What environments wouldn't be present on a recently terraformed planet?

Just to be clear: this hypothetical planet had no magnetic field and didn't have materials present on the surface required to form complex life before it was terraformed. The act of terraforming does not also involve genocide beyond something as complex, or as self-aware, as E-Coli. Or in short, if it is terraformed, none of the organisms have something akin to brains. No sentient life forms are being killed. THE PLANET AGAINST ALL ODDS HAS EXPERIENCED NO GEOLOGICAL ACTIVITY PRIOR TO TERRAFORMING (or maybe a little, but the absolute bare minimum.

To clarify: by environments what I really mean is geo-biological environmental relationships, where biology has shaped the environment of the area, where a unique state is created by some of the geological and ecological features in the area. A geo-biological example of this might be fjords, where the structure was carved out by slow-moving glacial mountains which then melted, contributing to U-shaped valleys. Not directly biological, but that's what contributed to the cooling and warming environment in the first place, to the point where they wouldn't have formed if it weren't for the actions of various organisms. It should be noted that purely geological phenomenon is being excluded, as is a purely ecological phenomenon. Environments that are the result of the two are what I'm (not) looking for, forms that aren't present on a recently terraformed planet, what's also not included in this question is for example is the impact craters created by smashing ice containing asteroids down on the planet.

So, to repeat which biologically-geological-ecological environments WOULD NOT be present on a recently terraformed planet.

The planet has:

  • a surface gravity of about .9 g's(however unfeasible that an earth mass planet couldn't hold onto a magnetic field)
  • receives about 186 Watts per square meter over the full length of a day(earth receives about 164 Watts per square meter)
  • has roughly the same surface area as the earth
  • existed in a vacuum
  • only experienced geological activity a for brief time (on geological time scales)
  • all-natural, biological compounds where/ came from other bodies present in the system.
  • was not terraformed gently
  • was terraformed about 1000 years ago
  • contains most biosphere present on earth
  • contains some heavily genetically engineered plants and animals(if that's relevant)
  • All potential ecological niches are filled by SOMETHING, whether that be a hamster or a resurrected Mekosuchanine

It should be noted that its features not present, e.g. ones that require a substantial amount of time to form.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ How recent? Are we talking this past weekend, or recent in geological time? $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Apr 13, 2021 at 18:37
  • $\begingroup$ recent as in long enough for life to have established itself or recent as in life is reproducing? also, what method of terraforming is being used and what is the planet like? the system around it? this has a pretty huge impact on what ecosystems and biomes and niches will be colonized in what order and when $\endgroup$
    – zackit
    Apr 13, 2021 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ This question falls into the following category: "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? As many as wanting." Without complete pre-terraforming planetary and solar data, there's no practical way to answer this question other than "whatever you don't want...." The terraforming process will bring about wind, precipitation, oceans... the odds of there not being (e.g.) deserts, rain forests, alpine meadows... are close to zero - unless all that data I asked for prohibits it. Can you edit your question to provide all that data? $\endgroup$ Apr 13, 2021 at 19:35
  • $\begingroup$ I find your question interesting, but I think you need to rehammer it into a better form. Keep in mind: *Terraforming takes centuries at minimum. Millions of years possibly.. *Nothing happens in a hurry. *few events are abrupt transitions. $\endgroup$ Apr 13, 2021 at 19:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Interestig question. @JBH as many as want, man look at Willk's answer it is a bare miniumum, which jumps to mind second only to gas oil reserves and depthness of fertile soil layer. Sure there are more than one thing but combining the efforts and build some pool of such changes under one hut makes sense, haven't seen that elswhere. I mean those things aren't that random and free to be anything, in contrary, thise are signs of past life we may look on mars as an example $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Apr 13, 2021 at 20:48

3 Answers 3




Depicted: the Muav limestone of the Grand Canyon in the US. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muav_Limestone

Limestone is a sedimentary rock formed by the accumulation of shelled creatures over time - and so a biogeological formation which I think is what you are looking for. It is common worldwide and many familiar ecosystems have underlying limestone geology. Cave systems are often in limestone because of the propensity of this type of rock to be eroded by water. The same is true for many canyons.

So there you go. Ho hum. No limestone. No quarries under Paris. But you cant really make having no limestone a feature which makes your readers keep turning the page. I think a more interesting question is what sort of biogeological features might be unique to a recently terraformed world that you could use to identify it as such. I am thinking of things like baby banded iron formations right at the surface. A rusty new world.

  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I was thinking iron, too. Terraforming is so complex a thing that authors take for granted, when it would really be a very complicated long-term process. Even magically generating tons of oxygen in a reducing environment would lead to a prolonged mess of chemical reactions. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Apr 13, 2021 at 21:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Given that marble is effectively "cooked" limestone, there wouldn't be any marble either. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Apr 14, 2021 at 6:06

Sedimentary rock such as sandstone, shale, slate, silt stone and mud stone would not be possible as water is required for these rocks to form.

As on the Moon, which has an effective vacuum, the finer fractions of surface regolith will be sharp, angular and most likely abrasive.

After terraforming, expect landslides as rain water will cause a lot of loose surface material, on slopes and cliffs, to fail and mobilize. Likewise do not expect regions of deep regolith to be stable for a long time as they will consolidate over a prolonged period due to the effects of rain and surface water, post terraforming.

The only caves on the planet would either be shallow ones created by overhangs in cliffs or slopes or ones created by breakthroughs into lava tubes.

I'm assuming the atmosphere of the terraformed planet will contain significant amounts of oxygen. Initially the atmosphere will also contain gaseous products of oxygen reacting with minerals and metals in the surface rocks.

Some of the streams and lakes will look like Rio Tinto in Spain, due to the heavy mineral load within some surface waters after terraforming. Some of the surface waters will be acidic after reacting with sulfides within the surface rocks.

The surface and atmosphere will have very little carbon.


No features of erosion, since most liquids can't exist in vacuum and the ones that can probably wouldn't come in big enough quantities.

That means no canyons, no valleys. No meandering rivers. No caves. No sea cliffs. No waterfalls. Not as much soil and sand as you're used to on earth.

Overall the landscape might have a more jagged appearance than earth, pockmarked with very random-seeming bits of destruction, such as round lakes that used to be impact craters.

See a map of mars for an idea of how breaks in the landscape would not be smoothed down into a pleasing harmony with the surrounding land, as they are on earth through erosion.

  • $\begingroup$ nitpik: Valleys are elongated low areas between mountains or hills. Rivers occur in valleys because water runoff from the slopes gravitates to the lowest point. Valleys would be possible. Shallow caves formed by overhangs in cliffs would be possible as would those formed in lava tubes. As for sand & soil, regolith could be created by meteor impacts & temperature differences in the rocks - very hot days, very cold nights causing rocks to fracture & crumble over time. As on the Moon the grains would be angular $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Apr 14, 2021 at 9:44
  • $\begingroup$ I stand corrected, I had the cause and effect relationship between rivers and valleys backwards. $\endgroup$
    – user72058
    Apr 14, 2021 at 9:49

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .