17 September, 2012

The Walkabout World: Part 8


A bit more Walkabout Pseudoscience

(Disclaimer: This post really gets into details that most player character would never need to know for the Walkabout setting. In fact it probably gets into details that would never be uncovered or remembered by most people in the setting…it’s just some hypothesizing and theory work).

So far I’ve tried to make some fairly generalised comments on the way the world has changed in the Walkabout setting. These seem to have met no real controversy, but they’ve just been a series of fairly logical steps based on the pseudo-science (and manifestation of spirits) within the world.

One of the pieces of pseudo-science that has been rattling around in my brain relates to an article I read about one of the X-men a few years back. I can’t remember where I read the article, so please don’t ask, but it went through Nightcrawler’s ability to teleport, and whether his momentum in one particular location would translate through to his momentum in another location. For example, if he were to teleport from New York to Miami, would he be flung backward because Miami is closer to the equator and therefore spinning faster? It was a fascinating read. The article used the highest possible spin differential (teleporting from one of the poles to the equator), then went through a series of mathematical calculations to find the actual speed differential in the environment. In the end, the article theorised that the instantaneous change in velocity was equivalent to stepping on to (or off of) an escalator or airport travelator. Enough to notice, but not enough to knock you off your feet.

I figured that the change in rotation of the earth would be much the same for the Walkabout setting. Then I figured I was dramatically upping the ante by throwing in catastrophic seismic effects around all the geological fault lines across the planet; the Cassini page (which prompted me to write all this down) made no mention of other catastrophic effects that might occur, neither did the movie “The Core”, so I just left things there. But a regular reader has prompted a few things that I hadn’t considered.

Firstly, the sheer bulk of the planet; a change in spin velocity might not produce too much of an effect for someone weighing eighty kilograms (give or take a bit)…but what about the entire 5.97219 x 1024 kilograms of spinning rotating metal and rock that comprises the whole planet. It’s like the difference between a boisterous five year old kid accidentally running into a wall at ten kilometres per hour, versus a ten tonne semi-trailer accidentally backing into the same wall at ten kilometres per hour. The sheer mass of the impact has so much more force that devastation on a grander scale occurs…and with the mass of the planet being used, the effects would be so much worse. Sheikh Jabooty has suggested that the instantaneous change would not simply send out erratic EMP fields and induce seismic events, instead it would rip the planet apart, leaving a proto asteroid belt in its place.

(Perhaps the celestial beings who tilted the Walkabout world learnt from their mistakes when they tried to tilt the planet existing in the orbital belt between Mars and Jupiter.)

So, let’s change the premise of the tilt. It doesn’t take much since the skies are already blackened, stormy and swirling with volcanic dust for months. No one really knows if the tilt effect was instantaneous, occurred over the course of hours, days or weeks…from an individual’s perspective the planet-wide earthquakes, military effects and storms would produce more of an impact than the change in angular momentum. Instead of an instant change, let’s say that the effects of the tilt occur over the course of a lunar month.

The first week sees erratic and spasmodic jolts to the planetary spin, volcanoes spew forth ash and the sky is blocked. Scientists are unable to get their bearings by looking at the stars, and their delicate instruments are overwhelmed by the earthquakes, storms and EMPs. Buildings that have not been designed to withstand earthquakes fall apart in many of the world geological hotspots (those that haven’t been blown apart by nuclear strikes). As this week passes, the magnetic fields around the planet destabilise and the planet is bombarded by solar radiation at a massive level. The main things helping to reduce the impact of this radiation would be metallic particles in the volcanic dust, and possibly the intervention of the spirits (and this could easily be a cause of their reawakening on the planet). The mean surface temperature of the planet drops by a half degree Celsius on the first day due to the ash in the sky, on the second day there is enough ash in the sky to obscure most of the sunlight and drop the temperature by a full degree Celsius (from the baseline), each subsequent day another half-degree of temperature drop.

The second week might see the spin of the planet completely stop, or might see it spinning on a completely different axis.  I’m undecided about which of these options is more likely. An erratic spin requires huge amounts of energy, constantly bombarding the planet in wildly different ways (like a toy ship in a raging ocean). But the planetary stop (and restart) requires a constant energy application for a period…followed by a new constant energy application (perhaps a plasma stream of solar gas inducing a focused solar wind). Regardless of what happens, the seas of the world have momentum of their own, and the change of spin means that huge waves crash against the shores. Evaporation from soaked lands drives down the temperatures in coastal areas (the energy required to turn liquid into gas comes from the atmosphere), this combines with the lack of sunlight reaching the surface of the planet to cause more drastic temperature reductions. The chilled atmosphere and high moisture content of the air cause snowfalls in many coastal parts of the world that have never reported snow in recorded history. This naturally disrupts patterns of weather further. By the end of the second week, the mean surface temperature reduction has accelerated to a full degree per day ( for a total of about 10 degrees Celsius). I know that this exceeds the estimated lowest temperatures for an ice age on the planet, but we need a snap chill to occur, and the world has never been engulfed in this degree of volcanic ash (to our knowledge). Weakened by the previous week’s seismic activity, and with an increase of earthquakes this week, many more buildings are destroyed, especially anything built with stone or concrete.     

If you watch the movie “The Core”, you’ll see some other long term effects that I hadn’t considered. Now, please don’t think that I’m using Hollywood pseudoscience in place of real world physics for this project (I’m certainly not suggesting that the cascading shockwaves of five atomic blasts could destroy the spin of the planet), but the erratic or slowed spin of the planet would cause some nasty effects to the natural magnetic shielding of the planet. I’m imagining auroras across the whole sky for those who are able to ascend beyond the ash clouds, vastly more powerful rays of UV radiation would bombard the upper atmosphere (certainly not good for a planet with a depleted ozone layer).



The third week sees the spin of the planet start to stabilise on its new axis. After a fortnight of huge seas and massive waves crashing against the shoreline, the seas start to churn into their new pattern. Despite the fact that there have been sub-zero temperatures across the majority of the world, a week isn’t long enough to freeze a new arctic circle. The island of Madagascar is covered in snow and volcanic ash, the plants will probably continue growing for a while once the sky is visible, but for the moment they lie dormant. Savage earthquakes rip across the geological fault lines of the world, and will continue to do so for years as the world settles into its new spin. The Earth is an oblate ellipsoid (Consider the distortion of an egg, a grid-iron ball or a rugby ball, compared to a sphere; It has been stretched out along a single axis. The Earth is the opposite, more like a mandarin, compressed along that axis because the spin of the planet pulls the surface outwards.), when the planet spins on a new axis, part of the surface contract and other parts bulge in order for the oblate ellipsoid to revolve symmetrically around its new axis. New cracks could even fracture across the surface of continental plates, but we wouldn’t see the long term effects of this for millions of years. At the end of the third week, the mean surface temperature has stabilised at 13 degrees Celsius below its initial level.

By the fourth week, the spin of the planet is restored along its new axis. Earthquakes continue to rock the world as it settles into its new shape. Shorelines are battered by continued tsunami, but these get less regular as the week and next month progress. EMP shockwaves no longer cascade across the entire planet, the storms subside and without the turbulence of the atmosphere, a massive chill seems to set in across wide swathes of the globe. This is partially true, the temperature drops slightly; but more to the point, the relatively still air allows drifting currents of hyper-chilled air to mix with the other air. More of the surface is affected by the colder air, higher snowfall and other precipitation drops to the surface. The mean surface temperature by the end of the fourth week is around 15 degrees Celsius below its initial level.

Things move slower after this.

During the second month, natural food supplies start getting a bit more scarce. This is true for predatory animals (who often find their prey hibernating), and herbivores (who often find their vegetative foodstuff buried by snow); carrion eaters have plenty of human and animal corpses to eat. Seismic activity becomes less erratic; in geologically stable areas, some days even pass without a noticeable earthquake. Snowdrifts over the North Pole gradually get thicker, increasing by a few metres each day, lower layers get compacted. Pack ice starts to spread its way across the channel between Madagascar and Africa, but the turbulent seas prevent a full ice bridge forming between the landmasses. Similarly, the ice covering the California coast starts to break off forming icebergs that drift across the Pacific. The icepack over Antarctica melts at a few metres per day along with the pack ice across the Arctic sea, yet this occurs slower than the thickening glacial growth in Madagascar, Africa and California. The sea levels start to fall away at this time, as you would see in any ice age; but with the dramatically lower temperatures, the tidal drop occurs quickly. In most places each tide comes in only half as far as the last, dropping on average a metre per day. The worst of the volcanic eruptions has settled, so the amount of ash in the sky has reached equilibrium, temperatures are no longer dropping.

During the third month, food supplies really start getting scarce. The sea level continues to drop; between this and the rapid growth of ice, Madagascar and Africa are joined by pack ice. With a lack of sunlight for over two months, most plants have stagnated in their growth; drops in temperature have even killed many of the less sturdy plants in many ecosystems. At this point, in a non-mystical world the balance of ecosystems would have reached the point where extinctions star to occur. So for the Walkabout world this might be the time when certain spirits (such as totems) step up to champion their respective species. Perhaps providing shelters and sanctuaries, or perhaps starting their work to restore the planet as best they can. Temperatures remain low, and seismic activity drops to its most stable point for months (most parts of the world see calm days, and in geologically stable areas an entire week might go by without a geological disturbance).

During the fourth to sixth months, the atmosphere gradually begins the process of resuming its pre-tilt mean surface temperature. The surface of the planet even resumes the passage of day and night through this period, with the inky blackness of night followed by dark murky grey during the “daylight” hours. It is still a while before the sun will shine bright on the dawning of a new age, but hope is restored to the surviving fraction of a percentage point still alive in the world. The heavily filtered light is enough for the fertility spirits to promote the growth of plant life across the planet, some spirits prompting the growth of the plant originally native to the area while others push for a new ecosystem more suited to the changed climate they foresee due to new weather patterns and latitudes. Finally, the elemental air and wind spirits gain the upper hand over the ash in the sky, and as the six months comes to an end, the first rays of murky filtered sunlight hit the surface of the earth. Weekly earthquakes still rock most parts of the earth’s surface, though these are now no more than 5 on the Richter Scale. Despite more than a quarter of the planet’s surface being covered in snow and ash, life begins its return to normality.

As the first year comes to its end, the mean surface temperature of the planet has risen. It is now within normal ice-age parameters, five degrees lower than it should be. But this shouldn’t be an ice age, the world isn’t scheduled for that…the spirits still have work to do. Some animals have been transferred from their previous territories to new parts of the world; others have started the process of a rapid evolution, as new generations are born with genetic features more suited to their changed environments (longer or shorter fur, changed colouring or dietary requirements). This is a combined factor of radioactive environment and direct intervention from naturally inclined spirits. The spirits of both flora and fauna have a field day on the blank slate continent of Antarctica, turning it into a veritable Garden of Eden or paradise. Despite reduced temperatures across the globe, the equatorial latitudes of Antarctica render it a warm and fertile land. The sea levels of the globe have stabilised at about fifty metres below their current levels; there are land-bridges between Siberia and Alaska, Tasmania and Australia, Australia and New Guinea, England and France, and many other locations. Most of Malaysia and Indonesia is a single landmass rather than an archipelago of islands.

Through the second and onward to the fifth year after the tilt, rapidly reproducing animals see new generations of offspring, even further mutated to adapt to their new environment. Under the influence of spirits, sprouts have grown into saplings and trees far beyond their years. The sea levels slowly start to rise again (regaining about a metre a year), and with them the temperature rises to within two degrees of its former level.

From the sixth year through to the twenty-fifth year, the seas gradually reach their former heights and so do the temperatures. The land bridges start to disappear again. The Earth is stable in its new spin. 

From year 26 onward the planet is stable and in the form known by the characters. The characters will have been born after the events described, but there will certainly be members of the older generation who remember these events.
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