The Frost’s cause…algae?

Frostpunk 3 1024x576 - The Frost's cause...algae?

Howdy folks, I was just introduced to this amazing game over the past week, and being that I really love overthinking game stuff, the mystery behind the Great Frost is catnip to me and I can't help myself. I know, what caused it isn't the point, but it's fun to speculate nonetheless and I think I may have hit upon a theory for it that makes sense…at least to me.

Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) did it. Specifically, a massive, global oceanic algal bloom triggered by a meteor strike. Let's explain from the beginning, and I'd preface this by saying I'm neither a professional meteorologist, marine biologist, or geologist — just someone with an amateur's interest in climate change and extinction events, and what I have to say should be taken with due skepticism. No matter what scenario you look at, the time frame of the freezing and glaciation just isn't possible…but we can (maybe) get close.

First off, let's look at the three scenarios the game presents: volcanoes, impacts, and solar activity. Solar activity is actually the easiest to discuss and dispense, being there actually was a solar minimum in the 1880's — not as severe as the previous three which were partly responsible for the Little Ice Age, but a minimum nonetheless. The first two can actually be linked, and the linkage is explained by impact volcanism theory which has gotten a huge amount of supporting evidence in the past decade — shockwaves from meteor strikes reverberate through the Earth's mantle, and push magma up into the crust and surface, causing hot spots and eruptions in subduction zones. Impact volcanism is thought by some to be related to the Deccan and Siberian traps, and therefore the K-Pg and P-T extinctions respectively.

The problem is, none of them are enough on their own to explain what we see in the game — a sudden-onset "slushball Earth". One thing actually does, but it's not directly linked to any of the above, an immediate, calamitous, drop in atmospheric CO2 levels. And as luck would have it, there's been an extinction event in Earth's past where just this happened, the Ordovician-Silurian extinction.


Fun side note, at the height of that event polar temperatures were believed to have been a yearly average of -110C. Polar vortices capable of producing temperatures as low as -150 in the winter…perhaps not as impossible as thought.

Back to the topic. None of the aforementioned events would be capable of doing it alone. But together, they'd create ideal conditions for something that could: a global algal bloom. Algae are hardy and efficient photosynthesizers, and gobble up atmospheric CO2 like it's going out of style. They also love environments rich in nitrates and nitrites, but poor in oxygen, and a lack of competition or predation.

So, here's what I think happened. First, the meteor wallops into the south Pacific. This disrupts the seafloor, releasing huge amounts of stored nitrates, nitrites, and heavy metals, the first two being algae food and all three being toxic to complex life. Meanwhile, the shockwave in the sea kills most complex life that feeds on algae, and the shockwave in the mantle triggers massive volcanism along the ring of fire. Those volcanoes release ash, but more importantly release even more nitrates, nitrites, and phosphorous into the sea, while acidifying and deoxygenating it.

The impact and resulting volcanoes kill off life that feeds on algae, starve out algae's competition for its ecological niche, and create an incredibly nutrient-rich environment. This triggers a massive, ocean-spanning, algal bloom. Disrupted oceanic currents carry the nutrients (and toxins) and algal blooms across the globe. As the algae bloom (exponentially) grows, more and more atmospheric CO2 gets sequestered and temperatures plummet as the Earth is suddenly deprived of vital greenhouse gases. Ice cap growth surges, and that combined with the impact/volcanic winters sends the planet into a slushball-Earth death spiral.

And this is (more or less) what happened during the Ordovician extinction. Massive, unsustainable algae populations depleted the atmosphere of so much CO2, the planet ended up in a million-year ice age. It just didn't happen over the course of a year or two.

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