Depths of Destruction is the ninth episode of season two of Life After People: The Series. It originally aired on March 9, 2010.
Man was a surface creature by nature, but humans engineered their domain in two directions: up, toward the skies, and also down, into the earth, building complex mines, tunnels and underground cities. And the further you descend, the stranger things get, in a life after people.
1 HOUR AFTER PEOPLE - Above ground, Seattle's International Airport is quiet. But 20 feet underground, the arrivals and departures continue. Driven by computer, these people movers were designed to operate with no human involvement. Radio signals beamed from the master control room ensure the trains don't colide.
1 DAY AFTER PEOPLE - In the mountains 70 miles north of San Francisco, a pungent mist bills the sky. Trouble is brewing at the largest geothermal complex in the world. That's because underneath this 40 square mile complex, heat radiating from the very core of the Earth turns water into super heated steam, blasting it towards the surface at a scalding 455 degrees Fahrenheit. Man constructed more than 20 power plants here, designed to capture and harness the searing natural power source. 40% of all the geothermal power in the United States was produced here. Enough electricity to power than a million homes. But with those homes now empty, this carefully balanced system is teetering on the verge of collapse. As with other types of power plants, without people to use the electricity generated here, the plant will automatically shut down. Now, super heated steam from deep inside the planet has no release, and the pressure begins to build.
2 DAYS AFTER PEOPLE - From deep inside this Colorado mountain, humans controlled the power to destroy the world. Inside this mountain, a massive complex once the home of NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command. During the Cold War, it was here that american military commanders would coordinate the nation's response to a nuclear attack. And it was built here for one reason. If a nuclear weapon exploded right outsider the complexe's 25 ton blast doors, the building's inside might not even move an inch. The buildings were especially constructed to make sure that if the mountain moved, they wouldn't. Designed to withstand a nuclear blast, now Cheyenne Mountain sits permanently at DEFCON, none. And the destruction of this once secret hideout will be an inside job.
3 DAYS AFTER PEOPLE - 275 miles south of El Paso,Texas, this mountain in Mexico's Chihuahuan Desert, conceals a secret: massive crystal cavers and a hellish environment. With the temperature here reaching nearly 130 degrees, and humidity approaching 100%, humans couldn't survive here for more than 15 minutes without special chilled suits, that look like something astronauts would wear. But the environment was perfect for these giant crystals. Many more than 30 feet long, and half a million years old. Some weigh more than 55 tons. The crystals are made of gypsum, a mineral whose low thermal conductivity make it fire resistant, and such a good insulator that it's a key ingredient in drywall and plaster. These crystals were submerged until miners installed pumps to drain the caves. To keep the cavers clear for mining, those pumps remove 22 thousand gallons of water from the cave, every minute of the day. Now, with the power and the pumps failing, water is beginning to reclaim these caves. As the water rises, will these spectacular natural wonders be dissolved away?
10 DAYS AFTER PEOPLE - Beneath the west Texas city of Lubbock, a subterranean town with a population of thousands still hums with life. And according to some scientists, the residents of this town might still be talking about humans in a life after people. These are prairie dogs, which can dig subterranean complexes as big as the state of Maryland. Evidence shows they develop their own language, with different words to describe different predators. Including their most efficient predator: man. Barks and a bobbing motion mean watch out for a predator in this unique language. Biologists believe the north american prairie dog population topped out at around 5 billion, sometime in the 18th century. But as the human population exploded on the continent, man mastered many techniques to call a prairie dog colony from the slow, silent death of filling a burrow with toxic gas, to the quick brutality of a long range killshot. By the year 2000, the prairie dog had lost 98% of it's former population. No more bullets, no more gas. With it's most deadly predator gone, just how big will this colony get?
1 MONTH AFTER PEOPLE - In the tunnels below Seattle's International Airport, a transportation system designed specifically to work without the presence of man has broken down. The driverless trains sit powerless, except for one thing: emergency battery backups which keep the public address system working. Trains to oblivion, serving no one, in a life after people.
Off the coast of Grenada in the West Indies, 20 feet underwater, rests a circle of concrete and steel children. Are these totems from an ancient civilization, or something stranger? And what secret will allow these images of man to come to life?
1 MONTH AFTER PEOPLE - A Hollywood landmark hides a secret in it's depths. In addition to 3 ground floor recording studios, the Capitol Records Building was also home to a buried treasure. 30 feet under the building, exists one of the world's most acoustically perfect echo chambers. The chambers feature 10 inch thick concrete walls, and ceilings made of concrete a foot thick, isolating them from outside noises and vibrations. The trapezoidal shape of the room is capable of creating an echo that lasts for up to 5 seconds. Designed by electric guitar pioneer Les Paul, it was used to provide a finishing touch on recordings by superstars such as Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. One month after people, these legendary chambers sit quiet. They won't stay that way.
1 YEAR AFTER PEOPLE - Beneath the mexican desert, the Naica crystal caves are now flooded with steamy mineral rich water. Water is the natural enemy of some crystals, such as salt, but here, along with heat and a mineral called anhydride, water is required for these 55 ton crystals to grow. That's almost 100 feet long. This will soon be a sight like no other ever seen in the world.
2 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - Off the Island of Grenada, bizzare images of mankind stare out from the ocean floor into the endless sea. A concrete man sits at a sunken typewriter, never pressing a key. A bicyclist never moves a muscle. But what appears to be a traditional still life is anything but lifeless. The artist, Jason deCaires Taylor designed them so that their lives are only now beginning. In the time of humans, statues from ancient greek and roman civilizations were often discovered at the bottom of the ocean. Those statues were marble, a mineral soft enough to sculpt, but durable enough to survive centuries underwater. Clean them off and they sparkled like new. Here, the artista chose to use concrete made of cement, sand, microsilica and fiberglass, elements which provide a perfect bonding surface for the liquid limestone skeleton being excreted by the coral as it grows. Millions of tiny sea creatures are slowly changing these once human shapes, forever.
4 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - Deep inside the Cheyenne Mountain complex, the buildings that once housed NORAD headquarters remain strong. It was here that 12 million lines of computer code written in 27 different programming languages helped the military determine if it was missiles, or a flock of geese coming over the horizon. With the external threat of nuclear warfare eliminated, the attention now now falls upon an internal invader: water. The complex conceals a 4.5 million gallon reservoir, built by the military to help stabilize the internal temperature. Now, the more than 13 hundred springs which provide protection for the buildings are under assault. The water from that reservoir is leaking out, as a lack of maintenance begins to take it's toll. If the springs fail, it could spell the end for some of America's most secure buildings. A place designed to survive a nuclear blast finds it's structural integrity slowly dripping away.
5 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - Into the very heart of one of America's most eerie and beautiful national parks, drips a steady rain of antifreeze. It was here at Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, that naturally occuring sulfuric acids seeped into the limestone carving out some of the largest caves in North America. In the time of humans, the cavers drew 350 thousand tourists a year. Tourist who arrived by bus and by car. 750 feet of limestone separates the parking lot from the cavers below. But even in the time of humans, runoff from cars found it's way through the cracks. Scientist estimated more than a billion gallons of contaminated water seeped into the caves every year. 5 years after people, the flow continues. The influence of man will continue to be felt here for a very,very long time.
But will that be enough to stop one animal from reclaiming it's former home?
6 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - Large numbers of deer gather on the site of the Geysers geothermal field in northern California. They are drawn here by the heat radiating from the 80 miles of steam pipes left behind by man. Although the massive cooling towers and power plants shut down long ago, 40 thousand pounds of steam per hour continues to fill the pipes. Now, the deer are in for an unpleasant suprise. Years of pressure build up finally come to a head. Deep within the Earth's core, water hits magma, and from that collision, comes the crushing power of super heated steam. The corroding pipes can no longer handle the pressure.
In a life after people, the underworld is undergoing many changes. But some underground places have actually survived by drowning. How do we know this? There's one haunting place in America where's it's already happended.
40 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - Rusting remnats of human civilization continue to decay underground. But some places have escaped the depths of destruction ravaging the below-ground world. For decades, men pulled million of dollars worth of minerals out of the ground here at the Bonne Terre Mine near St. Louis, Missouri. Lead from the mine was used in car batteries, house paint, and to make bullets. Ammuniton that was used from WW1 through Vietnam. In the 1960's Monne Terre was declared mined out and abandoned. When the mining pumps shut off, the natural ground water began to rise, creating dual underground worlds. Huge pillars reach to a ceiling that's 300 feet above the mine floor. But to reach that floor, requires an oxygen tank, because today, much of the Bonne Terre Mine is preserved underwater. Concealed in the depths of this billion gallon lake is a mining town frozen in time. Once this staircase clattered with the boots of workers, headed down into the mines. Shovels, jackhammers and drills remain were they were left on the day the mine shut down. Even the locomotive used to shuttle lead ore to the surface remains as a ghostly reminder of the decades of back-breaking labor carried out on this spot. When it was time for a break, miners didn't head for the surface. Instead they stayed below, visiting a drinking fountain that's now overflowing. A locker room once home to the chatter and clatter of miners hoping to survive just one more day now deathly still. So why was this mine abandoned? Everything ws left behind here in the name of progress. The Bonne Terre Mine is filled with exemples of how different environments can lead to vastly different decay rates. Today, the Bonne Terre Mine is used as a scuba resort. Divers from all over the world come to witness firsthand the processes that wil have a big impact on life after people. Man excavated the Bonne Terre Mine, a punctured hole in the earth. In a life after people, it will remain as a watery time capsule.
