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Preparing for the Big One

Oct 21, 2019
Preparing for the Big One

It isn’t a question of if the Earth will eventually be hit by a large comet or asteroid, but when it will be hit. Again.

That sentiment is almost a cliché, but like many clichés it is quite true. The most recent large impact was at Chicxulub on the Yucatan Peninsula about 65 million years ago. But there are scars on the Earth of even larger impacts in the past. In fact, the Earth has more impact craters than the Moon. It is only due to weathering and tectonic movements that their remnants are sometimes difficult to recognize. Meteor Crater near Winslow Arizona is one of the most recognizable craters, about a mile across and formed only 50,000 years ago.

The most recent potentially devastating event happened over Tunguska near the Podkamennaya (Lower Stony) Tunguska River in what is now Krasnoyarsk Krai of Russia, at around 7:14 a.m. on June 30, 1908. A large comet or asteroid fragment exploded about 5-10 kilometers above the ground, leveling about 80 million trees over an area of about 2150 square kilometers. (830 square miles). The strength of the blast has been estimated at about 10-15 megatons. Had this explosion occurred over a city like New York, it would have leveled the entire city.

o, we know that rather large asteroids or comets are still capable of hitting Earth. And although impacts such as Meteor Crater or Tunguska would create intense local damage, a much larger object could potentially destroy all or most of the life on Earth.

What can we do to prepare? Well, the obvious first and best choice would be to build a network of satellites capable of detecting and diverting potential planet busters. That is not as easy as it might seem at first. There are a lot of problems associated with attempting to destroy or divert a large astronomical body headed towards Earth. Unlike the popular movie scenarios, we couldn’t just put something together in a few months and succeed in saving the world. But that isn’t what this paper is about. This paper is about preparing to survive an unavoidable impact by a large asteroid or comet.

So, what can we do? What do we need to survive? We can expect a very large impact to devastate most of the surface of the Earth, not from the initial impact, but from the fire and ash blasted into the air, circling the globe in a blanket of dust and gas. This cloud would rain burning embers down upon the Earth, starting wildfires everywhere. Firefighting services would be too overwhelmed to even begin to put a significant portion of the fires. 90% of the fires would burn unchecked. But it even more deadly, the global cloud would block out the light from the Sun. The global firestorm would be followed by years of freezing temperatures, with little or no Sunlight reaching the ground. Eventually, the cloud would dissipate, but virtually all life on Earth would have perished.

Survival would require extensive preparations. For the purposes of this discussion we will assume a warning of 2 years before impact. I will list the minimum requirements for a high probability of survival.

Shelter – Underground shelters would be needed. Although above ground shelters could be built, the advantage of the underground shelters would be protection from the extreme cold, and a greatly reduced requirement of energy to keep warm. In addition, during the first few months especially, roving gangs and individuals who have survived above ground, will no doubt be looking for food and shelter, and be willing to resort to any means to get it. It would probably be vital to survival to be completely invisible to anyone wandering by.

Food – Enough food for the occupants of the shelter for about five years would be required. We can assume that the “nuclear winter” will dissipate in about two years, but it may last up to three years. Once the extreme cold is past, it would take a minimum of a year to begin to harvest food again.

Water – Although a deep well may supply needs for the survivors, there is no way to predict what the global cataclysm may do to underground water supplies. It would be wise to construct very large underground water storage tanks. For 10 people that would be about 25,000 gallons.

Air – The outside air will no doubt be contaminated with many poisonous substances for a long time. Therefore, air filtration systems would have to be used to supply clean air. That would include more than particle filters. Filters would be required that could filter out poisonous gasses. Those would be expensive and have limited life spans, so a large number would be required. CO2 absorbers would also be needed.

Power – A critical part of survival would be the availability of power to supply light, heat, and to run ventilators etc. Providing enough power will be a major problem. Solar would not work. Wind turbines would probably work, but require a great deal of maintenance. They would also attract marauders and roving gangs. Geothermal would be the best option if practical in your area. If far enough in the future, personal nuclear generators would be ideal.

Waste Disposal – The disposal of human waste and garbage will be no small matter. A large underground septic system should be constructed to handle human waste. Garbage might be stored, although it would be wise to recycle as much as absolutely possible. Also, there would be a need to take care of deceased residents.


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