Waters of Death is the tenth episode of season one of Life After People: The Series. It originally aired on June 23, 2009.
In a world devoid of humans, water floods cities like New Orleans and Seattle. The marine animals housed inside the former city's aquarium die off. Head lice become extinct without human hosts. The fate of Seattle's symbolic Space Needle is shown as the city reverts to a saltwater marsh, and humidity in the Middle East wrecks the space-age structures of Dubai, including the Burj Al Arab hotel. The fate of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow is shown and Louisiana's tallest building, One Shell Square, collapses. The episode examines the areas of New Orleans that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina and were subsequently abandoned soon after.
Now, in life after people, water gave life to the world, but it can also destroy. Which mighty towers are most vulnerable to destruction? What strange aquarium occupant can survive a whole year without people? And what flooded city gives its former residence the best chance of being preserved as fossils millions of years into the future?
80% of Earth is covered by water. Humans build their civilization on the remaining 20% by harnessing its power. Lakes and oceans where harvested for food. Rivers were used for irrigation and electricity. But in a life after people, the power of water will flow unchecked, tearing down the civilization it helped create.
1 DAY AFTER PEOPLE
1 day after people. At a height of 510 miles, weather satellites soar over the north and south poles, orbiting the Earth 14 times a day. Once, 6 billion people depended on the data they provided on sea level, rainfall and humidity. Now, although their solar panels will continue to power them for decades, the satellites send their data to ground stations that are empty. There is no one in Moscow to be warned of a sudden cold front, no one to be told if this is one of the 25 days a year when rain will fall in Dubai. And no one will be warned if another hurricane threatens the levees in New Orleans. The city's french quarter dates back to 1718, when the government of Louis XV build a trade and military outpost along the Mississippi River. Under the american flag, the quarter became famous for its music, mardi gras celebrations and revelry . Now, the party's over, forever. And not just for humans. Many animals left behind will not last long. The death count begins at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, just a stone's throw from the Mississipi River. The aquarium can support over 12,000 marine animals in a million gallons of fresh and salt water. In the first few days after after people, some fish will starve, but the real problem is the sudden lack of electricity to the aquarium's pumps. During the time of humans, 50 pumps kept the fish healthy by adding oxygen to the water, and removing waste, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. While the fishes in the aquarium have a few days left to live, fish in another coastal city are already rotting.
2 DAYS AFTER PEOPLE
2 days after people. 2000 miles away on the banks of the saltwater Puget Sound, Seattle is becoming infested with scavengers. At the Pike Place Fish Market, first opened in 1907, fishmongers sold their fish from the waters of the world. But unless fish are frozen, they won't stay fresh for more than 48 hours. As they decompose, fish release an organic compound called trimethylamine. The stench brings hungry creatures running.
3 DAYS AFTER PEOPLE
3 days after people. Almost 4,000 oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico are still braving the waves, and still pumping one and a half million barrels of oil a day. 34 thousand miles of under sea pipes will soon clog up with undelivered oil. Fortunately, water tight valves prevent the oil from leaking into the ocean, at least, for now...
Back on shore, billions of man's former companions are about to become extinct. Some 3 million years ago, these lice began evolving along with humans. Now, their DNA constricts them to specific areas of the body and a restricted diet: human blood. Without human blood, the lice die within 2 days. Creatures that coexisted with humans from prehistory, join their former hosts in oblivion.
