Episode 1

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Published on:

27th Apr 2020

The World of Shiny Turtles

Can you imagine what your life would be like if a volcano erupted in your backyard every month? Well, you don't have to imagine because we've already done it for you, and it is a wild ride filled with rock-eating turtles with mean senses of humor.

HOSTED by Moiya McTier (https://twitter.com/GoAstroMo), astrophysicist and folklorist 

GUESTS

1. Thea Gessler is a getting her PhD in evolutionary biology at Iowa State University. She studies sex determination in turtles! You can follow her on twitter at https://twitter.com/theagessler

2. Mika McKinnon is a geophysicist who studies natural disasters up close, so she's basically the bravest person I've ever met. She knows all the best rocks to lick and you can follow her on twitter at https://twitter.com/mikamckinnon

3. Andrea Jones-Rooy has two last names because she's too awesome for just one. She's a political scientist, CIRCUS PERFORMER, and host of the show Ask a Political Scientist. You can follow her on twitter at https://twitter.com/jonesrooy

FIND US ONLINE

FIND US ONLINE

- patreon: patreon.com/goastromo

- twitter: https://twitter.com/ExolorePod

- instagram: https://www.instagram.com/exolorepod/

- website: https://exolorepod.wixsite.com/exolore

CREDITS

- Music: https://www.purple-planet.com

- Cover art: Stephen J. Reisig, http://stephenjreisig.com/

ABOUT US

Have you ever wished you could travel to an alien world? Exolore can help with that! In each episode, astrophysicist/folklorist Moiya McTier invites expert guests to help her imagine life on an alien planet. You'll learn, you'll laugh, and you'll gain an appreciation for how special our planet really is.

Transcript

Moiya 0:06

What's up nerds? My name is Moiya McTier, and I'm the host of Exolore, a show about facts based world building. I'm an astrophysicist and a folklorist, and a science communicator, and I love imagining fictional worlds. But the problem is that I don't know enough about how our world works to build a fictional one all on my own. So I started Exolore, which is a show where I interview experts in other fields. They're psychologists and biologists and architects and ethnomusicologist you know, really cool people with really amazing talent and brilliance. And together we imagined the life and culture on an alien planet, so different alien planet each time. In today's episode, we're going to be talking about a volcano world with a geophysicist who studies natural disasters, a political scientist, and biologists who studies sex determination in turtles, so yeah, let's go. Thank you so much for agreeing to be on this new virtual version of Exolore. I'm really excited to have you. First I'd love to have you all Introduce yourself. So, Thea, you're at the top of my screen. Do you want to go first? A little bit about you?

Thea 1:17

Sure. My name is Thea Gessler. I am a graduate student at Iowa State University studying sex determination in turtles. Yeah, so my background's in genetics and evolutionary biology and I'm interested in the plasticity of sex determination.

Moiya 1:36

That's so cool. I have a giant tattoo of turtles going down my back.

Andrea 1:43

When is that revealed? Is that partway through this show?

Moiya 1:46

Yeah, halfway through the show, there's actually a striptease portion.

Andrea 1:50

Here for it.

Moiya 1:53

Mika, you want to go next?

Mika 1:54

All right. Hi. I'm Mika McKinnon. I'm a geophysicist and disaster researcher. I'm currently looking at landslides on asteroids, but I also work with earthquakes, tsunamis pretty much anything like that. I have a large collection of rocks next to me just cuz why not? Always have to have rocks inside arm's reach?

Moiya 2:15

Yeah, I thoroughly enjoy all of your threads on Twitter about, you know, identifying different rocks and where different rocks come from So, big fan. Andrea, what about you?

Andrea 2:27

Hi, I'm Andrea Jones-Rooy. I don't do anything nearly as cool as our other scientists. I'm a political scientist. I host a show called "Ask A Political Scientist" every Thursday on The Caveat YouTube channel at seven. And I study in particular, how authoritarian governments use the media, and when the media is a force for good or bad in both democracies and autocracies. Sadly, these days the news in democracies is insanely relevant to my research on autocracy. But we'll leave that there. And hopefully our planet will not fall into that trap.

Yeah.

Mika 3:04

I feel like you and I have a lot of overlap in how things go. It's like people doing things terribly wrong or planets doing things wrong either way everybody dies in the end.

Andrea 3:16

Yes.

Moiya 3:17

Well, maybe we can construct a world where things go terribly wrong, but people don't die. Yeah, that's that's what we're here to do. So for those of you who haven't seen Exolore before, the whole point of this show is that we're going to use our collective expertise and imagination to figure out what the life and culture on an alien planet could be like. Whatever you say goes. So if you want to say that the government on this planet Andrea, is totally authoritarian, and they rule their people with an iron fist, you can do that.

Andrea 3:57

I'm tempted. I'll say I'm tempted

Moiya 3:59

Whatever you want. Mika, if you want to create your ideal natural disaster response team, you can do that too. Just like whatever you want to exist on this planet. We're going to make it happen. So are you ready to hear about the planet?

Andrea 4:15

Yes. Can we move there, is my main question?

Moiya 4:19

Unfortunately, this is not a real planet. A common question I get is, are these real exoplanets because that's what I study as an astrophysicist, planets outside of our solar system. And the sad truth is that we just don't know enough. We can't learn enough details about real exoplanets to know what they're like, so we can't figure out if they have weird atmospheres or tectonic plate movement or anything like that. Not with our current technology.

Andrea 4:48

Okay. Well, we'll save this for the future when we can.

