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2048 timeline contents




The Antarctic Treaty comes up for review

Antarctica is the last remaining unspoilt wilderness; untouched by the massive industrialisation common everywhere else on the planet. It covers an area of 13.7 million sq km (5.3 million sq miles) and is covered by an ice sheet 4 km (2.5 miles) deep. It has no human inhabitants, other than a small number of scientists in research stations.

The vast, icy continent is governed by the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, which came into effect in 1961. This was signed by Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, the UK, Belgium, Japan, South Africa, the USA and Russia. The first seven of these countries have historic claims to the continent (none of which are generally recognised) and the Treaty preserves the status quo, neither recognising nor repudiating the old claims, but forbidding their expansion in any way. The terms of the Treaty also forbid the assertion of new claims.

The discovery of a hole in the ozone layer, and other concerns, led to the addition of a new environmental protocol agreed in 1991. This entered force in 1998. It was intended to protect Antarctica's environment and ecosystems, and included a total ban on the exploitation of mineral and energy resources, as well as strict regulation of pollution and other damaging activities. The protocol is open for review in 2048, exactly 50 years after it was implemented.*

Much has changed in the last half century. Earth's population is over 50% larger, placing a substantial drain on the Earth's resources which has become alarmingly obvious by now. Metal and mineral supplies continue to be an issue, even with large-scale recycling systems in place.* Despite objections from environmentalists, there is general consensus among the international community that some limited exploitation of Antarctica should be permitted, within certain specially controlled areas. Over the next few years, a new treaty is drawn up with modified clauses, though disputes continue over territorial boundaries.

There are significant logistical challenges to mining and mineral extraction in the region – such as the isolation, extreme cold, rough seas and thick ice sheet. However, new technologies look set to mitigate these problems, including the use of robots, heavy automation and alternative methods of drilling. In addition, climate change and the melting of ice is making it possible to exploit some previously inaccessible areas of the western ice sheet.


antarctica future problems treaty environmental protocol 2041 2048
© Staphy | Dreamstime.com



Reversible biostasis is available

Nanotechnology has continued to progress exponentially, transforming society in ways that were only recently considered science fiction.** Towards the end of this decade, it's becoming possible to actually "freeze" people in a form of suspended animation. This is achieved by shutting down their metabolism and preserving cell structures, using a complex arrangement of nanobots.

These microscopic machines have been around for a while now, in a variety of roles. They are already a staple of military hardware, medical equipment, entertainment devices and general-purpose computing. This latest generation reaches a new level of sophistication. Networked together in the trillions, they are self-guided through the bloodstream and into every cell. Here, they can block the molecular machinery of metabolism and tie structures together with stabilising cross-links, held firmly in place. As water is expelled and replaced with preservative fluid, nanobots pack themselves solidly around each cell, preventing any damage or deterioration.*

Once the patient has been fully stabilised in this way, they are essentially frozen in time. They can be kept in this condition for years, if necessary. To a casual observer, they would appear cold and dead.

The procedure leads to a number of useful applications. In medicine, for example, it provides the deepest possible anaesthesia, giving surgeons unlimited time to work. It can be used for medical emergencies in remote locations, stabilising a patient's condition until help arrives. In space travel it helps future astronauts with long journeys, avoiding problems of boredom and/or food supplies. It can be used in covert spying missions, where an individual might be required to lie in a restricted space for extended periods of time. More commonly, it can be used by citizens as a life extension technology, or for personal financial reasons.

The process is reversed with cell repair machines – so only very minor damage is done, without any lasting harm. Nanobots enter the patient's tissues and remove the "packing" around cells, replacing it with water. The cross-links are then removed; any damage to structures is easily repaired. Salt, ATP and blood sugar levels are then restored. Finally, the metabolic machinery is unblocked and the patient's body rapidly comes to life again.



The near-Earth asteroid 2007 VK184 makes a close pass

This object – measuring 130m in diameter – has a 1 in 3,000 chance of hitting the Earth on this date. It was discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey in 2007. Ignoring the acceleration of the asteroid due to the Earth's gravity, its velocity relative to the Earth at the intersection of their orbits would be 15.63 km/s.

If such an impact were to occur, it would likely break into several pieces in the atmosphere. However, these individual chunks of rock may still be large enough to cause widespread devastation, if landing in populated areas. For comparison, the Tunguska event of 1908 was thought to have been caused by an object measuring 30-50m. This was large enough to produce an airburst equivalent to thousands of Hiroshima bombs.


2007 vk184 orbit 2048 earth impact
Source: JPL Small-Body Database Browser



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1 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, Wikipedia:
Accessed 8th August 2010.

2 Five Valuable Metals That Could Vanish by 2055, Environmental Graffiti:
Accessed 14th August 2010.

3 Singularity is Near – SIN graph – U.S. Nano-related patents, Singularity.com
Accessed 5th August 2010.

4 The Singularity is Near, by Ray Kurzweil (2005)
Accessed 5th August 2010.

5 Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology, K. Eric Drexler:
Accessed 5th August 2010.




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