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  1. 67Kangaroos
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    67Kangaroos Contributing Member

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    science, please!

    Discussion in 'Research' started by 67Kangaroos, Oct 14, 2009.

    writing a sci-fi and need some help with the sci-part... i'm all fi.

    so, it's not really about the science, but...

    sci-fi doesn't always need to be fact, of course, but i'd like to have something at least remotely plausible... thus, the loooooong stream of questions. scientists, please excuse my un-scientiness.

    1. how long after world-wide nuclear war would the radiation still be present at dangerous levels?

    2. if a giant volcano erupted (the yellowstone one?), would it essentially throw the whole world into darkness? and how long until
    'the dust' settles? (if someone has a quick link to what exaclty could/would happen if that giant volcano erupted, let me know)

    3. what world-wide event could essentially leave the earth in a state of untoxic (but technically low in oxygen because of lack of plants) air with a continuously black sky (blocking sun so there are no plants but possibly still the possibility of noticing the sun behind the clouds) for ever and ever and ever or at least a few hundred to a thousand years?

    4. radiation causes interference, right? what else would make radio/walkie-talkie/computer/advanced technologies stop working? would they work again after the radiation goes away? basically, what can happen to make intelligent devices or long-distance communications (radio) stop working forever?

    as you might tell, basically i want to make my story where people can still live healthy, but have reverted back to simple machines with no prospects of redeveloping said devices. any help would be greatly appreciated. thanks in advance!
     
  2. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know about the others, but you should look up "The year without a summer." In 1816 a series of volcanic eruptions caused a volcanic winter which in turn caused widespread famine.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    !. It depends on the type and quantities of radioactive isotopes left after the bombs. Some "hot spots" could be uninhabitable for centuries.

    2. The most violent volcanic event in recorded history was the Krakatoa explosion of 1883. It didn't darken the world, but it did lower wthe global temperature a couple degrees the following years, and temperatures remained below normal for about five years, all because of the dust clouds it spread. You might want to research Krakatoa in detail.

    3. That's a very difficult scenario to set up. It would effectively kill all life on the planet above the level of microbes, and the surface would probably ice over. None of the variants I can think of would leave a planet capable of supporting life as we know it.

    4. Most of the damage to electronics occurs because of EMP, electomagnetic pulse, which is a one-time electromagnetic power surge that is over within seconds after a nuclear blast. High levels of radiation can also produce local radio interference, but at those levels the effects on human flesh would be of far greater concern.

    In terms of forcing people back to a primitive state without the means to re-acquire technology, you would have to destroy all records of technology and eliminate most of the population. A social movement rejecting all technology as having caused the disaster could result in the destruction of all records of scientific knowledge, although somewhere, someone would surely hide all the knowledge they ccould lay their hands on, and would exploit that advantage as soon as they could.

    Even if radio communications were somehow made impossible, humans would invent other means of long range communication - optical networks, for example, or even telegraphy.

    We have a memoty of a technological world. You would have to erase all memory that technology ever existed, or else establish a culture so paranoid about technology that no one would dare show any interest in it whatsoever.
     
  4. tonten
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    tonten Senior Member

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    EM radiation. Perhaps continuous solar flares from the sun? It would probably be made worse if we had no ozone/atmosphere.
     
  5. 67Kangaroos
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    67Kangaroos Contributing Member

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    thankies, thankies for all the replies so far!

    good to know (i'll be looking up the volcanoes when i get home)

    yeah, when i think about the science, my idea is just so... juvenile :p (people live in eco-bubbles... *eye roll*... whatever, i'm still going for it! even if it is moronic! :p)

    and cog, they would definitely have the ability to re-acquire the technologies, just looking for a plausible reason the stuff wouldn't be able to work anymore (radios/computers, that is) :/ hrmm..
     
  6. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    1. how long after world-wide nuclear war would the radiation still be present at dangerous levels?

    The Bikini Atoll is where the USA tested our most powerful hydrogen bomb in 1954. Recent studies show the bomb crater and local islands to be completely free of surface radiation. On the other hand, fruit bearing plants are producing highly radioactive fruit as they extract and concentrate the radioactive isotope of cesium from the soil. Coconut milk is dangerously radioactive and cesium is chemically similar to calcium so it settles in the bones and teeth of natives who consume the milk or meat. In addition, grave markers in a cemetery remain highly radioactive because the dense stones don't "cleanse" the way the seafloor, sandy beaches and topsoil are replaced naturally. This is a good model for both the short term and long term radiation effects of nuclear bombs.

    http://www.ajph.org/cgi/content/figsonly/91/9/1371

    By the way, the human body concentrates radioactive isotopes of cesium, iodine and strontium. When plants absorb such toxins they concentrate them in their tissues. Animals that eat the contaminated plants further concentrate the toxins. Then, when humans eat the tainted fish, shellfish, animal milk or other animal parts, a further level of concentration occurs. So, an area with minimal radioactive contamination can result in highly contaminated humans through "food chain concentration".


