In a future without people, the machines of war deteriorate; nuclear submarines lie on the ocean floor, and the U.S.S. Missouri is the target of a renewed "attack" on Pearl Harbor, as the ship transforms into a plant-covered island. Most dairy cows die, but a few survive and adapt to life on America's plains alongside thriving herds of bison. This episode also examines Aloha Tower in Honolulu, the Wells Fargo Center in Denver and North Brother Island off of New York City, which was abandoned around 1960.
Nothing on Earth was built tougher than the machinery of war. Fighter jets, battleships and fortified bunkers, but will these defenses offer any protection in a life after people, or will they just as vulnerable as the most defenseless structures and creatures on Earth?
1 day after people, in the depths of the Pacific Ocean is a relic of the Cold War, a ticking time bomb. In 1968, the Soviet submarine K-129 sank under mysterious circumstances. It was carrying a mini-arsenal of nuclear weapons, including two nuclear torpedoes and SSN5 Sert missiles, each with a one mega-tonne warhead. In 1974, the CIA salvaged part of the submarine, but the rest of it, including the missiles remains on the ocean floor, almost three miles down. As well as each warhead seven-pound plutonium trigger, the missiles are packed with lithium deuteride, a solid compound that supplies the hydrogen in a hydrogen bomb. The grey salt-like substance will explode if it touches water. When the submarine sank, at least one of the warheads may have been damaged. 1 day after people, their tough metal skins are still keeping out the water, at least for now.
1800 miles to the southeast, the battleship Missouri sits quietly in Pearl Harbour on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Permanently moored here as a museum ship since 1998, this was the last American battleship ever launched, and the last to be decommissioned. It's five feet longer and eighteen feet wider than the Titanic. Launched in 1944, its decks witnessed the Japanese surrender in the Second World War, its gun fired on their last targets in 1991, during Operation Desert Storm. The Missouri is well-armed for fighting off enemy planes and ships, but down below deck, in the corner of the mess hall, is its key defense in a life after people. It's one of the control units for the Missouri's cathodic corrosion protection system. It prevents rust and corrosion by sending an electrical current to zinc rods attached to the steel of the hull. The electrically charged zinc draws corrosive reactions away from the steel, but this process is only effective when the metal is submerged. Above the waterline, cleaning and painting are the only defenses, defenses that were breaking down even during the time of people.
2 days after people, some of the world's most defenseless creatures face a world for which they are completely unprepared. There are nine million dairy cows in the United States alone, and they're used to being milked two or three times a day. But now, the dairy is empty and the milking machines have been turned off. While some will develop infections of the udder, the pain and discomfort most suffer will only be temporary. But not all dairy cows are safe. Baby calfs had to be handfed by humans twice a day, because their mothers had been conditioned to mass produce milk and pay little attention to their young. Now, many adult cows are just as dependent on people for food.
It's 3 days after people, 4000 fighter jets, bombers and other aircraft lie in formation in the Arizona Desert, but this phantom fleet is covered in a ghostly white, and it's not pilots, but coyotes that prowl these grounds. This is the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Centre, in the time of humans it was a graveyard and storage facility for mostly military aircraft, the planes here are better prepared for a life after people than anywhere else on Earth. The stark-white latex coatings, known as spraylat keeps them in near pristine condition. The seals keep out dust and rainwater, while the white colour reflects heat, the interiors of protected aircraft never rise more than 10 degrees above the outside temperature, no matter how harsh the sun. For these aircraft the end won't come from the sun, but from the ground below.
4 days after people, near Pearl Harbour the hands on the clock of the iconic Aloha Tower have come to a stop. Installed in 1926, the famous clock is driven by heavy-weights, which have now reached the bottom of their cycle. Ordinarily, they are reset by electricity every 2 days, but power is now permanently out on the entire island. This also means that the feat of the U.S.S Missouri's electrically powered rust protection system is gone. Seawater now begins to eat away at its hull. And from the skies above, the Missouri comes under a new kind of aerial assault.
6 months after people, the birds of Hawaii are flocking to their new favourite island. The birds bring new life to the decks of the Missouri, dropping undigested seeds that lodge into the ships 53,000 square feet of wooden decks. As the Missouri becomes the newest Hawaiian island, out in the Pacific the metal casing on the Russian nuclear warhead is on its way to failure.
It's 15 years into a life after people, in Pearl Harbour the U.S.S Missouri has reached the end of her rope. As the lines snap, the mighty ship pulls away from the dock, now adrift, what will be its fate?
