Okay so in the novel I am writing there’s a Third World War fought by the nations of earth against a human space empire (I am overly simplifying this ) . Now the thing is the empire uses transhuman supersoliders as their main fighting force but as the war drags on and becomes a stalemate the space humans use orbital bombardment among other means to make every supervolcano on earth erupt at the same time unleashing devestating amounts of volcanic ash .

Now part of the reason behind this is that their troops are modified to be able to breath in such conditions without the need for breathing equipment. My question is what kind of modifications would they need to safely breath in volcanic ash or at least some of its more dangerous components like sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide?

  • $\begingroup$ When you say 'modifications' do you mean bionic (which would be a sort of breathing apparatus), or do you mean biological, perhaps evolved through natural selection? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 2, 2018 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ Both. The super soliders are at grown embryos who are genetically modified and then upgraded bionically where gene mods aren’t enough for a paticular ability $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 2, 2018 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ Volcanic ash means volcanic gas has likely reached significant percentages of the atmosphere, at least in some places. This greatly reduces the amount of oxygen in the air. No filtration device, whether part of the lungs or external, can fix that. You need to either bring in more oxygen (even with current tech, O2 concentrators are portable) or adapt the body to function with less oxygen. $\endgroup$
    – Cyn
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 7:11

2 Answers 2


The gases are much less of a problem than particulates. You could easily imagine drugs (or evolved adaptations) to make people less vulnerable to carbon monoxide, by increasing the oxygen capacity of their blood or by breaking down the carbon monoxide before it gets to the bloodstream.

But humans have absolutely no way of removing insoluble solid particles from our lungs. It's actually something people aren't sufficiently aware of in real life – any kind of fine airborne dust does permanent, cumulative damage to your lungs. Without radically changing the structure of our lungs, the solution is to beef up the limited defenses we already have to prevent the dust getting in there in the first place (nostril hairs and cilia in the respiratory tract). You basically need HEPA filters in your nostrils (and the stronger lungs and bigger airways to be able to breathe through them).

That kind of filter is very difficult to keep clean. We secrete mucus to bind the particulates trapped by our cilia, and then eject the mucus, but this only works for very small amounts of particulates. To live constantly inside an ash cloud, you'd probably need to make far more mucus than people with cystic fibrosis do (and that's already enough to cause serious breathing problems).

The simpler solution used in HVAC systems is to just replace the whole filter as needed. Perhaps your modified soldiers have a cavity where they just plug in replaceable filters, or perhaps they are able to eject and regrow the filters themselves. Like having a big sea sponge living inside your sinuses.

As I say, this would probably mean that their noses and sinus cavities would have to be much bigger – like snouts – and they would need stronger lung muscles (diaphragm and intercostals), which I guess would make them more barrel-chested.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ That is something I overlooked. I a considering either doing what you said and giving them stronger lungs or outright giving them an extra pair of modified ones designed for these situations. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 2, 2018 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, now that you mention it, perhaps they could have replaceable, disposable lungs... $\endgroup$
    – bobtato
    Commented Dec 2, 2018 at 17:02
  • $\begingroup$ I thought lungs had mucus that trapped particulates, and was then caught up $\endgroup$
    – Andrey
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 21:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Andrey I'm not a doctor, but as I understand it, there are mucous membranes in the branching tubes that feed the lungs (bronchioles), but not in the spongy part of the lung itself (the alveoli). Your airways produce mucus routinely to keep themselves clean, but if significant amounts of mucus or other fluids get into the alveoli, it prevents your lungs working and you get pneumonia. $\endgroup$
    – bobtato
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 10:16

Nose hair. And lots of it.

nose hair guy


Your transhuman soldiers have tranhumanamazing nose hair. The copious tangled hair is fortified with greasy mucus that serves to make each hair a flypaper like trap for particulates. The mucus stream helps keep the hair from clogging up because fresh mucus enters from the rear and makes its way down through the hair wad, pushing forward and out old particulate-laden mucus. The hairs too grow very quickly, spent and dirty hairs falling down in abundance as new growth presses forward from behind.

This is actually exactly how human nose hairs work. I have scaled it up for your solders, because of their need and because they are transhumans.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .