Episode 8: The World of Watermelon Snow
Updated: Aug 7, 2020
We're essentially hotboxing our planet, so let's take a fun little trip to a snowball world covered in ice! Let's just hope we don't get there during whaling season because have you ever smelled a beached whale? Neither have I, but I don't want to start now.
1. Zoe Samuel is a writer and producer who now writes jokes for Google. You can follow her on twitter at @zoe_samuel
2. Elizabeth Case is a PhD candidate in glaciology at Columbia University. She helps improve science literacy through Cycle for Science and studies Thwaites Glacier, which is melting at an alarming rate. You can follow her on twitter at @elizabeth_case
Hey there, and welcome to Exolore the show about facts based fictional world building. I'm your host Moiya McTier. And I'm really bad at making decisions. You see, I'm an astrophysicist who studies planets outside of our solar system. Those are called exoplanets. But I'm also a folklorist who specializes in creating imaginary worlds. And this podcast is my way of sharing those worlds with you. Today, I'm joined by three awesome guests. First up is Zoe Samuel.
Zoe is a writer and producer for the stage, page, and screen. Now she works at Google. And if you've ever asked your google assistant to tell you a joke, there's a good chance that Zoe wrote it. Zoe wants us all to know that nothing she says in this episode reflects Google's opinions or policies. But I want you to know that that's Google's loss because Zoe has some pretty cool things to say. Next up is Elizabeth Case.
Elizabeth is a PhD candidate studying glaciology at Columbia University. She legit spends time walking around glaciers in Alaska. So yeah, she's a badass. She's also done multiple cross country bike rides in a mission to improve science literacy. It's called Cycle for Science and you should definitely check it out by clicking the link in the show description below. And last but not least, Rob Ulrich
is a PhD student in biomineralogy at UCLA who studies how living things grow crystalline structures. Rob also co founded Queers in STEM, a group that brings together and advocates for the LGBTQIA+ community in STEM fields. And I think we can all agree that Rob's voice is like super dreamy. Together, the four of us imagined a world where whale season is a bigger deal than Carnival and watermelon snow farmers are responsible for keeping the planet in a delicate thermal equilibrium. But before we get into that, let's first hear what fictional worlds our guests have been living in starting with Zoey.
Oh, so I recently was reading N.K. Jemisin's The City We Became which is a wonderful book. I see you all nodding so you clearly all know. So for the people at home, which is everybody, it's basically in a world in which, once a city achieves a certain level of size and culture and vibrancy, then it becomes self aware. And it has like an avatar who is the personification of that city. So I'm loving it.
Yep, I'm a big fan of N.K. Jemisin over here, and you should be too. So get on that if you aren't. Elizabeth, what about you?
I've been reading a lot of like weird short stories. So George Saunders and Gary Lutz and they play like really deliberately with like words and humor and cynicism. And then I've also been watching Avatar, The Last Airbender, I just started it. Extremely excited to dive into it
Yet another great recommendation. Rob?
I've also just started watching Avatar The Last Airbender. I think I'm halfway through it. There are three seasons. Really happy about it right now. Animal Crossing has been good for me, since I can't actually go outside.
I'm not much of a gamer myself. So I've been reading the 10,000 Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow. So far, it's a beautiful book that I've seen described as a love letter to stories, and I'm really excited to see it through. But let's move on to building our own fictional world. In my process of facts based world building, I always start by thinking about the environment first, and then I can get into biology and culture. When I started thinking about the planetary characteristics for this episode, I realized that I didn't even know what the difference between an ice age and a snowball world was. So I asked Elizabeth to clue us in.
We go through the cycles of like cold and warm. Glacials and interglacials happened during ice ages, and then there's periods where the planet is totally ice free. And then there's a few periods in like our distant distant past, 500 million years or more, where we've spent some time is like what we call a snowball earth. And a snowball Earth is pretty much where, like the whole... we can think there's like a lot of debate about how how much ice can the planet be covered in and still, like escape from it to have liquid water and like live in this beautiful world we live in today. But basically, like once the ice like, descends down from the higher latitudes into the lower latitudes, it starts to reflect so much sunlight because it has really high albedo. So it starts to reflect lots of sunlight from the surface of the earth. And that cools the whole planet down even more dramatically, right? So you end up in this like, stable cycle where things are just like super, super cold, then you can't really absorb much heat from the sun, because it's all being reflected by the ice. So that's like the snowball Earth is like, everything is covered in ice. Maybe you have like a thin band near the tropics of like, water that's ice free or slushy. They think that organisms maybe like survived in like meltwater pebbles on the top of the ice. But the average temperature was like negative 20 degrees C or something like that. And then an ice age is like we... so there was one like, we're in an ice... We're in like an ice period on the planet right now,
This is a podcast so you can't see my face. But I want you to know that my jaw did in fact drop when I learned that we are in an ice age right now. And then I check to see how many Ice Age movies there have been. And there have been six of them. And not one of them has been set in modern times, which I think is a huge oversight.
