Graveyard Shift
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10 Worldwide 'Ticking Time Bombs' That Deserve More Attention Than They’re Getting

May 4, 2020 8.5k views10 items

After any catastrophe or tragic event, it is simply human nature to wonder whether or not it was one of many preventable disasters our world has been experiencing. Yes, hindsight is 20/20, and there are plenty of predictions and theories that don't come to fruition. But these future catastrophic events - many of which revolve around important environmental issues - have been predicted by experts, researchers, and scientists who have spent their entire professional lives in their respective fields. 

  • Photo: NASA (Solar Dynamics Observatory) / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    A Second Carrington Event

    From August 28, 1859, to September 3, 1859, Earth experienced one of the largest solar flare-induced electrical storms in recorded history. On September 1, British astronomer Richard Carrington climbed up to his private observatory and observed strange black spots on the sun. He watched as flares of white light appeared to jump off the surface of the sun. A few hours after he recorded this phenomenon, strange things started happening. Aurora Borealis was visible for three days, and not just in the North. Telegraphs all over the world started sparking and malfunctioning. Some even shocked telegraph operators. Anything electrical was completely disrupted. This happened because the flare Carrington witnessed sent CME, or a cloud of magnetically charged particles and loops, toward Earth. When the CME came into contact with our planet's magnetic field, it created a geomagnetic storm that negatively affected humans' electrical machines.

    Now imagine that level of electrical malfunction with how much of our lives depend on digital communication. Scientists and experts aren't able to predict an exact timeframe for a second Carrington event, but many believe we will have one within the next 100 years, or before 2119. Some scientists believe we could experience this cataclysmic event within the next decade. A geomagnetic storm would shut down satellites, communication devices, air traffic control - anything that operates on electromagnetic waves - and cause complete chaos. Studies estimate that repairing the US power grid after an event as large as the one in 1859 could cost $600 billion to $2.6 trillion.

  • The Year 2038 Problem

    In December 2014, a theory about the impending crash of computing systems as we know it became much more realistic. In 2014, YouTube was operating on a 32-bit system. In binary, these systems can track numbers up to 2,147,483,647. A video of Psy's song "Gangnam Style" was about to hit that threshold, and the social media site nearly crashed because of it. YouTube was able to upgrade to 64-bit programming, but many consumer computers and smaller networks aren't able to upgrade. Because of this, computer scientists believe that many systems will crash on January 19, 2038, at around 3:14 am UTC. Computers won't be able to tell the difference between 1970, when computers first start tracking time, and the year 2038. 

    How this could affect individual computers and systems would be vary on a case-by-case basis. Some computers might simply display the wrong time or date, but others that use time in any capacity in their programming could fail to work. Like with Y2K, the Year 2038 Problem, also called the Unix Millennium Bug or Y2K38 bug,  could have disastrous effects if it affects massive infrastructural networks, like air traffic or power stations. There is no simple blanket solution either, as upgrading to 64-bit processing comes with its own host of issues for many programs and networks. 

  • Photo: Microrao / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

    The Antibiotic Resistance Crisis

    Modern medicine has nearly eradicated diseases that used to wipe out entire populations, thanks in large part to advancements like vaccines and antibiotics. Every time humans discover or create a new way to fight off infectious agents, however, the infectious agents fight back. They evolve and grow immune to the antibiotics and vaccines designed to protect people. For example, penicillin became commercially available in the US in 1941; by 1942, scientists discovered a strain of the bacteria that had mutated and was immune to the then-miracle drug. 

    Unfortunately, other advancements - like antibacterial cleaning products, sanitizers, and other products designed to wipe out a broad swath of infectious agents - have only accelerated bacteria's mutation and resistance to antibiotic intervention. Many prominent researchers in the field are growing concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic - which is a virus - could inadvertently cause a second bacterial pandemic. Many patients are being treated with antibiotics to prevent post-treatment infections, and most people have amped up their hand sanitizer and Lysol use. Former director of the CDC  Julie L. Gerberding, warns, "The challenge of antibiotic resistance could become an enormous force of additional sickness and death across our health system as the toll of coronavirus pneumonia stretches critical care units beyond their capacity."

  • Earthquakes In The Cascadia Subduction Zone

    Worrying about the San Andreas Fault Zone is understandable. The continent-stretching fault zone caused the deadliest earthquake in US history. But the famous fault zone's destructive potential is a drop in the bucket compared to its northern cousin, the Cascadia Subduction Zone. Spanning 700 miles, the subduction zone stretches across the Pacific Northwest, from Cape Mendocino, California, through Oregon and Washington, and up to Vancouver Island, Canada. It is called the subduction zone because a 90,000-square-mile oceanic plate - Juan de Fuca - is pushing under another plate - the North American Plate. The line sits under big cities like Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon. 

    Scientists estimate that there is a 37% chance that a megathrust earthquake - one that is 7.1 magnitude or higher - in this zone will occur within the next 50 years. An event like this would destroy the Pacific Northwest as we know it. Scientists predict that a 100-foot tsunami would come with an earthquake of this magnitude, and the last time this happened in 1700, the coastline dropped several feet. FEMA projections suggest that when this earthquake happens, 13,000 civilians will perish in the natural disaster and its aftermath. Another 27,000 will be injured, and emergency organizations will have to provide shelter over 1 million displaced people.