Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Label me Doom-Sayer

I saw 'Day After Tomorrow' sometime in 2012. The movie stars Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal and Emmy Rossum. DoT is an outright disaster movie. The end of the world. Apocalypse. Call it what you will. The weird thing is that the plot isn't sounding so outlandish anymore. When I saw this movie first, I could not envision such a world. But in the past couple of years, believe it or not, there are signs of changes in our climate. Events in the movie are shown to coalesce towards a tipping point and there's a sequence in the events. While the movie is a very fictionalized account of a disaster scenario, the triggers are very much there. We all agree that the consequences of global warming and climate change cannot be gauged. It's not going to happen exactly like the movies. But there are consequences. And there are warning signs. All around us in fact. Here's the deal - 



Let's check these off the list - 
  • The first event shown in the movie is the Larsen 8 ice-shelf collapsing in the sea. Let's examine what's happening out there in the real world. 
    • Back in May 2014, there was a study done by NASA which showcased the simple fact that the West Antarctic ice sheet was collapsing and that very soon there would be a tipping point from which there would be no return. Check out the article here. You can find the original study published by NASA here. This was real news. 
    • Then in Jun 2014, we found out that not only was the problem compounded by global warming but also by warm waters seeping underneath the West Antarctic ice sheet. This study was done by the Department of Geophysics at the University of Texas. You can find the original study here. This fundamentally changed our timelines. The West Antarctic ice sheet is basically a big chunk of ice sitting on rock (for the most part). Some part of the ice is actually directly above sea water (and the rock is under this). The warm sea water was increasing the erosion underneath the ice sheet and thereby speeding the process of collapse. 
    • In Dec-2014, The Washington Post published a news article putting all these incidents together. By this time, we'd found out that the West Antarctic collapse could not be reversed. We had found out that the warm waters underneath the ice shelf are also compounded by the possible presence of a volcano under another portion of the ice shelf. You can read the article here. This article was based on a study conducted by the University of California and it calculated (based on 30 years worth of data) that Antarctica was shedding ice equivalent to one Mount Everest every two years. You can check out the actual research paper here
    • Check out a video explaning this in further detail. 

  • The second and third event can actually be clubbed under one major event - the disruption of the North Atlantic ocean current (also called Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation or AMOC for short). In Dec 2014, the University of Exeter published a study that showed early warning signs of disruption in the AMOC. Nature published this study immediately (you can read it here). Generally, the quality of content published by Nature magazine is high. Research is peer-reviewed and accepted by the majority of the scientific community. 
  • Weird weather anomalies - Now here we start to depart from strict fact into conjecture. We have been seeing extreme weather throughout the world. But there are a few examples that are path-breaking for their uniqueness. 
    • 2014 is the hottest year on record
    • Sea ice near the Arctic circle is the highest ever recorded this winter. 
    • Polar vortex extended right down to North America this year. 
    • There was snow recorded in the Al Zulfi desert (this has never happened). 
  • What follows in the movie is a series of events that lead to an ice age. Here the movie departs from strict science and moves into the realm of fiction. 

While we're putting all this together, let's also look at the sudden desperation that world leaders are showing in their negotiations on a new climate accord. The Lima conference has been a critical step in this direction. While progess has been minimal, there has been general consensus that we are very close to a crisis. While it is unlikely that we shall see drastic changes in our own life-time, there's no denying that the pace of collapse is much much faster than we had envisioned. Every new research that is done yields alarming results and shortens the timeline that nature has given us even further. It will be interesting to see how events pan out over the next few years and whether governments across the world are able to make some dramatic and radical changes to halt the current trends.