Elsewhere, artifacts from a sunken ship are recovered. Not from the ocean, but from a farmer's field. How did the Titanic of the West end up buried in mud for 150 years?
50 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - In the underground world, people may be gone, but their impact is still being felt. Studies in the time of humans showed it would take at least 50 years for the last drops of oil and antifreeze to make it's way through 750 feet of rock above Carlsbad Caverns. Now, the cavern is beginning to return to it's natural state. And that state is filled to the brim with bat droppings. The organic material proves to be a fertile spawning ground for millions of insects. Milipedes, centipedes and cockroaches. As these creatures start to reclaim territory they've long avoided, Carlsbad Caverns is slowly becoming a giant guano-filled bat cave.
150 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - Some items from the time of man remain perfectly preserved. In fact there's a place in middle America where it's already happended. In 1856, the steamboat Arabia was transporting settlers and cargo along the Missouri River to the western frontier. Near Kansas City, the ship hit a partially submerged tree, ripping open her hull. The Arabia sank, all the passangers survived, but 200 tons of cargo went down with the ship. In the century after the sinking, rapid cycles of flooding and erosion changed the the course of the Missouri River. The change was so great, the Arabia ended buried a half mile from the banques, entombed and forgotten beneath a farmer's field. In the late 1980's, treasure hunter David Hawley led a team of explorers to recover the Arabia. What they found was astonishing. A portal to a perfectly preserved slice of life circa 1856. For these objects and countless others, there were 3 secrets to survival: no exposure to sunlight, a constant temperature and a lack of oxygen. While the water and mud preserved many items, others ere destroyed by it. For the objects that did survive, the recovery effort was a race against time. To stabilize some of the artifacts, Hawley and his team had to freeze them. The steamboat Arabia may not have reached her destination, but today, 200 tons of history, recovered from the depths, provides a glimpse as what could await some of our artifacts in a life after people.
Elsewhere underground, millions of prairie dogs work furiously to reclaim their former territory. But now, a new predator emerges, which animal will survive?
175 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - In the heart of Hollywood, the Capitol Records Building has gone green. Below ground, the famed echo chambers are now a sonic time capsule. To ensure a consistente sound which could be easily manipulated, the chambers were constructed from concrete. And unlike most modern concrete structures, the echo chambers were built without reinforcing rods. Even after the building above collapses, with no iron skeleton to rust and destroy the concrete from within, these sonic temple may stand for a very long time.
500 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - The Texas countryside pulsates with prairie dogs. With their number one predator man no longer a factor, the prairie dog has made a comeback, returning to population levels not seen since the late 18th century. The sounds of prairie dogs barking, the yips and yaps of breeding and territorial fights shatters the quiet of the Texas air. But na old sound has returned: barks of dire warning. That's because a new predator has emerged. The prairir dog population explosion has been good news for what was once one of the rarest mammals in North America: the black-footed ferret. The black-footed ferret feeds primarily on prairie dogs. 100 a year to feed an adult male, 250 a year to feed a family of 4. In the time of humans, this cousin of the weasel was on the endangered species list. Now, after people, the ferret will be first in line at na all-you-can-eat prairie dog buffet.
1000 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - They used to be sculptures. Now, they are not. Completely covered in undersea growth, the underwater statues look indistinguishable from a vibrant and colorful coral reef. Fish and other marine creatures dart in around their new reef. Most of the evidence that this home originated as a piece of art is lost forever. Just as the artist intended.
2000 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - The military buildings that once housed NORAD'S command center at Cheyenne Mountain are still standing. Built to withstand a nuclear blast, the Cheyenne Montain complex survives, even as it is now, entombed forever.
Works of art come to life. Animals running wild. Explosive forces from the deep shattering the calm of the above-ground world. In a life after people, it's only a matter of time before the underground reaches new depths of destruction.
On the season finale of Life After People, the leaders of man are gone. What will happen to their seats of power and their tombs? How will America's first dog survive? And this abandoned place was the launching point for the deadliest weapon in history.