Moiya 4:51

Exactly. So this imaginary planet is one that has a lot of volcanic activity. I don't know if there's any sort of quantification for volcanic activity here on Earth, because that's maybe something you could weigh in on. But this planet just has a lot of volcanoes going off all the time. There actually is a moon in our solar system called Io. It's one of Jupiter's moons, and it's a very volcanically active world. I think it's the most volcanically active body in our entire solar system. You can imagine that this planet is kind of like that, except for that one difference everything else is exactly like Earth. So it's the same size. it orbits the same type of star it has a moon. It has water and the same atmospheric composition. It just has a shitload of volcanoes going on. My first question for Mika because I just don't know enough about volcanoes is would volcanic activity affect other things on the planet other natural disasters? Like is it tied to seismic activity at all?

Mika 5:55

All right, so the whole reason we have an atmosphere in the first place is because we have volcanoes. They're the original source of gas that we have coming out. But the only reason that we get to keep that atmosphere is because we have a liquid iron outer core that has a magnetic field, which then protects that atmosphere from constantly being stripped off. So having the volcanoes alone is not enough to guarantee that we have atmosphere, we're going to say, hey, this plant has the same interior going on.

Moiya 6:23

Exactly.

Mika 6:25

Next question is going to be are we talking about volcanoes that are similar to Hawaii? So ones that are on oceanic plate and a really gentle effusive volcanoes they produce great big huge domes, like Olympus Mons on Mars is like this. Or are we talking about things more like Krakatoa or Mount St. Helens that are like those sharp pyramid volcanoes with a lot of silica which is glass. A lot of silica, a lot of quartz that traps all the gas and then you have big, violent eruptions. Those two things you're going to have them in different places. Some are going to be on land, some are going to be an ocean and it's inherent to that situation, but we're going to say it's like Earth. So you've got a mix of land and ocean so you're gonna have a mix of both the dome volcanoes and the pyramid volcanoes. Great. You said there's going to be smoke? There's no smoke from volcanoes at all. And ash is actually tiny shards of glass.

Moiya 7:18

I feel like I've been lied to my entire life.

Mika 7:20

Yeah, no, there's there's no smoke from volcanoes. That's all ash and all of that ash is not like fireplace ash, not like birch trees or whatever. It's teeny tiny shards of glass.

Andrea 7:30

Where does the glass come from?

Mika 7:32

So that's what happens when we have rock that is like liquid molten rock, and then you fling it into the air, and it cools down really fast. Into itsy bitsty teeny tiny bubbles. And you've seen this before, it's obsidian. But all the microscopic bits, everything that looks like those big dark clouds, that's all glass.

Moiya 7:53

That's so cool.

Mika 7:54

So never huff a volcano, is our lesson here.

Andrea 7:57

I gotta change my whole afternoon plans. Okay.

Mika 7:59

Yeah, just No, no volcano huffing.

Andrea 8:02

Okay.

Mika 8:03

And there's a whole bunch of like toxic gases that come out of this. So we talked about this in Hawaii, we talked about volcanic fog bog is like the low lying clouds of toxic gas. And it can actually go down the sides of the volcano and then settle down into the valleys and then kill everything in the valley with carbon dioxide, and no air. So that would be for our biologists to talk about in terms of what happens if you have so much volcanic activity, like do we fill all of the valleys with like this differential layer of no oxygen in the valleys, because I don't know. So there's that. Then we've got mid ocean ridges spreading, we don't think of those as being volcanoes, but we've got a lot of volcanic activity, you're going to have a lot of tectonic movement going on. And those plates are going to spread so you're constantly getting that new sea floor, which means you're going to get more things like hot springs, like the undersea version of that would be the the black smoker events. Which is where you find all the ridiculous extremophiles that do things like eat gold or eat arsenic of poop gold and you're like, "ah, how is this a creature"? Biologists, please help.

Andrea 9:10

That is what I do in my spare time, but we'll set that aside.

Mika 9:13

Yeah, yeah, like everybody who eats toxic waste and excretes precious metals. That's what you do with deep ocean vents. Um, yeah. Daily checklist. So we got that problem, then you're asking about earthquakes. Every time we've got that magma moving around, it makes Earth vibrate. Everything makes the Earth vibrate. Right now we're seeing globally seismic noise dropping because people are sheltering in place, and we can actually tell whether or not people are obeying their shelter in place by how much that background seismic noise is dropping,

Moiya 9:45

And that's just from people like walking?

Mika 9:47

Walking, traffic. Normally, you can see rush hour you can see tea breaks when people all go outside at the same time and leave. You see a spike in little seismic noise traffic. We can see like ocean waves crashing, we can see lover's lanes, which is the most entertaining to me of all our unusual seismic signals. Like "oh, you thought you were alone in the woods? You're not".

Andrea:

What about the exactly two times, I did a 10 minute high intensity workout video, does that bring our numbers back up cuz I worked super hard for those two 10 minute intervals over four weeks?

Mika:

Get that like seismic activity happening. Make the ground shake a little bit?

Andrea:

Yeah. Yes. Planks and whatever. Yeah.

Mika:

Yeah, so you're gonna have a lot of volcanic activity, you're gonna constantly have a magma shifting around, which means you're gonna have a really high background noise, which means whoever's on this planet isn't going to have a very good idea of what's going on inside because you're gonna have huge amounts of background noise, but you also have a huge amount of source vibration traveling through so ...

Moiya:

When you say background noise, do you mean like, can they literally hear it? Can you hear this activity?

Mika:

For the most part no, it is a pressure wave. It's just a pressure wave too low frequency for us to hear it. So it's a really low rumble that we don't get to hear because our ears are pathetic.