But just in like the, the less ice part of these periods, they go through these cycles. So like 20,000 years ago, there's a lot more ice, there's an ice sheet that covered all of Canada and some of North America came down to New York, Greenland and Antarctica were bigger and then mountain glaciers were a lot bigger too. And so you had like a lot more ice but the whole planet wasn't covered.
Alright, so we're dealing with a snowball Earth a world where most if not all of the surface is covered by ice. But are there other factors that contribute to this condition?
Totally. Um, so this actually, I think gets a little, gets a little bit indirectly into what Rob does, but there's like the planet grows mountains through plate tectonics. And then those mountains are withered away. And that weathering process actually, like draws down CO2 from the atmosphere. And it's some process that has to do with carbonates. I don't really understand it super well. But yeah, so you there's a lot of drawdown that happens when you have a lot of weathering of these like mountains. And so they, they think that possibly one trigger could be like if the earth was undergoing a lot of weathering, and there's a lot of CO2 draw down at that time, then you could like cool the planet enough to grow the ice sheets to a point where they could like, descend into this sort of stable feedback cycle where we're reflecting so much light that you continue to grow the ice sheets.
I read that it was when there was a continent called Rodinia that was breaking up, which was like a smaller Pangea was when when all of this drawdown started happening.
The next time you're at a party and some asshole is trying to make you feel inferior by spouting off a bunch of facts, please shut them down by telling them that Pangea wasn't the only prehistoric landmass and that there was a second one that you know of called Rodinia. Also, it would probably be pretty irresponsible of us to have an entire episode dedicated to a snowball world without talking about the fact that our own Earth is in an age called the Anthropocene. This is the most recent of Earth's geological ages, and it's one where climate and environment have been dominated by human activity and interference. For the first time in the hundreds of thousands of years since the first humans were born here on Earth, we've had a significant and pretty negative effect on our own climate. Zoe wanted to figure out exactly how much trouble we've caused.
Have we cancelled any remaining bits of the Ice Age because we put so much CO2 and methane and all that into the, the air?
Yeah, that's a really good question. And they've done some modeling. There's a paper that came out, I don't know, in the last couple years. And they looked at whether the amount of CO2 that we're pumping into the atmosphere is like enough to cancel out the next Ice Age. And they think that it probably is. Like they think that we've delayed the next like, major glaciation, I guess, by like, 50,000 years or something like that.
In case you happen to know any climate change deniers who think that global warming isn't humans' fault, because climate happens in cycles, and we were nearing a warming period anyway, blah, blah, blah, you can tell him that we've pushed off that natural climate cycle by 50,000 years. Of course, they probably won't believe you anyway, because facts don't usually change people's minds. But maybe it'll just make you feel better to have that fact in your back pocket. So that's environment. And now we're going to move on to biology. What types of traits and characteristics might a life form evolve that would make them dominant on on this planet?
I was thinking about it. And so like so our world is like covered in ice, there's like probably ice crystals in the air. I don't know how different the oceans would be, they might be a lot more briny. And so like maybe they're covered with a sheet of ice, but like still liquid underneath because like we still have like, heat, like geothermal heat coming out from the bottom of the ocean like seeping out into the water that'll keep things like circulating and flowing. So I feel like the life the kind of life that would probably dominate would be things that are able to live in this like liquid brighty ocean because the the surface seems pretty uninhabitable.
I've noticed this trend on these worlds where my experts keep wanting to put the dominant life form either underground or underwater. And that kind of makes me wonder what's so special about earth that we were able to evolve and thrive on the surface. But just for the sake of diversity in my episodes, I'm going to try to push my guests toward imagining a life form on the surface of the planet.
