Just another sci-fi flick?
2. Climatic roller-coaster
3. Furious feedback
4. Warming Southern
About 3,250 square kilometers of Larsen B
ice shelf, a floating ice mass along the Antarctic Peninsula, shattered
and drifted away in 2002. The landward ice sheet is now sliding
faster into the ocean. That could raise sea levels in a hurry.
and Ted Scambos
This current carries heat around the globe.
Could it be disturbed by melting freshwater entering the North Atlantic?
The premise of Day After has some basis in climatic history.
Ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica
provide long-term records of past climate. Photo:
Seen The Day After Tomorrow? The new adventure
movie follows a posse of high-school super-nerds hounded by water
and ice. Maybe it's just the allure of seeing New York and
Los Angeles undergo on-screen obliteration, but the disaster film
is burning up the box office.
It's scary: Global warming, caused by burning too much fossil fuel, suddenly
reverses circulation in the Atlantic Ocean, triggering continent-wide
storms and then an ice age. As a 50-foot wave drenches up-scale
merchandise along Fifth Avenue, our heroes cower in the upper floors
of the New York Public Library, burning books to stay warm.
Meanwhile, climatologist Dennis Quaid, coincidentally
the father of one library-bound nerd, predicts that the storm will
wind up in a new ice age.
The vice-president, a Dick Cheney look-alike,
tells Quaid to slack off: Experts are taking care of the situation.
effects are making Earth look like it's stumbled into a meat
In Hollywood, you ignore nerd-stars at your peril. Within a week, with half the Northern Hemisphere sheathed in ice, the chastened veep, now promoted to president, has changed his tune. From his bivouac in Mexico City, he finally admits the error of dissing the danger of global warming.
the movie bear any relation to reality, or is it just another blockheaded
summer blockbuster? While the time period is ridiculously compressed,
scientists say it contains a kernel of truth. Says Penn State geologist
Richard Alley, a specialist in past climates, "I think it's great
science fiction, when I read the script I enjoyed it as science
fantasy. But it does raise questions. Most science fiction starts
from something that is scientifically interesting, and goes into
fiction. Abrupt climate change has been real, and could be real
in the future."
At the very least, scientists no longer view
climate as a steady, lumbering beast. Instead, it exhibits what
Alley calls "bumps, jumps and wiggles."
6.3 billion people
living on Earth, those bumps and jumps matter more than ever, whether
they concern rainfall, temperature, or storms.
Fifteen thousand years ago, the globe was still in the throes of a long ice age. Only after the planet warmed did we get cities, writing, agriculture, even roller coasters and primates that climb cliffs for kicks.
The 10,000 years of human civilization have played out -- no accident -- against the backdrop of a steady climate. But could our familiar, benign weather end as abruptly as it started?
10 degrees C of change -- whether heating or cooling -- would be a catastrophe.
How powerful is the evidence for abrupt climate change in the past?