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Winter Is Coming

Science Tells Us Whether Game of Thrones‘ Wall Could Exist In Real Life


Wired, in a blessed union of science and pop culture, asked scientists for their expert opinions on the feasibility of Game of Thrones’ Wall, a 700-foot-tall icy fortification that defends the 300-mile-long northern border of Westeros against the Wildlings, White Walkers, giants, talking polar bears… wait, no. Sorry. Wrong franchise on that last one.

Anyway. What’s the verdict? Could such a thing really exist?

Nope.

Even if it were built in the real-world equivalent to Game of Thrones‘ wintry North, where temperatures never get above freezing, an ice structure as large as the Wall would still “deform under [its] own weight,” explains engineer Mary Albert of Dartmouth College’s Ice Drilling Program Office. (She must have the best business card ever.) “And over long time scales, ice flows, so it would not hold its original shape for thousands of years” the way the Wall has, she adds.

Dartmouth glaciologist Bob Hawley adds that the deformation would take the form of the bottom of the Wall bulging out as the pressure bears the top of it down. “Try making a post out of Silly Putty and leaving it for an hour, and you will get the picture,” he adds.

Man, that mental image made the scene where [season three spoiler] the Wildlings scale the Wall a heck of a lot funnier.

If human engineers really, really, really wanted to build a Wall, they might be able to get around the deformation problem by making it a sloping ridge. But if the Wall were still to be 700 feet high, estimates University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Martin Truffer, it would have to be about 40 times that in width at the bottom.

So basically you’d be creating a super-intense hill for Wildling children to sled down. It’d still be dangerous, mind you. But these are Wildlings we’re talking about. You know they’d do it.

(via: Wired)

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  • R.O.U.S.

    Giggling at the sledding wildlings.

  • http://twitter.com/granderegine N. Therrien

    Don’t they make it fairly clear in the novels that the Wall was built using magic, in addition to human engineering?

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s all rumor. They say Brandon the Builder made it with the help of the Children of the Forest. It’s probably magic, but no one in current Westeros actually knows.

  • Hannah Wilson

    Not to spoil things too badly, but there is a point in the books when they find at least one clearly magical thing about the wall that lends credence to the idea that the whole this is sort of woven with magic.

    Click if you don’t care about spoilers (scroll to the bit about the gate) – http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Nightfort

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    Mormont mentions that every other previous NIght Commander has added height to the Wall, so I always assumed they did continuous maintenance, thinning at the bottom where it bulges and adding at the top. If it weren’t flowing like that, it’d probably be higher.

  • http://twitter.com/granderegine N. Therrien

    Spoilers are great for those who’ve already read the books but don’t have the memory for some of the finer plot points. Thanks for the link!

  • http://twitter.com/granderegine N. Therrien

    But we also know that the Night’s Watch, at this point, doesn’t have sufficient members to patrol the whole Wall, let alone maintain it like that.

  • Anonymous

    I totally forgot about that! Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jake-Brown/100001787464192 Jake Brown

    From what I remember the Night’s watch built up the wall with rocks as well as ice so I don’t know if that was also taken into consideration. Also Magic. So yeah

  • kieron George

    But the hoover dam is both taller than that AND holding back a massive body of water(ice can’t be that different). So sounds like bull honkey to me.

  • Canisa

    It may surprise you to learn that water ice and steel-reinforced concrete have different material properties.

  • http://skemono.blogspot.com/ Skemono

    Ah, but what if the ice were pykrete? Eh? Then what, smarty-pants scientists?

  • Not So Young Democrat

    Science ruins everything

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Attewell/1766239085 Steven Attewell

    The Wall isn’t just made of ice, though. There’s stone in there too. Oh, and MAGIC.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Attewell/1766239085 Steven Attewell

    Rocks, gravel, ice, and magic. Yep.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Attewell/1766239085 Steven Attewell

    And using giant labor thanks to Brandon the Builder’s spells.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=21005136 Danielle Parish

    Maybe I read the books wrong, but I was never under the impression that the wall was completely made of ice. It has a structure that they’ve been maintaining and adding height to.

  • Myomorph

    Pshaw wildings. I’d wanna do it. And crack my skull prolly, but yeah.

  • http://twitter.com/bartholope Stephen

    Question: Could the Wall exist in real life?
    Answer: Not physically possible.
    Question: Well what if they used magic…in real life…?

    People are funny. Also, adding rock and other material wouldn’t add to the structural strength. The immense weight of glaciers at the base and other internal pressure points causes the ice to melt, thereby making them highly unstable. Adding loose rock would add weight without adding structural strength. Real glaciers do contain large amounts of rock and soil, which get lifted and carried throughout the mass until eventually deposited through melting or pushed out. The Wall wouldn’t behave any differently. Without magic.

  • Anonymous

    Well, it’s a good thing then that the Wall was built, and remains standing, by magic.

  • http://booooomstrawberries.tumblr.com/ Natalie Sharp

    Two words- Magic ice. FIXED. FOREVER.

  • Anonymous

    This is what I was thinking, too. Although, I don’t know where the materials were coming from.

  • Anonymous

    Science has determined that a magical wall couldn’t exist in real life? I am shocked. And here I was hoping we could build a self-defending 700-ft wall of ice to keep all those pesky Canadians out.