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thrash 03-25-2014 04:58 PM

[IW] Imagining Lucifer-3
The Earth of timeline Lucifer-3 (B528, IW134) was sterilized by a supernova or gamma ray burster (GRB) in 1979. As of 2004, it was being "systematically" looted by Homeline. This description seems to imply that survivors (if any) are not significant in numbers or organization. I'm curious as to what might have transpired between the first indication of trouble and the final collapse of the ecosystem (and civilization along with it).

Although it seems reasonable to pin the divergence point to the March 5th Event, it doesn't really matter all that much. If so, it would mean that the offending burst of radiation came in from almost due south over Antarctica, in the autumn of the southern hemisphere.

The initial burst was probably powerful enough to knock out most spacecraft, due to secondary radiation effects from structural components.

The "sterilizing" effect of a supernova or GRB is largely due to the destruction of the ozone layer and subsequent influx of solar UV, rather than direct radiation received at ground level. Although the initial ionization products are confined to the hemisphere facing the supernova or GRB, they are rapidly (~60 days) carried around the globe and more slowly across the equator. Interestingly, some of the ionization products screen out the visible frequencies that drive photosynthesis: the sky could darken at the same time the UV spikes.

As the UV flux rises, plants on the surface start dying; the darkness hastens the process. Animals can presumably shelter during the day, but with their food sources cut off they begin to die as well. Eventually, every living thing in the first few inches of soil and first few feet of water is dead. By the mid-1980s, lightning-induced forest fires will burn out most of the standing dead wood around the globe, adding carbon dust and ash to the disaster.

Humans will notice when their satellites go offline, but they may be slow to react to the full scope of the disaster. Environmental concerns about the ozone layer have only been in the public consciousness for a few years at this point, and the science behind it is relatively new and uncertain. The phrase "nuclear winter" hasn't been coined. In the end, though, world-wide crop failures will signal the need to Do Something.

At this point, I'm interested in hearing what others think that Something would be. Panic, naturally, and some degree of fighting over remaining stores of food followed by starvation and disease, but does this occur at local, regional, or national levels? Humans, too, could survive by becoming nocturnal, and might even grow a few crops indoors -- as long as the lights stay on. Is this even possible? Ozone levels won't recover for at least 50 years, and then the replanting is only beginning -- what would it take to hold on that long? What would that effort leave behind for Homeline to loot?

PTTG 03-25-2014 05:09 PM

Re: [IW] Imagining Lucifer-3
Nice work. How plausible that the side of the planet facing the burst was simply irradiated to death right off the bat?

ericthered 03-25-2014 05:24 PM

Re: [IW] Imagining Lucifer-3
Well, there are going to be lots of refined metals: the hulking remains of skyscrapers, ships, and an industrial society completely gone.

Existing infrastructure can be leveraged: You don't only get untapped oil wells, the wells are drilled for you (though you may have to do some fix up work.

More dangerously (and temptingly), ancient nuclear stockpiles are probably still in place, waiting for someone to scoop them up and use them.

Why mine asphalt off of a pit on a remote world when you can get the refined product one jump and a few miles away on Lucifer-3, even if you do have to mine it at night?

David Johnston2 03-25-2014 05:44 PM

Re: [IW] Imagining Lucifer-3
I think oxygen levels would dip a bit with most of the land plant life gone.

thrash 03-25-2014 06:02 PM

Re: [IW] Imagining Lucifer-3
You'd think so, but the oxygen already stored in the atmosphere is good for hundreds of years before the loss would be noticeable.

Too bad, that: a suddenly oxygen-depleted alternate would have some fun possibilities.

ericthered 03-25-2014 06:20 PM

Re: [IW] Imagining Lucifer-3
Humanity will figure out what has happened fairly quickly, what with the sudden increase in sunburns and skin cancer. The southern hemisphere will get hit hardest, which may give the north a chance. However, I don't think they'll be able to effect a reasonable solution. This will be a cold and calculating fall of society though: There won't be a fair start, but things will gradually get more and more desperate. worst of all, reducing the human population DOESN'T make the survivors better able to make it.

The humans who survive the best will be the ones who can hide with a large stock of food quickly and silently. Secrecy will be as important as the food stock. There will also be a few military winners, but they may not have the resources to preserve their food. I also doubt that the surviving humans will have the resources to start growing food again: they need a huge energy source to even turn the lights on, not to mention a place to make bulbs. That kind of organization discourages secrecy, which will spell defeat and invasion. They might be able to put something together after the rest of humanity has died off though.

I'm not sure how complete the die-off will be. Yes, UV radiation is a powerful sterilizer. But life is suburb at surviving. The deep sea vent life, at least, will come out alive. The food chain at the bottom normally fed by the top will survive for a long time by cannibalizing itself, and its got a slow metabolism in the first place. The plankton locked in Antartic ice will survive. I'm also not sure if there is a depth where visible light reaches but the deadly UV varieties do not. That last category offers some hope for sustaining human life, as well as for repopulating the land once UV goes down.

I can actually see infinity biologists being incredibly interested in this world for the sake of understanding what a mass extinction looks like and at exploring how quickly life returns and which phyla come to dominate.

On second thought, there may be a way for humans to survive other than 'hunker and hide':

The best solution for growing food isn't underground with lighting: its in making a material that will filter out UV light while passing visible light through. Humanity probably has time to invent a material before it goes under, and indeed to make several factories that make great big panels of it. These will be in high demand though, and won't be in time to save more than a fraction of humanity, and civilization will still fall. you may get some groups of people who had enough power, enough foresight, and enough luck to own some of the factories. That won't save you from a possible nuclear winter, but it may leave a few enclaves of humans still alive and still above ground.

fifiste 03-26-2014 07:09 AM

Re: [IW] Imagining Lucifer-3
As I understand even ordinary glass blocks most of the UVB - it lets a lot of UVA thorugh. Some specialty glass* or plastic should be practically impenetrable to all UV.
Constructing a significant acerage of greenhouses might not be too big of a project for some powers - the biggest trouble as you already mentioned with indoor lightning being of course the hungry hordes wanting their share.

I think it might open a bigger possibility for smaller more secretive survivor enclaves - (hidden valleys, islands, repurporsed oil-freighters or what have you - feeding their small populations with greenhouses)

edit: remembered something about quartz. But as it turns out quartz glass is specifically to let UV through - I remmeber the tanning lamps being called quartz lamps in my childhood so it makes sense

Fred Brackin 03-26-2014 08:42 AM

Re: [IW] Imagining Lucifer-3

Originally Posted by thrash (Post 1741937)
You'd think so, but the oxygen already stored in the atmosphere is good for hundreds of years before the loss would be noticeable.

Too bad, that: a suddenly oxygen-depleted alternate would have some fun possibilities.

Does this calculation take into account the decay of newly dead plant matter? I understand that to be a significant source of oxidation. At the least it's why plants don't remove CO2 from the atmosphere on a long term basis unles they are buried in peat bogs or similar locations.

I suppose dead animal matter would affect things as well.

Then there's rusting and other inorganic oxidation processes.

Anders 03-26-2014 08:45 AM

Re: [IW] Imagining Lucifer-3
Phil Plait's Death From the Skies, about various ways the universe can kill us, has a scenario on GRB. I can really recommend the book.

thrash 03-26-2014 10:36 AM

Re: [IW] Imagining Lucifer-3

Originally Posted by Fred Brackin (Post 1742127)
Does this calculation take into account the decay of newly dead plant [and animal] matter?

Total atmospheric oxygen: 1.4x10^15 tons. Total carbon in biomass (living and dead): 2.0x10^12 tons. Even if all of the carbon in biomass were fully oxidized, it would result in a 0.3% drop in atmospheric oxygen. Then there's the question of how decay will proceed in the presence of sterilizing UVB.


Then there's rusting and other inorganic oxidation processes.
About 6x10^8 tons per year: significant on a geological time scale (~23,000 years for a 1% drop), but not in the 35 years so far in this scenario.

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