So snowball worlds happened so long ago that they actually think that they started, they like kickstarted a lot of the diversity like, that led to the explosion of life. So like, the conditions were like so extreme that they like bred for this, like extraordinary diversity.
I have I learned a bit about this. I'm remembering my geography class. And we learned about the various animals that survive on land and they tend to have to coats. They have like an undercoat and an overcoat. Like polar bears and muskox and seals have this sort of dual coat. That's why they're so shiny. And then they also they have an interesting thing. So you know, like when you're really really cold and your fingers go numb, but your core doesn't go numb, and it's because of the way their vessels are in their extremities. They have a really efficient version of this that can return heat to the core as necessary or put heat into the extremities if they need it. So I think there'd probably be something that has like a really efficient circulation because they're in snowball world and it's mind screamingly a cold all the time. So they're going to have something that's very good at adjusting where the heat is in their body. Because staying warm is their biggest problem. And I figured that they probably burrow like they dig a little hole in the ice to burrow in because you can get surprisingly warm like that. And they probably also hibernate. Because like the way polar bears, they go in and they dig a hole and come out and they like get really fat, and then go in and then they come out and they're really skinny. You notice also they're really big. So it's possible that they'd be like these very large, very hairy mammals with wonderful heat exchange systems.
I think Zoe touched on a really good point, though of like body size. Because like the larger the big like the larger your body mass is the hotter your body's gonna get.
If you're not hibernating, then you might struggle with that if you like, it depends when, when your whatever it is you eat is available, because you need to make sure that you can stock up. So you'd have to, you'd have to have the ability to stock up whenever there's food and then go for a while without it like these are probably not gonna be grazing.
Could you have something like I like a super like do whales work the same way as these mammals that like survive on land and cold conditions? I don't want to go under water. I'm just...
Well we can, we can draw inspiration from underwater for sure.
I don't think so. Because they're blubbery right? But I do think that whatever lives on the land would be using the whales as that because they'd be very interesting because they have blubber that keeps them warm. Yeah, and you can burn that for heat as well. When you if you capture where they'll kill it or something.
It's possible that sometimes the whales beach and then they get stuck there and then the land creatures like maybe there's a season of whale bleaching and that's when the land creatures coming feast and get like really fat. And and then they have to like sleep until the next one.
I read, because I was looking into diets for animals from the Ice Age. And I read some interesting things about how there were herbivores. Like I didn't expect there to be any herbivores, because to me, ice means no plants. But there were a lot of herbivores, and the relationship between herbivores and carnivores and like the way that carnivores were chasing herbivores around the surface really helped, like, create the, like ecosystems that we still see today. Which was interesting to me. And so you said that there might be some temperate zones or more temperate zones near the tropics. So I'm wondering if there might be enough plants there that plant eaters can get their store and then maybe travel. And then kind of bigger bulkier meat eaters near the poles can eat the migrating plant eaters.
That's a good question. I yeah, I guess in... I wonder, I think in most reconstructions we see like open water around the tropics, but not necessarily like ice free land. But maybe we're in like a slightly less extreme. Like maybe we're in a snowball earth that hasn't like completed it's like, I don't know, like traveling towards the poles or maybe somehow, like, the sun is like a little bit stronger. And so it keeps the equator like a little bit warmer and prevents like a total. I don't know if that would actually work. I think you'd still have that like albedo effect. Or maybe there's like plants that have adapted too. There's like algae that live on the ice. Now we see it it's called like watermelon. There's like watermelon algae and there's some other algaes. They like dye the ice super cool colors. And so maybe there could be like a like an animal that eats algae, or like forages for algae. And then that is like hunted by the...
It could also, there could also be an animal that digs out that what it grazes because there are certainly some species that lives in the far north that if they if they find snow is on their grazing ground, and they'll dig a hole and and get it. So maybe there's like some really hardy grasses or something similar to that and some sort of vegetation that can grow. That like only needs to get a very small amount of exposure to light at the right times. And then there are animals that eat that, and maybe they would have to be nomadic and migratory because they have to be able to move and get like access to vast quantities, so they probably wouldn't be the biggest population. But if you could imagine they're like a muskox. That's a pretty large get for almost any predator to get one of those. So that's going to feed you for some time.