Moiya:

Right. Um, I want to save plenty of time to get into the bio.

Mika:

Yeah, that's a great point because hey, maybe the biology is going to respond to having like this constant, like low level rumble happening all the time everywhere.

Moiya:

Yeah, so let's move on to the biology. Given the amazing just like crash course in volcanic activity that we just got, what types of traits or characteristics do you think that people on this planet might evolve to, like, deal with their harsh environment? And Thea, maybe you can weigh in first?

Thea:

Yeah. So when you say volcanic activity, what I think of, is like, I envision organisms having like a really, really quick lifespan. So things that have they reproduce a lot They reproduce fast, so that they can get their offspring out. And onto that next generation

Moiya:

Is that because it's just so dangerous that you want to make sure people will survive?

Thea:

Like that risk of disruption. So you can't count on having a long lifespan, like, for example, humans are used to now we see examples and other organisms like rodents, they're kind of your characteristic, quickly reproducing species or insects so things like that. Um, I also think about dispersal is probably going to be really important. So anytime you get these eruptions, if they're going to take out a whole area that globe, organisms are going to want to be able to disperse to a new environment so that they can survive or their offspring can survive. So dispersal traits could be important. So kind of one of the great dispersers are like palm trees and like the coconuts just kind of float across the ocean and they've kind of colonized the world. Because they're able to disperse far distances because of the characteristics of their seed. So I imagine traits like that.

Moiya:

What would a trait like that look like? In a, like a living sentient being?

Thea:

Hmm. So in humans, or something... That's a good question. Um, well, the key is to be able to, like, kind of weather out the storm. So you're gonna want to be able to maybe like recede into something, maybe like a turtle shell to kind of get away from and protect yourself from that extreme environment and get away from it. Or also, like birds, they can fly, they can fly to a new environment. So any sort of like trait that allows you to move away or like change your behavior in such a way to move to move to new conditions,

Moiya:

And turtles can swim right, they could escape through the water?

Thea:

Yeah, so like sea turtles, they could swim across oceans. Um Blanca Turtles are also aquatic so they can swim so yeah, swimming would be a great treat as well.

Moiya:

I would be very down to have, like, just like a super powerful race of turtle people on this planet.

Mika:

What about like that whole collection of sharks that live inside of volcanic cave where they're massively adapted to handle high acidity? So one of the things volcanoes produce, they produce a lot of carbon dioxide. Carbon Dioxide reacts with ocean water, you get carbonic acids in there, you get a buffering happening. If you have a lot of volcanic activity, you'll have high acidity oceans, which means you won't have many seashells. The turtle shells would dissolve, they're not calcium carbonate are they?

Andrea:

I don't like to think about that.

Mika:

Like clam shells would dissolve in the ocean, but I don't know what a turtle shell is made out of.

Thea:

It's bony. So there is that calcium element, but there's also cartilage, so it's also tissue based. So it's a mix of factors.

Moiya:

We could make it out of something else.

Thea:

True

Moiya:

What would be a good material to survive this acidic water and acidic environment?

Mika:

Pyrite! Fool's gold!

Thea:

Oh, so they're going to be golden turtles?

Andrea:

Oh.

Moiya:

So we have gold turtles?

Andrea:

That's better than my idea. I was like plastic obviously like... wait, maybe there's not plastic.

Mika:

So could we incorporate high rate into a biological structure? So it's got a little cubicle structure molecularly speaking, it looks like salt does. I mean, biology and chemistry are not my thing at all, but if you could have like insert little cubes and just replace which cubes you have with pyrite cubes, those are really volcanic and handle that sort of environment well.

Thea:

Biological structures often have like really cool organizational patterns. So imagine that could like be incorporated somehow to grow, use that as like your base.

Moiya:

Yeah, if they eat it,

Thea:

Or incorporate it into their body and use that as like a framework.

Mika:

Munch on the volcanic rocks and be like, "I shall eat the pyrite". Like, you know, goats eat salt and just have that as part of my shell because calcium carbonate is just not going to exist. All you would have is like anytime you have calcium carbonate in a highly acidic ocean, it would just bubble at you, and you'd have like a fizz coating that dissolved.

Moiya:

That's so cool. All right, so we have our fool's gold turtle people, and they get the pyrite into their shells by eating it. So we have part of their diet covered. That's fantastic. What I'd like to start thinking about what they actually do, how they behave in this environment? Mika, I don't know if your work covers kind of procedures for how you should respond to natural disasters? What types of procedures do you think they might put in place?

Mika:

So, I'm going to tie this directly into the political track here so we can also integrate Andrea into it. So you're going to be in a situation where you have constant high disruption events on such a reoccurring basis that normality is disruption. So, but it's always going to be localized. So the volcano, every time you have a really, really big eruption, it can send enough ash high enough into the atmosphere that you have a like a dark layer that cools everything. So you'll have a year or two where everything is colder. But anytime you have just small eruptions, it takes out that island and everyone else is fine. You have to pick everybody up and leave and wait for that island to settle down and cool down and it takes like 20 years before the lava fully cools again, and maybe 100 years to break it back down into plants, but then you could like, go back to that island and go settle again. So it almost needs to be a nomadic sort of thing happening with constant disruption. Your infrastructure couldn't be very big, you'd have to have like a lot of oral storytelling happening. So if I give you that situation what came in terms of politics?

Moiya:

Create your ideal environment for this world, Andrea?

Andrea:

Wait, so why can't we have like written communication? This is very intriguing, would it all just dissolve or something?

Mika:

Well, I mean, you could have it but where would you store it if you're constantly having to evacuate?

Andrea:

Right.

Mika:

Right. Like you have to be able to pick up and go all of the time.

Andrea:

Yeah.

Mika:

So you're gonna need to prioritize what you take with you. So, to get through the written into the technology era. How are you going to do that?

Andrea:

You're not going to bring your collection of Harry Potter books?

Mika:

You constantly have libraries burn down. Like every 15 years all of your libraries on your island are...

Andrea:

Cool. I didn't even think about that part. Right. Excellent. The question is, would they even want to have some kind of global government at all some local governments, any kind of organizational structure and if we're living in a world that's super nomadic, you know, if you're thinking about, you know, the history in the human world on Earth, you know, there were early forms of, you know, institutional organization where there were, you know, chains of villages where you would have like, rules in place where you'd communicate and currency would come out to organize trade, and occasionally, they would, I'm really oversimplifying the origin of the nation state, but occasionally they would have like kings or rulers who would aggregate a bunch of wealth and in exchange for, you know, being taxed. That king or ruler would be expected to protect you and your community against outsiders. But all of that is predicated on everyone more or less being in one place. And you know, early humans were nomadic, but once we got agriculture and other things, we could stay in one place. That's when we started to really see more formal government that takes the form that we have now with recorded written constitutions that lasts a really long time, and things like that. Is that fair, right before agriculture, etc, humans wandering around?

Mika:

So what would you have about this in the disaster context, it works even without a centralized point of government as we have the mutual aid agreements? So it's the the trading off of resources and you could still have agriculture if it was aquaculture so you're right land is constantly changing. But you could do like deep ocean fishing or you do like oyster gardens or things like that, and have those be stable so we can get agriculture.

Thea:

Can we move this life underwater? I mean, that would be probably more stable.

Mika:

It works with our turtles.

Moiya:

Yeah, let's do that.

Mika:

Like jellyfish and pyrite. Okay, so we've got mutual aid agreements, we have a variation of like wild farmed agriculture, aquaculture.

Andrea:

Yep. And that this is also making me think of some really great work by a scholar named Elinor Ostrom, who was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics and is a political scientist, who basically -

Moiya:

When was that?

Andrea:

Oh, I don't know when she won. But she's she wrote in the like 90s mostly.

Moiya:

Of course, alright.

Andrea:

It was very recent.

Moiya:

That's sad. Let's go on.

Andrea:

Horribly recent. Yes. Um, but she wrote a lot about collective action, and how you as local communities you can basically grow cultures to enforce things. Like preventing overfishing or hoarding of resources in ways that are much more sustainable and local, rather than having an overarching government. So this was in response to a lot of arguments about how do we make sure that people don't like over-fish or factories pollute. And everyone was leaning towards like large central governments to enforce these rules, because they're sort of counter to markets. And she showed that in various communities around the world, people were able to opt into this sort of cooperative, tit for tat, mutual respect culture, that allowed us to make sure that like, "I will let you fish your area, I will fish my area, and we won't, you know, hoard resources for ourselves". But that's a very rare thing. And the risk is if we don't put that kind of early stage culture into place among our sentient, aqua, human-esque turtles, that we're going to end up on the other side of things, which is you have access to a particular natural resource, however temporarily, and then you hoard all the resources and you become this tyrant I was describing before, where you are the person who's in power And you know, sort of rich get richer, powerful get more powerful. That said, this idea that no one - at least based on location, really aggregate a ton of resources could be this very interesting if we think this is normatively a good thing, this interesting shake up every 15 years or so, at least in certain parts of the world where either the president or the Jeff Bezos, or the whoever of the world, whether they concentrated power or concentrated resources, kind of it all just gets shaken up, and they start a new, right and so early stages, I would imagine that it would be very hard for anyone to really amass much power or influence. That said, I would imagine that if these beings are self interested, like humans are, they would find ways to transport that power, whether it's reputation or carrying certain precious metals with them that are particularly valuable, or carry some sort of weapon maybe they develop a nuclear weapon that's not that big or whatever. So I'm very worried and how we make sure that we protect this species from one or two let's say, tyrants from overtaking.

Thea:

Mika, you said that the volcanoes produce the pyrite? So are we going to have these pockets of pyrite by each volcano? Are these going to be like our wealth centers because everyone depends on them?

Mika:

I'm thinking, what does wealth look like when you have a lot of volcanoes, because volcanoes produce like all the random exotic metals, like you've got all these random concentrations of everything from the deep Earth coming up. But what you don't have is soil. Right? Like if you're constantly coating your land surface with fresh rock, then suddenly your most valuable resource is poop, because you need to recoat your soil all the time. So you need to break down your rock into mineral components. So like having like a little collection of plants or fungi or seeds or whatever that speed up that rock breakdown process, that weathering process and weathering tends to happen so rocks are most stable under the conditions under which they form. So it's like grabbing another rock?

Moiya:

Amazing.

Mika:

We have here a rock that looks all brown and rusty in places. It literally is rusty. This is a very iron rich rock I had a magnet it would stick to it. The longer it's been at the surface it's been exposed to air to water it has rusted. So all these rocks with constant volcanism are constantly forming at the surface. So they're really resistant to weathering. So you need to get them under weird circumstances. So you're gonna have slower weathering rates. So soil is your precious metal, your ultimate resource is soil.

Andrea:

You're right, so that might be what ends up being a currency if we assume that currencies are inevitable, as opposed to just sort of a barter trade system. The question though, is there a possibility in this world for something ... where they store all those seeds? Will people start putting soil into things like that? Would that be like the banks that people could have and that could protect your wealth?

Moiya:

We can make that happen.

Andrea:

I mean, I don't know if that's good or bad, right? So, I guess going back to the politics of it, so we want to make sure presumably, that this is a place where these creatures can, you know, I like to think this is normative and it's my opinion, but live in a place where they all have access to enough materials to eat and live and thrive and all those things. Hopefully, they can create and enjoy and consume some kind of art or whatever it is that this being likes to do, and also can live in a way that protects them from fear of invasion, right? And so typically, at least when I think of nomadic societies, I think of as my grip on history is very slender. Like the Dothraki in Game of Thrones, where it's like, you have to go and you're fighting and you're conquering. And it's never you can't just live and enjoy your life, right. And so some form of world government or regional governments would be helpful for this kind of protection, right. And the other thing that government can be good for is providing things like infrastructure, which could help with the dispersion that we were talking about before. And you know, governments, as we're seeing in the current world can be, they're not the only solution, but they can be useful for disaster mitigation, like natural disasters, like the pandemic, they don't always do a good job. And there's a lot of garbage research. There's really good research that shows depressingly that demo democracies are particularly bad at protecting citizens because of the incentives around elected officials to show that they recovered well from a disaster, and there's not much reward for preparing and avoiding one. So how do we put into place some kind of structure and maybe doesn't even need to look like government to get people the various benefits of what would look like government infrastructure if we needed protection from fear of being attacked at all times, some kind of rule of law, but without this, like, you know, someone putting all this soil into some, you know, underwater vault, and thus harnessing all the power and subjecting everyone to the miserable life.

Moiya:

I imagine that it takes a lot of soil to do any type of process on these rocks, right? Like, you just need so much soil that your own personal store of it probably isn't very useful. Right, Mika?

Mika:

Well, I mean, how much do you need to plant to grow? And do our turtles care about land? Like if they're primarily aquatic species, and then that falls apart? It they're eating like jellyfish and pyrite, and then go back to the biologist here on what do our turtles value?

Moiya:

Yeah. Like what, what are their biological needs?

Mika:

What are their needs and we'll figure out which of those is scarce?

Thea:

I don't know that soil is necessarily essential because there are plants that don't require soil. They're less common... but like air plants.

Mika:

I'm just like, everything is inside reach for me right now.

Andrea:

Yeah, what could have been magical world are you living in I can't reach anything.

Mika:

I'm pretty much like Mary Poppins. I just, I have a bag of holding that's just outside the screen limits. I just kind of keep reaching and things show up.

Andrea:

Do our turtles need a giant fake painting that I bought on the internet four years ago? Because I have that to show off.

Moiya:

Yeah, great.

Mika:

How do our turtles perceive things? Like are they primarily light or do they do like water pressure sort of things like what are their primary senses so we understand what their art looks like?

Thea:

So, they don't have like ears, per se, but they can sense like vibrations. They have eyes, obviously. I believe smell is pretty important, so aromas,?

Moiya:

Even underwater? Does smell carry that well underwater?

Mika:

They're particles. So it's just a different thing happening. But so how do they hunt for jellyfish? How do they know where the jellyfish are?

Thea:

I don't actually study sea turtles. Maybe they just kind of follow the currents?

Mika:

So all this volcanic activity is going to do some really weird things to currents as well, right because you have all these heat spots, literal hotspots. So two primary types of volcanism you can have tectonic plates pull apart, move side to side, or come together and if they come together, and they're both continental plates that crash up and you get the Himalayas, but if one is oceanic, or both or oceanic, the cooler denser plate will go underneath the ocean plate or the older ocean plate if you've got two of them together and that plate going underneath melts, and feeds the volcanism on top. The other type of volcanism we can get as you like a hotspot, think of it like a candle inside the mantle, and the plate going on top produces a series of volcanoes and that'd be like Hawaii. So the Emperor Hawaii chain is the Emperor is the oldest if now dormant volcanoes and that the plate has pulled across and now the most active volcanoes are on the youngest island. So you could have the wealthiest people living on the oldest Island, where there's no longer active volcanism. And then if you are on the lowest of your social class, then you're going to be in the most hazardous location, which is the biggest, youngest Island.

Moiya:

I like this. I mean I hate this, but yeah, it makes sense.

Andrea:

I hate it too. We're getting to a very like current day climate change situation where the wealthy are in positions where they tend not to be affected directly by this.

Moiya:

Yeah. But we still haven't decided what would make a person wealthy? What resources would they have amassed?

Andrea:

I have a question. Globally, so there's going to be the occasional big volcano that if I'm remembering correctly, that kind of messes up the atmosphere for everyone. But most of the eruptions are going to be these localized ones. And so there'll be periods where on other parts of the globe, people are relatively unscathed, right, as long as they're more localized. Does that mean it's possible that say, there could be an area of this globe that could go hundreds of years without any kind of disruption? I don't know how active these volcanoes are.

Mika:

So right now there's about 40 erupting volcanoes somewhere on the planet right now.

Moiya:

Actively right now?

Mika:

is our famous eruption in the:

Moiya:

That brings up a really interesting point, when you're world building, it's important to talk about the roles that will be common in society. And so I imagine that, especially because we still haven't solved this problem of how do you get powerful? How do you get wealthy? I can imagine a situation where the most powerful, the wealthiest people are those who have developed technology, or like the ability somehow to detect and predict very accurately these volcanoes. And so not only can they move to parts of the world that are going to be safe, so they can keep all of their resources, but they can also make money.

Andrea:

It's this private jet elite crowd that also influences policy makes predictions, and as we we're talking about all of this, I know almost nothing about religion. But I become ... curious about whether or not the species would develop some kind of maybe before science idea alongside science way of predicting or saying whether or not you know, volcano eruption happens for a reason. We started having like prayers to volcano gods. Or you start telling narratives and more like what you were saying with the powerful where you say, "well, if the volcano erupts, it's a sign that they're not happy with how you're living your life." We've seen humans do that other humans.

Moiya:

Oh, absolutely. Yeah, they would have some amazingly bonkers myths on this planet.

Andrea:

Yeah. Yeah. Including a whole subculture and market of things to protect you against volcanoes that don't actually do anything and all kinds of other things.

Moiya:

Yes.

Mika:

So we've got three ways ways of telling that a volcano is not just like doing its thing, but is probably going to erupt soon. We can't do like a it's going to happen on this time in this day in this location. We can be like "the odds are high, stay away". What we do is we have tilt meters, which are literally little ballast points and we wait for them to move because if you've got a magma coming up and rising close to the surface getting ready to erupt, it like creates bulges in the volcano. You've got that then remember how you said before about how you have the seismics? This is a seismometer.

Andrea:

What in your room? That's amazing!

Mika:

So this is a raspberry shake. It's a little at home Arduino driven seismometer, right there is a little accelerometer that detects whether or not you've got vibration happening. And then we've also got in here is an air intake to do infrasound monitoring. So to tell whether or not you've got like a faraway eruption would create like a sonic boom that would come through. You could also use it to measure if there's a nuclear test. Somebody's throwing up bombs and then the final would be doing the chemistry sampling. So those would be the primary ways you'd be able to, like actively monitor your volcanoes and be like, "it is time to get out of dodge". I'm also going to suggest the equivalent of the pre strobes on this planet, which is in Canada, geoscientists and engineers go through a ceremony during which we give our ethical vows. Say we're going to do our best to like stay in our lane do what we're good at. Capable of that we won't hurt others, all of that. And then we get a little Earth ring at the end. And this has crossed wrong hairs and a seismic signal on it. Because I'm a geophysicist, so that is that I got married to my job.

Moiya:

I want that so much.

Andrea:

I want one.

Mika:

I think you will have an equivalent of that for if you're volcanologist. Do your forecast and you take your vows that you will be accurate and complete in your information. Maybe there is no do no harm clause because clearly you can buy access to power and early warnings. But having some sort of similar method is based on the like the seismic wave, would be a pretty cool symbol for when the volcanologists reigns supreme.

Moiya:

I am currently so mad that as an astrophysicist, I don't have to take any sort of vows like a geophysicist or a doctor. Like I want a vow ceremony. This is amazing, but I would like to move on a little bit.

Andrea:

We're not going to develop the vows now?

Moiya:

We can so easily get bogged down into this, but I want to keep it expansive. So Thea, something that I would love to talk more about is ideals of beauty. And here on Earth, at least on average, when you get to the core of beauty norms, a lot of it has to do with things that are honest signals of reproductive fitness. Things like waist to hip ratios or having like healthy skin and hair or whatever so do you have any ideas for what would be like good beauty standards here?

Thea:

So this is like the whole field of sexual selection in biology. This is why we see oftentimes these fabulous displays of birds. Ah, so I'm thinking like masons were saying this pyrite is so important for building their protective shell. If you have like some way of like more effectively incorporating pyrite from like, when you consume it to how you can efficiently get it to your armor. I'm thinking of more sparkly and golden you are, that would probably be a really important standard of beauty. Yeah, and maybe since dispersals probably going to be important because we have to get away efficiently from these like eruptions. Anything that would suggest that you're like, big strong swimmer. So well developed flippers will probably also be really important,

Andrea:

They sound like beautiful creatures I have to say very into whatever we're describing.

Mika:

So along with pyrite you can also get arsenopyrite, which is arsenic in pyrite. And otherwise it's structurally exactly the same, but it's silver instead of gold. And you'd also get that at like your deep sea vents where you've got more toxic minerals. So you could have some differentiation of are you more gold or more silver of do you have access to like, gentle or nicer, less deadly volcanoes or the nasty ones but you're more likely to survive the really nasty ones. So you kind of have like the, "Are you an elegant and high class turtle? Or are you like, a working force tough turtle?"

Andrea:

I'm getting so nervous about this distinction. I'm very uncomfortable. Yeah, well, and it's one of those where it's like, you know, once you get into there's a lot of conversations in political science about what makes for a peaceful society and it's I'm gonna really botch this whole literature but it's sort of like it's very easy to have a society that's very peaceful it's very homogeneous. So a place like Norway where one kind of looks the same for the most part, right? Places where there's like one or two major divides, whether it's over religions or ethnicity or whatever. That tends to be rough like one against the other and then if you get to a world where there's a lot of different varieties you don't really get those unless they form Coalition's you don't really get those like same kinds of like cleavages that can be really problematic. So are there other ways, hopefully that we can... These turtles, like are there bronze, and is there you know, or neon, like or bioluminescence? Like if we can have more diversity? Yeah, that would actually make me feel better, if that makes sense.

Mika:

We could have like there'd be three main regions where inside those regions, you'd have the same basic materials. You've got your ridges threading areas where everything is kind of calm and gentle, and you have like access to pretty much straight up mantle sampling of what the inside of the plant looks like you've got the the silt coverage, explosive volcanoes, the most dangerous ones. You've got your nice little gentle ocean ones and those are going to be three very very distinct regions and then you could have hot spots like hot springs or vents happening anywhere we get the really really exotic minerals.

Moiya:

By exotic minerals, do you mean they can lead to like gems like rubies and sapphires?

Mika:

The way we get diamonds in the first place is because of kimberlite pipes which are like really fast, giant volcanic eruptions. They're like an expressway from the depths to the surface and we've never had a kimberlite expression, eruption in human history. Because we're very, very, very lucky so far.

Andrea:

One more thing to worry about.

Mika:

Okay. Here are 100 million years, so hopefully we'll never experience a kimberlite eruption. But if we do, um, it's just like a sudden deep mental showing up in the surface inside of a very short period of time ... with diamonds, everything else is a deep mental fun and joy.

Moiya:

We have the gold turtles, the silver turtles and the diamond turtles. That's great. I want to ask one last question because our hour is almost up. Andrea, you're a comedian.

Andrea:

Oh boy, not right now though, I'm just like deep in thoughts about lava lakes so it's all misery from here on out. Go ahead.

Moiya:

Yeah. Before Mika ruined you psychologically and emotionally. I would love us to we're just really grossly generalize and stereotype right now. What would the overall sense of humor for these turtle people be like, if they are living under these conditions, would it be like a very dark sense of humor? A dry sense of humor? Like, what? Come up with a joke?

Andrea:

Yeah, it would definitely be dark. I don't know that I can come up with punch lines, but I can get you two premises which you know, everyone knows that the hard part of these. So, I could imagine a lot of at least memes if there's a version of you know, short transmissions that maybe evaporates but not too heavy. I don't know if they have Internet, but that would be resolving of some of the issues of carrying information whether they're just like oh, you know, "this ash cloud's got me like...", and then like funny faces of turtles like being depressed. There'd be a lot of like push for self care, I think where you're polishing your rubies and your diamonds and your whatever your gold on your back. And so you can easily have a lot of comedy making fun of people who are really indulgent. And so there, I would see a lot of that. And you know, there's going to be this underground comedy or underwater comedy scene, where they're really making fun of turtles of other kinds of colors. You know, like, people who are gold and maybe super reflective like, "oh gold person comes into the party like you can't see what they're doing". I feel like it would be very cruel and very dark, unfortunately.

Moiya:

All right.

Mika:

They'd also have to have something incorporating that you could at any point in time accidentally go into a topographic low and end up in one of those poison ponds or like no oxygen areas or whatever else and suffocate and die. All you got to do is take a wrong route head downhill death.

Andrea:

So a lot of suicide, I think. Probably not a lot of like political jokes just because everyone's so spread out. So it's going to be more about you know, universal experiences related to volcanoes I would say.

Mika:

Poor navigation would get you killed. A whole thing about like, "I have such a bad sense of navigation. I went down the hill and suffocated", which is clearly a terrible punchline.

Andrea:

You know, or some jokes about you know, trying to get jellyfish you know and smelling underwater. This is clearly you know a lot of material right there. I don't spoil it by delivering amazing punchlines. I'll let the viewer think of some jellyfish smell related comedy.

Moiya:

Yeah, Thea, what were you saying?

Thea:

Oh, I was envisioning like some sort of jokes with regards to intelligence and like those lava pools you said and like, you weren't smart enough to avoid the lava.

Mika:

Yes, they sink in the lava pool. Ah, so nobody knows how to die in lava. And all of our movies we showed up like you hit lava, like in The Lord of the Rings, you hit lava and then you sink in and disappear. Or in like, Star Wars that happens. Except for people are substantially less dense than rocks. We float on rocks all the time by like walking around on them. This doesn't change just because the rock is molten. We still are floating we're mostly water, not rock, so "so dense that you'd sink into the lava pool."

Moiya:

I love that

Andrea:

What's the deal with lava pools?

Moiya:

Imagine a Jerry Seinfeld turtle creature on this planet.

Thea:

Would these lava pools then become defense mechanisms or defenses around like the wealthy people houses?

Mika:

Could you harness lava, that's like a whole big thing. So Iceland is the only place to successfully do this. Um, there's a lot of movies about trying to like harness and direct where lava is gonna go by like spraying water at it or whatever else and trying to redirect it. But for the most part, lava just does what it's going to do. So you would have to build your community around the lava instead of the lava around it, which always has the hard bit of what if the lava turns next time? Which is what we see in Hawaii with like the golf courses that got taken out during the last set of eruptions.

Moiya:

But you can also imagine that because this is so integral to their lives, that they spend a lot a lot of time and energy, trying to develop technology to deal with lava. And so maybe we don't have the ability to control it, but maybe they have just worked on it so much that they have developed this technology.

Mika:

So the rounded volcanoes will do the slow, gentle lava flow that you can walk away from, but they happen more often. Whereas the pyramid volcanoes, the pointy ones have more violent eruptions that happen a lot less frequently. So you've got those very different risk approaches as Hawaii versus Pacific Northwest on this. And in the Hawaiian culture concept of lava is going to do what it's going to do when you have to expect that every now and then the volcano is going to take away your land and that's just the way it is. As opposed to the Haida Gwaii culture, which is one of the First Nations tribes up in Canada, is a lot less accepting of our volcanoes. Instead has a more confrontational relationship with our eruptions, like there's still stories about it and there's still like this acknowledgment of it's gonna win but it's more of a fight than an operation.

Andrea:

And I imagine that would play out absolutely in terms of whatever broader, cultural, social, political environment builds up which is one where the world will happen to us and we'll do the best we can do like a much more laissez faire versus you know, authoritarian grip on like, we can overcome and control the earth, or this planet. Does this planet have a name?

Moiya:

No, we can come up with it now. What do you think?

Andrea:

I like something about like the vulcanus leaders or something. So I mean, it's um, uncreative. But like Vulcanesque somewhere in the name would be good.

Moiya:

Yeah.

Andrea:

But maybe too on the nose. I don't know.

Moiya:

I don't want to step on the toes of the Star Trek franchise. Well, maybe the people who watch this video can come up with their own, and a legal name for this planet. That won't get me sued. But we're almost at the end of the hour and I'd like the watchers of this video to be able to find more about you. So, Andrea, if people want to learn more about you where can they do that?

Andrea:

Sure. I am unfortunately all over the internet. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @jonesrooy and my website jonesrooy.com/AAPS is where you can find out about "Ask A Political Scientist".

Moiya:

Cool, great! Mika, what about you?

Mika:

I too am pretty much everywhere under the handle @mikamckinnon. Doing a lot of things about either disasters or licking rocks. Got to have some taste test happening for all these rocks.

Moiya:

What's your favorite rock to lick and a rock that you just should never lick?

Mika:

I am particularly fond of licking silvite. So you've actually probably had this. Halite would be table salt. Silvite is the same structure, but instead of sodium chloride, it's potassium chloride. And if you've ever had low sodium salt, that's actually 50-50 halite and silvite. So silvite has a very sour, almost bitter taste to it. I love it. And a rock you should never ever ever lick is cinnabar which is bright red. If you've seen those beautiful bright red carved vases from like, various Chinese dynasties. Yeah, that's like mercury, and carving them was pretty much a death sentence. Oh, all those artisans died early.

Andrea:

I have so many vases I have to get rid of after this.

Mika:

Current ones are mostly made of plastic.

Moiya:

I love that I asked that question and you immediately had an answer. I don't think I've ever met anyone else who I could say that about. Thank you for that. Thea, what about you? Where can people find you?

Thea:

You can find me on Twitter @theagessler. That is, probably the best place to find me.

Moiya:

Cool, and what do you have going on in life right now aside from you know, everything? What are you working on? Ah.

Thea:

Grad school

Andrea:

Godspeed

Thea:

Most of my tweets are just like grad school related tweets right now.

Moiya:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, same. I wish you luck in your grad school journey.

Thea:

Thank you.

Andrea:

We didn't even talk about grad school for these turtles. It's probably for the best. Maybe they'll abolish grad school and spare us all.

Moiya:

Maybe on this planet, you know how people here want their kids to be like doctors and lawyers and bankers. Everyone wants their kid to get a PhD in vulcanology.

Andrea:

And get that sweet ring.

Mika:

You just have to do all of your inversion mathematics and like, chemistry differentiation. It's okay. Like your tool is going to be a spiky hammer. I wish my rock hammer was inside of reach, finally something that something is not. It's actually on the closet, so I can get it inside of about 30 seconds. But having the hammer and like be able to scoop the lava and fling it into a bucket and be like that fling technique is all about, do you have a good way of extracting that fresh lava for study?

Moiya:

Mika, how's your fling technique?

Mika:

Not very good.

Moiya:

Okay. You work on that.

Mika:

I am much better with landslides, primarily because I study them after they happen thus there is a very small chance of tripping and falling into the landslide and having sudden death.

Moiya:

We don't want that.

Mika:

Yeah, I am not a graceful enough walker to spend time near volcanoes. My feet are not that cooperative.

Moiya:

Got it. All right. Well, any last thoughts before we end this call?

Andrea:

I think I would like to at least visit this planet. I don't know if I'm ready to live there. But I am intrigued by what was developed.

Moiya:

Right? Yeah. Would anyone else want to visit it?

Mika:

I'm gonna say, I don't want to be that close to any volcano. Like they just, they have this unnerving habit of doing things like burping and hurling rocks and like killing entire field trips of volcanologists, and I really don't want to shorten my life expectancy. So I'll observe from orbit, with a lot of photos.

Moiya:

Cool. Yeah, I think I'm probably in the same boat. So we've just built a world that I don't want to go to. Yeah, but I would definitely want to see some stories. See some art that is set in this world. So if any of you are artistically inclined, I would love to see what you create. Yeah, I think that's it. I'm gonna end the recording now. Thanks so much for being on the show.

In case you couldn't tell, I had a really great time doing that discussion, and I now know enough about volcanoes to know that I definitely don't want to live anywhere near one. So since going into quarantine because of Coronavirus, I have found it really difficult to stay motivated to do my work. So I've been reading like crazy, you know all of those fantasy books that had been in my "to be read" pile for months. The problem though is that I went through those books way too fast and now I don't have any new ones to read. And it's not like I can just go into a bookstore to get more. So I've been relying really heavily on my knowledge of fictional world building to keep myself entertained. And if you are anything like me and you have burned through all of your books, and you'd like to start imagining your own fictional worlds, definitely feel free to do art to write stories to draw pictures about the worlds that you see created in these Exolore videos. But if you're interested in learning more about the process and learning how to create your own fictional worlds, I just released a video called "World Building 101", where I teach you the basics of my process in facts based world building so check that out. And yeah share any type of art that you create about this volcano world using the hashtag Exolore and I'll see you next time on a different world.

Show artwork for Exolore: facts-based fictional worldbuilding

About the Podcast

Exolore: facts-based fictional worldbuilding
Have you ever wondered what life would be like on a planet different from our own, or how writers create your favorite fictional worlds? Well, wonder no more because we have the facts for you! Every other week, astrophysicist/folklorist Moiya McTier explores fictional worlds by building them with a panel of expert guests, interviewing professional worldbuilders, or reviewing the merits of worlds that have already been built. You'll learn, you'll laugh, and you'll gain an appreciation for how special our planet really is.
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