Their study focused on fluorine-based gases, composed of elements readily available on the Martian surface, that are known to be effective at absorbing thermal infrared energy. They found that a compound known as octafluoropropane, whose chemical formula is C3F8, produced the greatest warming, while its combination with several similar gases enhanced the warming even further.
The researchers anticipate that adding approximately 300 parts per million of the gas mixture in the current Martian atmosphere, which is the equivalent of nearly two parts per million in an Earth-like atmosphere, would spark a runaway greenhouse effect, creating an instability in the polar ice sheets that would slowly evaporate the frozen carbon dioxide on the planet’s surface. They add that the release of increasing amounts of carbon dioxide would lead to further melting and global temperature increases that could then enhance atmospheric pressure and eventually restore a thicker atmosphere to the planet.
Such a process could take centuries or even millennia to complete but, because the raw materials for the fluorine gases already exist on Mars, it is possible that astronauts could create them on a manned mission to the planet. It would otherwise be impossible to deliver gigaton-sized quantities of the gas to Mars. The authors conclude that introducing powerful greenhouse gases is the most feasible technique for raising the temperature and increasing the atmospheric pressure on Mars, particularly when compared to other alternatives like sprinkling sunlight-absorbing dust on the poles or placing large mirrors in the planet’s orbit.
Text for this article comes from a AGU press release.