I have two reactions to your revelation about watermelon algae. One, I feel like it you should not be allowed to name a plant after another plant. That seems wrong to me. Two, this idea that it actually changes the color of the ice makes me think that we... this is bleeding into culture a little bit, but it makes me think that they can use that as decoration for their for their homes or for art or anything and I'm really excited to incorporate that.
Is it is it like jelly? What's the algae like?
You like can't really see it it just like looks like a pink like it looks like you've dropped like pink red dye on your snow. Like it's like a snow cone. And it does. It's interesting and maybe like the creatures that we come up with or the, yeah, the species we come up with can use this to their advantage because it it does change the albedo of the snow or of the ice, like to a darker color which allows for more melting. So maybe they've like,
They could clear a valley or something like if they put enough of it and then they're like, okay, now...
Maybe that's their geoengineering. I don't know if it'd be warm enough. I don't. Yeah.
Geothermal vents and some watermelon algae.
There are so many examples of, of humans in the past, like stumbling onto something before they have the science to really explain how it works. And then it gets caught up into cultural rituals and traditions that are carried through generations. And then we develop the science to understand why it works and why our ancestors have been doing this for hundreds or thousands of years. So I imagine that something like that could happen with the algae farming, where people like almost, not worship the algae but like, well maybe, maybe they do. Maybe there is a watermelon algae God and they worship this God by planting this algae and like somehow farming it and they realized that when they do that more plants are able to grow because the albedo isn't as high. And so they can get warmer.
Make an offering of the algae on the mountain around where they live to the watermelon God.
And then, you know, thousands of years later they start to understand how albedo works and how like geothermal things work. That's how religion turns into science. And I think that that's beautiful.
I was just thinking that like the red tides are happening right now with like the bioluminescent algae. Like made me, maybe that could be like an additional, since we're on this algae train, an additional like light source for like inside like whatever buildings we end up having.
I love that because in ice if you could have like bioluminescent algae that lived in ice that'd be so cool!
It'd be so pretty.
That stuff that's excited by when you churn up the water and it glows more. So you come in and you find the wall and then WHOOP!
I love that.
And then you can have it in shapes and everything.
Alright friends, we've created a world inhabited by large fuzzy creatures with efficient circulatory systems who eat whale blubber and farm watermelon algae. Next, we're going to move on to discussing their culture. But before we do that, I want to tell you all about my Patreon. I think it's really important to keep my work accessible for all so I'll never put Exolore behind a paywall, but we still live in a capitalist society and ya girl's got to pay her bills. So if you like the show and you want to support it, head on over to patreon.com/goastromo. The link to the page is down in the description below. Patrons do get some perks. If you sign up, you'll get early access to all of my shows, and the higher level patrons get to request content and have their favorite causes featured on the show. My good friend Michael is a center level patron and wants you all to know about the Baltimore Action Legal Team, a group that raises bail funds for Baltimore youths. Now let's get back to the show. We still have plenty of cool stuff to cover. Pun intended. Rob I love that you brought up the idea of architecture and the type of buildings that they would live in. Your expertise in crystals makes me wonder if there is a type of crystal that grows really well in the cold that isn't just like ice that maybe they could build really beautiful structures out of.
Huh. I feel like most most minerals tend to grow more easily in colder environments. But the one I study specifically is like the one where it's weird and it's like reverse where it's actually more soluble in colder temperatures. Yeah, I wonder if we would be able to like if we would get any new types of mineral I know ice there's like a whole debate of like whether or not ice is a mineral.
Ice is a mineral. That's what I told my students, it's my favorite mineral.
But I'm wondering if like if we would see any other like new types of minerals forming. But I feel like if like there's ice everywhere, I don't know why we wouldn't just use ice.
Wouldn't we have... If you look at Central Park and you look at the product of what it looks like under where, the glaciers were, then it was very heavy. So when you have really good bedrock underneath where you've squished it down, so if you could put your house on the ice like in Antarctica, they put those legs down and they drill into the ice and they have like something that can move in place the ice sheets move, but you can have something that like drills down and into the bedrock and then it's actually standing on the bedrock that's not the ice, depending on how thick the ice was. Because you might have like really good rock on to them that's nice and strong. Because if you look at all these very tall buildings in Manhattan, you can see the profile view, look at it from the river. You can see the profile of the heights of the buildings tracks exactly how good the bedrock is and how deep it is. And as building materials are now getting lighter they're now able to build taller things on the less good rock. But if you look at like the old profile, it's literally there's a big bit in Midtown that's really tall and a big bit downtown, and that's where the good rock is. So I feel like these people could put a building on that would be able to take a lot of weight, but as long as it was distributed onto something that's standing on the instead of the ice, because the ice can move.
