The current topic challenge is , so I figured I might as well come up with a question about surviving one.

A man named Noah somehow learns that there will be a large flood within one year, which will cover most of the world. He also learns that it is - for some reason - his task to load one male and one female of each species of animal in the world onto an ark, within which they shall ride out the flood.

Realizing that there exists an uncountable number of species on the planet, he take a shortcut and chooses a select few, which, by a staggering coincidence, just so happen to represent every species contained in the Bronx Zoo.

Noah sets to work designing this ark. He understands that he's dealing with a complex web of animal interactions. He has to keep all the animals alive (i.e. stop them from killing each other) for a long period of time, and he has to keep them healthy (i.e. able to reproduce at the end).

He doesn't want to cram all the animals into stalls, which would be the easy way out. Animals need to run free once in a while, so they need to be in a place similar to their natural habitat. He therefore decides to replicate the nine biomes of the world, as given in the Walter system. Animals will be placed into one of these biomes.

Can Noah recreate all nine biomes on board his ark?

I should add that, to make things feasible, Noah has a net worth of ten billion U.S. dollars and all of today's technology. He needs to keep this whole thing quiet, so the only people working on it will be him, his wife, and his ten sons and daughters.

  • $\begingroup$ It's not your question, but since it's just for 40 days, so can't even the largest be fit into a 12m x 2m x 2m standard shipping container equipped with access, utilities, and ventilation (or aquariums / terrariums for the smaller guys)? This would make Mr. Noah's ship more feasible. $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Commented May 31, 2015 at 20:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Mikey If nothing else is possible, then sure. I had envisioned animals intermingling in a larger communal space, but if that won't be possible, your idea is just fine. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Commented May 31, 2015 at 20:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If he has access to all today's technology, why not just help the Frozen Ark project instead of saving a pitiful fraction of terrestrial life? $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented May 31, 2015 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre Secrecy is necessary, so that Noah and his family are the only people who know of this. And the reason that they can't simply replicate that is . . . that I'm trying to stick as closely to the story as possible. Some bits aren't too sensible. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Commented May 31, 2015 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ Do the animals have to be awake for the duration of the trip? You might want to heavily sedate some of the bigger predators. $\endgroup$ Commented May 31, 2015 at 23:26

3 Answers 3


OMG fun question! And based on your comment, I can put them in shipping containers (does that sound cruel?).

Float the Bronx Zoo. We can speculate that the visitor attractions, access, and exhibitions can be eliminated, but utilities have to be inserted onto the Ark. It will need access to electricity, water, stormwater drainage (a must), and wastewater.

If Noah is smart and can create a ship that is multi-leveled, he can follow the example of the Maersk Class container ships. Afterall, it is only for 40 days that the animals must be contained. There are 650 species (x2 genders), meaning 1300 animals. Not too difficult.

Many, such as the world of birds exhibit can be kept together, while others are separated. But you don't need a full savannah for an elephant couple for just 40 days. The largest enclosure can be one shipping container, while the smallest will be terrariums or aquariums (do we really need to provide for the salt-water fish?).

So let's do 300 large containers, an aviary, and a room for 300 small-animals. This includes some separations since obviously not all genders go together at all times unless they're mating.

We can easily fit this selection of the largest containers onto a container ship, as well as your reptile, bird, bug, etc. rooms. In fact, the Flextowe can hold 19,000 making heaps of space for you to add your accessories.

In an Urban Planning masterplan (I know it's a different science, but..) we allow for 15% for utility production, distribution, and access. You will want to shy away from solar, but wind and generators should be fine. A power/desal-water station takes about 1ha of space, which, even with weight is nothing for your mighty Flextowe. Fuel for 40 days is dependent on your location, but a good rule of thumb for a home (x20 homes?) is 10kWh. Tiny little primary substation. We don't really need huge spaces for cars, so, while I can't do the math-thingy's:

300++ containers (11m x 2m x 2m) = 16,000m3

+15% for access, ventilation, utilities = 18,400m3

This easily fits on the Felixtowe with lots of space to spare. This is where you can set your wind turbines, generators, water storage (I suggest rainwater collection...) and even Noah's house, as you like.

