The last survivors of the end of the world

Jul 02, 2013
An image of the Upper Geyser Basin region in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, USA. As the Sun heats up, much of the Earth will come to resemble this landscape. Credit: Jack O’Malley-James

(Phys.org) —In 2 billion years' time, life on Earth will be confined to pockets of liquid water deep underground, according to PhD astrobiologist Jack O'Malley James of the University of St Andrews. The new research also suggests that though the hardiest forms of life may have a foothold on similar worlds in orbit around other stars, evidence for it may be very subtle. O' Malley- James will present the findings at the National Astronomy Meeting in St Andrews, Scotland.

All species have finite lifetimes, with each eventually facing an event that leads to its extinction. This can be sudden and catastrophic, like the giant impact that wiped out the dinosaurs, or a slow and gradual process. Ultimately, a combination of slow and rapid environmental changes will result in the of all species on Earth, with the last inhabitants disappearing within 2.8 billion years from now.

The main driver for these changes will be the Sun. As it ages over the next few billion years, the Sun will remain stable but become steadily more luminous, increasing the intensity of its heat felt on Earth and warming the planet to such an extent that the oceans evaporate. In his new work, O'Malley James has created a to simulate these extremely long-range and has used the results to predict the timeline of future extinctions.

Within the next billion years, increased evaporation rates and with will draw more and more carbon dioxide from the Earth's atmosphere. The falling levels of CO2 will lead to the disappearance of and our home planet will become a world of microbes. At the same time the Earth will be depleted of oxygen and will be drying out as the rising temperatures lead to the evaporation of the oceans. A billion years after that the oceans will have gone completely.

An electron microscope image of thermophilic (heat-loving) bacteria. These organisms may be amongst the last life on Earth, perhaps surviving 2.8 billion years into the future. Credit: Mark Amend / NOAA Photo Library

"The far-future Earth will be very hostile to life by this point", said O'Malley-James. "All living things require liquid water, so any remaining life will be restricted to pockets of , perhaps at cooler, higher altitudes or in caves or underground". This life will need to cope with many extremes like high temperatures and intense ultraviolet radiation and only a few microbial species known on Earth today could cope with this.

The new model not only tells us a lot about our own planet's future, but it can also help us to recognise other inhabited planets that may be approaching the end of their habitable lifetimes.

O'Malley-James adds "When we think about what to look for in the search for life beyond Earth our thoughts are largely constrained by life as we know it today, which leaves behind telltale fingerprints in our atmosphere like oxygen and ozone. Life in the Earth's far future will be very different to this, which means, to detect life like this on other planets we need to search for a whole new set of clues".

"We have now simulated a dying biosphere composed of populations of the species that are most likely to survive to determine what types of gases they would release to the atmosphere. By the point at which all life disappears from the planet, we're left with a nitrogen:carbon-dioxide atmosphere with methane being the only sign of active life".

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antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (12) Jul 02, 2013
The new model not only tells us a lot about our own planet's future, but it can also help us to recognise other inhabited planets that may be approaching the end of their habitable lifetimes.

...and it also should help us to drop this silly "Goldilocks zone" argument about planets where life may be found. As these kind of underground environments can potentially exist on many (rocky) planets that we currently deem far outside this zone.
(And we also shouldn't discount the possibility that life did not originate on/near the surface but may have originated lower down and then moved upwards as conditions on Earth allowed)
Neinsense99
3 / 5 (20) Jul 02, 2013
The last survivors of life on Earth a couple billion years from now will be some sort of bacteria, a certain percentage of which will be trolling on the bacterial equivalent of the Internet, ranting about how some ancient human named Al Gore is coming to get them.
antigoracle
1.5 / 5 (22) Jul 02, 2013
The last survivors of life on Earth a couple billion years from now will be some sort of bacteria, a certain percentage of which will be trolling on the bacterial equivalent of the Internet, ranting about how some ancient human named Al Gore is coming to get them.
--Neinsense99Turd
So how is life up Vicar Gore's butt?
Valentiinro
1.7 / 5 (6) Jul 02, 2013
The new model not only tells us a lot about our own planet's future, but it can also help us to recognise other inhabited planets that may be approaching the end of their habitable lifetimes.

...and it also should help us to drop this silly "Goldilocks zone" argument about planets where life may be found. As these kind of underground environments can potentially exist on many (rocky) planets that we currently deem far outside this zone.
(And we also shouldn't discount the possibility that life did not originate on/near the surface but may have originated lower down and then moved upwards as conditions on Earth allowed)


Some sort of life we won't be able to find because it's far underground. Great.
You think the goldilocks zone isn't important? Do you think intelligent life will form on a planet where the only habitable region is a thin layer far under the surface of the planet?
Claudius
1.3 / 5 (16) Jul 02, 2013
increased evaporation rates and chemical reactions with rainwater will draw more and more carbon dioxide from the Earth's atmosphere. The falling levels of CO2 will lead to the disappearance of plants and animals and our home planet will become a world of microbes.


So much for those who claim that CO2 is a pollutant.
Neinsense99
2.6 / 5 (15) Jul 02, 2013
The last survivors of life on Earth a couple billion years from now will be some sort of bacteria, a certain percentage of which will be trolling on the bacterial equivalent of the Internet, ranting about how some ancient human named Al Gore is coming to get them.
--Neinsense99Turd
So how is life up Vicar Gore's butt?

Not exactly a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, are you?
Sanescience
1.5 / 5 (8) Jul 02, 2013
Everyone please accept my apologies for *not* adding this to my list of things to worry about :-P
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
4.4 / 5 (7) Jul 02, 2013
In our swansong biosphere the low energy specialists archaea will be the last, as they were the first.

But, it was only the non-avian dinosaurs that went extinct 65 Ma ago. The remaining crown group avian dinosaur species outnumbers the mammalian species 2:1.

@AAP: Habitable zones, surface and tidal, are not "arguments" but method tools for finding habitable planets and inhabited planets.

@natello: Personal theories are not scientific theories.

@Claudius: When you are too rapidly for comfort (costly) is heating the planet with the greenhouse gas CO2 it is a pollutant. When you feed plants with it, it is a nutrient until it becomes toxic (suffocates plant cells).

Same for water, when it is found in vacuum chambers it is a pollutant, when you drink it it is a nutrient until it becomes toxic (dilutes your salts).

@Sanescience: As you must accept our apologies for that we couldn't care less if you ignorantly confuse exciting astrobiology with "things to worry about".
Lurker2358
1.9 / 5 (13) Jul 02, 2013
Why do people get paid to study things which do not matter and cannot matter for a hundred-million generations?

I have been conducting research on the local unicorn ranch, and I have determined that even though the females are more fertile in early Summer, the males are actually hornier in the Spring time.

I am sure that my "work" is no less useful practically or scientifically, but it would appear to have higher entertainment value. Since it has higher value in at least one sense, I should get paid whatever these guys got paid to do this research.
Osiris1
1.1 / 5 (8) Jul 02, 2013
The variabiity of our star's output can and will shift the 'goldilocks-zone'; and shift it outward on energy output increases over time. Therefore we must consider many more planets as potential life bearing barring show stopping factors like hot jupiters. planets not now in 'green zones' may become so or may have been 'green' once. Exobiologists will have a field day when hyperspace or space folding tech becomes available when we learn to manipulate higher and higher energy densities....likely outcome of research into preons and exploitation of quark reactions on large scale.
Life has been proven able to live in the cold of space, and like Steven Hawking and others say, if something can happen, it can happen myriads of times in as many ways. This statistically proves panspermia, as the question: "Does it..?" is replaced by "Prove that it cannot..?
So space near and far beckons us to our manifest destiny, as some person now living will invent a practical star drive.
antialias_physorg
4.6 / 5 (11) Jul 02, 2013
This statistically proves panspermia

You cannot statistically prove anything. You can only establish a probability (sometimes beyond reasonable doubt with enough of a sigma value). But unless observed/measured it isn't proven.

"Prove that it cannot..?

That's not how it works. If you haven't observed it then you can't ask for people to disprove it. (E.g. the argument "unicorns/gods are real because of the large number of possibilities in the universe - disprove it" makes no sense)

Life has been proven able to live in the cold of space

It's been shown to be able to survive limited exposure in inert form. That's a bit different from 'shown to be able to live there'.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.5 / 5 (8) Jul 02, 2013
Some sort of life we won't be able to find because it's far underground. Great.
You think the goldilocks zone isn't important? Do you think intelligent life will form on a planet where the only habitable region is a thin layer far under the surface of the planet?
The machine singularity which will replace us will have established itself in the most sustainable location possible, and would long since have stabilized its star. Two billion years will be like a long weekend to it I would assume.

Hey lurker where you been? Medically-induced coma?
geokstr
1.6 / 5 (13) Jul 02, 2013
The variabiity of our star's output can and will shift the 'goldilocks-zone'; and shift it outward on energy output increases over time.

Given the exponential strides that homo sapiens sapiens has made in only the last hundred years, if, in two billion years, we haven't learned multiple ways to do (relatively) simple parlor tricks like moving Gaia to a larger orbit or protect her with a molecular heat shield, or even to alter the evolution of the sun, then we won't deserve to survive.
deepsand
3.1 / 5 (13) Jul 03, 2013
The last survivors of life on Earth a couple billion years from now will be some sort of bacteria, a certain percentage of which will be trolling on the bacterial equivalent of the Internet, ranting about how some ancient human named Al Gore is coming to get them.
--Neinsense99Turd
So how is life up Vicar Gore's butt?

Indistinguishable from that inside your mouth.
Maggnus
5 / 5 (9) Jul 03, 2013
In 2 billion years' time, life on Earth will be confined to pockets of liquid water deep underground
http://aetherwavetheory.blogspot.cz/2009/02/awt-and-evolution-of-life.html at the boundary of all three physical phases (water, air and earth) the organic life would get a better opportunity for spontaneous life formation, because such an environment naturally brings higher complexity and more pronounced environmental changes from its very beginning. The fast changing life environment (connected with repetitive travel across time dimension) is the crucial condition for spontaneous establishing of complex hyperdimensional structures here.

Really Zephyr? In your theory? Woo Woo!!
Sanescience
1.6 / 5 (7) Jul 03, 2013
@Sanescience: As you must accept our apologies for that we couldn't care less if you ignorantly confuse exciting astrobiology with "things to worry about".

I understand your statement and find your proposal that this is actually astrobiology compelling. I kind of wish though that it wasn't mixed so heavily with conjecture about earth's future. Even if humans end up not being part of the picture making such specific predictions about levels of CO2 and O2 and water seem really forced.

If humans are in the picture and attain a stable society spanning geologic time scales we will likely at the very least put up a halo of reflective material to attenuate the increased output of the sun. And at the most figure out how to deconstruct Mars in a useful fashion and put Earth in a higher orbit.

Though only if our "machine singularity" ancestors have a sense of nostalgia. Otherwise were moving to new digs among the outer planets before "heading out."
alfie_null
not rated yet Jul 03, 2013
If humans are in the picture and attain a stable society spanning geologic time scales we will likely at the very least put up a halo of reflective material to attenuate the increased output of the sun. And at the most figure out how to deconstruct Mars in a useful fashion and put Earth in a higher orbit.

Though only if our "machine singularity" ancestors have a sense of nostalgia. Otherwise were moving to new digs among the outer planets before "heading out."

Presupposing a bunch of stuff, only if our descendants retain any desire to survive. Consider why we have that trait now.

Extrapolating the future of the Earth as the Sun ages is easy, compared to that of how humans will evolve.
Anda
not rated yet Jul 07, 2013
Hey "Waterripples" turning mystical now? water, air and earth...

Just wanted to point that other studies with the same conclusions have different estimations:
4 billions years instead of 2. Anyway, the later the better...
dan42day
1 / 5 (2) Jul 08, 2013
The last survivors will be I-bots and Androids and they will still be at war with each other.
NikFromNYC
1 / 5 (5) Jul 08, 2013
Any futurist who indeed leaves technology out of his predictions should be forced to rely on Kickstarter instead of tax money.