During terraforming processes, a significant part of the carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere is transformed into oxygen and atomic carbon. This carbon, if left on the surface, can ignite and burn, producing carbon dioxide and compromising the whole terraforming process.
Production and properties Edit
Atomic carbon will be produced by Genetically modified plants. Usually in the form of algae, they transform carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbon powder. Also, machinery in a Terraforming Plant can do the same job, with a significant energy consumption.
On Earth, atomic carbon does not occur naturally. Fossil carbon is usually in the form of coal and other fossil fuels. Sometimes, it can exist under an inorganic form, as graphite or diamonds. In all cases, carbon atoms are not alone, but connected in complex molecules. Also, carbon is locked in coral reefs, usually connected to calcium atoms.
Terraforming processes must be done as fast as possible, if we want a planet to become inhabited during a human lifetime. In theory, carbon could be locked in the ground in more complex structures like coal or limestone, but we don't have time for that. The fastest process is to just transform it into atomic carbon and store it somewhere.
Atomic carbon is different. It is a black powder, made by free carbon atoms. Even compressed, this powder cannot be compact and solid as rocks. Only at high pressures, atoms will form bounds and will take graphite or diamond shape.
Atomic carbon is heavier then water, so it will deposit on the ocean floor. Since it is a powder, it will be carried fast by water currents. It can mix with sand, clays and any sediments. However, it is lighter then silicon and in sediments it will settle on sea floor above other inorganic materials.
On Earth, flammable fossil fuels are covered with layers of rocks. On a terraformed planet, nature would not have time to do this. So, atomic carbon will, in many cases, be located very close to the surface. If genetically modified algae existed in a lake then later dried up, all carbon will be left exposed.
It is possible that the oceans will be too salty for genetically modified plants. In this case, we will cultivate algae in inland lakes and seas. But, these lakes will be in the end covered with a thick layer of carbon. It is possible that atomic carbon is carried away by a river downstream together with other sediments and deposited in a delta in a completely different location.
If the ocean has the right conditions, atomic carbon will be on the ocean floor. However, there are processes (quakes, sea volcanoes) that can mix carbon powder into the water and send it to the shores.
The greatest risk of atomic carbon is that it can ignite. If this happens, it can cause large-scale fires, it can generate a greenhouse effect and it can make the atmosphere not breathable.
In order to avoid this, all atomic carbon must be covered with water or sediments. This would require a good water management:
- If atomic carbon is in a lake or sea that is under the risk of getting dried, we can use controlled floods (maybe with the help of some dams) to stimulate erosion and to cover the lake with layers of sediments.
- If atomic carbon is left alone on the ground, then we must cover it with water or ground. One way is to build an artificial lake in the area, so that the carbon will be submerged.
- Covering carbon with soil can be done by moving it, but this is more expensive then using water.
- If somehow exposed atomic carbon ignites, then actions have to be taken very fast. Covering it with ground or water are the best solutions.