Waves of Devastation is the seventh episode of season two of Life After People: The Series. It originally aired on February 16, 2010.
Man has always struggled to hold back and harness the raw power of water. On a planet where more than 70% of the surface is covered by oceans, lakes and rivers, it's a never ending battle. Now, man is gone, and along the planet's more than 2200 miles of coastline, and millions of miles of waterways, a raging force is ready to break free.
1 DAY AFTER PEOPLE - In the California State Capitol of Sacramento, where an action hero once came to preside over the 8th largest economy in the world, there is about to be a watery disaster big enough to rival any Hollywood blockbuster. In 2005, the world saw water's devastating effects when hurricane Katrina storm surges overpowered man made leeves, destroying much of New Orleans. And Sacramento has many of the same vulnerabilities. Every winter and spring, heavy rains and runoff from melting snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains turned the rivers in low lying Sacramento into deadly torrents. But raging water isn't the only villain in this developing disaster. There are thousands of accomplices already working to make the impending disaster bigger. In 2008, animal tunnels were believed to be one the main causes of a leeve failure in the town of Fernley, near Reno. The raging waters flooded 6 hundred homes, and caused an estimated 4 million dollars of damage. And Sacramento's leeves share a dangerous flaw with those infernally. The earthen leeves were originally built by farmers more than 100 years ago. Without repairs by human crews, it won't take long for the water to find a way through.
Across the planet, in the Netherlands, more than a quarter of the country is below sea level. During the time of humans, 60% of the population, about 10 million people, lived in these vulnerable areas. Because of that threat, the dutch built na amanzingly advanced flood defense system. Now, the city of Rotterdam is empty. In the Boijmans Museum, Works by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and other dutch masters worth million of dollars still hang on the wall. But the building sits less than 10 feet above sea level. And a massive storm surge barrier between Rotterdam and the North Sea holds the key to the city's survival.
2 DAYS AFTER PEOPLE - Back in North America, the port of Valdez, Alaska is eerily quiet. In the time of humans, tankers came here to fill up with oil. The oil flowed 800 miles inside the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. If laid out in the lower 48, it would stretch from Chicago to Dallas. This man made river of oil is pumped from Alasks's north slope, across 3 mountain ranges and 34 major rivers, to holding tanks in Valdez. There are 380 million gallons of oil inside the pipeline at any given time. The hum of the pump stations along the pipeline stops, and their fuel and electricity runs out. But the gurgling sound of moving liquid can still be heard in Valdez. It's travelling from a storage tank several hundred feet in elevation above the waterline, to one of the tankers below. It's here where the river of oil breaks free. Millions of gallons of black death drain into the harbor. The tens of thousands of birds and marine mammals near Valdez have witnessed this before. In 1999, the Exxon Valdez disaster a few miles off shore, in Prince William's Sound. About 11 million gallons spilled. Now, this overflowing tanker drowns the harbor with twice as much oil. But as hundreds of millions more gallons sit in the 800 miles of pipeline, another disaster awaits.
2800 miles away, near Chicago, a dangerous fish is continuing it's shocking invasion. In the time of humans, along vast stretches of the Mississippi River and it's tributaries, the non-native asian carp terrorized people by hurling themselves out of the water, whenever boats came near. The plant-eating asian carp were brought over from Asia beginning in the 1960's by catfish farmers looking for a cheap and safe way to keep their ponds clean. Then, the carp began escaping during floods in the 1980's, and started heading north. Now their making their way into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship anal, which leads to Lake Michigan. Man feared that if the carp made it into the Great Lakes, they would kill off the desirable fish by devouring their food supply. So it was here that mankind made it's last stand against the asian carp. Fish approaching this part of the canal are in for a nasty shock. A series of virtual fences built by the Army Core of Engineers creates an electric current in the water. But once the power goes out, can anything stop the invasion of this jumping fish?
