Okay, I will make a little premise/context to give the question a decent background. I know that the scenario could look rather "handwavy", but take it as the framework on which the answer should be given (I will elaborate more on the causes, but this is not necessary inside this post).

Oceans and seas have become higly corrosive. This seems to affect almost every metal, plastic, organic and biological compounds but seems to arbitrarily spare some minerals and hydrocarbons to certain degrees (i.e. no dissolution of the oceanic floor), nothing - however - that could be shaped effectively for practical uses. As a result, 99% of the sea life died and boat travels are no more feasible due to the short duration of the hulls. For unknown reasons, fresh water is not affected, nor it is rain (lakes, rivers, glaciers "work" as usual).

So, how would this affect our world? I have thought of several things:

  • The complete lack of fish / sea food would cause problems for all those regions which consistently live on fish (see list of most important fish-exporting countries and this page which pretty sums up a FAO report).
  • Travels between continents would only be feasible by airplane; also, all the goods which are usually transported by cargo ships would have to be moved by airplane - or not to be moved at all, since if we consider only Europe and only short range transportations, we are talking about more than 1.5 billion tonnes of stuff.
  • Submarine cables would be destroyed, cutting most of communications (see this map just to have an idea -> the only alternative would be satellite communications or radio waves.
  • Oil extraction platforms would collapse and couldn't be used anymore, thus reducing oil extraction by approximately 30% and force the use of other resources or extraction sites.
  • People from small islands without or with only one airport per several islands (e.g. Fær Øer islands) should be evacuated, since they would not be able to get by in any other way.
  • Sea/oceanic water couldn't be used anymore as a coolant for thermal power plants.
  • Economic crisis for most sea/ocean turistic places.
  • Seaside cities would be mostly abandoned or "moved back" to the inland.
  • Sea birds would either die of starvation or massively change their diet / habitat.
  • Last but not the least, oxygen production would drop due to the disappearance of almost all phytoplankton (50 to 85% of the total oxygen produced by our own world). Since this would be pretty world-ending, either assume that the population of phytoplankton decreases enough to cause "massive human casualties" but not enough to completely wipe out the world population (yes, this is contrast with the opening, but a "everyone dies" answer is not exactly constructive - so let's handwave it a bit more :P) or that we have some other ways of supplying a decent quantity of oxygen to the atmosphere - which one you prefer.

Quite a bunch of stuff, huh? But I still feel like I am missing something. So, now the question:

Aside from the points listed, what would be the major effects of the described scenario on a contemporary/near-future-like world?

If the question is too broad, I will try to stretch it to the bones :D

N. B. This is not a question on the feasibility of the scenario, this is a question on the consequences of such scenario ;)

EDIT: since it looks like my last bullet point would have killed everyone on the planet just by itself, I have edited it ^_^

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ It would take care of the Pacific Trash Vortex. Every cloud... $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 21:23
  • $\begingroup$ Does this happen overnight, or over a period of years/decades? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 21:25
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure how to make an answer more complicated than "Everyone dies of oxygen deprivation. The end". I mean, it's even covered in your bullet points. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 21:43
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Not really an answer to the question, but anyway: The sea is massively corruptive. Have you ever seen how much work needs to be done on ships to prevent corrosion? A simple screwdriver can be completelly rusty within a few days only if lying in the salty air. $\endgroup$
    – PMF
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 8:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn . the gas it gives off will also kill anything even near the shore. Not to mention the sudden global acid rain problem because the vapor point of HF is lower than water. anything you do to the whole ocean wrecks the rest of the planet too. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Jul 13, 2023 at 15:00

4 Answers 4


Here are some more points. Note that some of them are consequences of the point given in the question.

From an economics point of view :

  • Trans-Siberian railway got a second youth, since it suddenly become the most practical way to transport the many products from China to Europe.
  • Europe become very dependant on Russia for food and petrol, since importation from Africa, South America and Arabia are drastically reduced.
  • USA becomes isolated and lost access to the very important markets of China, India, Europe and Russia.
  • The rise in the need for petrol (due to air planes being more used) speed up the use of the remaining petrol reserves.
  • Economic crisis for most of the world, since most countries heavily relies on exportations and importations overseas.

From a military point of view :

  • Military operations overseas (e.g. war in Afghanistan and in Middle East) from Western countries become very hard and their doctrine about sea supremacy becomes obsolete, forcing them to heavily reconsider their strategies.
  • Ships and submarines carrying nuclear engine or warheads are destroyed with unknown consequences due to the nuclear material they were carrying.
  • Corroding sea water is studied for its military applications.

