How could humans survive underground for centuries? People have built multiple underground facilities around the world to prepare for a catastrophe. Just to be careful they overcalculated their resource needs. However they didn't expect their surface samples to contain a new deadly disease. They decide to wait out the disease, but this takes centuries, maybe even a millennium.

How would these people live sustainable? What would they eat? How could they expand? Also what about sunlight and other problems?

  • Imagine a late 21st century civilisation, about 50 years from now.

  • The groups that went underground are the elite, as such they consist mainly of scientists and rich folks. Billions of dollars go into the creation of these facilities.

  • Multiple hundreds of people should fit in one facillity.

  • They had enough time to prepare so they might have some livestock and vegetables. Maybe they could practice some form of underground agriculture?

  • The disease is vaccine proof, so "vaccine and resurface" solutions are not possible. I already have a way to keep it alive on surface so also no "wait until the disease has no host and dies out" answer works.

I just need to know how they would stay sustainable for a thousand years.

This answer seems to already solve how to get water although is this still possible with an air + waterborne disease?

  • $\begingroup$ Think of the earth. It is just a terrarium writ large. The problem is no worse than a generation star ship. The only real issue is as mentioned below is vitamin C and D. Water is easy, the earth (aka dirt) is a filter. Water filtered from up high doesn't necessarily have to carry airborne diseases. Also UV and thermo solutions can kill nearly everything. Hell, HIV dies in open air. Many bio issues are dead at 160F. $\endgroup$
    – dcy665
    Commented Jun 3, 2017 at 23:09
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ A thousand years is a very long time. Very few thousand-year-old structures are useful today...or were useful 200 years ago. So better plan for infrastructure replacement. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Commented Jun 3, 2017 at 23:39
  • $\begingroup$ @dcy665 Thanks for the input. The disease is not in open air though, like I said I already got that part covered. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 21:19
  • $\begingroup$ @DirgefulZero yet, it could be transmitted via water. Thus a concern. Consider Polio. Transmitted via human fecal matter, survives in cold water, in the 40-50s it was common for lakeside homes to dump their sewage in the lakes providing a vector to those swimming in the lake. (damn returns) However, it will not survive high temps, possibly not UV either. $\endgroup$
    – dcy665
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 21:31

3 Answers 3


They could easily get by with recycling and searching for underground lakes and springs. They only need digging equipment, consumables (for recycling) and power.
Where would water come from in an underground colony?
They could grow lots of things in the caves that they would excavate. For example, see here: http://ask.metafilter.com/262998/Grow-food-in-a-giant-cave. Still the issue is digging equipment, consumables (nutrients) and power (light/air/etc).
And that's it.
Marginal survivability ensured by food and drink.

However, 1000 years is a long time!

Colony or simply Refugees?
You need to ensure reproduction and increase of the population. How many fertile women? In-breeding? You should take care of initial setup of population, or your colony will be dying out after a few generations. Check: Smallest Self-Sufficient Colony
Initial Logistics
Power! As already stated by other answerers, there are ways to provide - but you should. As well as tons of consumable materials for food/drink processes, tools, and digging/excavation equipment for expansion.
How will the enclosure affect human psychology and society? Will it drive them crazy maybe, never seeing the Sun again? Maybe go schizo and kill each other? Or, why not?
New Generations
Young people are never satisfied to accept things as they are. THey will puch forward changes and splinter groups. How will they conform, rebel against, or in general drive the societal evolution?
Mutations that fit better the underground environment willl appear. Skin color will change. Eyes will adapt to darkness and artificial lighting. Being tall will not be desire in the short underground passages. They will become some kind of fantasy dwarves in 100o years?

But they will all die out, in the end.
Because in the premise of the question, they only entered the underground shelters to survive the catastrophe. Their initial supplies and preparedness were made according to that assumption. They were never prepared for spending one thousand years in hiding. They only discovered about the unstoppable virus afterwards, when it was too late...

  • $\begingroup$ Nice answer. Combined with all the other answers I'm still wondering: could they do varied agriculture in artificial light? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 21:27
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    $\begingroup$ @DirgefulZero yes, completely plausible. Hydroponic gardening with artificial light is workable today, no future tech required. Future tech would enable better efficiency though. $\endgroup$
    – dcy665
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 21:35

Simplistic answer:

Your underground bases run on nuclear power. They have enough fuel stockpiled for a long time. Nuclear power run lights, thus agriculture.

More complex answer:

They die. The problem is you have too small a population to maintain all the skills needed to keep the society going.

  • $\begingroup$ Also with only a couple of hundreds of humans you can't have a genetic healthy population for a millennium. $\endgroup$
    – Ender Look
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 16:06

Two of the best things for survival aside from water sources would be nonperishable foods and frozen foods. Sources containing vitamin C and D would be essential, since humans cannot produce their own vitamin C, and lack of sunlight could be combated with vitamin D. Mushrooms are an excellent source of the later. (All vitamins are essential.)

Source of power might be resolved with geothermal energy. The scientists might find a way. Smaller energy sources could rely on batteries. I know you said the disease is vaccine-proof (and be sure it's incurable and untreatable, since vaccines are applied before illnesses), but what about hazard suits? If this is permissible, then perhaps solar energy could be installed.

I think filtration could assist with purifying contaminated water. How resistant is this disease to heat? Perhaps an alternative could be boiling the water.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ All vitamins are essential. That's the definition of a vitamin: a substance (usually an aminoacid) which is vital becase it cannot be synthesized by the body and must be taken from food. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 16:29
  • $\begingroup$ You are correct. I'll make the amendment. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 21:49

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