1 WEEK AFTER PEOPLE - Half a world away in Australia, sits one of the most iconic buildings on the planet: the Sydney Opera House. During the time of humans, the 4 and a half acre building used as much electricity as a town of 25 thousand people. The 160 thousand ton building appears to float at the edge of the harbor, but is actually held up by 580 reinforced pilings, sunk up to 82 feet below sea level. The opera house hosted about 3000 events a year. But now, there is just one final long running show: the slow decay of the building itself. The salty water of Sydney Harbour causes the most damage. It attacks the reinforced concrete pilings. The most vulnerable area for the pilings is known as the splash zone. The building is best known for it's iconic roof. For now, the soaring ceramic tile covered shells at the top of the opera house are well sealed from the salty harbour air. But a design feature that made these elegantly curved shapes possible now holds the secret to their future.
1 week after people, outside this non-descript building, along the industrial canal near Chicago, emergency generators have kept the electric barriers buzzing. But now, the generators have consumed their last drop of fuel. For the asian carp, the pathway to the Great Lakes seems wide open. In the coming days, they will begin heading towards Chicago, and a vast new feeding ground in Lake Michigan.
A week after people, the relentless power of water is just beginning to take a toll on the world's most famous buildings. But this rogue force can also strike quickly, threatening to plunge an entire city under water.
1 MONTH AFTER PEOPLE - Coastlines around the world have gone dark. Moonlight casts an eerie glow over the oceans. But in the surf of Los Angeles, strange lights twinkle in the sea. On the Santa Monica Pier, the ferris wheel still blazes with 1600 thousand LED lights. First installed in 2008, they flash with computer controlled designs that can be seen from more than 10 miles away. But now that people are gone, how long will the light show last? And how long will the pier be able to withstand the relentless pounding of the waves?
In the Netherlands, evidence of people's long struggle to control water is all around. From small leeves, to windmills, to massive coastal barriers, the largest barriers, some equipped with huge metal storm surge gates, were built after a devastating flood in 1953. Rotterdam is one of the most vulnerable dutch cities. Near the city's center, priceless works by Rembrandt and Van Gogh hang in the Boijmans Museum, just a few feet above sea level. In the time of humans, 2 massive flood gates protected the city by shutting out any storm surges from the North Sea. Their some of the largest moving structures on Earth. Each gate is 70 feet high, and almost 700 feet long. They're connected to enormous ball joints by steel trusses that are so massive, that's it almost as if 2 Eiffel Towers had been re-engineered to move the mammoth gates. But as a new storm slams ashore, the gates sit idle. Rotterdam fills with water from 2 directions. Water infiltrates the museum, and washes away some of mankind's greatest cultural treasures.
1 YEAR AFTER PEOPLE - Near Chicago, the electric barriers keeping the asian carp out of Lake Michigan is gone. In the time of humans, the carps seriously injured people by panicking and jumping out of the water anytime boats came by. Now, the electric barrier has been gone for almost a year, and yet, the marine invaders still haven't taken over the lake. There are other man-made barriers blocking their way to the Great Lakes, the largest fresh water system in the world. The main one is the Chicago Harbor Lock, designed to let boats pass, while keeping the Chicago River from flowing into Lake Michigan. 2 sets of gates reach all the way to the bottom, 35 feet below. The invaders are turned back at the gates, for now...
3 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - In Sacramento, there is no action movie star to come to the rescue. The city is on the verge of a blockbuster disaster. Without maintenance, the earthen leeves are threatening to burst. A neighbourhood south of downtown known as the Pocket is especially vulnerable. But as the river level rises during a winter rainstorm, the first signs of water come not from above, but below. Water bubbles up near the homes. Without maintenance crews to shore up the weak spots, disaster suddenly strikes. In other áreas of Sacramento, water overtops the levees. Breaches quickly spread. North of downtown, Sacramento's airport is inundated by more than 10 feet of water. The downtown area is more elevated, but there's still about 5 feet of water surrounding the State Capitol. For the dogs that have managed to survive the first 3 years after people, this new water world presents a deadly challenge for those with certain physical traits. In 2005, hurricane Katrina killed or left homeless an estimated 6100 thousand animals, including thousands of dogs. Many of the dogs were trapped inside houses which flooded. Fr those with short limbs or barrel chests, the chances of survival were very slim. Now, with most of Sacramento underwater, boxers and retrievers , labs and other well proporcioned swimming dogs adapt to the city's repeated floods. Other specialized breed shave been wiped out.
But 20 miles away, there's another watery disaster building in the foothills above Sacramento, that threatens to deliver an even greater wave of devastation.
3 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - The non-native asian carp is trying to enter Lake Michigan at the Chicago Harbor Lock. These fish were viewed as such a menace by mankind, that in 2009, officials tried to eradicate them by pouring poison into the canal where they lived. Enough to kill 200 thousand pounds of fish. Now, if these can make it past the 133 ton steel barriers, they may finally rule the largest fresh water system on the planet: the Great Lakes. And after several changes of season, a weakness in the very center of the lock gates is providing an opening. Where the seals were, thousands of smaller carp now stream through the 6 inch gap and into the lake with it's enormous food supply. With each female capable of carrying 2 and a half million eggs at a time, is there anything left on Earth that can stop this marauding invader?
4 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - In Sydney Harbour, near the opera house, trouble is brewing for another engineering marvel. The Sydney Harbour Bridge, nicknamed the Coathanger by locals, is one of the tallest steel arch bridges in the world. It was made with the special ability to expand and contract. The bridge towers 430 feet above the harbour water. But in Australia's extreme heat, the steel arch expands to grow a foot taller during the day, shrinking back to size at night. After 4 years in the strong sun and salty air of Sydney Harbour, signs of corrosion are everywhere. And corrosion in one particular area could eventually doom this massive structure. This coat hanger has hinges to allow the bridge to grow taller. The hinges are at each end of the massive single arch. But corrosion may soon cause the hinges to lock together. What will happen if the bridge loses it's ability to expand and contract?
Back in Lake Michigan, a year after the asian carp began streaming in, they haven't taken over as expected. An ancient threat was waiting for them. The sea lamprey is a freakish looking jawless fish, that attaches to it's prey and sucks out their blood and other bodily fluids. It entered the Great Lakes when Lake Erie was connected to the Saint Lawrence Seaway. During the time of humans, enormous efforts were made to keep the sea lamprey from devastating the sport fishing population. So instead of taking over the Great Lakes, the asian carp come face to face with the sea lamprey. For years, people tried to control which types of fish thrived in these waters. But now, two species accidentally introduced by humans have taken over.
10 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - On the Pacific Coast, the famous solar powered ferris wheel on Santa Monica Pier is still lighting up the night. During the day, the pounding the pier has taken over the years is showing. In the time of humans, maintenance crews constantly replaced damaged deck planks. Then, finally, the nighly light show from the ferris wheel comes to an end. The solar panels and most of the LED lights would be expected to last 20 to 25 years. But after a decade without maintenance, the system's inverter, which converts the solar power's DC current into usable AC electricity finally fails.
3 years after people, the failed levees of Sacramento created a catastrophic flood on a scale matching hurricane Katrina's destruction of New Orleans. But now, 10 years after people , an even greater wave of devastation looms. 20 miles away, the water level at Folsom Dam is dangerously high. Without people, the dam has accumulated silt and debris around the floodgate. The water is now about 400 feet higher in elevation than Sacramento. And a new winter storm is dumping water in faster than it can flow out. As the churning storm waters erode the earthen sides of the dam, they pull down the rest of the structure. The avalanche of water and debris soon reaches Sacramento. At the airport, decaying planes are turned into projectiles slaming into the surrounding buildings.
But as water destroys some of man's cities, could this abandoned site in the middle of nowhere become the last surviving town on the planet?
