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Thread: Snowball Earth, Could We Survive?

  1. #1
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    Snowball Earth, Could We Survive?

    We have developed some really fantastic technologies in the last few hundred years. We can now tackle just about any problem that faces us. Provided we have the infrastructure and the support of the people.

    Now, Snowball Earth would not be a short term situation. It may last for hundreds, or thousands of years. Some of the problems would be shelter, heat, and of course food.

    1. How much time would humanity need to prepare to survive Snowball Earth longterm?

    2. Would the general population be an assistance or hindrance, knowing that most of them would not be included in the “survival” group?

    3. What specific preparations would be we need to make to ensure long term survival of humanity?

    4. Is the survival of the human species worth the effort?
    Speed of light = 1.802,265,898 MegaFurlongs / MicroFortnight

  2. #2
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    Well, snowball earth (or more likely snowballish earth) was presumably caused by a drop in CO2 levels. We don't really have that problem and even if we did we could burn fossil fuels to up the levels. If the sun somehow reduced its output then we'd have a problem. I don't know how that could happen quickly however.

    4. Is the survival of the human species worth the effort?
    No, but it's fun to try.

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    I don’t think you are getting into the spirit of the thread. This isn’t about how it happens, but rather about what to do if it does. For instance, another Chicxulub K-T impact in the right place could produce enough opaque cloud and dust cover to freeze the Earth in a few years. The point is, what could we do IF Snowball Earth occurred?
    Speed of light = 1.802,265,898 MegaFurlongs / MicroFortnight

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    Well, burn more fossil fuels to increase the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Set up mirrors in orbit or on the moon, not to warm the earth by an appreciable amount but just to warm Siberia and defrost tundra to release large amounts of methane. Defosting tundra could also be done using geothermal power. Conifers and other plants could be planted to decrease the earth's albedo.

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    Thank you for your creative input. But I still don’t think you have grasped the spirit of this thread. Let’s say, Catastrophic Snowball Earth, as in caused by meteor impact. Total cloud cover occurs within a week and reaches 90% blockage of sunlight within a month. Burning fossil fuel only adds to the atmospheric cloud cover. Planting vegetation is not an option. The Earth is freezing. How do we survive?
    Speed of light = 1.802,265,898 MegaFurlongs / MicroFortnight

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    we don't survive in large numbers. we die. end of story.

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    The 'Snowball Earth' scenario is ridiculously unlikely at this point. However, it is worth noting that humans survived the last Ice Age just fine, and humans have survived and thrived in the polar regions for centuries.

    Yes, we would survive. Our advanced, technological civilization may or may not survive, but humans would survive.

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    And it will reduced a large population of humans.

    Probably those who will not survive are those countries that doesn't have snow, and most probably will survive are those countries that most of the year has snow.


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    Thank you for your creative input. But I still don’t think you have grasped the spirit of this thread.
    Okay, but you did say snowball earth, so we should have a loooonnnnnng time to prepare. If aliens fine us for littering and fine us 20% of the sun's out put for 2,000 years then we'd have an immediate problem.

    In a sudden snowball situation fresh water would be a problem as once the oceans freeze over there will be almost no precipitation of any sort. Sea water would probably have to be pumped from under the ice and desalinated. Food would need to be gown in greenhouses. My country can afford to desalinate enough water and build enough greenhouses so everyone could survive. We also have enough coal to provide power for a long time, so no one really has to die in my country and many countries would be able to provide for many of their citizens.

    Interestingly solar power sould be quite reliable in a world without clouds.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MentalAvenger View Post
    I don’t think you are getting into the spirit of the thread. This isn’t about how it happens, but rather about what to do if it does. For instance, another Chicxulub K-T impact in the right place could produce enough opaque cloud and dust cover to freeze the Earth in a few years. The point is, what could we do IF Snowball Earth occurred?
    Another an impact of that kind, the world would first turn into a hell of fire.
    Afterwards it would get cold for a short period of time. I do have a well insulated house and 6000 liters of oil in my tanks left.
    Given the case that the oil in the cellar will not burn up in the days after impact. Well... Let the cold times come. If it burnes up, let the cold toimes come too, as there will be no food left that you could eat.Most of the plants would have burned to dust.
    So... we don't survive in large numbers. Society as you know it will cease to exist. Its either me or him. Well, read the bible in revelations to get a picture...
    Does that fit the mood you had in mind?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ronald Brak View Post
    In a sudden snowball situation fresh water would be a problem as once the oceans freeze over there will be almost no precipitation of any sort. Sea water would probably have to be pumped from under the ice and desalinated.
    On the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.sf.written, someone recently lamented a "throw the book at the wall moment", when the story he was reading had an Antarctic base's desalination equipment fail. What was so offensive about this? The fact that the base was utterly surrounded by fresh water ice, and it takes so much less energy to melt ice than it does to desalinate salt water. In the ensuing thread, rec.arts.sf.written readers calculated just how little this energy would be, and concluded that the waste body heat of a person was sufficient to melt enough water for him to survive (now, staying warm if you're out of heating fuel...that's another matter).

