Waterworld and Other Worst Case Scenarios

I learned some interesting things in the aftermath of the Rule of Cool post. In particular, did you know the underwater future of Waterworld can never happen? Shocking, considering one of the main messages of that (stupidly expensive) film was: "If we don't take better care of our planet, this is what will happen."

In order for the world to be entirely, or even mostly, covered with water, sea levels would have to rise over 8 kilometers.* But if all of the ice in the entire world melted, sea levels would only rise about 80 m. At worst, the Earth would go from this:

To this:**

Interesting. Devastating. But not world-destroying, which, really, is what I was hoping for.

So what's an inspiring author (who wants a world covered entirely in water) to do? Here are some possibilities:
  • Fantasy World. It's not Earth, so who's to say how much ice may or may not have melted to drown the civilization underneath?
  • Ice Meteor. An asteroid made entirely of frozen water crashes into the planet, and then melts. Such a meteor would have to have a radius of 900 km (about a seventh the size of the moon) to contain enough water, and that kind of meteor collision would have other consequences. But we're talking thousands of years in the future anyway, right? A crater the size of Australia wouldn't be a big deal by then.
  • Shrink the Earth. Theoretically, if enough internal pressure were released such that the Earth shrank, the existing water would be enough to cover the globe. Of course the very act of releasing that pressure, combined with whatever catastrophic event triggered the release, would probably wipe out life on Earth anyway.
  • Science Is Wrong. This is my favorite one to fall back to. Science is not often wrong, but considering how much we don't know and those times science has been wrong before, it's always possible. Maybe the Earth is filled with water that comes to the surface. Maybe there's more ice underneath Antarctica than we thought. Who knows?
I'm not saying I'm going to do any of these to my world, but it's fun to think of the possibilities. Speaking of which, this list of risks to civilization is all kinds of awesome, especially for those of you considering post-apocalyptic scenarios that are scientifically possible.

* The metric system is just better, sorry. Do your own conversions.

** The map isn't entirely accurate. The program that generated it just uses altitudes, so places like the Caspian Sea wouldn't actually get bigger like they do in the picture.


Corinne said...

I love thinking about these kinds of things -- and yes, I've spent many hours perusing Wikipedia about how to best almost-but-not-quite destroy a world.

Not that I, um, have any plans to do so.

... it's only two worlds!

Matthew MacNish said...

That article IS awesome. Scary, but awesome to ponder, especially when it comes to writing fiction.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I went with the meteor for my last story. Really can't go wrong with a giant rock hitting the earth. Found this cool calculator along the way.

Marcy Bates said...

We just watched a show about what science learned from sci fi pioneers such as Jules Verne. It pointed out all of the research he did in creating his future worlds. They also said he was frustrated with H.G. Wells for just making stuff up without thinking if it was truly possible. Very interesting to ponder.

Emmet said...

You don't need more water, you need the water you have to get reorganized. if the floor of the ocean rose up, or land masses settled, I'm sure a water world scenario could come about.

Keriann Greaney Martin said...

Very interesting, and thanks for the science-y info. I was comforted until I saw Emmet's comment. But it's probably more likely we'll destroy ourselves by using up all of our resources and have to find another planet.

jjdebenedictis said...

Drop a small black hole to the centre of the Earth! That would shrink it. (Ursula K. LeGuin already did it in The Silver Metal Lover, however.)

Adam Heine said...

@Corinne: So long as it's fiction. It is fiction, right?

@Matthew: Yeah, for fiction, that list of ways to destroy civilization is one of my very favorite reads.

@Susan: Holy cow, that's an awesome link! Thank you!

@Marcy: Kinda ironic that Verne was the one who wrote Journey to the Center of the Earth, which we now know to be completely impossible. Whereas The Invisible Man becomes more possible everyday. (Let's not talk about The Time Machine ;-).

Adam Heine said...

@Emmet: That would work too, and it's possible that could happen (over a long enough period of time) without drastically destroying the Earth.

@Keriann: Agreed. A waterworld, by any means, is one of the least likely scenarios.

@JJ: I'm so glad you're back! You're ideas on how to destroy the world are awesome (and now I have to read that LeGuin book).

Myrna Foster said...

I love Ursula K. LeGuin. Ahem. I read your post yesterday and had so much fun reading up on grey goo and such that I forgot to come back and thank you for the link. Thank you!

Adam Heine said...

Ha! You're quite welcome, Myrna :-)

Dan said...

Wait, what if there is some kind of atmospheric catastrophe that turns into a huge rain, a deluge and a world-wide flood? Isn't that another option for an End? But this time, you know, no Noah and no Arch or whatsoever…

Adam Heine said...

While I don't think the pages I looked up took atmospheric water into account, I doubt there's enough water in the air to flood the whole Earth.

Though a world in which there is no longer any rain is very interesting.