Rising Tide – Visiting Tarawa station
March 2070 - Sol Geographic correspondent Fatima Nguyen-Jones provides a brief snapshot of her travels from Banaba Spaceport to Tarawa Station.
"Some say humanity shouldn't have survived The Kabuanibai. But we are tenacious."
- Gilberta Tabai, 1st Mayor of Tarawa Station
Gliding along the continental shelf at a depth of 10 meters, the rainbow splash of coral turns my iMind display into a kaleidoscope. The advanced pressurisation in our ArchiTeuthis makes the transition to deeper water unremarkable - a far cry from early human submarine exploration. Here in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, I'm visiting Earth’s oldest seacology, Tarawa Station. The fact that I'm writing this article, that humanity has journeyed beyond our home planet, and that a pocket of humanity dwells in Earth’s oceans would have seemed absurd at the turn of the 21st century. Indeed, much had yet to happen.
Mercer’s dam breaks
In the 1970s, John Mercer of Ohio State University discovered that rather than being a stable, sleeping giant, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet had seen total melt in millennia past. His ideas were dismissed as alarmist, but it was generally accepted by the scientific community that warmer ocean temperatures and a warmer atmosphere would eventually accelerate the loss of Antarctic ice. That nearly the entirety of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet disappeared not long after 2050 only emphasises how little humanity actually knew about the oceans, and the carelessness with which we gambled Earth. Historically, everyone now knows the ensuing events as the Kabuanibai, the Jībiàn, or the Cataclysm. But, in the 2030s and 2040s, it had no name, it was simply chaos.
As far as we know, during the late 2020s, the global oceans slowed dramatically in their absorption of CO2, causing a spike in atmospheric CO2 concentrations, and a subsequent spike in atmospheric warming. Sea-based ice was first to go, but no one was prepared when land-fast ice in West Antarctica simply started sliding into the ocean, raising sea levels in catastrophic bursts as country-sized ice blocks broke free. Within 20 years, and amplified by accelerated Greenland ice-loss, sea levels had risen a previously inconceivable two meters. Many governments of both rich and poor nations began crumbling. Bangladesh disappeared in 2037, and much of north-western Europe by 2044, with the loss of the Netherlands, and many UN centres of government, being a particularly significant setback for the established order.
Order from Chaos
Many things happened at once in the midst of the Jībiàn. Before the worst sea level rises began, a small but well-resourced group of Libertarians, technologists, and environmentalists – a splinter group of The Sovereign Seasteaders Collective - sent a message to the populations of many Polynesian and Micronesian islands: The world has failed you. We won’t. The first to respond were the eight nations that made up the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), which would eventually merge with the member nations of the Coral Triangle Initiative and the Pacific Islands Forum, combining resources and sharing sovereignty to form the Oceania Confederation. In a blitz of construction effort, the rogue Seasteaders, in partnership with the PNA, began building their new home beneath the sea. This project, however, depended on some cutting edge technology.
"Without Thrummers, Wavers, and QuadThread®, Tarawa Station wouldn’t even be a dream," says the captain of my ArchiTeuthis, as he marvels at how a fraction of humanity learned to thrive in the deep. "Thank god for Nemo Lusk." Lusk Labs continued working before, during, and after the Jībiàn, in peaceful lunar orbit. Aboard SkyStation One, Lusk Labs made rapid technological advancements. “Oddly enough” says a Lusk spokesperson, “we have greenhouse gas emissions to thank for the development of QuadThread®.” In the years immediately prior to the Jībiàn, humanity was finally attempting to correct course on climate change. Industrial scale carbon sequestration had been deployed throughout the world, and greenhouse gas concentrations began stabilising. Meanwhile, the technology’s waste product would end up being the carbon nano-fiber material for the biggest innovation of the 21st century: QuadThread®. Though nearly all of Lusk’s inventions were designed for space colonisation - thorium-based fission micro-reactors (aka Thrummers), advanced turbines that could be used in low or high-density fluids (aka Wavers), and ultra strong carbon nano-fibers (aka QuadThread®) – they were also essential for oceanic colonisation.
The Tuna Armada
Amidst my explanation for my Earth visit, the man across from me interjects, “It’s funny that they used the word territory in the treaty… since the root of that word is Latin for ‘land’.” The Surface to Seabed Territorial Sovereignty Treaty, signed in 2021, aimed to deal with the existential threat posed to low-lying island nations, granting them a claim to their historic boundaries that would persist even after they sank beneath the waters. At the time, this was seen as a symbolic, though empty, gesture on the part of the International community. But to the future Oceania Confederation, it would be the legal shield they would eventually need. In the midst of the Jībiàn, the official (and unofficial) fishing fleets of hungry nations were forcefully deterred from entering the waters of the Oceania Confederation. A fully automated, armed fleet of aerial, surface, and sub-surface drones, continuously monitored the boundaries of the nations that make up the members of the Confederation. Stretching north to the Equator, west to the Coral Triangle, east to French Polynesia, and south to New Zealand, what’s known as the Tuna Armada ensures that the vast fisheries of the Oceania Confederation remain protected and sustainably managed. As the primary protein source of the Oceania Confederation, and a key export to off-planet colonies, the patrolling drones ensure that even the pockets of high seas that still exist following the signing of the Surface to Seabed Treaty are no longer subject to tuna piracy.
The Struggle Continues
Earth’s climate has yet to stabilise from the release of meltwater from Antarctica and Greenland. A hiccupping Thermohaline Circulation near Greenland wreaks periodic havoc on the storm systems of the mid-latitudes. Meanwhile, the decarbonisation of Earth’s atmosphere continues, with corresponding greenhouse gas concentrations also falling. For the Oceania Confederation, and all ocean dwellers, less atmospheric CO2 means the eventual reversal of ocean acidification. Global fisheries, marine food webs, and coral reefs have a chance to thrive again, dependent of course on whether humanity has learned anything from its brush with collapse. The long trunks of the kemp plantation rise above me, and the rows of Wavers offer their mechanical welcome to the Oceania Confederation’s capital city.
A Seabed Called Home
Past the port security and strolling through the walkways that surround the central domes of Tarawa Station, I realise that life under water is much like my home, more than 78 million kilometres away. We Martians can't live outside our walls because we would die from exposure. The seacology dwellers busily moving around me can't live outside their domes due to the crushing pressure and near freezing temperatures. Different environment, same outcome. I've been assured that my kemp (an ingenious hybrid derived from hemp and kelp) tunic is more than proper to meet Mayor Tabai for an interview, but my anxiety takes me to the exterior windows of the seacology all the same. The silent beauty outside has an arresting calm. The exterior domes illuminate the choreography of the kemp harvesters, as the thrummers beneath my feet provide a barely audible percussive rhythm. All the while, the teeming sea-life inspects the artefacts of their constantly adapting ape-neighbours. Perhaps humanity was destined to live here after all.
The text of this story is the copyright of Dr. Andrew Merrie and Dr. Patrick Keys. All images are copyright of Simon Stålenhag and reproduced with permission. The music is the copyright of K. La Luna.