Yeah, I think the only problem would be that the ice would move, like, and it would, if you had these, like big supports drilled into the ice, then it would like shear along with the ice, and that might destroy your supports fairly quickly.
Maybe you have an annual clearing where you clear around your support so that like that you're like, Okay, we know that the ice moves 12 feet a year, and I mean, I don't know what's the normal amount...
Depends where you're at, yeah.
Or maybe you've tried to go in an area where it's nice and slow. And then you're like, Okay, so we can clear space ahead of each of our houses. And then by the end of the season, it's come back up to the house and then you clear it out again.
Yeah, and then wonder to a lot of like construction happens, like on nunataks or mountains or like just exposed rock that the ice hasn't, like, totally covered or like flown over. And so I wonder if you'd have like a lot more outposting. Like, I imagine in this world, it'd be hard to have like, large concentrations of like a particular... like cities. I don't know how that would work unless they were like, dug into the underground.
Really hard because you've got, again, we've got this moving bedrock, right? But like there's, you could if you found really big cave systems, you have issue with ventilation, so they'd probably be quite thorough at that
But as long as you could ventilate them, then you could just live underground because you've got your phosphorescent algae to light the interior. So, you know, you don't need to invent fire or that sort of thing. It could be a lot warmer as well, because there could be like geothermal vents down there.
Yeah, that's a great point. So maybe we're not, maybe there's either like a bifurcated society or like society mostly lives underground in these like warmer areas. And then like, I don't know you like there's like a few that live on top of the ice.
And they would, they would judge each other very harshly, like maybe... No, they're not, they're not assholes like humans. So they're like, it's just a different choice. And it's fine.
Yeah, or maybe it's something where, like the very strong, like, people in their prime in this society will spend most of their time on the surface, doing the type of hard labor that requires strong bodies, and like the children and the elderly will be kept safe in these stable, warm underground type of caverns.
So it's that you go out to collect the algae. And that's probably like a more easy one to do. And then there's also other people who do the ice clearing might have to keep the ice off the ventilation shafts, for the underground system. That's probably a more difficult job, unless you've tamed one of these very large beasts that we've established are on the surface, which could help you.
That's the thing. Like this, this changes over time. Biology and culture both change over time and so we can, we can account for that in our worldbuilding, which is, I think, one of the more fun parts of world building. But remember that maybe they don't necessarily need warmth in the way that we do because it's not like we've taken humans and we've transplanted them onto this planet. These are creatures that were formed and evolved on this planet and so they're used to the extreme cold temperatures.
Yeah, maybe they're very hairy. They've got the two coats as well. Like a Yeti looking creature.
Oh I love that, like a whole, yeah, Sasquatch. Yeah. Yeah!
I was even thinking maybe like, we are able to photosynthesize or like maybe we sort of convergently evolved to also be able to do that, like the algae. Or maybe, so like, either we're like these type of plant people. Or we just like, learn from the algae that we're using all the time to like build the world around us and like we're like, oh, solar panels, like there's so much light around us. Like...
There actually are non... like there are animals that don't photosynthesize entirely to get their energy but they photosynthesize a little bit. I did some research on this for one of my previous videos and there's a type of hornet that uses UV radiation from the sun to generate electric energy electric pulses in its body.
That's so cool.
Yeah. Nature is really weird and awesome and does just like amazingly creative things. So
They could also be like, maybe they're like, snakes and frogs, you know that bask, so they find a bare bit of rock, and then they bask because they've got all this sunlight. And that heats them. And so then they don't need to get their heat, like from building a fire or any extra. So maybe whenever it's clear, and so maybe then instead of being very hairy, they're scaly and, like a like a snake.
I think the only constraint on the biology, and maybe this doesn't even have to be we can like think a way around, it is that you gener... like I think generally they think that life needs like liquid water in order to exist. And so how do we do we need to like keep it warm enough that they can like, or that they're like exists liquid water on this planet or that they can stay liquid inside.
So maybe they have a pouch where they put the ice and then eventually it turns into water.
