A scientist has warned that the scenes from the 2004 blockbuster disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow are no longer science fiction and are already starting to take place.
The movie, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Dennis Quaid, is an overdramatisation of what would happen under extreme climate change, with New York City being frozen solid after just a few days following a huge tsunami. Most of North America and Europe becomes a frozen wasteland in the movie and, although it might seem farfetched, sometimes reality is scarier than fiction.
A recently published paper by climate scientist Niklas Boers, reveals that the Atlantic Ocean’s Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation – which creates the Gulf Stream which moves warm water from the Indian Ocean across to the Gulf of Mexico and Europe before cooling down around Greenland and South America – is starting to falter.
In the paper, which is available on Nature, Boers writes: “Observations and recently suggested fingerprints of AMOC variability indicate a gradual weakening during the last decades, but estimates of the critical transition point remain uncertain.
“Significant early-warning signals are found in eight independent AMOC indices, based on observational sea-surface temperature and salinity data from across the Atlantic Ocean basin.
“These results reveal spatially consistent empirical evidence that, in the course of the last century, the AMOC may have evolved from relatively stable conditions to a point close to a critical transition”
Essentially, due to the rising temperatures caused by the climate crisis, more freshwater from Greenland’s ice sheets is melting and being dumped into the system and isn’t cooling down where it originally should have. This is therefore causing a problem in the AMOC which could lead to something similar to The Day After Tomorrow.
However, Boers believes that, unlike the movie, the effects of the kink would take decades to take hold and neither North America nor Europe would experience the extreme freezing depicted in the Roland Emmerich film – but it could happen eventually if the AMOC system has a critical transition.
Worryingly, this has happened before. Studies show that, 11,700 years ago, a glacial lake burst and spilt through into the Atlantic ocean, causing the AMOC to shut down towards the end of the Earth’s most recent ice age. This huge influx of freshwater plunged much of the northern hemisphere into a deep cold that lasted 1000 years.