Imagine if all the Earth’s oxygen disappeared. Not forever, just for, say, an hour? Could you hold your breath that long? What would happen to the atmosphere? And could the Earth ever recover from this planet-wide suffocation?
Take a nice deep breath. Feel how satisfying that is? What you’re breathing in is oxygen. And it takes up roughly 21% of our atmosphere. It’s not the most abundant gas in our atmosphere. It is the most important. Plants, animals, water and us humans wouldn’t be where we are today without oxygen. Now, you’re saying goodbye to that sweet, sweet breathable air for an entire hour. And spoiler, it doesn’t look good for you.
The world record for the longest-held breath clocks in at 24 mins and 37 seconds. Not bad. But that doesn’t do you much good, considering the average person can hold their breath from 30 to 90 seconds tops. Brace yourself. This is going to hurt.
If the world suddenly lost oxygen for a whole hour, the rapid decrease in pressure would painfully blow out your inner ear. How much pressure? Think of standing on top of Mount Everest, only instantly. This would leave you stumbling for balance as you suffocate.
Oh, did we not mention the suffocation? As you struggled to catch your breath, your heart would start beating in overdrive. This is a problem, seeing as how your heart and lungs need oxygen to function. When that’s off the table, you can expect excruciating chest pains.
After six minutes max, your brain would be out of oxygen, which means, well, you’d be dead. Sucks right? Well, it gets worse. See, an average person weighing 80 kg (176 lb) consists of 52 kg (114 lb) of oxygen. With oxygen gone for the entire hour, 65% of your body would go POOF. Yeah, I’m talking Thanos snap-disintegration-poof.
So much for the human race. But how would the rest of the planet fare? In just one hour, the Earth would look completely different. Without oxygen, you can say goodbye to the Hoover Dam, the Pantheon dome and anything else made of concrete. These structures would instantly collapse. Oxygen acts as a special binding agent to concrete. Without it, concrete is just dust.
Speaking of buildings, any untreated metal would be instantly fused. There’s a layer of oxidation on metals that prevents them from welding together. Without that layer, metals would immediately bind to each other. And that’s just at ground level. It’s getting a whole lot worse up top.
The ozone layer, our protection against the Sun’s UV rays, is made of oxygen atoms that have bonded to create ozone. Take away the oxygen, and the Earth would get extremely hot. There would be nothing to protect us from the Sun’s UV rays.
Having a good time yet? Well, don’t expect it to last long. Without oxygen, there’s no fire. The combustion process in vehicles wouldn’t happen. Any mode of transport that isn’t electric would automatically fail. Planes would fall from the sky, and millions of cars would be left eroded and abandoned.
The sky would be completely dark. Light from the Sun bounces off multiple particles in the air before it hits the Earth. Without oxygen in the atmosphere, there are fewer things to bounce off, and the sky would appear dark, almost black. Oh yeah, and while all this is happening, the Earth’s crust would completely crumble.
That’s because the Earth’s crust is 45% oxygen. Without oxygen involved in the surface, there wouldn’t be much left. The crust would crumble and continue to crumble until there’s nothing left, sending the planet into a free-fall.
And that’s our time. The hour is over, and the oxygen is flowing freely again. Too bad you won’t get to breathe it in, what with the planet being destroyed and all human life disintegrated. Would new life emerge from the ashes? Well, if it does, we hope they have stronger lungs than we did. Luckily you can take a deep breath of 21% oxygen, knowing this will never happen.
- “20 Fun Oxygen Facts For Kids”. Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. 2020. thoughtco.com.
- “What Is Earth Made Of?”. Tim Sharp. 2017. space.com.
- “FRIENDS Trivia: Here’s How Much Time It Took To Shoot A Single Episode Of The Show”. 2020. koimoi.com.
- “Longest Time Breath Held Voluntarily (Male)” 2021. guinnessworldrecords.com.
- “56-year-old Freediver Holds Breath for Almost 25 Minutes Breaking Record” 2021. guinnessworldrecords.com.