I think the idea is that species need liquid water to form
Yeah, like blood and like, I don't know, like cellular, oh man, we're so far beyond the scope of what I know anything about but like, like when you have like osmosis and cells and stuff like all of these require liquid. But there are frogs that can like freeze and then thaw.
So is there any... Is there any liquid water created by the movement of ice?
Okay, so maybe there's some
Yeah, I think liquid like liquid water on the planet, yeah, definitely could exist, like coming out from underneath these glaciers, especially either where they're really thick. It like decreases the melting temperature. Wait, am I saying that right?
What Elizabeth is talking about right now is actually a really interesting property of water. For most substances, if you increase the pressure, you also increase the temperature at which they melt. That's because increasing pressure packs all of the molecules really tightly together. So you need more energy or heat to get the molecules to go from a solid to a liquid. But because water actually takes up less space in its liquid form than it does in its solid form, increasing the pressure actually decreases the temperature at which the water melts.
Anyways, you can have melt generated that way and then also just like, if you have like incoming sunlight, it'll still... the top of the ice will still absorb some.
And if you had high geological activity in an area then that would keep it moving, which gives it more energy.
So really, it's a really good it's like a hotly debated question. So there's like a place in Greenland called NEGIS, the North Eastern Greenland Ice Stream or something like that. Anyways, it's super fast. It's ice that moves like super fast from the top to the bottom. And maybe it's driven by like a higher geothermal like source at the top that like lubricates the bed, puts water into the bed, melts the ice from the top and allows it to like flow down.
If there's enough water for them to evolve, then they can become intelligent and then figure out how to get more when they need it. Yeah,
Talking about lubricated ice beds and how the life forms on this planet would actually get the liquid water that they probably need to survive, made me start thinking about the jobs and roles and positions that the society likely needs to fill. It also made me wonder if some of them would be considered frivolous or maybe high reaching. I'm thinking something along the lines of being a professional athlete or musician or artist here on earth. And I asked Zoe if she had any thoughts because she's the only one of us four who's ever worked as a a professional artist. Don't look at me. I think that art is incredibly important to the human experience. It's the rest of society that habitually undervalues creative work.
I mean, I sculpting is possibly going to be big on this planet. I think they'd like a lot of bright colors, because they're living in this world that like, there can't be so much of this algae that it's made in color everywhere. So they probably like to do that. And I imagine that they, because everything is moving with the ice then creating sculptures and things, they would be gone very easily. So I think that might be seen as a bit frivolous, sort of like building a sandcastle, it's like it's just going to be gone. Um, but I think that they would probably have very strong storytelling culture that would be like, before they learn to write there'd be a strong oral tradition and that would not be seen as frivolous initially because it's necessary, so it's like you need to know where the water is and where the geothermal is or where the basking rocks are or whatever it is. So there'd be like a strong... And anyway, you need to also know how to placate the algae god. So that's, um, but yeah, I think society would always find a way to treat artists as as frivolous. Certainly true. They probably also been some sports that would be seen as frivolous. Like, I know one of the most dangerous sports people do in this world is iceberg climbing, which is insane because you can't tie yourself onto the surface because they can roll
After hearing that my new dream is for someone to listen to an episode of Exolore while they're iceberg climbing. I don't know if that would be safe or feasible, but I just wanted to share my dreams with you.
So then you end up underneath. And so you just have to free climb. So I think there probably be a lot of lakes that have dangerous skiing type like snow sports. There'd probably be like, natural places where you can do effectively a bobsled, but it's not on a course. And people would probably think that was pretty insane adrenaline junkie stuff that nobody should do.
I kind of like the idea of those sports or other like bringing also all these like different people together as like, it's like the Olympics, but maybe we can like think of it.
It's like a festival and where the different tribes come and and it's like the time of year that the glacier is exactly smooth enough to do certain things on it or like to slide down it in different ways and then like we've come to celebrate the melt. And um, yeah,
Yeah, like the thaw. Yeah, there's like a certain part of the year where just like, a little bit of land maybe emerges and like everyone goes to the valley and
and that's when they trade. Yeah, yeah,
That's really nice. So I imagine that they would probably be a very environmentally conscious people, because any amount of warming would drastically change their environment. Elizabeth correct me if I'm wrong.
Um, it depends.
I don't know how much CO2 is required to like kick a snowball Earth out of snowball Earth conditions. That's a good question.
I know preindustrial CO2 is 280 parts per million. We're now at 415. And that historically, there's been signs of environmental forcing as low as 315. Which tells you that, just how very, very screwed we might be. And at 1000 there would be no ice at all on the planet.
Yeah. And I would say like glacial, like when you have like these glacial maximums is that like 180-ish? So maybe lower than that.
The Holocene's 280 and a glacial maximum is 180, then I guess somewhere between those two is the safe point, like the maximum for keeping snowball worlds.
Because because you're in such like an extreme state that's like stable, I think it would take more CO2 to kick you out of that than it would like a normal...
Like pushing something out of a rut.
Yeah, exactly. Pushing it up a hill versus like pushing it down a hill.
Yeah. Okay. So there would, there would... it would take more CO2 to completely abolish the snowball Earth altogether, but would it, it probably wouldn't take that much to to like, melt ice, right?
Yeah, that's it. This is no this is like a really good question. I think so the earth like I said before it has these like cycles that it goes through based on like its position relative to the sun. And it's like where the continents are, like which hemisphere the continents are in. And so I wonder those those periods are on, they're like on the scale of like 20,000 to 40,000, 200,000 years, so they're pretty long but I wonder if that would be like built into the history of this, these people where like, you have these periods of like extraordinary warming, and like that's where their like real religious catastrophes or something like that would come from.
So maybe they have a melt.
Yeah. And maybe that that's like where the concern for for any amount of warming comes from is like these stories about these like catastrophic warming of events in the past. Yeah.
So if they are very concerned about these warming events and want to avoid them, I'm wondering what they could do to prevent those. And Rob, I did some digging and found out that you worked at an environmental consulting firm.
Oh my god.
And this this is my plea for some hope. What could our snowball world people do to prevent these types of mass warming events?
I guess. Since the albedo seems to be like what's keeping everything how it is, maybe trying to avoid as much, like anything that would like decrease the albedo as possible. So maybe like maybe the ice is melting maybe they're like, Oh, no, like, shits happening! Like, we gotta like figure this out. And so as we were like, like talking I sort of remembered like the sort of like very interesting thing about like, a newer sort of like, method of or not method of crystallization, but mode of crystallization. That's just like, not the classical like, one atom at a time, crystal growth but where you get like agglomerations of crystals before they like transform into like a final crystalline form. But where I'm going with that is like maybe in order to avoid decreasing the albedo effect while also trying to adapt to like ice melting, maybe they're trying to come up with different like materials for like building their structures or like whatever they need. So maybe, and like people are working on this now or like trying to take advantage of or like under like better understand this new model of crystal growth that has been shown or like it's being discovered to happen more and more. I think it's just like our technology is getting better, so we're like seeing, we're actually like, able to see it happening in these different organisms that make minerals. So like, we've maybe these people have been able to, like harness that technology and like, use it to create, like, new buildings, new structures that like maybe they look like ice, like calcium carbonate is like white ish. So, yeah, maybe that's one way they adapt
Ooh I really like that.
Yeah, because it's really fascinating because they think that this new model of crystal growth is how things like sea urchins and like sea sponges are like and corals are like able to make these like wild like, different, like wildly different structures, but like with the same materials.
I really love the idea of instead of having kind of an industrial revolution based on like mining and coal burning and things like that, it's based on scientists who study crystal and mineral growth and trying to harness that ability to advance technology. That makes me really happy.
I love the idea of structures that are, yeah, that are grown. Like enormous white corals like countless
Fortress of tranquility type of thing like it's it's gonna... of solitude even, sorry. But yeah, I think that's very, I think I also did some work before it was Google, I did a lot of video producing for miscellaneous brands, and I worked for a solar company and had to learn all kinds of things about how to finance and build a solar farm. And it's shocking how much of the planet actually is perfectly viable for solar. Like you sort of imagine that it's gonna be in Arizona or something, and it really doesn't. You could put one in Alaska. There's other places. There's a really big one in Copenhagen, which is much further north. So I think they might have... They probably would, they would probably have a real moratorium, if they're worried about melt, on fossil fuels. Like if this planet is the same as the earth, it's possible also that they never found fossil fuels because a lot of the ways that we found them was they were just lying on the surface. And if theirs is under a bunch of ice, so that would stop their carbon from going up in a way that would make it a lot easier to keep stability. And then if they also were like, Oh, we found a bunch of we know that we learned about albedo really early on. The other thing they have going for them when it comes to solar is that you can't put a solar farm anywhere that might get any dust on it, like even several miles downwind from a brick factory was considered not a good site because it gets too dusty. And that reduces the efficiency, but they really understand that. And they have a low dust world because because they have unless it's the volcano way, but like they probably have this very clear environment. So that means that that sort of panels are going to be super effective and more efficient.
