. That is a total of 528 million tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere but also that would include an equal or slightly less amount of water vapor released. This would equal roughly 1 billion tons of atmosphere released in a matter of the first few moments of the blast. I am assuming your numbers don’t include incidental warming from albedo changes or radiation warming from fallout which will do more to warm the planet than the initial blast. A slight albedo change over the entire polar region would in theory warm the plant enough to melt much of the polar ice. I know you favor the mirror method of raising the polar temperature from past discussions, but a lowering of albedo would act exactly the same way as using mirrors.

  3. The total mass of Mars’ atmospher is about 25 teratonnes of which about 95% is carbon dioxide. On the planetary scale 528 million tonnes is a trivial increase, about 20 parts per million. 6.6 million tonnes per bomb is a theoretical maximum , assuming perfect efficiency. I would expect only a fraction of that. My calculations only took into account the latent heat of fusion and vapourization but not the temperature increase. A reasonable ball park approximation since most of the energy will be used vapourizing rather than warming.

    I don’t know about melting through to the bedrock. The water ice is pretty thick, up to 3 Km in places.

    The only way that this could work is through causing long lasting widepread albedo changes. You need massive amplifying feedbacks. I expect that there will be large feedbacks but I don’t think they will be big enough.

    1. That 528 million tons of Carbon dioxide is not alone as I said it is accompanied by a similar amount of water vapor. Water vapor is a much more efficient insulator than carbon dioxide by several orders of magnitude. There is currently none or very very small amounts of water vapor in the Martian atmosphere. That would change quickly as super heated water rushed away from the nuclear event and engulfed the planet. 500 million tons of water vapor on a planet like Mars is not a miniscule amount when it comes to heating. You have continued to really ignore or belittle the carbon dioxide and water released by the albedo change which would be the real game changer and would release much larger amounts of both water and carbon dioxide than what was released during the initial explosion. The fallout plume of one of these weapons on Earth is measured in the thousands of miles with coverage in the local region being almost complete. What would a Martian pole covered in fallout look like certainly not a white reflective sheet and a polar albedo change of only a couple of percent would melt the Martian CO2.

  4. The water vapour would precipitate out quickly. The Martian atmosphere is saturated at night. This would lead to local oversaturation and precipitation. Under circumstances when it can precipitate out water vapour can amplify temperature changes but cannot be the initial cause.

    The thick water ice will stop exposure of the bedrock underneath and you do not have the surface organic matter that a bomb will burn on Earth. Some of the vapourized water vapour and carbon dioxide will precipitate out on top of where the bomb was exploded though I would expect most to be dispersed. What would any carbon produced by thermal decomposition of carbon dioxide be like? I would expect it to be very fine particles most of which would be dispersed widely.. You won’t get the albedo reducing dust layer that you want from bombs detonated on the ice cap itself.

    To get the dust you want you have to have the fireball contact rock and soil. You could do this by setting them off around the polar cap but will it produce enough dust to have a significant effect on albedo? I don’t know. And what happens when the ice under the dust melts? You would have dust either running off in melted water or being mixed in with water which refreezes. Either way the albedo change won’t last. To melt the caps you need something sustained.

    There may be something in the Martian climate which will allow us to flip it into another stable state but I don’t think we know it yet. Some sort of sucker punch like what causes the glacial cycles on Earth. By stable I mean stable on a long enough time span to be useful to us, centuries or millenia. Unless we find that terraforming is going to require some long term sustained pressure rather than something brief which has a very long term effect.

    1. You have sixty small suns appearing on each side of the planet. That is the temperature change the water vapor would be magnifying. In fact that heat has to go somewhere and much of it is going to be transferred to the water vapor and the carbon dioxide. Local temperatures around the blast sites are going to be well above freezing for days possibly as long as two weeks depending on the type of rock underlying the ice. The Ice is at it’s thickest the is is about 3 kilometers thick but for most of the ice cap it is nowhere near that. If we use the Bunker buster capacity of the nukes at the thickest portions and surface explosions along the rest of the ice cap you are going to reach bedrock with every blast. This isn’t rock these things are busting through. They are going to throw massive amounts of ice rock and dust into the atmosphere. I believe you underestimate the power of one of these weapons much less 60 per pole.