    2. if a giant volcano erupted (the Yellowstone one?), would it essentially throw the whole world into darkness? and how long until
    'the dust' settles? (if someone has a quick link to what exactly could/would happen if that giant volcano erupted, let me know)

    Geologists studying the Yellowstone super caldera have found evidence that the last time it erupted at a cataclysmic level, it changed the world's climate for several years afterward. Some scientists estimate that a worst case super volcano eruption could effect the climate for several decades. You can google such studies to find out the extent of global sun-blocking. Here is an example.

    http://www.propertycommunity.com/property-in-the-us/205-could-the-yellowstone-park-super-volcano-wipe-out-america.html


    3. what world-wide event could essentially leave the earth in a state of untoxic (but technically low in oxygen because of lack of plants) air with a continuously black sky (blocking sun so there are no plants but possibly still the possibility of noticing the sun behind the clouds) for ever and ever and ever or at least a few hundred to a thousand years?

    Sunlight, water, growing temperatures and carbon dioxide are needed for plant life to survive. Take away any/all of those on a world-wide level and the result would be a collapse of plant life. Historically, there have been several complete-Earth ice ages in which all plant life vanished. Scientists speculate that microscopic life survived beneath the ice sheet, probably in proximity to the warmth and energy of volcanic vents below the ice. As the ice subsided, the Earth repopulated with plants and animals from those surviving life forms.

    What would cause a whole Earth ice sheet? Large asteroid collision. Perhaps, a nuclear winter following an all-out nuclear war. Loss of our protective ozone layer, especially if it coincided with severe solar flares.


    4. radiation causes interference, right? what else would make radio/walkie-talkie/computer/advanced technologies stop working? would they work again after the radiation goes away? basically, what can happen to make intelligent devices or long-distance communications (radio) stop working forever?

    Uhhhh . . . isn't this really a pretty simple answer? Batteries. Assuming some kind of massive war, or even world-wide social unrest, it is likely that our power grid (that we take for granted) would collapse, leaving all radio communications dependent on batteries or generators. Since most people don't have hand crank generators in their homes, communications would end when batteries were dead or when gas operated generators ran out of fuel. By the way, many field World War II radios ran off a hand cranked portable generator. As long as someone cranked the thing it worked just fine. I had one when I was a kid...great upper body exercise! LOL
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Simple batteries are easy to cob together, as long as you have dissimilar metals and an electrolyte. Generators are more difficult - you need coils on an armature, and permanent magnets, along with something to keep the armature turning within the magnetic field. Also, you need some sort of brushes or other dynamic electrical contact arrangement to extract electricity from the armature coils. Much harder to construct with primitive parts and tools than batteries.
     
  8. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wasn't suggesting that someone build a generator. There are lot's of old hand crank generators at Army/Navy surplus stores that will last for many years of regular usage. Homemade batteries consume electrolyte and electrodes so they are not as reliable as the old hand crank generators. What happens when you run out of lemons? LOL
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You use apples, potatoes, oranges, limes, or sea water.

    If the power grid suddenly and permanently went down, how easy would it be to find dynamos? You could strip alternators out of dead cars, I suppose, but if you had to create power soureces from scratch, you'd find batteries much easier to construct than generators.

    Also, you might have to create a regulator to keep a constant enough voltage for electronic equipment that doesn't have a regulator built in. Batteries, at least, maintain a predictable and relatively constant voltage over their useful life.

    Still, this isn't really the scenario Kanga is asking about. She is looking at a longer term loss of all modern technology, not just a loss of the energy grid.
     
  10. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    Umm...

    1. How long would radiation still be present? A long time, but each isotope will decay at a rate dictated by its half-life. For example, NaCl mentioned that some elements with radioactive isotopes are sequestered in the human body. But a few of these decay really quickly -- for example, iodine has 37 isotopes, and most of them decay within seconds. The dangerous types of iodine are the ones that last 8 days or 59 days. How do you get around those? Take regular iodine! There are pills (potassium iodate, I think) that you can take. Your thyroid glands will say "Oh, awesome, give me that" and will take up as much of the iodine as they can. That way, if you are later exposed to radioactive iodine, your body will not take it in.

    Also, a world-wide nuclear war would probably not hit countries that are lightly populated or that don't take sides in the conflict. It would be hard to set up a plausible scenario in which the countries with nuclear bombs decided to take out, say, Peru and Belize and Guinea and New Zealand and Tunisia and Norway. I suppose you could have a madman decide to nuke everyone just to screw people over...

    People would quickly figure out which places were contaminated and would avoid them; civilization might be rocky for a while, but you wouldn't kill everyone, and I think the survivors would quickly put things back together.

    The background radiation would be far higher for a time, and you'd get more cancers per person in many places, plus more birth defects. But people would live on nonetheless.

    2. Would the Yellowstone volcano cast the whole earth into blackness? No. How soon before the dust settles? Seconds to years -- remember the dust is composed of fine talcum-powder dust plus larger rocks. The rocks and sand and grit would fall quickly. The very finest dust would be floating around the atmosphere for ages.

