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Post apocalyptic story based on the eruption of a supervolcano

Jim S
Updated:

Here is a conventional, maybe mundane, idea. One of the planet's super volcanoes (there are 6 according to a rather cursory search) erupts and takes out almost all of earth's population. According to another mundane search, the Toba eruption somewhere around 70,000 years ago was a near extinction event in that it left, according to DNA analysis, roughly 10,000 humans alive. If true, folks, we as a species were almost a footnote in the planet's history.

Anyhow, if severe enough, such an eruption would screw up the food chain, i.e. agriculture, for decades. As such, survivors would have a real challenge trying to survive.

Now, since I'm rather creatively challenged, I offer my services as a research flunkie to any creative author willing to wrap his creative consciousness around such an idea. Any such brave soul would have to put up with me as an editor in his creative endeavor.

I admire how Al Steiner took an asteroid strike and turned it into a creative tour-de-force (Aftermath). The challenge would be to handle the dissolution of society in a better and more logical manner than Steiner did. Since it would have to deal with far smaller populations than existed in Aftermath, I believe it permits far more number of options for a story.

Thoughts, anyone?

Not_a_ID

I'm not so sure we would get that close to extinction if such an event were to happen today. It's entirely possible we'd still have a Billion plus humans running around at the end of the volcanic winter. We'd just have to stop worrying about our CO2 production during that time. We know how to artificially heat our immediate environment, and we also know how to grow a number of foodstuffs in a completely artificial environment, including the "daylight" the plants receive.

The only people who get truly and utterly fucked are the ones that either "get had" by the resulting seismic activity, or the immediate ashfall, whichever has a greater range. Most of the rest of the planet would have to immediately start taking precautions and prepare for the onset of a mini ice age, but that doesn't immediately and drastically impact as much of the world as you'd think. Although the disrupted supply chains would be noticed in short order.

The bigger problem, as mentioned by me elsewhere, is if it is one of the American supervolcanoes, you've likely just lost most of the food production in the United States as a whole. (If it's elsewhere, you might still get some production from Colorado and Kansas for example, but not if they're under a foot or more of volcanic ash. Which in the event of Yellowstone, for example, could take much of Texas and all of Oklahoma out as well--just with the ash alone)

Which is before you start getting into other regions of the world where most anything outside the tropics won't have much of a growing season for a few years. Which means a lot of Europe and Russia is largely out of action for traditional Agriculture as well(non-traditional options may exist). The only place with a viable ability to grow crops at that point are the places that largely lack the infrastructure needed to produce at the needed levels, and even if they could, they couldn't transport it out to the wider world.

But some of this becomes largely engineering challenges at that point. Aside from anyone within a couple thousand miles of the eruption, the only "infrastructure" disruption most people would experience is Air Travel ceases to be a viable thing for a few years, not impossible, but not something you'd want to do over long distances, and it's going to be costly to do.

Power grids will start to get hammered due to the need for more heating at homes and businesses, but that's going to take weeks to be truly felt. The same ash/sulfate cloud that prevents us from receiving solar heat is going to prevent heat from escaping. Which goes back to becoming an "engineering challenge" for prioritizing where the power is going, and getting more capacity online as quickly as possible. ("Green energy" will be a concern for later)

Even the farming issues in more northerly areas can be addressed in some hybridized high tech meets low-tech options. Farmers already have a wide array of techniques they use to deal with cold snaps that come at bad times for their crops. They're just going to have to see much wider application, and quite possibly in more permanent ways.

You're also ignoring stockpiles of grains and other long-lived crops(post-harvest) that are likely to last longer than you'd think. The "apocalyptic scenarios" assume total infrastructure collapse, which means that those silo's immediately become useless. That's untrue, and even for the areas that get buried, there are likely to be hundreds, if not thousands of silos just waiting to dug out and emptied. It would just require some engineering and planning to setup the relevant expeditions to go out and make it happen in a safe manner.

They made it through a couple volcanic winters in the 1800's, and they had a lot less technical ability to throw at the problem than we do. And the "good news" for us is the planet is currently a fair bit warmer now than it was for them before their long winter and "year without a summer" began. It was rough, but they survived it.

70,000 years ago, our hunter-gatherer ancestors were barely subsistence level as it was. Anything that negatively disrupted their food supply was going to be a major problem. They also lacked any meaningful means of countering or reacting to what was going on. And they certainly didn't have massive stockpiles of food to tide them over until another option could be pursued.

Do NOT confuse the claims that most urban areas would run out of food within 72 hours of a major disaster occurring if no new supplies came in to mean that the entire human race is just 72 hours away from mass starvation. That isn't the case at all. The grain that was used to make your bowl of Cheerio's this morning probably sat in one or more different silos for a year or more before it was turned into that package of cereal. Where it then probably spent a couple more weeks in various warehouses or in transit between them before getting to your grocery store.

Replies:   Jim S
Crumbly Writer

Frankly, there are more likely 'doomsday' scenarios than volcanoes, which are usually geographically isolated. Sunspots, especially if the Earth is directly in it's path, could destroy most of our electrical and communications grid (though little actual physical damage). Another is an asteroid strike, which would not only wipe out whatever it hit, produce tsunamis which would travel for thousands of miles, but would toss up massive mounts of matter, smoke and dust, in addition to the initial shock wave.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater  Jim S
Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

Frankly, there are more likely 'doomsday' scenarios than volcanoes, which are usually geographically isolated.


Not quite so isolated. A volcanic eruption in The Dutch east Indies in 1815 resulted in over 100,000 people in Ireland and 200,000 people in mainland Europe starving to death in 1816 due to the effects of the eruption, and that wasn't a major one like Yellowstone going off. More is on wikipedia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_Without_a_Summer

Jim S

@Not_a_ID

I'm not so sure we would get that close to extinction if such an event were to happen today.


You made several points. I'll take them one at a time.

1. CO2 is not a physical issue; it's a political one. CO2 production from carbon based energy would cease all together anyhow. However, there would be a huge initial injection of that gas from the super volcano itself. But lets not ignore the fact that the planet is on the verge of another mini ice age according to the Russian Academy of Science. In any case, the story doesn't necessarily have to be based on science. Authors do have some literary license after all.

