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The First Harvest of the Antartcic Salad

The Challenges of Colonization

Colonization tends to come with a lot of risks. For proof, look no further than the Starving Time, which was the winter of 1609-1610 that reduced a population of 500 people at Jamestown in what would become Virginia to no more than 60 sick and starving survivors. In short, the settlement had been founded at a location that was good for mounting a defense but not so good for producing food, meaning that it was reliant on external suppliers for its continuing existence. Unfortunately, the English colonists had opened fire on the local Powhatan people as soon as they had arrived because they had been spooked by a bad experience with the Spanish on their way over, thus resulting in a very hostile relationship with a people who weren't exactly inclined to see these foreign intruders in their territories as a special VIP gift in the first place. As a result, Jamestown ran into serious problems when a supply ship was blown to the Bermudas by what might have been a hurricane. Combined with a cruel winter, a poor harvest, and a lack of options, this resulted in horrendous suffering. The exact horrors experienced by the English colonists were not recorded in full detail, but what has been uncovered by the researchers suggests cannibalism, houses being scavenged for firewood, and sickness tearing through a population made susceptible by starvation.

Nowadays, colonization isn't that much safer, not when people have their eyes set on the rest of the solar system. Granted, as far as we know, there are no potentially hostile inhabitants on Mars, but at the same time, that means that there are no potentially friendly inhabitants on Mars either. Furthermore, issues such as food production and supply transportation remain relevant for the colonization of the rest of the solar system, though they are even more challenging because of the astronomical distances between our planet and even our closest neighbors. On top of this, it should be mentioned that the colonization of the rest of the solar system comes with additional challenges as well, with an excellent example being the fact that the colonists we sent out won't even be able to breath on their own. Summed up, it can be tough to see why such a significant number of people seem to see the colonization of Mars and beyond as a special VIP gift, but since the interest is there, the research for overcoming said issues is there as well.

What Are German Scientists Doing in the Antarctic?

One excellent example is the effort of a German research station situated in Antarctica to grow vegetables in an experimental greenhouse in a building that looks like a box standing on stilts. So far, it has managed to produce 8 pounds of greens, 18 cucumbers, and 70 radishes, while other modest harvests are expected to start coming in soon enough. On the whole, this can seem unimpressive, but it should be mentioned that the experimental greenhouse is grown using no soil, no sunlight, and no pesticides. Instead, it uses new technologies to solve each of these problems, as shown by its use of liquid nutrients, special LEDs, and special climate control measures. In other words, this setup was intended to test the plausibility of the kind of food production facilities that might see use on Mars in the future, which is why it should come as no surprise to learn that the project saw the involvement of the German Aerospace Center. For that matter, it should come as no surprise to learn that other researchers at other institutions are interested in the subject as well, as shown by recent reports of the International Space Station's own efforts to grow vegetables out in space.

What Might This Mean For the Future?

With that said, there is one more reason that this research might be seen as a special VIP gift in the not so distant future. Simply put, climate change is happening, which in turn, means that enormous swathes of the planet are going to see significant changes to their growing conditions. In some cases, the local populations might be able to adapt by changing their agricultural practices, while in other cases, well, suffice to say that adaptation isn't something that can happen without sufficient time, money, and other resources. As a result, humanity as a whole is going to have to get more production out of a shrinking amount of arable land, meaning that scaled-up versions of the experimental greenhouses being tested in Antarctica might become crucial for future societies. This is particularly true because while climate change promises to make some previously barren land suitable for agriculture as well, it will take a considerable amount of time that people might not have for the soil in said locations to become suitable for the same.

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