Yeah, and they'd be able to work at night even too, because like, you get the moonlight reflecting off the light or off ice even too. So it's like 24-7 energy.
And they probably have geothermal energy also because they learned how to find the hot spots in the ground.
It's really easy to do. That's where the ice is melted. Yeah.
Yeah. So they're like this ice melting place is scary, but it's also a lesson here. Like, it's also producing life for us. Yeah,
That's gonna be a sacred spot. I think that's a really great note to end on. And we're near the top of the hour anyway. So if people want to learn more about you, how can they do that? How can they follow what you're doing?
Yeah, I've got a Twitter that I've been spending a lot more time on. I guess @elizabeth_case. And then a lot of the work fingers crossed that I'll be doing in the future will involve Thwaites Glacier, which is a super rapidly melting glacier in Antarctica. And there's a ton of resources and news articles and multimedia that have been developed for it online. So if you just like search for Thwaites glacier, and like learn a little bit more about why it's melting and what its sea level contribution is, that would be like super meaningful to me.
For those of you who are curious and or especially conscientious about climate change stuff, that's Thwaites Glacier. I am linking below to thwaitesglacier.org, and a NASA Earth observatory site that monitors Thwaites Glacier. It's going through a pretty tough time. Over the last three decades, the amount of ice coming off of this glacier has more than doubled. And scientists think it's going to get worse. If this glacier were human and it weren't in therapy, its friends would definitely be very concerned. So please go through those links and learn more about this glacier and also be grateful that cool people like Elizabeth are spending their lives studying this really important stuff. What about you Zoe? How can people find more about you?
People can check me out at zoesamuel.com. Everything, again, that's there has nothing to do with Google and it's all personal.
Do you have any plays out right now? Well, I guess no one's watching plays.
Not right now. There's hopefully one coming to the UK, in due course. A Comedy of Manors about like manor houses, which is basically if Noises Off happened inside Downton Abbey. God bless Google. They just sort of found me based off this kind of stuff and were like, Hey, we need someone to come in and help make the assistant funny and culturally appropriate.
How do you teach AI to be like, culturally relevant and funny?
I would say ask it. Chat to it if you'd like to see how it works, and it will, it will reveal itself.
Awesome. And Rob, what about you?
Um, I guess I should use my website more. robertnulrich.com or you can follow me on twitter at @robertnulrich. Yeah, my... hopefully when things are more normal, my experiments will be like working with algae and trying to like follow where calcium goes, like where it gets stored and how it gets turned into a mineral and like coccolithophores. And then there's, I have another project that's going to be looking at one of the phases of like this new model of crystal growth, where we're trying to look at how different chemical signatures change through the transformation from going from, like, the seawater to this like amorphous phase to like the actual crystal. Yeah, I don't know. Should be cool.
It sounds like you all do really important work and I will put links to all of your stuff in the show description. Thank you so much for lending me your time and your brains and your jokes. I hope that you continue to live in this world. Because I definitely will in my brain like I'm not going to physically travel there. This isn't a real planet. It doesn't actually exist. We made this up. But this -- disclaimer! -- but yeah, thanks for coming on this journey with me.
Welcome back to Earth. I hope you enjoyed your trip to our snowball planet. I want to say a huge thank you to my guests Rob Ulrich, Elizabeth Case, and Zoe Samuel for building this world where the palaces are made out of some carbonate mineral, and the lights are bioluminescent algae. I hope you spend some time inhabiting this world on your own and I'd absolutely love to see or hear some art from you about this planet. Do you need some inspiration? Here's a prompt: Come up with a myth about the watermelon algae God. Remember that myths are often used to explain natural phenomena or reinforce helpful behaviors. Share your work with the #Exolore or send it to the email firstname.lastname@example.org. Now I want to thank my patrons from Patreon. If you want to be like them and support my world building work, head on over to patreon.com/goastromo. And if you liked this episode, be sure to share it with your friends or family or co workers or whoever you have in your network. And also subscribe to the show. That way you can catch me next time on another world.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai