A Little Background Detail

The citizens of New York have woken up and realized that surrounding their entire city is surrounded by a clear dome. Even though it is the city that never sleeps, no one knows where it came from or how it appeared. The roads leading of the city: in rubble. The highest buildings: dwarfed. The boats that were around the dock: sunken.

People are pretty freaked out and no one knows what to do. At first they wait for news from outside explaining what happened but they soon realize that no radio signals can go though the dome, They are cut off from the rest of the world. People are becoming scared, they are looking for news from the mayor on the subject, but nobody knows anything, or if they do, no one is talking. Theories are rising about the dome some say it's the work of god, others say aliens some even think the government is responsible.

How it happened is irrelevant. If it was caused by mankind, it isn't something they can fix. It just as easily could have been caused by something across the galaxy and they would be just as screwed.

The initial shock has worn off and the question on everyone's mind must be asked. How long can the people of New York last under this god forsaken dome?

Some Details on the Dome

  • The Dome is made of 100% hand-wavium, clear and indestructible.
  • The 'Dome' is really a sphere, thus it can not be gone under.
  • Nothing can go in or out, they are limited to what they can make and stuck with their wastes
  • At the top of the dome are small, 6 inch wide holes that allow fresh rain and air to enter.

The Question

There are a limited amount of supplies, eventually without farmland, they will run out of supplies. So my question is simple, how long can they last? What can they do to help themselves?

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    $\begingroup$ Err... The title and question don't correspond. Title says New York City, question says "greatest city on Earth", which NYC isn't by any measure except the understandably biased opinion of some of its inhabitants. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    May 7, 2016 at 5:13
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    $\begingroup$ Or, as I would put it, incomprehensibly biased opinion. Because I still don't understand why people like metropolitan areas. (I am not inviting responses here!) $\endgroup$ May 7, 2016 at 17:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @XandarTheZenon: Well, that's true, but I'm assuming the OP is limiting discussion to metropolitan areas. All of them are bad, but some are worse than others. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    May 7, 2016 at 17:03
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    $\begingroup$ Provide more information for more detailed answers. What is the exact diameter of the dome, where is its center point? What time of year did the structure appear? $\endgroup$ May 9, 2016 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ Is there electricity getting inside? Is there a way that they don't all die from lack of oxygen? That's a big sphere, but there's probably not enough getting into it - eventually 8 million people are going to suffocate. Not to mention water. $\endgroup$
    – DonielF
    May 3, 2017 at 20:40

6 Answers 6


TL:DR Most will die in 9 months, the lucky ones can last indefinitely.

To make this easier, I have separated it into it's three core components

The Population of New York is over 8 million and an average human starves in three weeks, with that much people and no imports, they will run out of food in around two months, and most will starve to death three weeks later. But this is assuming that people are willing to share and help their fellow man, this is not true, most people will horde food, kill other people and take what they want when they want.

Sadly this will help keep the whole alive, lets assume that the average New Yorker isn't willing to kill, but is willing to steal. This will leave us with around 5 million people (minus 1 million children and 2 million kind people). Then lets assume that only 25% of people are willing to kill one other person in order to keep themselves alive (this is most likely an underestimate), this will leave us with only, give or take, 3.5 million. That will over double the time that the food will last, from a mere 2 months of food to 5 months.

At around one or two weeks after the food is gone, humans will begin to live off of rats, who will live off of things we cannot. Eventually the trash that rats eat will run out of food as well (of course they will continue to eat before this point) so the rat food storage will only last a month, two at most. At the point after the rats run out people will either choose to die or resort... To CANNIBALISM. Which can last the remaining thousands or so who betray each other 1 month until only 1 human remains, doomed to a slow death.

Some people may become lucky and find greenhouses early on they will either be willing to kill to defend these, able to hide them or they will die. But if they can keep these to themselves they could survive indefinitely.

There will be religious zealots who attack sinners hoping to please gods, gun enthusiasts who form militias to fight them and police who fight both. All of these groups will likely lose hope after a month or two and most will quit. There will be looters during the times when power still works who will steal everything for nothing but pleasure. the streets will no longer be safe,since there are no consequences, people will have no problems with murder or rape. The survivors will still have to worry for the occasional person wanted to kill them though, it will be the purge all over again.

Remember those people who found greenhouses? they they will still need to worry about disease. Hazmat suits found in the homes on conspiracy theorists would be helpful. They will have to find a place to put sewage and garbage and the sewer is the best bet. Large holes bordering the dome would also be an option. Assuming they say "F*ck consequences!" they will simply dump it in the water. Of course here is another possible solution... enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Actually they're not going to last anywhere near 9 months. If we just consider water, probably about a week. Natural rainfall doesn't supply anywhere near enough for the population as it is, let alone the limited amount that'd get through those little holes. Then if they don't immediately shut down all IC engines, they're going to be suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning in a few days. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    May 7, 2016 at 5:21
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf they can drink the water from the docks and rain collectors can supply them with water, many WILL die of dehydration but a lot will live if they're smart enough, and since the OP doesn't specify how many holes there are, I'm assumed based on the way he describes them that there are enough to allow clean airflow. $\endgroup$
    – TrEs-2b
    May 7, 2016 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ Is any of that water from the docks freshwater? The Hudson within the bounds of NYC is considered an estuary-literally 'the river that flows two ways'. The salt content is can be detected as far as upriver as Poughkeepsie at times of low runoff. $\endgroup$ May 7, 2016 at 19:42
  • $\begingroup$ @user2448131 Last time I checked there are ways to distill slat water into freshwater. $\endgroup$
    – TrEs-2b
    May 7, 2016 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ @TrEs-2b: Ways that can be implemented before the existing potable water supply runs out? (There's a desalinization plant in San Diego: took close to 4 years to build.) And where does the energy come from? As for the holes on top allowing clean air flow, it just doesn't work that way. At best, you'd have something equivalent to a super-duper inversion layer. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    May 8, 2016 at 5:11

Everyone Dies.

As designed, this sphere will kill everyone enclosed. 9 million people exhale about 9 million kg of co2 per day. This will not leave, and will accumulate at the base of the dome(where the people live). Same problem faced by people in submarines or space habitats, its not lack of oxygen but co2 that is the problem. Without more technical details on dome size cant run calculations on how long this will take.

Along similar lines, the inevitable fires caused in the initial panic and looting may kill off most of the people from smoke inhalation. Same problem, smoke is heavy and settles, and there will never be a breeze to move it away.

A little update about fires. During the Baltimore unrest a year ago, 150 vehicle fires, 60 structure fires were set. The population of NYC is about 13.5 times that of Baltimore, so if a similar event were to occur you could expect 2000 vehicles on fire, over 800 buildings, with no water to put them out, and no where for most of the smoke to go. You will not be able to breath.

I live in the west, and each year we get smoke enters our valleys from forest fires hundreds of miles away, and due to the fact the homes are all in valleys, the smoke can settle in for days, sometimes so thick I can't see my neighbors house. But we just keep everything closed up, and wait for some winds to come through and blow it somewhere else. Those winds will not come in this giant fishbowl. Everyone dies.



New York is actually a VERY important city. It holds one of the most important stock exchanges in the world, one of the headquarters of the United Nations, the headquarters of tons of companies and nonprofits,... If a giant sphere would appear around it all of a sudden, you can pretty much guarantee that within hours, an international task force would be created with the sole purpose to:

  1. Set up a line of communication to those inside;
  2. Restore power and internet to those inside;
  3. Set up a food supply line to those inside.

Given that there are a lot of 6" holes in the dome, that's plenty of room to set up supply lines. Since you explicitly state these are for air and water, I'm going to assume your intent is for suffocation to not be the big danger in this scenario. Once we can handwave away the impending lack of oxygen for this scenario, it just becomes a matter of time before the rest of humanity can establish supply lines for food, power, internet and comms. Sure, a lot of people will die, but not everyone will.


What will happen?

Power will be out immediately. Only hospitals and such will retain power for, at most, weeks. Fire-fighting becomes impossible. With people trying to heat up food somehow, fires will become a big problem overnight.

As power fails, law enforcement will break down as well. Safety on the street for the visibly weak will be no more. Looting is the new shopping. Murder over drinkable water, breakfast, lunch, crusts of bread will become the new norm.

These two factors alone will ensure plummeting survival rates within days.

Hygiene and medical care will fail, making a simple bone break deadly. Infections, accidents and contagious diseases will take their toll as well.

