In the middle of the Atlantic, the tallest peak of a small volcanic island is covered in lush greenery, by design. When scientists talk about terraforming a landscape, there’s a good chance they’re talking about Mars. (To terraform a place is to make it earthlike—for instance, bringing in plants and animals.) But the first scientific experiment in terraforming actually took place starting in the 19th century.
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Ascension Island was quite barren when Charles Darwin visited, and he had little good to say about the remote, rocky place. But a contemporary of Darwin’s, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, saw the island as a blank canvas, ready to serve as home to an ecosystem of his own making. After importing thousands of plants and animals, however, Hooker came to have second thoughts about the undertaking, which wound up threatening the island’s sparse native vegetation. Now, conservationists are working to save Ascension’s few endemic plants from extinction.
Read more in “Mysterious Island Experiment Could Help Us Colonize Other Planets”
Once, This Island Had Just One Tree—Look at It Now | National Geographic