1 WEEK AFTER PEOPLE
It's 1 week after people. In the vast, fresh water bayous outsider the city of New Orleans, one and a half million alligators barely notice the absence of people. But a few, have found some unexpected treats: escaped pets looking for a cool drink. Alligators have the strongest bite of any animal. In the time of humans, alligators infested America's southern cities, including Houston and Miami, injuring hundreds of people, and killing more than a dozen. Now, the thirsty dogs are in danger. At the Audubon Aquarium, the emergency generator has shut down after a week. Jellyfish are the first to die. Unable to keep themselves afloat, they depend on water currents, so when the artificial currents stop, the bloodless, nerveless creatures sink to the bottom. Water pressure pushes through their gelatinous bodies and they disintegrate. In the time of humans the aquarium's one million gallons of water was cleaned and re-circulated through a 100 miles of plastic piping. The waste was not dumped, but eaten, by trillions of bactéria called nitroamonia, placed in the pipes by the aquarium's staff. The amonia gobbling nitroamonias produce their own waste, which was consumed by another bactéria, nitrobacter. The sysyem worked perfectly, as long as it was operated by trained staff. In the confines of na aquarium, the amonia filled waste crowds the tank as the oxygen is depleted. When the fish breathe, the amonia poisons their systems. From shark to snapper, they gasp for air, and hemorrhage internally. It´s precisely what happended the last time the aquarium was left unstaffed. In 2005, hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, flooding neighbourhoods and knocking out power around the city, including the aquarium. Standing on ground several feet above sea level, the aquarium wasn't flooded. But 3 days later, police evacuated the support team of 9 people left behind to care for the marine life. Then, the emergency generator shut down, and the re-circulating pumps stopped. The fish used up the tank's oxygen, and suffocated or choked on their own waste. 4 days after the power shut down, the aquarium staff returned. The flashlights couldn't penetrate more than an inch into the warm water, blackened with decomposing fish. Then, something broke the surface. It was a tarpon, a salt water fish that can grow up to 6 feet or longer, a fish that can breach the surface to gulp air. The tarpon's ability saved it when all it's water breathing companions died. In fact, all the air breathers survived, including the 2 river oters, the penguins and the rare blue eyed crocodile. Now, with people gone forever, the aquarium generator loses power in a week. As the fish die, the waste eating bacteria have an amonia banquet and the disaster of Katrina is repeated, but this time, there will be no last minute rescues. A year from now, only one animal will survive. Which one? We shall see.
1 YEAR AFTER PEOPLE
It's 1 year after people, and buildings along the world's almost 182 thousand miles of coastline are being infiltrated by an invisible enemy: humidity. In Dubai, humidity is witheringly high, between 80 and 90%, posing a particular threat to the Burj Al Arab hotel. Rising up on an artificial Island in the Persian Gulf, the 1050 foot sail shaped hotel was a symbol of the country when it was completed in 1999. But like all the high tech towers in Dubai, the design that attracted tourists was a magnet for destruction, now that people are gone. In the time of humans, the air conditioners in the Burj battled heat and humidity. Now, salt air seeps in, and mold, bacteria and yeast eat away the linins of walls. While the 9000 tons of steel begin to corrode.
In New Orleans, the aquarium has suffered little outside deterioration after a year, but inside there is only one survivor: the white alligator. Alligators can survive for a year without food, they conserve energy in extreme situations by reducing their heart rate to 1 or 2 beats per minute. But after a year, there will be few heart beats left.
New Orleans' past and present point the way for the city's future. Elsewhere, waters rise, in cities from Seattle to Moscow. And disaster lurks in places as seemingly harmless as a rain cloud. Or a pile of leaves...
4 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE
4 years after people. Some cities have fallen victims to floods. While water's inicial attack can be brutal, the real devastation often comes after a long term siege. With no one to repair the damage, homes succumb to decay while the foundations of buildings slowly erode. It's a future that's already visited New Orleans. On the 28th of August, 2005, the storm waters of hurricane Katrina overwhelmed the leeves and tore through the city, destroying 160 thousand homes. 4 years later, the mud and debris have been cleared and the 270 floodgates and 520 miles of leeves have been fortified. New homes are being built. But recovery has lagged in some parts of the city, giving us a grim preview of a life after people. Almost 20 thousand people once lived here, a few were celebrities. like rock n' roll legend Fats Domino. Others were part of the life blood of New Orleans, staffing the hotels and playing music in the cafes. Many lost almost everything they had to Katrina. 4 years later, fewer than 20% had returned. The ruins of these homes are a warning to other flood prone communities.
The roof of this home buckled and broke under the flood's weight, as the waters surged in from above, and through walls and windows. But one material has endured the destructive power of water. The ceramic tiles bonded to the hidden concrete slab may be the last part of the house to go. The clay and water compound has bem sealed with a chemical glaise that keeps out heat, moisture and bacteria. Most ceramics combine elements of oxygen or nitrogen with aluminium, cassium or silicon. They have a strong, crystalined comic structure which resists moisture. Around the world, ceramic tiles have kept out water and decay for centuries. Although intact, the floor will soon be buried by what's left of the roof.
Between the 18th century and the first decade of the 21st century, New Orleans suffered a dozen direct hits from hurricanes and severe tropical storms. But drainage pumps always dried things out. And the people always rebuilt. Many homes in Saint Benard's Parish today not only bear the marks of Katrina's savagery and man's neglect, they show the spread of a microscopic predator that infests all homes threatened by water. High moisture levels encourage the growth of mold spores, of the more than 100 thousand kinds of mold, the most common species associated with domestic water damaging homes is the black, stimey stachybotrys. It decomposes the dry wall of the wood beneath, undermining the structures of the walls and ceilings, leaving the apartments more vulnerable to hurricanes that are guaranteed to strike again.
20 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE
20 years after people. The 7000 foot sea Wall protecting the center of Seattle from the salt waters of Puget Sound is about to give way. First built in 1934, the wall's wooden supports have long been undermined by flea sized, 14 legged crustaceans called gribbles. To feed their need for nitrogen, the sea going gribbles chew through timbers to eat micro organisms in the wood. Gribbles wrecked two of Columbus' ships in 1502, and ate through all the exterior wood on the sunken Titanic. Now, the gribbles have doomed the Seattle sea wall. Uncontrolled sea water rushes in, turning much of the center of Seattle back into a saltwater marsh.
30 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE
It's 30 years after people, and despite damaged storm drains and sea walls, Seattle is high and dry compared to New Orleans. But this is not the result of failed leeves. They still stand. New Orleans' Achilles' heel was 150 drainage pumps. Without humans to run the pumps, and with little natural evaporation, the lower parts of the city filled with rain. Although Seattle has a reputation for rainfall, New Orleans actually averages almost twice as much, about 5 feet a year. The leeves that were built to keep water out, now hold the flood in, creating new kinds of aquariums for the city.
50 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE
50 years after people. From 200 to 2200 miles above the Earth's oceans, there is carnage. In the time of humans, almost 3000 active satelites monitored the stars, the weather and life below. In February 2009, a defunct russian satelite crashed into na US satelite, in a 600 piece pileup. Without humans to control the crowded space ways, accidents have multiplied. Fragments strike at 15 thousand miles an hour. The collisions send shards smashing into other satelites, sending some down in flames, to be extinguished in the sea.
In Seattle, the 605 foot tall Space Needle built as a symbol of the 1962 world's fair once lured visitors with it's spectacular views. Now, the windows have all been blown out, destroyed by corrosion from Seattle's rain. In the time of humans, it took 24 people and 2$ million a year to maintain the Needle's structure, and safety. While the tall structure was an occasional target for lightning, the Space Needle will not perish by fire. After 50 years, the exterior paint has flaked away, and the steel faces corrosion, some of it from na unexpected source: Water stored in the trees that have reclaimed the city. Although the Space Needle will stand for many decades to come, the corrosive power of water will one day bring it down.
While the Needle stands, it's former high altitude restaurante is a roosting place for peregrine falcons, the fastest creatures on Earth, swooping down at their prey at more than 270 miles an hour. Other birds have changed more than just their habitats. In cities around the world, some birds have changed their tunes and their frequencies. In the time of humans, researchers were amazed that recordings of song bird mating calls from the 1970's sounded different from the same kinds of birds in the same areas, 30 years later. The reason? Quiet country had become noisy city. And so birds adapted. Now, the cities have been silent for several generations of birds, and the mating calls have returned to their lower frequencies.
In Dubai, the Burj Al Arab can no longer hold out against nature's attacks. The metal skin of the building has fallen away, and the corroded, mold ridden structure falls apart.
In the Gulf of Mexico, a century of hurricanes has reduced the nearly 4 thousand oil platforms to just one. Over a 20 year period, a 9 thousand ton oil platform can sink several feet into the soft sea bed of the Gulf of Mexico. So every year makes it more vulnerable to ocean waves which can top 50 feet. A final wave pushes the rusty hulk over into the waiting embrace and roar of the deep. The next 2 centuries will see the toppling of a city's symbol, the fall of an icon for earthly and spiritual power, and the final failure of the New Orlean's leeves thanks to a creature so dangerous it was once hunted by the police.
110 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE
110 years after people. Marine animals have created new habitats from the ruins of human endeavours. Even sunken oil platforms are now habitats with only a limited risk of oil seeping out of the under sea pipelines. The platforms are first colonized by barnicles, followed by sponges, corals and oysters. Within 5 years of the platforms sinking, the sharks arive, and the food chain is complete. Below the waves or above, water will leave nothing untransformed.
125 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE
125 years after people. Moscow's colorful Saint Basil's Cathedral still stands in Red Square. In fact, the disappearance of man has actually helped preserve it. In the time of humans, the foundations of the 16th century structure were weakened by vibrations from tank parades and rock concerts. A recent russian government report warned "If nothing is done, in 100 years we could lose it". Sant Basil's death knell comes from decades of water damage. Cracked drainage pipes spill out rain and snow, forming a swamp that turns to ice in the winter, pushing against the outsider walls. A final crack sends the central bell tower crashing into one of the domes, the eastern wall gives way, more domes fall, pulling wood, brick and sacred icons down into the swamp.
150 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE
In New Orleans, the leeves are being eroded by a relative of the beaver: the nutria, a 2 foot long, 20 pound rodent. The nutria can swim and it loves to borrow into the leeves in search of food and shelter, clawing away at the structures. In the time of humans, New Orleans actually sent police SWAT teams after the rodents. In the 1990's, more than 14 thousand were culled. Now, the nutrias have torn apart the leeves in a thousand places, the barriers fall apart, and the waters of the Mississippi tumble in to meet Lake Pontchartrain. The failure of the leeves actually reduces the flood waters, which top 20 feet in places. Although the flood tide is lower, the introduction of so much salt water hastens the corrosion of the base of the buildings.
200 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE
200 years after people. In what was once Seattle, corrosion has also been eating away at the Needle's supports. Weakened from a 100 wounds over 200 years, the symbol of hope and progress from 1962 gives up the fight. As the planet's life after people streches from thousands of years to millions, what products of man's hands will best survive the waters of destruction? If one day alien archeologists excavate the drowned Earth, what will they find?
300 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE
300 years after people. In the flooded marshlands of New Orleans, the tallest building has lasted the longest. The 697 foot corporate headquarters at One Shell's Square. It's windows are gone, but the structure remains. But water has been eroding the building for 300 years, while more than 20 major hurricanes have wiped around it's walls and girders. A final category 4 proves too much, as wind and waves bring the tower hurtling down.
1000 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE
1000 years after people. New Orleans buildings are gone, but something else survives in the mud: Mardi Gras beads. Strings of bright doubloons worn to celebrate Fat Tuesday. Originating in the 1920's as necklaces of cheap glass, the beads are now a form of sunken treasure. In the time of humans, staying above the mud was a prime concern when people thought about their deaths. They wanted their embalmed bodies to be safe from floods in above ground stone mausoleums. New Orleans' first above ground cemetery was built in 1789. It was a practical solution for the problem of burying the dead in soggy ground, as well as na imitation of the aristocratic fashion in France and Spain of building impressive family tombs. Eventually, more than 40 of these so called "cities of the dead" rose up in New Orleans. Impressive and mysterious, the carved tombs and marble mausoleums not only attracted prospective occupants, but tourists as well. Although some of the above ground cemeteries were flooded during hurricane Katrina, there was little damage to the tombs or the corpses. The cities of the dead withstood the worst effects of water for more than 200 years. But in several thousand years, geologic forces will pile up sediments and city of New orleans will lie beneath the Mississippi waters. And the dead will lie undisturbed no longer.
10 MILLION YEARS AFTER PEOPLE
10 million years after people. The fossilized corpses of New Orleans are a mile and a half underground, where pressure and heat cause a further transformation. Humans who explored the Gulf of Mexico for oil, now become oil themselves. Transformed into the fossil fuels they once exploited to run their cities.
Man once probed the deep to provide food and energy for his cities and machines, now, many of those achievements have sunk beneath the waves forever. Water has ravaged cities with floods from the sea, and rain from the heavens. Towers built in monthes or years have been pulled down over decades by slow, but unstoppable corrosion. Temples to eternal fates have proved remarkably short lived. Ancient monuments and stone were just sand castles to be washed away. Humans used water to radically reshape the landscapes of the world. The structures and creatures that survived after man will inherit na Earth forever changed by the force and fury of water. In a life after people.