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A relevant link or two.

Background

I'd like to whip up a fairly classic post-apocalyptic world to be visited by my dimension-hopping airship pilots. In this once earth-like world, a hostile AI purposefully wiped out all plant and animal life and then hunkered down to get on with some serious data processing.

I'd like my human interlopers to treat the world a bit like the Astral Plane in Dungeons & Dragons -- useful for transport, but also barren and potentially dangerous. The goal is for it to approximate a metaphor for space travel.


Wishlist

  • The world should be an uncompromising post-apocalyptic wasteland: Blasted desert conditions, ravaged by large dust storms to keep my pilots on edge, with all oceans and water dried up, etc.
  • The world should not be habitable: A non-breathable-atmosphere and truly oppressive heat might be ideal. I'd like humans to be able to venture out in protective suits, but not linger. Radiation is a negative, but not a deal breaker -- the goal is dramatic hazards, not cancer.
  • The world must be navigable: Using approx early 20th airships, with the tech development fudged a little here and there if needed. Keep in mind that atmospheric conditions affect flight.

  • The disaster should be plausible within the limits of near future, 21st century technology. There can also be only one dramatic disaster event, but a plausible run up (like global warming) can factor in as well. As many years can have passed as is needed.

  • The disaster should wipe out human infrastructure. To the point that no technology is salvageable, and preferably to the point that signs of pervious inhabitation are rare. Fortunately, this is something the AI wants.

Bonus Points (and potentially a Bounty for someone going the extra mile):

  • A disaster that creates interesting / unusual world conditions, hazards, sights, extra options.
  • A disaster that creates a world encouraging dirigible flight, for example, by raising the temperature, weakening the gravitational field, even creating gasses that could be harvested for fuel using early 20th century tech. Long shots perhaps, but better to ask.

The Question

Given these requirements, what kind of disaster would work best for this world?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Aify, L.Dutch, Frostfyre, sphennings, CaM Aug 24 '17 at 12:29

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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Consider ice, rather than fire.

You've asked for a world with "all oceans and water dried up", but that's really hard to do. When water "dries up", it goes into the atmosphere; later it leaves the atmosphere as rain. It would be quite difficult to remove all the water from a planet.

On the other hand, it wouldn't be that hard to freeze all the water. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere can increase its temperature; reflective dust in the atmosphere will prevent sunlight from reaching the planet, dropping its temperature. An AI might go so far as to create an orbiting ring of solar panels, which would both capture energy and prevent sunlight from reaching the planet.

(Also, most computers run better in the cold.)

Dirigibles work fine in cold weather as long as you can stop ice from accumulating. Blizzards have the same function as dust storms.

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How quickly do you want this apocalypse to work through? For example, a large-scale volcanic event can wipe out most lifeforms, and make air nearly unbreathable, but it lasts for thousands years.

There are many ways that can get you large deserts, but it would be very difficult to exterminate life and get rid of oceans. So, if you want a plausible 21-century explanation, we have to allow for oceans and at least simple lifeforms to stay.

  1. Runaway global warming. This will easily give you large deserts, and, with some help, eliminate humanity. But polar regions would remain temperate, and there would be thriving jungles.

  2. Nuclear war. This will eliminate humans more easily, and beat down other species, but the effect on climate and biosphere as a whole would only be temporary.

  3. Killer robots. Think of a Terminator-like army of killer robots that methodically turn Earth into a desert. Not very plausible, but may sound good for a story. You don't need these robots to look like animated skeletons, though. They could be anything, for example nanoparticle-sized, infecting everything and causing incurable disease.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks; the timeline is very flexible. 3 is also plausible within the story; the AI in question consciously sets out to destroy all plant and animal life, everywhere. $\endgroup$ – Era Aug 24 '17 at 4:46
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An ultra dense carbon dioxide atmosphere could be a nice twist on your request. Not sure if you would be ok with unbreathable air all around airborne colonies. check out what this George Landis from Nasa suggested for Venus! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonization_of_Venus#Aerostat_habitats_and_floating_cities

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