MSNBC] In the 2004 disaster-flick “Day After Tomorrow,” abrupt man-made climate change knocks the planet into a state of utter chaos. At the time, the movie’s vision of the apocalypse wasn’t seen as realistic. But that’s begun to change.
Two new studies deepen the fear that global warming could shut down
the circulation of the oceans, much as the movie portrays, dropping vast
stretches of Asia into drought and exposing the whole Northern
Hemisphere to severe ice and snow.
Unlike gradual climate change, where the planet warms steadily, this
change would be sudden and sharp enough to roil civilization—happening
in as little as three years and resulting in as much as an 18-degree
Fahrenheit drop in average temperatures.
Jud Partin is the lead author of the stronger of the two studies,
supported by the National Science Foundation and published in the
journal Nature Communication.
He’s also a geophysicist at the University of Texas, and an unabashedly
close viewer of a certain summer blockbuster starring Dennis Quaid as
hero-scientist Jack Hall.
“In the movie they defy the laws of physics,” Partin told msnbc,
referring to hurricanes that form over land and other impossible
weather. “But they got the climate science more or less right.”
The climate science deals with the “Atlantic thermohaline
circulation,” an oceanic conveyor belt that carries heat from the
tropics to the north, where it warms Western Europe and Eastern North
America. It’s a fragile pattern, dependent on precise levels of
salinity; Partin and others believe it could stop as Greenland’s ice
sheets melt, flooding the ocean with fresh water.
To glimpse our possible future, Partin and his colleagues gathered
new geological data and re-examined the deep past. They looked at an
earlier, all-natural melt-off that happened about 12,000 years. Known as
the “Younger Dryas,” the period was defined by a deep chill across the
Ice core studies cited by Partin show an 18-degree Fahrenheit drop in
average temperatures across Greenland. New York and London would be
slightly warmer, he believes, but still frigid with average temperature
drops of at least a dozen degrees. That might seem small, but even
minute changes in the average are a signal of extreme swings in actual
And the effects of this temperature change would be felt in a matter
of years or decades, rather than a century or longer. That’s because
this part of the climate system seems to work more like a switch than a
dial. Once a certain threshold is reached, there’s a big, fast swing in
the conditions over large parts of the planet.
“It would definitely change everyday life in Europe and North
America,” Partin told MSNBC. “Daily life would be drastically affected
in these areas, in ways I can’t imagine or begin to address.” Read More