    Depending on wind direction, the dust would start to fall around Wyoming. Then it would go to the east, getting the East Coast of the United States and parts of Canada before crossing the ocean and dusting large swaths of Europe. Then it would disperse, and parts of the Middle East and Russia and China would get a little, although large portions of the northern hemisphere would receive small amounts of dust, and the sky would be somewhat hazy.

    Or, the dust might go to the south and east, hitting parts of the East Coast and Southeast United States before crossing the ocean to Europe, Northern Africa, the Middle East, China and India and parts of Russia.

    Wyoming would be absolutely screwed; gases and magma would burn a huge swath through the forest and the national park there. Air travel would become quite difficult as dust and gritty sand penetrates into the engines and air intakes. Roads would become blocked in places by falling dust. Where the dust mixes with water and dries, you'll get a nasty crusy concretelike material.

    Plants would have a hard time supporting their dust-covered leaves. Roofs might cave in -- the dust will be seriously heavy, and will cover large portions of the eastern U.S. in up to a foot of ash. (Lucky Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East and such will probably only get a few inches.)

    There will be panic. Runs on supplies. I myself would quickly get ... well, this is going to sound silly. But rice will keep for a while. Airtight containers to store it in. Sugar and flour are nice. Boullion. Salt. Baking soda and spices. I'd go to a clothing store and get some warm jackets and shoes and boots and extra socks and underwear -- but then, I have the tendency to go a bit weird if it's a survival situation. I'd fill up a bunch of plastic bottles full of water and hide 'em under my bed. I'd buy extra large plastic trash bags.

    Mind you, I'm a poor college kid with not a lot of extra money to spend and a reasonably small living space. I would still do all of the above. If I had a job and a house and a car, hoo boy would I go all-out.

    Why?

    If it's something you need to trade out-of-country for, consider the implications of the roads being hard to navigate, rivers being full of sludge and planes being grounded.

    If your first thought was "Holy cow" and your second thought was "But -- how's trade going to happen" then you and I are on the same page.

    If you're looking for a miserable decade, that would be it. Forget global warming. Global cooling tends to be a far harder catastrophe for people and animals to live through -- and brother, we're in for one heck of a nasty decade if the Yellowstone volcano blows up. People in many places would be hungry. Some would be starving. Crops simply couldn't happen in some places. And the cold will be hard to bear for many people.

    The world would not be "thrown into darkness," but the sky would be slightly hazy for a while and you'll have cooler days, harsher winters, shorter summers. Brilliant sunsets.

    3. Um. Unlikely much? There's only so much science can do for you here. You can have something large orbiting the Earth, casting a large shadow on the Earth and blocking sunlight. You can have dust in the air so the sun is frequently red and hazy. The scenario you mentioned is much harder to orchestrate. My recommendation: change the scenario you're going for; reality is rejecting it.

    Science fiction is playing around at the edges of what is probable and believeable. You've gone further away from the edge, into straight out act-of-God fantasy.

    4, broken up into chunks:

    Radiation causes interference, right? No.

    What else would make radio/walkie-talkie/computer/advanced technologies stop working? A strong electromagnetic pulse, or EMP. An ion storm from the sun. (Huge solar flare, maybe?) Deliberate interference by aliens. Acts of god. Tin whiskers in poor quality equipment with lead-free solder.

    Would they work again after the radiation goes away? They would never have stopped working if you're talking about radiation. But after an EMP, some electronics would work. Other systems would have serious trouble.

    Basically, what can happen to make intelligent devices or long-distance communications (radio) stop working forever? This strays quickly into fantasyland. I've seen this done well, a couple times -- each time it had to do with a complete breakdown of civilization

    Examples:
    The book Lucifer's Hammer, where a large comet hit Earth in the 1970s. Technology works just fine, but getting electricity to power the equipment is hard.

    In the book Alas, Babylon, Florida is largely depopulated due to a nuclear war and it takes a while for them to set up the radio again.

    In Dies the Fire, an act of god or aliens causes electricity to stop working. This is a fantasy book.

    But you are no longer working within the bounds of science as we know it. You can't suddenly switch off electricity worldwide unless you are a god and you explicitly break physics. Maybe you can have humans forget all technology, but this is very very hard to write well -- maybe you can sell a group of typical high-school grads and a few college kids getting screwed and somehow losing the information they have.

    But I'm an MIT student. If you wanted to stop humans from getting electronics again, you'd have to kill my whole school, plus all our alumnai and their families. (Also those of Caltech, also Rose-Hulman IT, also Indian Institute of Technology, also WPI ...)

    This is not terribly likely. I believe you would have to completely change human nature in order to prevent us from developing and using radio.

    If you want a world with no radio, look into historical fiction and techno-fantastic worlds where radio hasn't been discovered and only rich people and wizards have fast long-distance communication. Science fiction can only help you so much.

    -- Shepherd, a Randomite, MIT student and biology major specializing in radiation biology
     
  11. 67Kangaroos
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    67Kangaroos Contributing Member

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    thankies, thankies for all the help! you really have been a biiiiiig help for me. i'll be addressing the bad science in my rewrite, as i'm half done with a "fantasy-land" version. (oops :( )
    still, i think i can actually work out a reasonable scenario with all the info y'all have provided. thanks again! :D
     

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