20 years after people, in the Arizona desert, the mummified aircraft waiting in an eternal holding-pattern are showing signs of distress. Years of high winds have scattered these aircraft about like toys on a giant playground. In the time of humans, the planes had to be periodically realigned. The protective coatings on any planes that might be pulled back into service again also had to be maintained. Those that didn't receive this care suffered the consequences. Now after two decades without maintenance, every plane is taking a beating, the paint is wearing thin and rust is corroding the joints. The canopies are clouding from UV damage and fighter jet engines have become homes for birds. But these planes won't stay here long enough to lose their wings. As the desert rains sculpted out soil from below, desert winds sweep in dust from above, the earth begins to swallow what was once a mighty fleet.
It's 25 years into a life after people, three Russian nuclear missiles still sit on the bottom of the Pacific. Each one megaton warhead contains a substance that explodes on contact with water. The substance is sealed within a tough metal casing coated with a heat or high stress atmospheric re-entry sheet. But with the pressure of the deep ocean, even a small crack in one of the casings can be fatal. 25 years after people, the sea begins to leak into one of the bombs. The explosion is muted by the same ocean pressure that opened the crack, pressure the equivalent of being crushed by a 1.75 million pound weight. The bomb's plutonium would be scattered over a small area and any sea creatures that came into contact with it would die of radiation poisoning.
30 years after people, on land, most of the world's dairy cows have died out. Even those who found enough food on the farm, or were able to escape their pens couldn't find a way to reproduce. In order to keep producing milk, dairy cows needed to be pregnant at least once a year. In the time of humans, this was frequently achieved through artificial insemination, many dairy cows spent their whole lives without ever laying eyes on a bull. There were exceptions, and now these small pockets of surviving cows will begin a rapid evolutionary change that will take them back to the wild. Places, like the plains of Colorado will make perfect grazing ground.
In Colorado's capital city of Denver, the most distinctive building in the skyline is the 50 storey Wells Fargo Center. Built in 1983, it was nicknamed the Cash Register Building after the unique curved shape of its glass-covered roof. The distinctive design of the structure actually posed a surprising problem, in the snowy climate of the mile-high city, engineers had to install heating coils in the roof to prevent snow from piling up and then sliding down the side of the building. With the coils no longer functioning, the building now wears a crown of icy snow that drips moisture into the floors below. Every now and then, the centre of Denver is witness to an urban avalanche.
45 years after people, man's footprint on Earth is getting smaller by the day. It's future that's already here, less than a mile off the coast of one of the biggest cities in the world. While Manhatten Island has a population of one and a half million people, nearby North Brother Island has a population of zero. The first buildings were constructed here in the 1880s. The city-owned island served many purposes over the years, housing returning Second World War veterans, quarantining victims of infectious diseases, and later treating drug addicts. These former residents have all left an unusual mark on the island's life after people. Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island was commissioned in 1881, demolished in the mid 20th century, a handful of its original buildings still remain. It was here 1907 that New York quarantined its most notorious carrier of an infectious disease, Typhoid Mary. Typhoid fever is a deadly disease, usually carried by unclean water, massive outbreaks were becoming uncommon as sanitation improved, but Typhoid Mary was a special threat to New York. Mary Mallon was a cook, so called healthy character that spread the disease, but never became ill herself. She was officially blamed for infecting 53 people, though many believed her responsible for up to 1400 cases in all. She was confined to North Brother Island on two different occasions, the first in 1907, she eventually died on the island in 1938. Isolated from the city by water, North Brother Island was entirely dependent on boats to keep its population supplied with everything, from food to fuel. Life was seldom easy in this place, where critically ill people hoped for cures from diseases that terrified the outside world. The structures that sheltered them are now in critical condition themselves. In the oldest of the brick buildings, decades of freeze-thaw cycles are prying walls apart. Inside the old coal boiler is rusting away from moisture, while the rest of the hospital succumbs to the unchecked growth of insidious plantlife. Invasive vines, like kudzu, honeysuckle and Asiatic bittersweet have taken over the island, and in doing so have given water birds a new home. After diseases like TB and typhoid were well contained, the hospital became a sanitarium for people who needed a respite from their difficult lives. Before it was abandoned, open lawns and well-tended grounds surrounded the buildings, in 45 years of neglect the entire hospital appears to have gone into hiding. A layer of soil now covers the old tennis court where battle-hardened veterans once tried to forget the horrors of war, now nature has attacked the asphalt with its own weapons. The island's web of vine has found its way inside the buildings as well. During the 1950s and 60s, drug addicts were treated in the island's newest buildings, the artwork on the walls hints at their plight. The breakdown of the building's defenses is most evident here in the piles of plaster dust, accumulated at the base of most of its walls. Plaster is the softest of the building materials here and so the first to go, as the broken windows expose the interior to moisture. What's revealed underneath are the thick bricks used to isolate each room from the next. The open air is not the only place on Earth where nature's tentacles are strangling what the humans have left behind. In shallow seas once great warships are fighting a battle with ocean life, a battle they cannot win.
It's 50 years after people, on the Hawaiian island Of Ohau, the jungle has overtaken roads leading into Pearl Harbour from nearby Honalulu.
65 years after people, even the toughest built relics of war have started to decay, along the coast of France, silent guns, barbed wire and iron beach obstacles are succumbing to rust. In the time of humans, this could already be seen at the imposing artillery emplacements Pont du Hoc, which overlooks the Normandy beaches. These emplacements are part of the Atlantic wall built by the Germans during the Second World War to keep the allies out of Northern Europe. On the 6th of June 1944 Pont du Hoc was pummeled by American forces during the massive D-Day invasion. Bunkers and gun emplacements all along the Normandy Coast were built of concrete with steel reinforcing rods, constructed during war time with the threat of imminent invasion, corners were inevitably cut. Seashells were often added to the concrete mix and in some cases the concrete was not given enough time to cure before the bombs began to fall. These weaknesses left bunkers vulnerable, not just to bombs, but to future corrosion. Moisture and salt in the air has entered the bunkers through pores and cracks in the concrete, this causes the steel reinforcing bars to corrode, they expand and crack the surrounding concrete. The Romans used concrete to build some of their monumental structures, long before the invention of steel reinforcing rods. This seeming weakness actually gives them an advantage in a life after people.
It's 70 years after people, in Pearl Harbour, the ship that was once the pride of the U.S fleet is now under a cover of green. A blanket of shrubs and grasses consumes the decks of the U.S.S Missouri, vines creep up the topside structures and over the massive 16 inch guns. Although its mooring line snapped long ago, the Missouri hasn't drifted far from its crumbling dock. The mud of the shallow harbour bottom has kept the 45,000 tonne colossus close to shore. Surprisingly the Missouri is deteriorating faster above the waterline, than below. We know this because of diving explorations to the nearby ruin of the battleship U.S.S Arizona, 70 years after it sank during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour. After decades underwater, the exposed parts of the Arizona have become heavily rusted, but below the waterline the hull has been preserved by an army of multi-coloured sponges, feather worms and corals. And while marine life forms a protective layer on the Arizona's steel hull, the ship's wooden deck is covered with a layer of silt and sediment that offers its own protection. 70 years after it sank, it was estimated that the Arizona still held 500,000 gallons of oil, much of it trapped in the ship's fuel tanks and submerged compartments. Two gallons of oil leak from the ship everyday, drifting to the surface like a slowly bleeding wound. Will this be the fate of the U.S.S Missouri, or will it chart its own course of destruction in a life after people? And back in Denver, the biggest avalanche is yet to come.
It's now 200 years after people, stripped of its defenses, Denver's Cash Register Building has repeatedly unleashed great avalanches onto the streets below. The next avalanche will not be of snow, but steel. In the time of humans, engineers at Colorado State University studied the many different ways skyscrapers can collapse. In this model, the heavy steel plates represent the floors of the building, the comparatively weak, thin wooden dowels represent the weakened state of a corroded frame. If an upper-storey collapses, it can cause a violent cascade.
Outside Denver, on the Colorado prairie, descendants of domestic cattle have carved out a new way of life. Even more striking are the herds of bison on the prairie. Before man hunted them to near extinction, there were as many as 60 million of these massive beasts roaming America, by the 21st century that population had dwindled to 250,000. Supremely fit for this terrain, 200 years without people has allowed their numbers to explode. Once again, the buffalo can roam.
250 years after people, in Pearl Harbour, the decks of the battleship U.S.S Missouri still rise above the waterline, but water is penetrating the hull. As it takes on water the ship sinks deeper into the mud. The ship's deck will remain 10 feet above water, allowing the elements to continue wearing away her superstructure. How long will the Missouri's hull remain intact? Tests conducted on the U.S.S Arizona in 2008 and 2009 determined that its hull will take another 300 years to fully deteriorate. Built nearly 30 years later, the Missouri is well more advanced warship. With an outer hull 17 inches thick in places, engineers estimate the ship could hold together for an astonishing 20,000 years, becoming a new home for generations of tropical fish. A wrecked warship serving as an artificial reef is not a new concept. In 2006 the U.S navy intentionally sank the retired aircraft carrier the U.S.S Oriskany off the coast of Florida, it took less than 45 minutes to slip beneath the waves and at roughly 900 feet long, it became one of the largest artificial reefs in the world. Within a matter of months it was teeming with ocean creatures including 38 species of fish. The Oriskany became known as The Great Carrier Reef.
Around the world, the armed and the defenseless soldier on, some have shown surprising resilience, others have suffered from hidden weaknesses that have brought them to their knees. On the bottom of the sea, along coastal bluffs and on desert flats, the battle quietly continues, in a life after people.