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The Life and Death of Planet Earth

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The Life and Death of Planet Earth is a book by Peter Ward, co-authored by Donald Brownlee, describing how the planet Earth will die slowly. They describe the systems of earth, then describe how they will shut down. It also has a few chapters describing 'quicker' deaths and the possibility of humanity escaping the fate of Earth.

Timeline of Events

  • Now -? - A mass extinction by an asteroid strike, nuclear holocaust, or etc. 
  • 10,000 years hence - An ice age rivaling the one that ended 10,000 years ago
  • 200 million years hence - The extinction of gymnosperms
  • 200 - 250 million years hence - The formation of a supercontinent
  • 500 - 800 million years hence - The extinction of large photosyntesising life
  • 500.01 - 850 million years hence - Loss of all soil due to loss of plants, and the extinction of animals, explosion in evolution of decomposers[1]
  • 600 - 1000 million years hence - The evaporation of the ocean; the extinction of multicellular life on Earth (it is implied bacteria, viruses, and other microbes survive a while longer)[2].
  • 1 - 5 billion years hence - The extinction of all cellular life
  • 5 billion years hence - The dead planet Earth is incinerated by the growing sun. 
 A definite time is not placed on these events due to their unpredictability.

Ice Age

Peter Ward illustrates the fate of people during the ice age through a short story:

Some children are playing by the edge of a glacier, with their parents watching, when one claims to have seen the Seattle Space Needle jutting from the snow. The other children laugh, not knowing that there used to be a city here. Through the adult's point of view, we learn that after fearing and halting global warming, the reduction of greenhouse gases and the natural cycle of warm-cold periods culminated into a severe ice age. Shortages in food and fuel end society, as the cold destroys crops, and, in addition, the only arable land is in the tropics, where people are crowded, and fighting to secure land.

The fate of animals and plants is not discussed in this chapter.

Supercontinent

Donald Brownlee also describes the supercontinent as this:

The oceans reak of rotten eggs, and the Sun burns down on the beach relentlessly. As you travel inland, it seems like a rewinding tape, the same menagerie of animals and plants, everywhere.

The two then go on to compare this to the supercontinent in the time of Pangaea. They also warn that supercontinents cause mass extinctions by (1) Homogenizing the species on Earth, and (2) producing a still water ocean, which would produce massive amounts of methane and hydrogen sulfate, killing marine life, and coastal life (and many more due to the methane explosions and violent trade winds).

The fate of humans is not discussed in this chapter. 

The Last Mass Extinction (s)

The Extinction of Plants

Carbon dioxide will disappear aprox. 500 - 800 million years hence, and along with it, large photosynthesising life (plants). (Despite this, decomposing plants will raise the carbon dioxide enough to keep algae and other photosynthesising protists alive.) Quickly afterwards the soil will deteriorate, and blow into the sea, killing coastal and marine plants. Sand dunes will cover pole to pole.

The Extinction of Animals

After the last plants die, "a timer is set, counting down to the last breath inhaled by animals." There is very little oxygen being replenished by the remaining photosynthesisers to keep animals alive. Instead of plants, bacteria and fungi form the base of the food chain. The conditions are extremely humid, hot, and unforgiving. The last animals are confined to the polar regions, armoured to prevent dessication, and simple (as the two explained: the nervous tissue needs the most oxygen, therefore is an unaffordable luxury. The world will be a stupider, brawnier world). Insects, scorpions, crabs, lizards, snakes, small rodents, and possibly a bird or two will see the twilight of animals, when they are asphyxiated slowly. (During the loss of the ocean, though, it is hinted at least one animal (possibly a marine worm or crab) had survived and died with the oceans.)

The Loss of the Ocean

After the extinction of large life, the oceans have started disappearing. This process has been occuring for millenia, even today, but as the sun gets bigger, and the atmosphere's contents mix up, more of the evaporated water vapor (hydrogen and oxygen) disappears into space.

Over a billion years, the magnificent oceans become highly saline, bacteria infested, brightly colored puddles. The air is charged with oxygen and nitrogen, while hydrogen is a trace element.

Red Giant

Earth is on its knees, maintaining at most viruses on its surface and atmosphere. Its life is gone, the atmosphere is a ticking time bomb full of oxygen, and its water has evaporated. The sun is also dying. As its fuel, the hydrogen stored within, is spent, the star expands due to a heating core. If the Earth hadn't already been absorbed by its star, it would have been frozen when the sun goes into its low heat white dwarf stage. Then a high mass star explotes

Notes

  1. It is mentioned in the book, although not explained in too much detail.
  2. It is not specifically said all life is killed with the end of the oceans, and it is even implied that some form of life lives on.

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