But in the end the breakdown of society will be the big killer. The saying goes that this is exactly 3 meals away.

So what will happen exactly?

Day 1, big panic while people try to cope as a group. First big die-off due to collapsed buildings and initial fires.
Day 2, coping means keeping looting in check so resources are used wisely and for all. Groups will form and average Joe arms himself 'just to be sure'.
Day 3, by now everyone has lost someone close and hope that help will come turns to fear and anger. Where will the next meal come from? The pizzeria around the corner burned down. The nearest supermarket is taken by another group which is well armed and refuses to share. The fires are still burning unchecked. We will probably need to move soon. No wind is both good and bad news.
Day 7 The lucky groups, with a safe place to stay, water and food stashed away and weapons to defend it all will sit tight. Everyone else will either start walking and starve or will hide and starve.
Week 2 A new world order emerges based on survival opportunities. Lucky groups/criminal gangs will form clans and assimilate expertise for longer term survival by taking in or acquiring new people, selectively.
Month 2 Stability again. Great fear is fire and sickness. All the have-nots are dead. Brave new world for all survivors. Clans will start to trade. And sometimes fight. And sometimes starve anyway. Slow change to grown food as stored food will run out.

I predict that the number of people surviving, the percentage of the lucky groups that make the leap towards sustainable water and food production, will be much lower than what the actual resources allow.

By then of course the stuff pushed inside through the 6 inch holes, like medicine, will start making a difference. Also the visual messaging system that allows contact with loved ones outside will give a bit of perspective again.

Big question is, will a liveable society emerge from the chaos?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ No, nothing will emerge. Everyone will die. $\endgroup$ May 7, 2016 at 17:07

Lots of people would starve. New York is a city so there many places to grow plants. You could grow plants in central park but it would take time for them to grow.

As food because scarce the people would riot this you kill even more people.

Water would also be a problem. I don't think that the six inch holes would provide enough water for the everyone in the city. There isn't enough If if nothing past through Dome that also includes rain. Until they figure out how to filter salt water then people are going to start dying of thirst. I don't think everyone will die a handful of people would survive by growing plants in the Parks and filtering sea water and fishing. But at least 90% of the city Would die.

  • $\begingroup$ The OP clearly states that water and air can go in and out via 6 inch holes thus your answer is moot $\endgroup$
    – TrEs-2b
    May 8, 2016 at 3:44
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    $\begingroup$ @TrEs-2b: 6 inch holes just don't provide enough area for sufficient air exchange. As for water, NYC requires a catchment area much larger than the city itself to provide water for the population: pwconserve.org/issues/watersheds/newyorkcity $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    May 8, 2016 at 5:17

Until they cease to get outside help:

Sure, not everyone will survive, but I assume that some powerful people will be trapped, who have the ressources/allies to get outside help. If you have holes that big in the top, those can be used to air-drop supplies into the dome.

Obviously, as the other answers have indicated, there will be quite a lot of death and destruction, but given the right resources (a boat might be incredibly helpful) you can probably weather the initial violence.

Once order has restored, air-dropped supplies should keep you alive for a while, and you may even be able to reproduce.

Being a nitpicker, the likely cause of death will be flooding, since your design allows for incoming water, but there's no drainage at the bottom. Eventually the sphere will fill with water up to the level of the holes, and survivors would again have to resort to boats or rafts. Since the sphere reaches several kilometers into the sky, there may also be an issue with people freezing or suffocating, depending on the altitude of the lowest holes. In that case no water or air would really circulatethrough those holes, so I suspect that the holes are only around 1000 - 2000m above ground.

With six-inch-holes, you can even get newborns out, once the water level is high enough, allowing for your successors to leave the sphere.

  • $\begingroup$ Presumable the water can evaporate and the water cycle can progress. Soil can absorb a lot of water and, with a sphere that surrounds new york it can go pretty deep too so we have a huge volume of soil to absorb all that water. $\endgroup$ May 3, 2017 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm, you are right, it does depend a lot on location - in drier regions (say Dubai), it probably wouldn't be that much of an issue - instead people would be more likely to run out of water. In Singapore, things would look very different. Also, by pumping water in or out, you could in theory keep everyone alive. I wouldn't count on soil accepting a lot of water - and if it does, it will probably lead to the architecture suffering. $\endgroup$ May 3, 2017 at 17:45

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