What Happens if Earth IS Totally Flat?</h4>
What would it be like to have a truly flat Earth? How would life be different if this planet was also smooth all over? And could that ever happen in reality?
This is Unveiled, and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; what happens if Earth IS totally flat?
The flat Earth conspiracy theory is one of the most controversial kicks against the mainstream, probably of all time. The peddlers of it claim a variety of things, but all are tied up in the belief that Earth isn’t round. That it isn’t spherical in shape, that it doesn’t rotate on an axis, and that eventually it has edges of some kind; be they massive unseen ice walls, or plunging, planet-wide infinity pools where the ocean just siphons off into space. The question; “What if the Earth is flat?” can be looked at in another way, though… which is what we’re doing today.
Think of the world as you know it. You can probably picture a massive variety of landscapes, some you’ll have been to and others perhaps not. There are city skylines, and sprawling forests and woodlands. Sandy deserts, glistening oceans, soaring mountain peaks and sinking valleys and canyons. But here, we’re imagining that none of the above exists. What would happen if, instead of all of those points of difference, Earth was flattened out? It’s still round, it’s still a ball of matter floating through space, but it’s also completely and perfectly smooth. Like a glass marble, with no ups or downs, at all.
Smooth Earth theory - if we can call it that - asks us to picture Earth without any inclines or declines. An elevation map would be pointless here because elevation is precisely the same everywhere. This is about more than just scrubbing out the hills and ditches, though. We’re talking whole mountain ranges whittled all the way back down to a uniform point… and the plummeting depths of entire oceans brought all the way up to the exact same level. Every single boulder, rock, pebble, even grain of sand gets ironed out and compacted back into this new mass. So, what would it actually look like?
Ultimately, if everything else remained the same, then this is a place that would be covered by water. If the water that’s already on Earth were to be redistributed across a smooth Earth, then it would form an endless ocean about one-and-a-half miles deep. A potential paradise for fish, but an instant death knell for any land-lugging species. Without some seriously fast-paced adaptation, or some kind of prior knowledge of the smoothness that was going to happen, even human beings would dwindle away into probable extinction. For accuracy’s sake, as Earth isn’t a sphere (but, rather, an oblate spheroid) there would be a small difference between the slightly shallower poles and the slightly deeper regions at the equator… but, for all intents and purposes, we’re conjuring a whole new world of relentlessly standing water. So, actually would it be a paradise even for fish? Probably not.
It’s easy to forget, given the seeming smoothness of an ocean that’s stretching off into the horizon, but the seafloor in real life is a massively varied environment. There are record-setting peaks down there, and sheer ravines that fall as if forever into the abyss. The tallest mountain in the world is actually mostly below sea level - Hawaii’s Mauna Kea. The deepest point on our planet is Challenger Deep, in the Mariana Trench. But those would be no more if the Earth were flat. All of this variety, however, plays a key role in how tides form and spread. In the creation of waves, and the carving out of a wide range of natural habitats. Clearly, not every sea creature lives in exactly the same kinds of space… but, here, they’d be forced to. And that space would be a vast, open, endless panorama of ocean. As such, plants would die, plankton would disappear, food chains would collapse. Nutrients and life wouldn’t spread in general. Without any possibility of difference, the same old water would yield the same old result; catastrophic death across the board.
But, now, let’s imagine that as well as magically flattening the Earth so that it better resembles a giant billiard ball… we’ve also solved the problem of total water coverage, too. What happens if Earth is dry and flat? What if - while somehow keeping a supply of water to survive on - the smooth Earth isn’t sea, but is land? First of all, if life were to survive, then it would almost certainly have to migrate underground. On a totally smooth earth, there is no shade… but there’s also nothing besides the ground itself to absorb sunlight. And, without water to manage the sun’s rays for us, this new world would basically fry to a crisp. It would very quickly turn from mundane and dusty to scorching and blistering. The weather patterns would be non-existent, with everywhere on Earth facing identical conditions, all of the time. What’s more, as the peaks and troughs of real life also play key roles in shaping the winds on Earth… this smooth Earth could be just as stagnant in the open air as it would have been underwater.
From a distance, a smooth planet might appear very neat and tidy, with all of its seeming imperfections cut off or filled in. But, in any practical sense for life, it really wouldn’t be the place for us. Or for anything. Here, we’re pitching what could quickly descend into the ultimate monoculture. In farming and agriculture, this relates to a strategy used by some to always produce the same crop, year in year out, season after season. In terms of short-term efficiency, it can feel like a good bet… although more recently there have been growing arguments against it. Monocultures, over time, have been found to deplete soil of nutrients, rid the countryside of habitats, and actually decrease annual yields as a result. In general, for Earth to work, it needs to host diversity and difference, even on a small scale. But a smooth Earth would be the total opposite, and on the largest scale possible.
So, it’s really not the right fit for this planet, but does it exist anywhere else? Surprisingly (or, unsurprisingly, given the infinite vastness of the universe) yes it does. To some degree, it’s thought that there are flat planets out there. For example, in a study published in October 2021, in the “Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets”, a team based out of Washington University in St. Louis revealed the probable detection of at least three eggshell worlds - based on simulations of expected conditions. These are worlds with an extremely thin and brittle lithosphere - which is the outer part of a planet, what we mostly know on Earth as the crust and the uppermost regions of the mantle. On Earth, this is where convection currents form and plate tectonics take shape, both of which are vital for the emergence and sustenance of life. However, on eggshell worlds, it’s thought that none of that happens. The lithospheres here are extremely fragile. They’re estimated to be just a couple of miles deep, and therefore probably not strong enough to even support mountains, let alone create them. The same goes for valleys and craters. Those kinds of features would most likely collapse in on themselves, on an eggshell planet. Nevertheless, these would constitute significantly smoother celestial objects in contrast to the Earth. As easily broken as they may be, they’re also flat worlds by comparison.
What’s your verdict on this particular alternate reality? If, by some physical impossibility, humans could survive on a flat Earth such as this, then what do you think our daily lives would be like? Let us know in the comments.
For now, for this to happen to us in real life, our planet would have to be put through some kind of unparalleled natural event. There’s really nothing that science knows of that can take down mountains and fill canyons all at once. Those mysterious eggshell worlds are made that way after millions of years of cosmological evolution… as Earth has been made this way after millions of years of the same.
As is so often the case, this is a thought experiment that only serves to highlight just how incredible our world really is. If it were any different, then we could be in a lot of trouble. And, if it were smooth all over, then we’d almost certainly be doomed. Because that’s what happens when the Earth actually is totally flat.