    Food would need to be gown in greenhouses. My country can afford to desalinate enough water and build enough greenhouses so everyone could survive. We also have enough coal to provide power for a long time, so no one really has to die in my country and many countries would be able to provide for many of their citizens.

    Interestingly solar power sould be quite reliable in a world without clouds.
    Since solar power is so reliable, greenhouses may be able to supply their own water by solar melting.

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    "Snowball Earth" refers to a condition where whole Earth is frozen except for the equator (the less dramatic version) or it is completely frozen and seas are covered with ~1 km thick ice (the extreme version). In the first case multicellular life should be able to live near the tropic as it does in polar regions. Some Eskimo-like human cultures could be viable, provided there is enough food available. In the extreme version the only place where multicellular life can exist are the black smokers on ocean floors. No idea how much they're actually depended on organic material from above, but if the ecosystems are completely self-sustaining it doesn't matter if the Earth was frozen or not. Humans of course would find themselves very quickly extinct in such situation.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kullat Nunu View Post
    "Snowball Earth" refers to a condition where whole Earth is frozen except for the equator (the less dramatic version) or it is completely frozen and seas are covered with ~1 km thick ice (the extreme version).
    Thank you. You are correct, of course. My mistake, I probably should not have used that term. I was thinking of something like the first scenario, more like a major ice age, but brought on suddenly.
    Speed of light = 1.802,265,898 MegaFurlongs / MicroFortnight

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    BTW, there is a way for humanity to survive worst case Snowball Earth, given enough time to prepare, say 20 years.
    Speed of light = 1.802,265,898 MegaFurlongs / MicroFortnight

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    Quote Originally Posted by MentalAvenger View Post
    BTW, there is a way for humanity to survive worst case Snowball Earth, given enough time to prepare, say 20 years.
    Now what?
    I thought 20 years of preparation is not the mood of this thread?

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    Quote Originally Posted by MentalAvenger View Post
    We have developed some really fantastic technologies in the last few hundred years. We can now tackle just about any problem that faces us. Provided we have the infrastructure and the support of the people.

    Now, Snowball Earth would not be a short term situation. It may last for hundreds, or thousands of years. Some of the problems would be shelter, heat, and of course food.

    1. How much time would humanity need to prepare to survive Snowball Earth longterm?

    2. Would the general population be an assistance or hindrance, knowing that most of them would not be included in the “survival” group?

    3. What specific preparations would be we need to make to ensure long term survival of humanity?

    4. Is the survival of the human species worth the effort?
    If the case of the extreme "iceball", my guesses would be:

    1. If "longterm" means > 1000 years, then a great deal of preparation would be needed. 20 years may not be enough.

    2. Likely a hindrance.

    3. Very difficult - everything that we use now - from agriculture, energy, mining, manufacturing, to steel making would need to be re-engineered for such an environment.

    4. Only if I (and my family) were included in the survivor pool!

    Most likely, even with extensive planning, a surviving human population would slowly face mounting mechanical/agricultural failures and eventual extinction.

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    Since solar power is so reliable, greenhouses may be able to supply their own water by solar melting.
    That's only possible if there is ice to melt. If we have sub zero temperatures at the equator there isn't going to be much percipitation anywhere once the oceans are iced over.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ronald Brak View Post
    That's only possible if there is ice to melt. If we have sub zero temperatures at the equator there isn't going to be much percipitation anywhere once the oceans are iced over.
    The oceans are covered with a thick layer of ice, right? So you build your greenhouse habitats near the ice, or on it. It's not like there's a risk of falling through.

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    Like Isaac says, we build habitats on the frozen oceans to moderate the temp of our aboveground structures (while it might be subzero outside, the oceans form a limitless heat sink.)

    We move underground, where the cold is less extreme. We learn ot eat mushrooms and other fungi. Just because the surface gets cold doesnt mean it gets cold deeper. Heat transfer through even the top few metres of the Earth takes centuries.

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    The oceans are covered with a thick layer of ice, right? So you build your greenhouse habitats near the ice, or on it. It's not like there's a risk of falling through.
    That frozen sea ice would be salt so you'd still need to desalinate it.

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    If you have 20 years warning, you make off-world colonies and when the Earth finally warms up, they can come back down and re-populate Earth.
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    If you have 20 years warning, you make off-world colonies and when the Earth finally warms up, they can come back down and re-populate Earth.
    A snowball earth is still an easier place to live than anywhere in the solar system. If we have 20 years to prepare we could locate mirrors in space to warm the earth. The closer they are to the sun the less mirror area would be required, but you might need to spend a lot of energy and reaction mass to get them into position. A cheap method might be to use lunar material and cover much of the moon with mirrors reflecting light onto earth. Of course other methods such as scattering carbon dust on ice might be a cheaper method of warming the earth, but you might be wanting to burn your coal rather than scatter it about.

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    The Snowball isn't really possible anymore. As I understand it, the current distribution of landmass prevents the massive buildup of the icecaps on open oceans that trigger the runaway cycle.

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