      In the first few seconds of the blast this is the result-

      1. 582 million tons of Carbon Dioxide released (initial blast only not accounting for release by water surge)
      2. 582 million tons of water vapor released
      3. 80,000 square miles of water ice unfrozen and heated to just below the boiling point
      4. unknown amount of ash and debris enters atmosphere

      Each of these four things are moving away from the center of the blast. A wave of hot air and boiling water washes over the entire polar region which would release all trapped carbon dioxide. I hate to use wiki as a source but it is quick and convenient in this case.

      “There is presently enough carbon dioxide (CO2) as ice in the Martian south pole and absorbed by regolith (soil) around the planet that, if sublimated to gas by a climate warming of only a few degrees, would increase the atmospheric pressure to 300 millibars,[6] comparable to twice the altitude of the peak of Mount Everest. While this would not be comfortably breathable by humans, it would eliminate the present need for pressure suits, melt the water ice at Mars’s north pole (flooding the northern basin), and bring the year-round climate above freezing over approximately half of Mars’s surface.”

      The blanket of warm water would instantly unfreeze the carbon dioxide on contact. This all ignores the fallout which would still be substantial.

  5. I agree that if you can reduce the albedo and keep it reduced you should be able to vapourize all the carbon dioxide. I think that reducing it is going to be more difficult than you think. The poles already receive a lot of dust every year so how much effect will the additional dust from the explosions have. If you melt a crater in the middle of the ice cap there will be lot of liquid water that will cover the bottom and freeze,.restoring the albedo. Explosions near the edge might have different effects.

    As well, just how much will vapourizing all the carbon dioxide at the poles raise the temperature. The sensitivity of Mars to carbon dioxide increases will not be the same as that of Earth since you are starting from much higher carbon dioxide concentrations but much lower water vapour ones. Releasing all the carbon dioxide at the poles will increase the concentration about five hundred time, that is about nine doublings. On Earth that would to a short term temperature increase of about twenty-seven degrees Celsius with an unknown but substantial long term further increase. But would it increase the temperature on Mars by as much? The long term affect from albedo change will be less because there are much smaller ice caps to melt. The carbon dioxide by itself would only increase the temperature by about eleven degrees Celsius. What I don’t have a good idea of is how much of an increase in temperature you would get from the water vapour. Not the same as on Earth. The question is can you increase the temperature enough to stop carbon dioxide from precipitating out of the atmosphere? Unless you do that precipitation will set a limit on the carbon dioxide concentration at any given temperature.

    For your plan to work Mars has to have a climate system that can undergo a runaway change if given a small nudge. I don’t think it has. The ability of carbon dioxide to precipitate out of the atmosphere will work against it. Even if you do it during the Martian Summer it will be Summer at only one pole. The other will be in Winter and acting as a very large carbon dioxide sink.

    Also a penetrating nuke cannot affect a large area and an air-burst nuke will sublimate carbon dioxide over a large area but not to any great depth. The estimate that I gave of how much carbon dioxide could be vaporized was the amount that would be vaporized if the energy of the bombs was directed solely into sublimating carbon dioxide and did nothing else. If it was directed solely into vapourizing water ice then it would only vapourize about a third as much. Yous aid you would have water melted over 80,000 square miles, but to what depth? How long till ice reforms on the surface. Not long I think. Dust and ash enter atmosphere but there is already plenty there. How much difference will it make?

    Terraforming will probably require sustained pressure not a shove.

  6. Nevermind the radioactive materials that would spread with the water, where are you going to get the nitrogen to Mars that it would need to keep the water from refreezing? The carbon dioxide on Mars won’t do it alone – there’s not enough. You need a catalyst gas. Earth has nitrogen. Mars has almost none.

    1. Mars would have a thick CO2 atmosphere for hundreds perhaps thousands of years after the event. Mankind would have plenty of time to establish simple plant life and get the nitrogen cycle started on Mars in an environment much better suited to our presence. The radioactivity would be minimal so it is not a concern. Life on Earth has evolved to live in an environment slightly more radioactive than the current Martian norm.

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