Can we live underground like in the Silo series?

Can we live underground like in the Silo series?

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Have you ever heard of RESO? Covering an area of ​​12 square kilometres, this underground city running beneath Montreal (Canada) is made up of a connected network of hotels, shopping malls, museums, office space and even a sports arena. Hockey… With up to half a million daily visitors, this somewhat unusual urban project born in the 1960s has become a must-see.

Apart from being a tourist attraction, this underground complex, the largest in the world, also serves as a shelter from the cold.

Could this type of place become a temporary or permanent habitat for humans? To avoid extreme weather events caused by climate change, especially in affected areas? Or, if we were to settle on Mars one day, to protect ourselves from radiation and temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Celsius? Technically, maybe…

But are we ready for a life without greenery or natural light, and where freedom of movement is quite relative? Biochemist and author of S.-F. Isaac Asimov envisioned cities where our species would live in seclusion, away from an exterior deemed hostile… If this environment becomes the norm for our imaginary descendants, it might be enough to make our minds think about XXI. will tellI Century in tension…

Physically, things won’t be easy. How compatible is human physiology with underground life? a strong If it were, less artificial, dark and damp? Can our body also survive this?

endless jet lag

Without going back to the oft-debunked myth of the “caveman”, the idea of ​​living underground for days or weeks at a time is not new.

For centuries, the more than 2,500-year-old city of Derinkuyu, 85 meters below the rocky surface of Cappadocia in present-day Turkey, sporadically sheltered 20,000 people from weather and warfare.

However, it was only after some time that scientists became interested in the consequences of such life space on our species… in this case, during the race to the Moon, during the Cold War. The great world powers then looked into this question…to understand how the human body adapted to life in space!

In fact to a great extent, a cave presents living conditions comparable to those in space. Because, like in space or Mars, the rhythm of day and night is different from Earth. Furthermore, the size of human habitation would be as narrow as a cave.

Others have explored this topic in a more literal and personal way. A few months ago, 50-year-old Spaniard Beatriz Flamini set a world record by staying 70 meters below the surface for 500 days.

A Spanish athlete resurfaced after spending 510 days 70 meters underground. © The Parisian, YouTube

Perhaps the most obvious physiological change observed after long periods underground is the disruption of sleep-wake rhythms, as evidenced by the testimony of many participants in such studies. After a month without sunlight, and sometimes even in spite of the use of artificial light, the days seem to come together: when they are asked to write down when they feel a day has passed, So they’re actually on a two-day basis – with 34 hours spent awake and 14 hours asleep.

Result: This slowing down of time can be seen even at the level of counting days. After spending 366 days in a cave near Pesaro in Italy in 1993, sociologist Maurizio Montalbini thought only 219 days had passed.

It seems as if they are all caught up in endless jet lag. But the results are widespread, as there are still reports of poor performance on the job, hallucinations, and poor reaction times.

The flow of life

Where do these glitches come from? Life is, in fact, a matter of rhythm, whatever the species believes (or almost).

They create predictability, and predictability makes it possible to thrive in a stable and easily predictable world. Think of the life cycle of trees or furry animals that hibernate in sync with the changing seasons. Any disruption to the functioning of this natural clock can threaten the survival of a species if it cannot adapt to it (climate change is an example that is as terrifying as it is excellent).

The human body is no exception to this rule, as many of its vital functions follow a 24-hour cycle of day/night phases (which result from the Earth’s rotation). These are circadian rhythms, About (approximately) and Is (magazine).

Take the case of our core temperature. According to the textbooks, it is 36.8°C. In fact, if we recorded this in several thousand people over the course of a day, we’d see a sine wave—a curve that goes up and down: our body temperatures are lowest in the morning, and their highest in the late afternoon. The afternoon reaches its peak.

It is thought that these fluctuations are related to our metabolic activity: higher temperatures during the day increase our metabolism to support physical activity, and lower temperatures reduce our energy consumption and promote sleep. Are more relevant at night.

The concept of “zeitgeber”

The sleep-wake cycle is the daily circadian rhythm we are most familiar with. And like all animals, it is more or less regular.

It is regulated by a central clock located in our brain – more precisely, it is a network of about 20,000 nerve cells located at its base in the hypothalamus. Contrary to what one might think, circadian rhythms are maintained even in the absence of any natural light.

How does the biological clock of the brain work? © It’s Not Rocket Science, YouTube

And another surprise awaits us. Experiments on animals and humans deprived of light for several days have shown that the sleep-wake cycle actually lasts not 24, but 25 hours (note the “approximately” in circadian)… sometime in the dark After being awake, the day-night and sleep-wake cycles will therefore become out of sync.

Scientists say that the second, in this case the Sun, is “free” in the absence of an external source of vegging. The latter is called “Zeitgeber” or “time giver” in German. we need this Watch Regularly resetting our sleep-wake cycle to stay in line with the natural rhythm of day and night.

In a cave where the sun’s rays do not penetrate, nothing else comes to align our biological rhythms with the environment, due to the lack of Watch, That’s why the concept of time is lost…

If you’ve flown across the Atlantic and felt the effects of jet lag—which usually affects mood and focus—you may have had a similar experience. Smartphones and light pollution also interfere with our circadian rhythms, so they may play a role in Watch,

Animal studies and epidemiological data have shown that persistent disruption of biorhythms is associated with a greater likelihood of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes and depression later in life. However, so far no experiments have assessed the long-term risks of living underground for long periods of time.

Stress, vitamins… other consequences of life underground

But living underground has other consequences as well. Along with disruption of biorhythms, scientists have observed increased muscle damage, early stress response and inflammation. This means that our body is in a state of extreme alertness due to sub-optimal environmental conditions. It is a type of flight or fight response that he is preparing for in order to survive.

We can cope with this for a while through increased secretion of cortisol, the stress hormone, and a temporary increase in metabolism…

But in the long run, high levels of stress deplete the body’s reserves and increase susceptibility to disease and infection. This is a common cause of depression and burnout for employees who have endured stressful situations for years. Restricted and closed spaces produce similar reactions. Astronaut Fred Haise contracted an infection during the disastrous flight of Apollo 13, which led to pseudomonas aeruginosaA bacterium that usually only affects people with weakened immunity.

And there’s another reason we need the sun—in this case its UV rays: to produce vitamin D, which is essential for proper absorption of the calcium responsible for strong and healthy bones. Thus living underground for years would increase the risk of osteoporosis (fragility of bones). Our diet should replenish and supply the necessary Vitamin D. That’s what 57 members of a sect living in an underground bunker without natural light did in the Republic of Tatarstan.

Sun’s son…

Despite some of these experimental data (which might make you want to…), we still don’t know the details of how living long periods of time below Earth’s surface will affect us. That’s why NASA is currently looking for four volunteers to live in 160 meters of atmosphere for a year.2 To learn more, 3D-print a plan similar to the one planned for Mars.

But the main challenge may be mental, not physical. As impressive was Beatrice Flamini’s performance of flying for 500 days in the depths like a flower that could leave its cave in an emergency. This would be impossible on Mars…or if we would have to survive lethal conditions for years.

Over millions of years, human life has adapted to survive in the small area between land and air. So it is unlikely that our physiology and brain will immediately adapt to such unnatural conditions!Conversation





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