Migration point of view :

  • European union is happy, because migrants can no longer cross the Mediterranean sea.

Polar point of view :

  • North pole either dissolve, giving birth (for a time) to giant iceberg deriving in the oceans, or do not dissolve and become seen as a possible way to rely the American continent to the rest of the world.

Disaster point of view :

  • Country (e.g. United Arab Emirate and Israel to a certain extend) relying on sea water desalination to get water are doomed.
  • Nobody wants to accept people who need to be evacuated from islands, and their are doomed.
  • $\begingroup$ Some pretty neat points, indeed. Would this end up in most of the arabian paeninsula being abandoned and/or in a sort of new cold war (since Russia would probably gain a monopolistic position in Eurasia and USA would have several problems as you pointed out)? :D $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 22:43
  • $\begingroup$ Ships and submarines [...] unknown consequences due to the nuclear material they were carrying. - - - The nuclear material will just corrode and sink to the bottom of the ocean harmlessly. Water is a great radiation insulator and the material won't explode or go into critical mass. At most it will contaminate the (dead) water to some extent, and create some vapor. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ North pole either dissolve - OP states that freshwater, including glaciers, remain as usual. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 19:42

Planet Earth is going to smell really really bad. Depending on where the corrosion stops in breaking down sea life, the oceans are going to get really stinky, really quickly. As those aromatic compounds "boil off", the winds will carry them over the land and the attendant stench will be fantastic. It will be very clear to any human survivors that the oceans have died.

  • $\begingroup$ Honestly, I have never thought about this possibility, but - yes - you are completely right ^^. I have a question: since at one point there is nothing more to corrode, will the smell reduce over time? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 7:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AndreaJens, possibly if there's enough life to metabolize the stink. The volume of aerosols generated by the dying ocean is larger than I can guess at. I don't understand how smells break down in the atmosphere or how long it takes. I'm guessing, but yes, I think it might degrade over time. $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 11:11

Corrosive Atmosphere
I'm adding this despite the question having an accepted answer as this would be an important addendum.

You can't have just one but not the other. If the oceans are massively corrosive, a good portion of that material is going to transfer to the air. If it's CO2, then that's going to raise the CO2 content of the atmosphere substantially higher than fossil fuel burning would. We're going to look like Venus in a hurry.

If it's something else like sulfur dioxide (sulfuric acid) or hydrogen chloride (hydrochloric acid) the that's going to leach into the atmosphere and soak into our very moist lung tissue and get busy burning the heck out of our lungs.

Think being downwind of a volcano that's belching gas like crazy. If you've ever visited the Big Island volcanos, you have the beginnings of an idea of just how nasty it can get. But there's no getting away from this issue. It's going to burn pretty much all breathing life forms to death in short order. Masks and breathing apparatus will save you for a bit. But eventually those air supplies will run out.

We'll also be down to primitive forms of life pretty quickly as vegetation won't be able to take massively lowered soil pH for very long either. Remember the pictures showing the effects of acid rain on forests? This will be much worse.

With the collapse of a good portion of the biosphere, the remaining parts won't last long either. The sunsets will be pretty though.


Pretty much on track for happening now, but not quite as bad.

They're predicting the end of coral reefs, and most things that have shells. Massive re-organization of sea-life. Elimination of a lot of foodstuffs, even if we weren't already over-fishing.

Higher CO2 leads to ocean acidification.

Increased sea-levels and as the ocean heats up it expands - nevermind the melting of ice, decreasing salinization, destruction of oceanic conveyor belt, disruption of sea-currents, and general pollution. Ocean has kicked over, and we cannot stop it. This will result in more, and more violent, storms as warmer oceans put more water into the atmosphere.



Etc, etc.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer, but I think this lacks something... that is, I was not interested in the causes, but rather in the effects for society in general if the oceans were already higly corrosive. Can you expand it a little bit? :D $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 12:44
  • $\begingroup$ Which society? Basically, for Earth, kiss a lot of what we do with the ocean goodbye. Hopefully it won't take all the oxygen with it too. Flooding will displace somewhere around 1/3rd of the planet's population; as well as impact food production. War is coming. $\endgroup$
    – user3082
    Commented Sep 27, 2015 at 9:30

You must log in to answer this question.

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