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Earth’s magnetic field broke down 42k years ago, caused sudden climate change (theconversation.com)
104 points by T-A 12 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 62 comments

On the topic of "Adams Event" and Hitchhikers, I actually find these topics really entertaining from a literary angle. Cave-dwelling post-apoc isn't a type I've done. Does anyone know of any works themed around magnetic breakdown? I've quite liked the Red Rising series which I guess is similar? Bobiverse/Enders Game/Hell Divers etc? Recommendations welcome :)

Been a while since I read them, and I don’t think it was magnetic reversal, but Silo series involves prolonged life in underground silos. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silo_(series)

The Long Dark's backstory begins with a geomagnetic phenomenon, the rest is "regular" survival: https://store.steampowered.com/app/305620/The_Long_Dark/

Edit: oops, skipped a few words and my eyes focused on "game".

It’s driven by nuclear war, but check out Metro 2033 by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. It takes place in the Moscow Metro where people live after a prolonged nuclear winter (with mutants). There is a subsequent video game series derived from the book.

Its a pubgworthy game (available for PUBG Mobile)

There's a Netflix series that's apparently based on a Polish sci-fi novel that has a similar thing, with daylight becoming deadly.


Seven Eves has a breakaway civilization that survives an apocalyptic event by moving underground, though it's not the focus of the story.

Ars has an excellent article about the paper: https://arstechnica.com/science/2021/02/study-blames-earths-...

Much better read, thank you.

We have to colonize more than one planet and become a space civilization. We risk too much if we don't.

I never understand this sentiment. I get that "we" is "the human species" but in practice it just means "some people." A magnetic pole reversal would be nobody's fault, but knowing that some humans survived off-planet wouldn't make me feel better about it.

I in turn don't understand this sentiment. What are you trying to say? That you don't care about the continued survival of humanity beyond your own demise? You would be perfectly happy for everyone to be wiped out the day after you die?

> You would be perfectly happy for everyone to be wiped out the day after you die?

No, you would be nothing the day after you die. It is that simple.

The problem was slightly different anyway, that is everyone being wiped out at the same time. Literally no body would care anymore.

Hmm. Something like, "humanity serves humans, not the other way around." If there are no humans around to enjoy the fruits of humanity, I don't assume that something is lost or wasted.

The problem I have with the "eggs in a basket" line of thinking is that it raises extreme moral hazard to say we don't have to care about everyone as long as a few people are saved. Losing a basket of billions of eggs to save a dozen is cold comfort.

(Yes, I realize magnetic pole reversal isn't the same as nuclear holocaust, but I still don't feel my scepticism is misplaced.)

I will be dead. I'll have no feelings.

sigh But you have feelings now, and are presumably capable of having feelings about events beyond your immediate experience.

If someone offered you 5 bucks, with the caveat that if you take it then the Earth is destroyed the moment you die - you're a terrible person if you take the money.

(Incidentally, there's not really any difference between not experiencing something because you're dead, and not experiencing it because your back is turned. Are you fine with atrocities in general, provided you don't find out about them?)

So why not pollute and burn down the biosphere now if you dont care what happens after you're dead?

you've seen the current biosphere right? I think they have been.

Is it suppose to matter how you feel?

Giving up the human species because zarchose will be unhappy he didn't survive the apocalypse seems a waste.

Perhaps we are descended from such travelers? Is our DNA an interstellar mix from 70k years ago? How would we know?

We are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction and global warming. I fear we may have already run out of time.

If not a planet, at least floating space stations may be a possibility

Honest question: what do we really risk in the grand scheme of things? Extinction? Would that negatively affect anything other than our egos?

(For the record, I’m all for colonizing other locations)

I think it would be a great shame if the only self-aware life in the observable universe dies out before it can find out the mechanisms behind all of this.

Sometimes when I'm trying to doze off at night, I think about how strange our existence is. Not even the smartest people on this planet have any idea how or why the universe exists. We might never find out. We might be a simulation operated by higher beings, but that raises even more questions. Argh, what I would give to know.

Certainty without humans or other spacefaring life all other species on Earth will go extinct.

Does that really matter in the grand scheme of things or is it just ego?

edit: To take it further, without some super-intelligent / supernatural beings it seems likely all structure in the universe will eventually disappear due to a heat death or a big crunch. Does even that matter?

My take is that we are just too young to have any idea what really matters in the grand scheme so the best approach is just try to survive.

It would negatively affect virtually every value system ever created. If human extinction isn't "bad", then nothing is "bad". Anyone that nihilistic clearly lacks any framework to assign value judgements to anything, and therefore has no business participating in any decision-making discussion (such as "should we travel to the stars").

What would 'survival' look like if such an event would happen today. Large underground bunkers, with nuclear reactors for power, could be pretty self sufficient, but is there any less dystopian way we could survive?

UV wouldn't be much of an issue for concrete buildings, but anything plastic would be a no-no. How could we protect against other types of stellar particles?

Be worried, but don't assume this is an earth-ending event. How magnetic fields impact UV penetration is a complex process involving both physics and chemistry. One thing humans have proven very good at is modifying our atmosphere. Before we all retreat into caves we will try to boost our ozone layer. Artificial injection of ozone into the upper atmosphere is well within current technology. It isn't currently economical but would be cheaper than living like mole people.

And don't worry about nuclear power. Getting sufficient solar power won't be a problem with all those higher-energy particles getting through.

I am pretty skeptical that humans simply holed up in caves until this was all over, as the article suggests.

In fact I'm skeptical UV would be a big problem for humans at all. Aside from holing up in our houses and offices most of the day, we wear clothes.

And yet, so many get skin cancer when a big chunk of the population is vitamin D deficient through lack of exposure to the sun.

Survival just means we live long enough to reproduce. Humanity would be fine, have a child the die of skin cancer in everyone’s late 20s, life would just suck for any individual human though.

It could be that our alphabet was the key to scale.

On a side note is it a coincidence Golang has exactly 27 first class functions?

Actually, some plastics are radiation shielding and they're off the shelf. First link has them by the palette it seems.



It would look like COVID a lot of the time: life indoors. There would also be a lot of protective clothing and probably an end to practices like sunbathing.

The real disaster would be in agriculture where climate shifts and increased UV would play havoc. A lot of people would starve and there would be refugee crises and wars all over the world. Indoor farming or farming under plastic sheeting shields would become a big thing in the developed world.

> an end to practices like sunbathing

Thanks fo making me chuckle as I remembered the Sunblock 5000 ads[0] in the original Robocop movie.

It's interesting to see how nobody worries about the ozone layer anymore, but somehow we may end up in the same place.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCTSCAQzY9k

Much of the evidence of this event comes from tree rings. So at least those trees survived the event to tell the tale. Agriculture would certainly change but it wouldn't be over. A reordering of the climate would certainly change what is grown where but plants would still be able grow, that least that was what happened last time.

I dunno, surviving the isolation of lockdown from COVID-19 is challenging enough (as those who have had to live through strict lockdowns can confirm). Humans need more than water and food.

Magnetic reversal events are fairly common often happening multiple times within a million year period. All life has gone through this multiple times. It may cause some disruptions to some species but most will not really notice much change. I’m skeptical that a reversal would lead to the extinction of Neanderthals unless they were already on the brink of extinction already.

Our own civilization might suffer more as we are dependent on specialized agriculture that could be disrupted. At the very least you would want to invest in a good parasol and some sunglasses.


Underwater habitats could probably be made with plastic still. Under a few hundred feet, radiation will probably drop off enough to not cause damage. Of course corrosion becomes a new problem to fight.

>> Under a few hundred feet, radiation will probably drop off enough to not cause damage.

At a few hundred feet, a structure able to hold off the water pressure would probably be thick enough to hold off the radiation if installed on the surface. In rough numbers, the mass of air above us now is equivalent to about 10m depth of seawater. A few hundred feet, call it 100m, would be like having ten atmospheres worth of radiation absorption above us. We need not go that far. Relatively thin engineered coatings on glass/plastic sheets would be as effective at blocking the extra UV.

Isn't water a ridiculously effective radiation shield? I thought I saw a web comic once claiming that you could swim in a pool with radioactive waste and be just fine as long as you stayed X feet away, where X was on the order of a couple feet.

It is one of the better ones, at nuclear plants the spent fuel is typically kept in what amounts to swimming pools as a cheap way to shield from the radiation.

It depends on the exact nature of the radiation. Note those pools. The dangerous radiation is blocked very well, but you can still see the stuff in the tank because light passes through water. Electromagnetic radiation isn't blocked by water as effectively as alpha/beta particles.

True, the pictures look pretty eerie (I had a professor whose first career was in nuclear reactors and he liked to show us pics). I imagine radiation that's dangerous is dangerous because it can impact a human body at a high speed, and we're mostly water, so...

UV radiation is moving that the speed of light. So is infrared light, which is blocked by water rather well. What is dangerous are those things that are both fast and heavy, particles from radioactive decay.

Yup that looks like the one I had in mind.

It's sinking and raising of the continents that's the problem. There's little point in hiding in a underground bunker if that bunker ends up in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

Yeah we'd have to live underground like mars people.

Let's see how Mars people like the holes that Peserverance is about to drill into their ceiling.

apparently Mars people have been cracking jokes for over 20 years wrt "Linux being used on Mars before anyone will ever use it on the Desktop", and now the joke isn't funny anymore.

further some unpatched and critical vulns in systemd might actually prevent Peserverance from fulfilling its mission. I propose we send Lennart Poettering personally and at once (!) on a mission to sort it out.

Isn't Linux running on the experimental helicopter, that also uses an off-the-shelf Snapdragon SoC? The rover itself is supposed to be running a RTOS.

It’s amazing that so much ocean life has survived these transitions. That means a small percentage of those creatures that find the ocean’s surface using magnetic fields actually swim the wrong way and die for tens of thousands of years, until they are the ones going the proper way :)

Wait, what? What organisms depend on a magnetic field to find the surface?

Not only the surface; here is one among many describing the magnetotactic sense.


I understand the usefulness of sensing the magnetic field to navigate north/south/east/west; what I find hard to believe is a need to use the magnetic field to navigate up/down.

Magneto-aerotaxis can be used to help some organisms find correct oxygen concentrations apparently(field gradients):


It's expected that earth's magnetic polarity has reversed about 170 times during the last 76 million years[1]. I remember hearing a hypothesis that Mars could have lost its atmosphere due magnetic polarity reversal in some TV documentary for what its worth.

[1]NASA : https://image.gsfc.nasa.gov/poetry/tour/AAmag.html

Interesting story, don't know if it's true or possible but it's certainly fascinating and terrifying at the same time.


There are a few good Reddit threads and some great /x threads concerning the book and the science.

Was there any correlation during this period with Ice Shelf collapses ?

previous related discussion >> https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26188649

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