Concern 1: Employment - 40 rainy days of feeding, mucking, healthcare, etc. requires way more than a family. I can't find statistics that separate researchers from day-to-day employees, nor from public-interface employees, but I suspect it's still a lot of people. Next you need help loading, unloading, and distributing the animals.

Concern 2: Sex - Two animals of a different gender might not engage in sex ever. Not just gay animals, but simply animals that are picky.

Concern 3: Return - Noah left at one point, and then presumably landed on Mt Sainai. So... how should he and his family separate the lions from the gazelles way up there. And who is handling the Butterfly Garden or the Bug exhibit?

  • $\begingroup$ AD Concern 2: 2 is well below minimal viable population (50/500 rule and some scientist consider this to be underestimation). $\endgroup$ Commented May 31, 2015 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ I seriously doubt that the Bronx Zoo is self-sustaining; most probably there is a constant influx of food (and likewise, a constant removal of waste, but that is less of an issue) and of people (caretakers, vets, etc.). Also, some animals just don't fit in containers (elephants, jiraffes) and most big mammals will be seriously constrained in a 13,7x2,4 space $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Commented May 31, 2015 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ Yep, that's why I added a generous 15%. But an elephant (which I hate to think about) can and will survive in that space for 40 days if serviced and cleaned. As well as primates: even a human could, if floodwaters necessitated. $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Commented May 31, 2015 at 21:44
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    $\begingroup$ Concern #4: what are you feeding the lions? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 21:18

His wife, sons and daughters must be fantastic structural, electrical and mechanical engineers, since you are essentially asking to recreate "Biosphere 2" in floating form. The time needed to build such a structure will be longer than the one year you suggest, even if it is within the monetary parameters.

From Wikipedia:

"Biosphere 2 was originally constructed between 1987 and 1991 by Space Biosphere Ventures, a joint venture whose principal officers were John P. Allen, inventor and Executive Director, and Margret Augustine, CEO. Project funding came primarily from the joint venture's financial partner, Ed Bass's Decisions Investment. The project cost US$200 million from 1985 to 2007"

Biosphere 2 never succeeded in its mission to replicate self contained ecosystems (needing to have air and consumables injected into the closed system so the experimenters within could survive), but a ship would not have quite as many issues, since it could at least be open to the atmosphere and take aboard fresh water (via the ship's condensers).

The ark would also be the largest "ship" or floating platform ever attempted, since (using Biosphere 2 as the template) it would cover an area of 1.27 hectare, so depending on the physical layout, would be larger than most aircraft carriers and container cargo ships. As an interesting side note, super sized aircraft carriers were suggested in WWII, built out of ice reinforced with wood pulp (Project Habakkuk). These would be large enough to launch 4 engined bombers on missions to Germany, so your Noah might consider creating a massive artificial iceberg to house the biomes. While the ice aircraft carrier was never built, a test article was floated in Canada, and took 3 years to melt. The Mythbusters also had an entertaining episode where they built a speedboat out of newspaper reinforced ice, which also worked for a while.

Short answer is an Ark as you describe may be possible, but will be such a large and involved project that it could hardly remain a secret, both because of the large and specialized work force needed to build such a thing, and the sheer physical size of the ark (anyone would be able to find it using Google Earth, if they hadn't noticed the massive artificial iceberg growing in New York harbour).


The Answer:

No, because:

  1. biomes are really complicate: bacteria, climate, plants, a hierarchy of predation,
  2. Minimum viable population (a lower bound on the population of a species, such that it can survive in the wild) is a hell of a lot larger than "two", and
  3. a world-wide flood is impossible (not only "where does all the water come from?", but "where does it do?).

Where might all the water come from?

Melting all the Antarctic and Greenland ice in one year would get noticed by a lot of people, and would cause a lot of other problems.

Where might all the water go afterwards?

Refreezing Antarctica and Greenland that quickly would also be impossible, but the water would also have to get there in the first place.


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