2. Population would collapse, slowly. For an event severe enough, 95%-99% is not an unreasonable expectation depending on the severity of the event itself. That's because the food chain breaks down. And once all of the stored food, of whatever variety, is consumed, the only ones left able to survive are those that know agriculture. Not to say the survivors couldn't learn but, frankly, I wouldn't expect a large percentage of population from cities to make it assuming they survive the initial eruption.

3. There would be no artificial light as that takes electricity. And there would be no electricity as the entire grid would shut down. Not from destruction of the transmission grid, not from transformers and breakers exploding but from a cessation of all generation. Take it from one that used to work in the electric utility industry. Naive consumers have no clue as to the complex dance that is required to keep generators online, which comes from trying to balance demand with supply. Large generators can't stand imbalance. They shut down. From overvoltage. From undervoltage. From over frequency. From underfrequency. Ever hear of household frequency? 60 Hz in the US and 50 Hz in Europe (I believe)? A generator missing by 0.7 Hz will trip offline to prevent damage.

This isn't meant to be a class on how a modern electrical generation works, only to let you know how much some post apocalyptic stories have missed reality by losing almost all population but still keeping a viable electric grid.

And if that isn't bad enough, another issue is fuel for the boilers that provide the heat to convert water to steam to turn the generators. In 10 days, carbon based generators would consume what fuel there is on site. With a huge drop in population comes a huge drop in the workforce necessary to run the bulldozers for coal and other equipment for oil and natural gas. Nuclear would trip offline and stay that way from either voltage or frequency issues once the other ones did also.

What it all comes down to is that wide spread availability of electricity would go bye bye. You mentioned power grids would get hammered. In truth, power grids would cease to exist.

4. Transportation would grind to a halt once all available supplies of diesel are exhausted. Because no one would be there to run the refineries to make more. Because no one would be there to transport more oil to the refineries. And stored gasoline would slowly go bad. Did you know that when gasoline stands for any length of time, it requires an additive to keep it from fouling the Otto cycle? Anyone living in the Northern US is familiar with the process as they need to add said additive to lawn mower and snow blower gas tanks to prep them for the off season. The same holds true for motorcycles. And autos. Diesel fuel doesn't appear to have the same restriction from what I understand but I could be wrong on that.

5. You underestimate what an ash cloud would do to sunlight and global temperatures. When Mt. Pinatubo cut loose in the Phillipines in 1991, the ash and SO2 emitted blocked enough sunlight that the earth's temperature dropped by about 1 degree F on average from 1991-1993, if memory serves. I remember that following summer (1992). It was a cool one.

Now imagine 100 Mt. Pinatubos going off at the same time (that's the size of the Yellowstone Caldera). You can Wikipedia the event to find out how much magma (read dust) and SO2 that Pinatubo dumped into the air, I'm sure. What will happen if that occurs is interrupt the photosynthetic cycle severely, affecting food production for all plant eaters, man included. So four legged food supplies won't be nearly as plentiful, to mention just one of the effects on man's food supply.

6. Long term food storage (grain) is an issue. I don't believe that current grain storage technology can keep grain usable over a period of years. Which is what would be required. In other words, it will spoil eventually. The population would be good for a couple of years, true. But how would said grain be transported when all transportation is kaput? All this points at slow starvation of survivors.

7. You're right that the population collapse wouldn't be immediate. It would take awhile for the population count to arrive at it's nadir. But even taking your number of 1 billion, look at the last time the planet had that few people (somewhere in the early 1800s). And try to visualize the infrastructure that could be supported given the above.

8. You didn't make this point so I'll add it. Maintenance. With very few people, maintenace of infrastructure ceases and nature begins to reclaim everything.

In any case, that's the structure I visualize for the story that I'm suggesting.

Jim S

@Crumbly Writer

Frankly, there are more likely 'doomsday' scenarios than volcanoes, which are usually geographically isolated. Sunspots, especially if the Earth is directly in it's path, could destroy most of our electrical and communications grid (though little actual physical damage). Another is an asteroid strike, which would not only wipe out whatever it hit, produce tsunamis which would travel for thousands of miles, but would toss up massive mounts of matter, smoke and dust, in addition to the initial shock wave.


Al Steiner addressed that in Aftermath and did it very well. That's one of the reasons I'm suggesting a super volcanic apocalypse.

Not_a_ID

@Jim S

2. Population would collapse, slowly. For an event severe enough, 95%-99% is not an unreasonable expectation depending on the severity of the event itself. That's because the food chain breaks down. And once all of the stored food, of whatever variety, is consumed, the only ones left able to survive are those that know agriculture. Not to say the survivors couldn't learn but, frankly, I wouldn't expect a large percentage of population from cities to make it assuming they survive the initial eruption.


The thing is there is no shortage of "people who know agriculture" across the world, a super-volcano only has potential to take out the better part of a continent directly(and much of its associated population). Everything else thereafter is a follow-on effect that will take months to start being truly felt in much of the world.

The population loss that starts happening after the initial upset is a mixture of Political, social, and outright engineering challenges. Of the remaining 5 continents that are largely untouched, the governments and assorted "powers that be" basically find themselves in control of who lives or dies. Quite literally, that becomes a question of:
1) How quickly society starts to break down as people, particularly those in urban and/or northern latitudes realize they're screwed.
2) How much control the political/military forces of associated countries are able to exert to prevent a "total collapse" of their own governments... and that of their neighbors to the south. (This may mean nations turning military command to their neighbors, and allowing them to seal themselves from being overwhelmed by a crush of refugees)
3) How capable the surviving governments are of correctly and quickly identifying the "critical needs" for the next several years, and taking steps to ensure those needs are addressed. Currently, this translates into some truly massive civil engineering projects in Africa. The environment is also screwed, so environmental impact is less of a concern. It's going to be all about being able to grow as much food as possible, as quickly as possible, and that's going to be one of the few remaining viable places to pursue such an agenda.