10 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - Water is taking a toll on empty coastal cities around the world. With a few exceptions. This mysterious town abandoned 10 years ago, may reveal which cities will remain standing in a life after people. Of towns with more than a few hundred people, Pyramiden on the norwegian Island of Svalbard, used to be the northernmost town on Earth. It's just 800 miles from the North Pole. Reaching this remote town requires an epic journey. A 4 hour flight north from Oslo, then another 4 hours through the choppy, cold arctic sea. But for those adventurous enough to reach Pyramiden, the dangers don't end there. Any group going ashore must be armed with a rifle to fend off polar bear attacks. 500 miles north of the norwegian mainland, between the chiling waves and sharp mountain peaks, lies the abandoned Cold War era soviet mining town. For the workers and their families, life in Pyramiden was one of structured isolation. Beyond Lenin's gaze in the town square, the abandoned buildings sit frozen in time. There are no families to enter or leave the once crowded dormitories. No workers to use the industrial machinery. No one to use the sports equipment still standing in the gymnasium. Next to the dried tile of the indoor pool. There's still coal in the mountains above Pyramiden, but retrieving it proved to be more trouble that it was worth. The empty buildings at Pyramiden are now waging their own cold war for survival in the frigid arctic climate. But there are certain advantagesto being in the land of the polar bears. The arctic temperatures are preserving the man-made structures here. Even though Pyramiden is right by the shore, the low temperatures keep most of the moisture out of the air. So how long will this abandoned mining village last? It's possible that some day Pyramiden could be known as the last town on Earth.
But in far less than 200 years, the salty water and moist air of Sydney Harbour will unleash destructive forces hidden within one of the city's most famous landmarks.
50 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - The devastating waves of a winter storm are tearing into a crumbling Santa Monica Pier. The solar powered ferris wheel lighting system stopped working about 4 decades ago. And now, the rest of the rusting wheel is in trouble. Powerful waves and strong winds are wiping away most of the wheel, but the A-frame shaped base remains. It's the same principle behind the incredible longevity of the egyptian pyramids. A wide base, and narrow top, makes for an incredibly sturdy design.
75 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - In Sydney Harbour, the opera house is becoming unstable. Hundreds of feet above the crumbling pilings in the harbor, the moist, salty air has slowly eaten away at the building's signature shells. The iconic roof was built using an inovative technique that made the curved shapes strong. It's a system known as precast/prestressed. But now, the stretching technique that gave the shells their strength is working against their survival. An entire shell quickly rips itself apart. As the crumbling shells slam down onto the main deck. the pilings most exposed to the salty water fail, and the rest of the structure collapses towards the harbor. One of the most iconic buildings in the world is headed down under.
100 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - Within sight of where the majestic opera house once stood, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is nearing it's own end. The aging steel is under tremendous stress. The hinges at each end of the arch once allowed the bridge to expand during the hot australian days. But they became corroded and locked long ago. That pressure and severe corrosion could finally cause a cascade of crumbling supports. The bridge collapses into the harbor.
200 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - Inland sections of the Alaskan Pipeline have corroded slowly in this cold climate. Here, it takes more than rusting steel to open the pipeline. In the time of humans, the many elevated sections of pipeline and their supports were designed not only to withstand the elements, but also strong alaskan earthquakes. 2 centuries later, the corroding structures are vulnerable. But because the pieces of pipeline are in one of the coldest parts of the world, away from the devastating effects of water, they may be some of the last remains of man.
500 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - Cities in temperate climates have virtually disappeared, as they crumbled and became overgrown by plants and trees. But the abandoned mining town of Pyramiden, on a norwegian Island just 800 miles from the North Pole is still recognizable. Due to the cold, dried climate, it's one of the best preserved towns on the planet.
Unlike the many places where water has unleashed it's destructive power.
In the next episode of Life After People takes to the skies. What secrets will emerge from the highest altitudes? Could a lack of air travel actually change the weather? What did NASA hoped to prevent by destroying the space probe? And this apocalyptic place was meant to protect man from na airborne armageddon.