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Why was Tonga's volcanic eruption so severe, and what could we anticipate next?

What would happen to the Earth if humans went extinct?

What would happen if our species vanished tomorrow, and what type of world would we leave?

The Anthropocene is a new period in Earth's history that we are currently experiencing.

From fire to farming, humans have always changed aspects of their environment. However, Homo sapiens' influence on Earth has grown to the point where it now defines geological time.

It's nearly hard to locate a place on our world that hasn't been impacted by humanity in some way, from air pollution in the high atmosphere to plastic bits at the ocean's bottom. However, there is a looming dark cloud on the horizon.

Over 99 percent of all species that have ever existed on Earth have perished, the majority of which occurred as a result of cataclysms and extinction events similar to those that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Humanity has never faced a catastrophe of that size, but we will sooner or later.

Humanity's demise is unavoidable.

Many experts believe that human extinction is a matter of 'when,' not 'if.' Some others believe it will happen sooner rather than later. Humans would most likely go extinct in the next century, according to prominent Australian virologist Frank Fenner, due to overcrowding, environmental devastation, and climate change.

The Earth, of course, can and will live without us. Life will go on, and the scars we've left on the world will disappear more quickly than you might expect. Our cities will break apart, our fields will get overgrown, and our bridges will be destroyed.

Nature will eventually break down everything, which investigates what would happen if humans were to depart from the world. If it can't break something down, it buries it.

Soon, all that will be left of humanity in the fossil record will be a thin coating of plastic, radioactive isotopes, and chicken bones (we kill 60 billion hens per year). We can see signs of this in regions of the world where we've been forced to leave.

Plants and animals are thriving in the 19-mile exclusion zone surrounding the Chernobyl power facility in Ukraine, which was badly contaminated following the 1986 reactor meltdown.

Humans are significantly more of a threat to the surrounding flora and fauna than 30 years of chronic radiation exposure, according to a 2015 study financed by the Natural Environment Research Council, which found "abundant wildlife populations" in the zone.

The rate at which nature reclaims a place is heavily influenced by the local climate. Ruins from thousands of years ago can still be seen in the Middle East's deserts, yet towns barely a few hundred years old in tropical forests cannot.

When Europeans first visited Brazil's jungles in 1542, they observed cities, roads, and farmland along the banks of major rivers. However, as the populace was killed by diseases brought by the explorers, the forest swiftly regained these settlements. The ruins of Las Vegas will almost certainly outlast those of Mumbai.

Deforestation and remote sensing technology are only now giving us a glimpse of what came before.

Plant and animal species that have built close ties with humanity are the most vulnerable to extinction if we go extinct.

The world's food crops, which rely on pesticides and fertilisers on a regular basis, would be quickly supplanted by their wild forefathers.

They're going to be quickly outcompeted. Carrots will revert to Queen Anne's lace, while corn may revert to teosinte, the primordial ear of corn hardly bigger than a sprig of wheat.

Pesticides' unexpected removal will result in a bug population boom.

Insects are a very successful class of organisms because they are mobile, reproduce quickly, and can exist in practically any habitat, even while humans are actively trying to eradicate them.

Except for microorganisms, they can mutate and adapt quicker than anything else on the world. Anything that appears delectable will be consumed.

The bug explosion will cause an increase in the number of bug-eating species such as birds, rodents, reptiles, bats, and arachnids, and then a boom in the species that eat those creatures, and so on up the food chain.

However, what goes up must come down - once the food that humanity left behind has been exhausted, those massive populations will be unsustainable in the long run.

Before things settle down into a new normal, the reverberations across the food web generated by the departure of people could be noticeable for up to 100 years.

Some wilder cow and sheep breeds may survive, but the vast majority have been bred into slow, docile eating machines that will die out in large numbers.

They will be easy prey for the feral or wild carnivores that will begin to proliferate. Human pets, more likely cats than dogs, will be among the carnivores. Wolves will be extremely successful, and they will outcompete dogs in every way.

Cats are one of the most successful non-native creatures on the planet. They thrive everywhere they go.

It's more difficult to say if 'intelligent' life may evolve again. According to one idea, intellect originated as a means of assisting our forefathers in surviving environmental shocks.

Another is that intelligence aids in the survival and reproduction of individuals in big social groups.

The third is that intelligence is just a sign of good genes. In a post-human future, any of the three scenarios might happen again.

The baboon has the second largest brain per bodyweight among primates, and you could argue that they're the most plausible option.

They dwell in the woods, but they've also learned to live on the outskirts of the woods. They know how to obtain food in savannahs and how to join together against predators. Baboons might be able to achieve what we did, but they may lack the drive to do so. The way things are now, life is extremely nice for them.

Life on a polluted planet in the future

The loss of humans could set in motion the shocks that could force baboons (or other species) out of their comfort zones.

The greenhouse gases we've poured into the atmosphere will take tens of thousands of years to restore to pre-industrial levels, even if we all departed tomorrow.

Some scientists believe we've already passed critical tipping points – particularly in the polar areas – that will hasten climate change even if we don't release another molecule of CO2. Then there's the question of nuclear power facilities around the world.

Although the evidence from Chernobyl demonstrates that ecosystems may recover from radiation leaks, there are approximately 450 nuclear reactors across the world that will melt down as soon as the fuel in the emergency generators that feed them with coolant runs out.

There's no way to tell how such a massive, sudden discharge of radioactive material into the atmosphere will effect the planet's ecosystems.

That's before we even start thinking about other pollution sources.

Devastating oil spills, chemical leaks, and explosions of various sorts will blight the decades following humanity's extinction — all ticking time bombs that civilization has left behind. Some of these occurrences may result in decades-long fires.

A coal seam has been burning beneath the Pennsylvania town of Centralia since at least 1962, necessitating the evacuation of the local people and the devastation of the town.

The region now resembles a meadow, with paved roadways running through it and clouds of smoke and carbon monoxide rising from beneath. The land has been recovered by nature.

Humanity's final remnants

However, even tens of millions of years after our demise, some remnants of humanity will persist. Microbes will have plenty of time to adapt to the plastic we've left behind.

Roads and ruins will be visible for thousands of years (Roman concrete can still be seen 2,000 years later), but natural forces will eventually bury or destroy them.

It's comforting to know that our art will be some of the last traces of our existence. Among our most enduring legacies will be ceramics, bronze statues, and monuments such as Mount Rushmore.

For more over a century, Earth has been spreading its culture via electromagnetic waves, which have now travelled beyond space.

So, with a powerful enough antenna, you might pick up a recording of famous opera singers in New York — the first public radio transmission, in 1910 – from 100 light-years distant.

Those waves will continue to exist in recognisable form for a few million years, travelling further and further away from Earth until they are undetectable from space background noise.

Our spaceship, however, will outlive even radio waves.

The Voyager probes, which were launched in 1977, are speeding out of the Solar System at about 60,000 kilometres per hour.

They'll outlive Earth's catastrophic collision with an enlarging Sun in 7.5 billion years if they don't hit anything, which seems doubtful (space is very empty).

They will be humanity's final legacy, spiralling endlessly out into the inky blackness of the Universe.










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