But we're ignoring India should still retain a mostly sane growing season. That's over a billion people there. Indonesia has another half billion by itself. Then we have Southeast Asia, the middle east, and a lot of Latin America. Brazil for example would need to give up on ethanol and start growing actual food, but there are a number of other examples out there as well.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Not_a_ID

@Jim S

3. There would be no artificial light as that takes electricity. And there would be no electricity as the entire grid would shut down. Not from destruction of the transmission grid, not from transformers and breakers exploding but from a cessation of all generation. Take it from one that used to work in the electric utility industry. Naive consumers have no clue as to the complex dance that is required to keep generators online, which comes from trying to balance demand with supply. Large generators can't stand imbalance. They shut down. From overvoltage. From undervoltage. From over frequency. From underfrequency. Ever hear of household frequency? 60 Hz in the US and 50 Hz in Europe (I believe)? A generator missing by 0.7 Hz will trip offline to prevent damage.


Are we talking super volcano or Solar EMP?

Yellowstone erupting isn't going to do much of didly squat to the power grid in Mexico, or Europe, Russia, China, Japan, Australia, Brazil, or much of anywhere outside of North America. What's going to "hammer" those grids is increases in electrical demand due to dropping temps meaning people are using more power for heating.

The plant operators are still alive, unless they were in the Western US. Their homes are still there, their powergrid(outside of the North America) isn't under any kind of damaging attack, so there is no widespread need for repairs, aside from in North America itself. Which goes back to: Yellowstone erupts, the rest of world's first thing to really impact them is possibly loss of some satellite communications if it's energetic enough, travel by jet aircraft over long distances becomes inadvisable. And the America and Canada are no longer exporting food, and can no longer reliably provide parts support as that capacity probably was destroyed/damaged or otherwise degraded as a result of Yellowstone going off.

So in that respect, power grids requiring parts support from the United States specifically may be in a fair bit of trouble, but other nations would be capable of picking up that slack is given time. The biggest issue is keeping people fed.

Not_a_ID

@Jim S

4. Transportation would grind to a halt once all available supplies of diesel are exhausted. Because no one would be there to run the refineries to make more. Because no one would be there to transport more oil to the refineries. And stored gasoline would slowly go bad. Did you know that when gasoline stands for any length of time, it requires an additive to keep it from fouling the Otto cycle? Anyone living in the Northern US is familiar with the process as they need to add said additive to lawn mower and snow blower gas tanks to prep them for the off season. The same holds true for motorcycles. And autos. Diesel fuel doesn't appear to have the same restriction from what I understand but I could be wrong on that.


In a Yellowstone scenario, the only Oil Production that goes offline would be in the Great Plains region, and much of the Western US including a significant portion of Texas. Much of Alberta and Canadian Oil production may dodge a bullet depending on the prevailing winds at the time, but most of the really nasty stuff shouldn't go very far beyond the border IIRC on the maps I've seen.

The Gulf Mexico remains online and production, the Gulf Coast Oil refineries may go offline briefly due to seismic activity, but aren't likely to remain offline for long. Even the coal mines in Appalachia remain reasonably viable after all this. They may have to gear up for more extreme winter conditions, but we already know how to handle that.

Even then, the immediate damage is confined to North America. Europe, South America, Asia, Australia, and Africa all continue to be able to mine for, process, and burn CO2 carbon sources of energy without interruption. They lost no equipment, they lost no expertise, their worst case is they may have lost some of the equipment vendors and suppliers(as they were based in North America), but alternatives would crop up soon enough.

Not_a_ID

@Jim S

5. You underestimate what an ash cloud would do to sunlight and global temperatures. When Mt. Pinatubo cut loose in the Phillipines in 1991, the ash and SO2 emitted blocked enough sunlight that the earth's temperature dropped by about 1 degree F on average from 1991-1993, if memory serves. I remember that following summer (1992). It was a cool one.

Now imagine 100 Mt. Pinatubos going off at the same time (that's the size of the Yellowstone Caldera). You can Wikipedia the event to find out how much magma (read dust) and SO2 that Pinatubo dumped into the air, I'm sure. What will happen if that occurs is interrupt the photosynthetic cycle severely, affecting food production for all plant eaters, man included. So four legged food supplies won't be nearly as plentiful, to mention just one of the effects on man's food supply.


I think the estimate was up to a 6 degree(C) drop, which would be very acutely felt in the higher latitudes, with the Northern Hemisphere feeling it most acutely as the oceans in the Southern hemisphere would moderate the impact down there. Much of the world would still remain arable, the equator would become the much more preferred area to grow, as you'd get full growing seasons there. While in more northern areas a "fully natural" growing season would likely only last a couple months at best. As opposed to possibly harvest Alfalfa 3 or 4 times a year, you're doing good to get one. Don't even bother growing Corn. As to the four legged food supply, that becomes a luxury item. It's already recognized as grossly inefficient, and any governmental efforts directed towards feeding a surviving population is going to put that way down the priority list.

You're going to get grains(which wasn't a very viable option for our ancestors 70,000 years ago), vegetables, and fruits. Maybe even some hydroponic algae slime for extra protein, yum.

Dominions Son

@Not_a_ID

Even then, the immediate damage is confined to North America.


The immediate danger, yes. However, a super volcano could create a global scale dust cloud that would last for years and the reduction of incoming sunlight at the surface could have catastrophic impacts on global agriculture.

Agriculture and food production likely wouldn't be halted altogether, but the resulting global famine could cause upwards of 50% population loss over the next several years.

Even a 50% population loss would make maintaining modern energy and transportation infrastructure next to impossible.

Replies:   Not_a_ID  Not_a_ID
Not_a_ID

@Jim S

Long term food storage (grain) is an issue. I don't believe that current grain storage technology can keep grain usable over a period of years. Which is what would be required. In other words, it will spoil eventually. The population would be good for a couple of years, true. But how would said grain be transported when all transportation is kaput? All this points at slow starvation of survivors.


A quick google turns up that "properly stored" "hard grains" can last up to 25 years, which should see you clear of any volcanic winter. "Soft grains" can go anywhere from 6 to 9 years, which should likewise get you through a significant portion of even a super-volcanic winter.

As to transporting it, I already covered that. The bigger challenge there is doing it safely. That volcanic ash can kill, both people and equipment alike. So the people who go out on such "foraging expeditions" are going to need (re)breathers and other airfilters to protect the engines of the equipment they're operating. Good news is that after the first year or so, the ash shouldn't be nearly as hazardous as it was initially(it'll have blown/drifted into concentrated areas, should have a "crust," and a fair bit of it should also have been washed away by rain/snow melt), but you'd still want a respirator if you're doing anything that's likely to stir it up. (Like breaking through drifts of it to go an underlying road bed)

Jim S
Updated:

Beat me to it, DS. I'll mention that a 6 degree drop is instant ice age. And I've seen estimates of an 80% population decline from food alone. So, again, kiss the electric grid goodbye. In fact, kiss all energy production good bye as all other sources rely on electricity to function. Try running a refinery without electric power. Doubt the solar and wind is gonna be enough. Solar would be a non factor in a dim atmosphere caused by the dust cloud. Even in present desert areas.

Agriculture requires oil in all its forms. Yields would drop substantially without a constant source. Just another factoid to consider.

Replies:   Not_a_ID  Capt Zapp
Not_a_ID

@Dominions Son

The immediate danger, yes. However, a super volcano could create a global scale dust cloud that would last for years and the reduction of incoming sunlight at the surface could have catastrophic impacts on global agriculture


I said "immediate damage" not "immediate danger" there is a difference. Something that is damaged will either need to be repaired, replaced, or discarded/abandoned. Something that's endangered is another matter.

So Yellowstone Erupted in this scenario. It isn't like Edmonton, Alberta is going to suddenly find itself under 200 feet of snow 9 months later, or a 1 mile thick glacier by year 6.

Not_a_ID

@Dominions Son

Agriculture and food production likely wouldn't be halted altogether, but the resulting global famine could cause upwards of 50% population loss over the next several years.

Even a 50% population loss would make maintaining modern energy and transportation infrastructure next to impossible.


The problem with a 50% population loss is the social disorder that happens, and a lot of that is going to center around "who lives or dies" and a lot of that goes back to how the governments and their enforcement arms(law enforcement, military) go about it. If they try to save everybody, they'll probably fail.

If they don't try to save everybody, people are going to get violent and destructive. Because there aren't many people who are just going to happily lay down and die, they're going to fight. How that gets handled would decide a lot of that outcome.

The "other side" of that is the criteria they use to determine who lives will decide a lot of that.

I also think people grossly misunderstand the economy we're dealing in. Yes, the economic system we have today requires approximately 7 Billion People to be involved in it, because well, there are roughly 7 billion people on the planet.

The technology we have on the other hand, nobody honestly knows how many people are actually required to sustain or expand it. Do not confuse the economy with the technology. I'm inclined to suspect you could easily maintain, and even improve, a high-technology society(at or above our present level) with only a few hundred million people. The economics would be different than what we have today(as labor wouldn't be so freely available), but that's just the nature of economics.

It all comes down the numbers, and the question of who/what survives. If the right mix of people make it through the ordeal, and they have been given the right tools, they'll make it work. The more time they have to prepare, the better. In that respect, the Supervolcano scenario has a likely "survival" outcome(for the Human Race and its technology level before hand) because they have exactly that: Time, likely to be the better part of a year after the eruption before food supplies become a major problem.

Of course, this assumes "the powers that be" actually have a clue, and act in the best interests of society, and in "enlightened self-interest" towards themselves as well. However, "enlightened self-interest" seems to be a very rare commodity among world leaders, and their respective governments as well.

Now the survival odds of any particular person alive when such an event happens? That is highly variable.

Replies:   Jim S  Dominions Son
Jim S

@Not_a_ID

The technology we have on the other hand, nobody honestly knows how many people are actually required to sustain or expand it.


The issue is how many people can be lost before replacement of worn out equipment falters. Assuming the population loss is spread randomly over the entire population, I doubt that a 50% reduction can be absorbed. Hence technology breaks down.

I'd also postulate that government breaks down also. And social mores and rules. This is especially true as I'd expect the population decline to be more severe.

But all of this misses my original point for this post. And that is a suggestion for someone to take on such a story given the structure outlined using me as a research flunkie. If so, I imagine that certain elements of the story would satisfy only the author. As should be as literary license should rule. Just not egregiously so.

Dominions Son

@Not_a_ID

The technology we have on the other hand, nobody honestly knows how many people are actually required to sustain or expand it.


That depends on what you mean by technology. The amount of labor needed to run the electric power grid is quite well known.

Do not confuse the economy with the technology.


I'm not. Our modern lifestyle depends on not just raw technology, but on a huge amount of physical infrastructure that requires a huge amount of continuous maintenance.

I'm inclined to suspect you could easily maintain, and even improve, a high-technology society(at or above our present level) with only a few hundred million people.


I don't doubt that such could be done if you start from scratch and design the physical infrastructure to be low maintenance. It can't be done with the existing infrastructure.

Replies:   Not_a_ID
Not_a_ID

@Jim S


Agriculture requires oil in all its forms. Yields would drop substantially without a constant source. Just another factoid to consider.


Yields will drop considerably, because not as many extraction facilities can operate due to lack of manpower. Conversely, net demand also drops once the population starts dying off, because there are fewer people alive to need that energy.

The one is resolved by consolidating resources. If you have 3 wells, but can only operate 2, you take one of the 3 wells offline and reassign that freed up manpower to the remaining 2. It isn't rocket science.

I agree infrastructure would decline in general, but much of that decline would likewise be masked by the simultaneous population decline. It becomes an ongoing process of consolidation of resources.

If you like your house, you can keep it, and probably even remain there, but after a certain line is crossed don't expect utility (or any other) services when your next closest neighbor is 5+ miles away. If you want to do that, you're on your own. But if you're willing to move, and possibly move again...

Replies:   Jim S
Not_a_ID

@Dominions Son

I don't doubt that such could be done if you start from scratch and design the physical infrastructure to be low maintenance. It can't be done with the existing infrastructure.


Oh, but it can be, you just have to willing to write off entire cities at a time. You don't need to maintain the full power grid, you only need enough of it to do what you need. Which goes back to "if government decision makers are smart" and go about pursuing a managed decline then just before they "write off" an area they're going to salvage everything they can before they leave. In some cases this may mean either relocating entire factory assembly lines in more extreme circumstances or building(/relocating) power generation capabilities closer to said factory rather than maintain 500 miles of power transmission infrastructure to support it.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Not_a_ID

@Jim S

This isn't meant to be a class on how a modern electrical generation works, only to let you know how much some post apocalyptic stories have missed reality by losing almost all population but still keeping a viable electric grid.

And if that isn't bad enough, another issue is fuel for the boilers that provide the heat to convert water to steam to turn the generators. In 10 days, carbon based generators would consume what fuel there is on site. With a huge drop in population comes a huge drop in the workforce necessary to run the bulldozers for coal and other equipment for oil and natural gas. Nuclear would trip offline and stay that way from either voltage or frequency issues once the other ones did also.


Thing is, once again outside of the immediate disaster area, the workforce is unaffected, and neither are their facilities. And once the population stabilized at the level they could produce for, they probably wouldn't be running the mega-grids we do today. My ESWS badge from the Navy may be well over a decade old now, but I do remember that single generator or even single plant(multiple generators) isn't the "hard part" it's linking up with other power plants(and forming a grid) where it gets hard.

So in that context, keep it simple. Settle your people near the power plant, or put a power plant near where the people are, forget the grid, and take NIMBY out behind the woodshed.

Dominions Son

@Not_a_ID

Oh, but it can be, you just have to willing to write off entire cities at a time. You don't need to maintain the full power grid, you only need enough of it to do what you need.


The existing power grid isn't designed in a way to easily support such limited use. That would also necessitate relocating globally dispersed survivors into a single geographic area.

It might be doable, but it is at least an order of magnitude more difficult than you seem to think it is.

Not_a_ID

In this case, I think it's pretty much you determine how many you're able to keep alive indefinitely, then you go about quietly identifying those people with "rare" skills you to preserve and move them into areas you intend to maintain/secure. Once that objective is nearly completed(and supplies/other resources are in place), you lock the shit down and let everyone else fend for themselves.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Capt Zapp

@Jim S

Agriculture requires oil in all its forms.


If that is the case, how did farmers manage to work before? Only the use of engine powered machines requires oil/fuel/lubricants.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Not_a_ID

In this case, I think it's pretty much you determine how many you're able to keep alive indefinitely, then you go about quietly identifying those people with "rare" skills you to preserve and move them into areas you intend to maintain/secure.


No, you have it backwards. It will likely be impossible to determine how many people you can support without knowing what skills have survived and are available to your group.

Replies:   Not_a_ID
Dominions Son

@Capt Zapp

If that is the case, how did farmers manage to work before? Only the use of engine powered machines requires oil/fuel/lubricants.


Mostly animal power. But unless you are either in a third world country or have an Amish village handy, it's highly likely that one or more of the following will be lacking.

1. The right kind of livestock.
2. The necessary equipment to do animal powered agriculture at above subsistence* levels.
3. Anyone with the skills to build/maintain animal powered agricultural equipment.

*Subsistence level agriculture means that the farmer is producing just enough to feed his own family/workers with zero surplus.

Replies:   Capt Zapp
Capt Zapp

@Dominions Son

Mostly animal power.


So his statement "Agriculture requires oil in all its forms." is not accurate, which was my point. If necessary, human power can replace other animals. It wouldn't be easy, but it can be done - and without oil.

Replies:   Dominions Son  Jim S
Dominions Son
Updated:

@Capt Zapp


If necessary, human power can replace other animals.


Not really. It is nearly impossible to do agriculture above subsistence levels strictly by human power.

At that point, you have to abandon cities altogether and anyone who can't figure out either how to farm or how to hunt will starve to death.

People will have to be so spread out that maintaining any kind of modern technology is impossible. Even if the skills survive, no one will have the time to devote to either using them or passing them on to someone else.

If you can't salvage it or make it with your own two hands, you will have to do without.

That means we fall back to the stone age.

Crumbly Writer

@Not_a_ID

The thing is there is no shortage of "people who know agriculture" across the world, a super-volcano only has potential to take out the better part of a continent directly(and much of its associated population). Everything else thereafter is a follow-on effect that will take months to start being truly felt in much of the world.

It wouldn't really matter how many 'know' agriculture. If the initial agriculture takes out much of America, and the plume of smoke and debris overwhelms much of Europe, you've eliminated two of the largest agriculture distributors for the world. Between modern agriculture technology being lost--that needed to reap the large agriculture gains we currently enjoy--while also loosing the ability to transport it, most local farms wouldn't survive long on their own--or without food support from elsewhere to supplement what little they grow on their own.

Crumbly Writer

@Not_a_ID

Even then, the immediate damage is confined to North America. Europe, South America, Asia, Australia, and Africa all continue to be able to mine for, process, and burn CO2 carbon sources of energy without interruption. They lost no equipment, they lost no expertise, their worst case is they may have lost some of the equipment vendors and suppliers(as they were based in North America), but alternatives would crop up soon enough.

You don't really need to wipe out the world's population to have a tremendous PS story. In fact, it's better if, after surviving the local disaster, they encounter and communicate with the rest of the world, so the story is NOT a continuing downer, merely a 'mini-trauma'.

The key point is any PA story is the breakdown of civil structures. It doesn't matter if that is global, local or entirely undermined. The key is simply that communication, travel, light and heat are largely unavailable. If they survive and come out the other side to see a chance to resume normal life, so much the better (in terms of 'happy endings').

Replies:   Dominions Son
Jim S

@Capt Zapp

So his statement "Agriculture requires oil in all its forms." is not accurate,


Maybe I should have qualified it as modern agriculture, but I thought that would be understood by context.

Jim S

@Not_a_ID

Conversely, net demand also drops once the population starts dying off, because there are fewer people alive to need that energy.

You ignore the supply side of the equation with that statement. Less people means less demand, true. But it also means less supply as able bodies are needed for production. That's the main driver of the premise of societal and economic collapse following an apocalyptic event. Most of your statements in other posts also assume no change, or little change, in supply of anything. That is unreasonable.

Replies:   Not_a_ID
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

The key point is any PA story is the breakdown of civil structures. It doesn't matter if that is global, local or entirely undermined.


If it isn't global, it isn't an apocalypse, and the story isn't PA.

Apocalypse in modern parlance refers to and end of the world scenario.

Not_a_ID

@Dominions Son

No, you have it backwards. It will likely be impossible to determine how many people you can support without knowing what skills have survived and are available to your group.


Sigh. And once again, if it's Yellowstone that erupted, unless you're the United States of America, or Canada, you can skip that step. The answer at the onset, and presumably for at least a couple months later, would be: Everyone who wasn't in North America when it happened.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Not_a_ID

@Jim S

That's the main driver of the premise of societal and economic collapse following an apocalyptic event. Most of your statements in other posts also assume no change, or little change, in supply of anything. That is unreasonable.


Up until people start rioting, outside of North America, the only disruptions would be supply chains that we're reliant on Air (Express) Freight as planes can't fly reliably over distance(airborne ash chews up the engines), and bulk freight from North America gets massively disrupted. The ability of farmers to continue to grow crops already in the ground is also negatively impacted, but unless we had the sheer bad luck of it happening ~2 months before most harvesting begins.... The odds are the food supply situation would be reasonably stable in much of the first world in the short term. Third world is hosed, but even they would have time.

I'm not assuming no change. I'm assuming a progressive decline that plays out (globally) over the course of weeks, months, if not years. You're fixated on "flip a switch, everything's gone to shit, everywhere in days--if not hours." In a Yellowstone scenario, that specific scenario only applies to North America.

Replies:   Jim S
Dominions Son

@Not_a_ID

The answer at the onset, and presumably for at least a couple months later, would be: Everyone who wasn't in North America when it happened.


So what, the full disaster won't be over for a year or more.

That's like talking about who survived a nuclear blast at 1/4 mile from ground zero 5 seconds after detonation. It isn't over yet.

Replies:   Not_a_ID
Not_a_ID
Updated:

@Dominions Son


So what, the full disaster won't be over for a year or more.

That's like talking about who survived a nuclear blast at 1/4 mile from ground zero 5 seconds after detonation. It isn't over yet.


No. It's more like comparing a slow moving landslide to a car bomb.

I can walk away from the (slow) landslide. I could probably even empty out the contents of a house involved in said landslide. The car bombing however...

Replies:   Dominions Son
docholladay
Updated:

I am surprised the most dangerous factor in any situation hasn't even been mentioned. There is a reason its illegal to yell "FIRE" in a theater or similar location. The "Panic" reaction can and probably will kill more people than the actual fire would have in the first place.

edited to add: In any of the possible situations PANIC will be the biggest death factor. If the panic reaction can be stopped in time, the death toll will probably be fairly low. Otherwise the death toll will increase exponentially.

Replies:   Not_a_ID
Jim S

@Not_a_ID

I'm assuming a progressive decline that plays out (globally) over the course of weeks, months, if not years. You're fixated on "flip a switch, everything's gone to shit, everywhere in days--if not hours."


I'm not sure how the impression developed that I was saying "flip a switch" but that just isn't so. How can long starvation be "flip a switch"? How can the death of civilization be "flip a switch"? How can mankind exhausting, or unable to access, stored reserves be "flip a switch"? All of these points as well as a host of others were made.

My scenario envisions the relatively slow decline across several years based on the loss of all forms of power -- electricity first followed by all other forms. Other forms of power slower than electricity as they can be stored. Electricity can't. So mankind is reduced to pre Industrial Revolution sources of power, i.e. animals and his own sweat. And, eventually, no modern transportation -- air, sea (except sail) or land.

In a Yellowstone scenario, that specific scenario only applies to North America


Yellowstone erupting, if and when, will have a global impact. Seriously, examine weather conditions in the two years following Mt. Pinatubo's eruption (mentioned previously). Yellowstone has the potential to pump 100 times more dust and SO2 into the atmosphere. The SO2 probably will have a worse effect than the dust (examine the science of it). The only question is how long, and how much, of those pollutants will remain suspended. The SO2 will likely stay far, far longer than the dust.

A suggested sequence for such a story could be first agriculture dying as the dust cloud and SO2 essentially shut off light, followed by mass starvation once food stores are exhausted, followed by loss of power, followed by loss of transportation. Once power is gone, cities are no longer habitable as water and waste removal disappears. But they'd likely empty out as food stores began disappearing. Whatever remains would likely degenerate into villages or such.

What I envision such a story doing is following the drama of societal collapse as government controls disappear and mankind becomes reduced to something resembling midieval times. Here is a squick for you for perspective. During the 2003 Blackout, authorities in my area were expecting civil unrest, read riots and looting, within 96 hours, i.e. 4 days, if power wasn't restored. Luckily, most areas were returned in about half that span. Personally, I was out for 36 hours. That's just a quick example of how quickly civil order can break down from such an event.

We can agree to disagree on the severity of such an event. But there exist many sober analysts who expect either what I layed out or even worse should a supervolcano cut loose. I just thought it to be a good basis for a story. A long, multi-chapter story. Hence my original post.

Not_a_ID

@docholladay

I am surprised the most dangerous factor in any situation hasn't even been mentioned. There is a reason its illegal to yell "FIRE" in a theater or similar location. The "Panic" reaction can and probably will kill more people than the actual fire would have in the first place.


Uh... I think I did.

The problem with a 50% population loss is the social disorder that happens, and a lot of that is going to center around "who lives or dies" and a lot of that goes back to how the governments and their enforcement arms(law enforcement, military) go about it. If they try to save everybody, they'll probably fail.

If they don't try to save everybody, people are going to get violent and destructive. Because there aren't many people who are just going to happily lay down and die, they're going to fight. How that gets handled would decide a lot of that outcome.


As to outright panic... The only ones with immediate cause for that, are once again, in North America(Assuming it's Yellowstone, or one of the other American supers) as they're the ones dealing in an immediate crisis.

But yeah, that isn't to say people elsewhere who've watched programs like MegaDisasters wouldn't "connect the dots" and go into panic mode immediately. The "CNN Effect" could likewise be nasty, as coverage largely relevant to North America gets broadcast globally, and possibly gets misconstrued by international viewers.

But other things making it potentially bad is the other 24 hour news programs going into analysis mode and finding "experts" who help perpetuate an "imminent doomsday scenario" for the viewers, and thus inducing said panics globally.

Which brings us back to: It depends largely on how the various governments on Earth respond to the situation in regards to their own populations, and any refugees they may receive.

Replies:   sejintenej
Dominions Son

@Not_a_ID

I can walk away from the (slow) landslide.


Except you can't walk away from the global dimming impact of the dust cloud created by a super volcano eruption. It will take 6 months to a year, but the impact will be global.

Replies:   Not_a_ID
Not_a_ID

@Dominions Son

Except you can't walk away from the global dimming impact of the dust cloud created by a super volcano eruption. It will take 6 months to a year, but the impact will be global.


In the event of a Super Volcano, it is projected to take the better part of a decade to return to more typical atmospheric concentrations. By which point the global albedo would likely have shifted towards reflective, which may encourage further cooling(and trigger a more lasting centuries long mini ice age)

But you're also correct that the first year after the eruption would be the worst. Each year after that is going to see increasing amounts of solar radiation, and improved abilities to grow crops using natural and traditional methods over increasing amounts of land.

So it circles back to: If a person survives the first year, their odds of making it into the next year improves considerably. If they've made it to the 2nd year, they're probably in the clear.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Not_a_ID

If a person survives the first year, their odds of making it into the next year improves considerably.


The odds of any one person (even as far from the super volcano as it's possible to get) surviving the first year are probably less than 50/50.

There is a reason why the experts consider it an extinction/near extinction level event.

sejintenej

@Not_a_ID

But yeah, that isn't to say people elsewhere who've watched programs like MegaDisasters wouldn't "connect the dots" and go into panic mode immediately. The "CNN Effect" could likewise be nasty, as coverage largely relevant to North America gets broadcast globally, and possibly gets misconstrued by international viewers.

I would amend "possibly" to definitely". We had a single IRA bomb which affected a couple of buildings in one street in London and a nation of travellers simply refused to come to anywhere in the UK.

People are individuals looking to their own best interests; they won't listen to governments if it doesn't suit them but they will riot. That, to me, is the greatest danger and I don't trust politicians to come up with the "right" solution or to act expeditiously.

As to forecasts of starvation, IF people are prepared to change to logical diets then just perhaps many could survive; the first thing would be to stop eating large animals because of the sheer quantity of feed they need to produce a relatively small amount of food. I'm not sure about chickens etc. but even then it is an offence to raise chickens in urban gardens in the UK.

There is a core of people who are able to grow enough to feed their families on small amounts of land - one UK plan says a 25 foot square could feed a family of four for a year (I think that is optimistic)

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son
Updated:

@sejintenej


IF people are prepared to change to logical diets then just perhaps many could survive; the first thing would be to stop eating large animals because of the sheer quantity of feed they need to produce a relatively small amount of food.


Livestock can be allowed to feed on wild growing grasses and other vegetation that is inedible to humans. Vegetation that will grow in areas unsuited for plant agriculture.

And that relatively small amount of food has around 10 times the energy density of plant based foods.

There is a core of people who are able to grow enough to feed their families on small amounts of land - one UK plan says a 25 foot square could feed a family of four for a year (I think that is optimistic)


Ridiculously optimistic when you factor in the effects of global dimming from a super volcano dust cloud.

Replies:   Not_a_ID
Not_a_ID

@Dominions Son

Ridiculously optimistic when you factor in the effects of global dimming from a super volcano dust cloud


...unless you go energy intensive and put the stuff under grow lamps. Indoor agriculture is becoming a thing, and many of those plants never see natural daylight.

But you'd need a power grid that could support that.

And 25 square foot garden would need a skilled botanist and or farmer to set it up and do a fair bit of the maintenance. Granted "skilled" in this case may consist of 1 to 2 man-weeks(40 to 80 hours) of training, but most people aren't going to pull it off on their own.

You're talking high density agriculture where your planting "complimentary" food crops amoung each other leaving barely enough room to move around as it matures. You're not talking traditional mono-cropping where you have a section for each specific type.

Dominions Son

@Not_a_ID

...unless you go energy intensive and put the stuff under grow lamps. Indoor agriculture is becoming a thing, and many of those plants never see natural daylight.

But you'd need a power grid that could support that.


And at a point where people are reduced to that level of subsistence agriculture, there is unlikely to a working power grid. There may be some grid power available, but it is likely at that point to be highly unreliable.

Replies:   Not_a_ID
Not_a_ID
Updated:

@Dominions Son

And at a point where people are reduced to that level of subsistence agriculture, there is unlikely to a working power grid. There may be some grid power available, but it is likely at that point to be highly unreliable.


If they go straight to martial law, and start killing the rioters after giving them ONE chance to cease and desist. I don't think the mayhem and destruction would get too carried away. Besides which, the people who are historically inclined to riot at the drop of a hat are the same people who are unlikely to be in a high-skill occupation, and are unlikely to be "missed" at the macro-level.

IF they are in a high-skill occupation, and they're rioting within a day or so of a super-volcanic eruption over 3,000 miles away. They have failed the personal ethics/rational thinking test, and are "undesirable" for other reasons, so give them a Darwin for removing themselves from the gene pool and move on.

It's harsh, but in a scenario where you're going to be unable to save a substantial portion of the population, anybody who gives cause for them to be considered a hazard to maximizing the ability of society to survive needs to be removed, and quickly. Rioters are on the top of that list.

Rioting because something bad might happen months from now is a completely different critter from rioting because you're starving, as are your family and friends, and you're wanting food so they(plus yourself) don't fucking die.

sejintenej

@Not_a_ID

And 25 square foot garden would need a skilled botanist and or farmer to set it up and do a fair bit of the maintenance. Granted "skilled" in this case may consist of 1 to 2 man-weeks(40 to 80 hours) of training, but most people aren't going to pull it off on their own.

You're talking high density agriculture where your planting "complimentary" food crops amoung each other leaving barely enough room to move around as it matures. You're not talking traditional mono-cropping where you have a section for each specific type.

I agree. It could also be boring. Although that plan does have a fair variety, my handbook also awards stars to crops based on the land they use and the time they are in, ranging from one to five stars. Onions rate 2 stars whilst Oriental Saladini rates four stars. Who wants to live on saladini?

sejintenej

@Not_a_ID

If they go straight to martial law, and start killing the rioters after giving them ONE chance to cease and desist. I don't think the mayhem and destruction would get too carried away. Besides which, the people who are historically inclined to riot at the drop of a hat are the same people who are unlikely to be in a high-skill occupation, and are unlikely to be "missed" at the macro-level.

You are assuming that there remains an effective form of government (whether at national or state or even municipal level° which could coordinate civil control.
I don't know about modern day USA and UK but in the Cold War years it was assumed in the UK that there would be no centralised coordination and that pre-trained groups would be responsible for everything in their areas and they were armed. These groups were separate to the maquis guerrilla platoons

Dominions Son

@Not_a_ID

Rioting because something bad might happen months from now is a completely different critter from rioting because you're starving, as are your family and friends, and you're wanting food so they(plus yourself) don't fucking die.


No one but you is talking about immediate riots. We are talking about riots six months to a year later when the global impacts start to set in.

At the point that everyone is reduced to subsistence level agriculture or starvation, there will be no army to put down riots because all the soldiers will be busy farming.

You can't maintain an army if you can't feed that army.

You can't maintain any kind of power/communications/transportation infrastructure either.

At that point, 100% of available labor is dedicated to food production.

There is no civilization, there is no economy unless/until you can produce enough food for your entire population using only a fraction of that population as labor.

Replies:   Not_a_ID
Not_a_ID
Updated:

@Dominions Son

At the point that everyone is reduced to subsistence level agriculture or starvation, there will be no army to put down riots because all the soldiers will be busy farming.


Why are we at subsistence level agriculture even before anyone starved to death? Nothing has stopped producing, aside from the area immediately destroyed/damaged by the eruption itself.

You can't maintain an army if you can't feed that army.


Nobody is dead yet(aside from those on the unlucky continent), so the governments that are still functional have plenty of lead time to start implementing rationing programs. Where surprise, surprise, making sure the people in a substantial portion of the enforcement arms are NOT among the starving would be a fairly high priority. (but not the highest, as you DO need the infrastructure associated with feeding those forces; but a lot of the population is going to find itself to be "non-essential")

This goes back to "deciding on who lives or dies"

You can't maintain any kind of power/communications/transportation infrastructure either.


You can if you don't let them all starve. Rationing is a thing, and would likely begin within weeks of an eruption event. They're not going to wait until food supplies run out. They know they're going to, so securing future production, and well as current inventories(so they can ensure they last) is going to be on the top of the "to do" list for any sane government.

At that point, 100% of available labor is dedicated to food production.


No, its not, because thanks to the miracle of a food rationing program, most of the infrastructure remains in place for mechanical harvesting of crops to continue unabated. The only issue on that front is the volcanic winter.

There is no civilization, there is no economy unless/until you can produce enough food for your entire population using only a fraction of that population as labor.


No, you're dealing with a civilization under very strict martial law that is basically operating as a war time economy. Only "the enemy" this time is mother nature. Go back and look at World War 2.

Replies:   Not_a_ID  Dominions Son
Not_a_ID

@Not_a_ID

Rationing is a thing, and would likely begin within weeks of an eruption event. They're not going to wait until food supplies run out. They know they're going to, so securing future production, and well as current inventories(so they can ensure they last) is going to be on the top of the "to do" list for any sane government.


To expand on this, while and reasonably sane government would begin rationing so that they can maximize existing food stocks.

There will admittedly be stupid/corrupt governments that are going to ration all that food, and then make sure the Administrators/Leadership and their families remain well fed, as well as their immediate security forces(enhances loyalty, and ensures there is someone around to defend them), but leaves everyone else "out to dry."

In other words, they're the ones who will only concern themselves with personal survival, rather than survival of civilization, technology, infrastructure, or anything else. As they're among the ones in charge, they must be the pinnacle of everything to date. Who needs to bother wasting resources on a bunch of plebes if it's going to make their personal life less comfortable in the short run?

Dominions Son

@Not_a_ID

Nothing has stopped producing, aside from the area immediately destroyed/damaged by the eruption itself.


Again, you are the only one insisting on immediately. six months to a year after the eruption a global scale dust cloud reducing incoming solar radiation will result in drastic reductions in crop yields.

Nobody is dead yet


A lot of people outside the area of immediate impact will be dead from global famine six months to a year after the eruption. That is what we are talking about, not the immediate aftermath.

sejintenej

Slightly different cause (meteorite impact in mid USA) was the subject of an American scientific programme aired in the UK two nights ago.

Initially carbon dioxide caused global cooling in the region of 9°C and a mini ice age. The meteorite hit a specific type of rock which eventually caused sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere causing major planet warming.

Between the two almost all large animals such as dinosaurs were wiped out, the only survivors being those living in burrows at the time of impact and insect / small animals eaters. Sea life was very badly affected (they didn't opine 'wiped out')because the darkness caused the death of plankton which was the food of many fish which were themselves the food of larger sea creatures.

This impact was over 50,000 years ago

docholladay

@Not_a_ID

And 25 square foot garden would need a skilled botanist and or farmer to set it up and do a fair bit of the maintenance. Granted "skilled" in this case may consist of 1 to 2 man-weeks(40 to 80 hours) of training, but most people aren't going to pull it off on their own.


The square foot gardening methods would help with this type setup. It uses the space between plant measurements instead of the between row measurements. It is surprising how much can be grown using that method over a period of a year.

JohnBobMead

S. M. Stirling has a novel, The Peshawar Lancers, which is set in an alternate history where there was a meteor strike during Disraeli's Prime Ministry, resulting in major collapse. It's set approx 100 years after the meteor strike, but has flash backs to the event. A very good book, I've read it several times.

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