Quantcast

'The Day After Tomorrow' Ice Age Scenario Could Be Possible, Researchers Say

Climate

Two separate and very different studies have confirmed a climate paradox—that global warming and a slowdown in the Atlantic Ocean currents could trigger climate change and bring a prolonged chill in Europe.

Icicles glisten as the sun sets in Denmark. Photo credit: Teralaser / Flickr

One researcher argues that not only could it happen, it must have happened every 1,500 years or so during the last Ice Age and that the transitions were complete within one to two centuries.

Another scientist has used the latest climate model to test what would happen if the Atlantic current slowed or collapsed during a period of global warming. He found that for 20 years the planet would cool, rather than continue to warm. And then global warming would resume.

Julia Gottschalk, an Earth scientist at Cambridge University and her colleagues report in Nature Geoscience that they examined links between ocean circulation and alternating cold and warm periods that ended 12,000 years ago—long before human civilization began to increase the carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere and trigger global warming.

Climate Machine

The ocean phenomenon in question is known to climate scientists as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). The Gulf Stream that delivers surface tropic warmth to the North Sea and Scandinavia is part of this global climate machine, also sometimes referred to as the Atlantic Conveyor because it returns cold dense water along the ocean bottom towards the Equator and the Southern Ocean.

By looking at evidence from fossilized plankton and from ice cores, the Cambridge team pieced together a story of alternating Ice Age climate change independent of humans. As sea surfaces got warmer, icebergs broke off the Northern hemisphere ice sheets and large amounts of fresh water entered the oceans.

The circulation slowed rapidly, sea ice formed around Greenland and the northern hemisphere got colder again. The link between sluggish ocean circulation and rapid climate change could be seen, again and again, in the Ice Age sediments. The surprise was the speed at which such changes happened.

At least two studies this year have already raised the possibility of an Atlantic ocean circulation slowdown—driven by global warming—that could have costly consequences for Europe. So confirmation from the past is also important for climate scientists concerned with the future.

“Recent results suggest that the overturning circulation in the Atlantic has faced a slowdown during the last few decades,” Dr. Gottschalk says. “We are only beginning to understand what it would mean for global climate should this trend continue, as predicted by some climate models.”

Abrupt Collapse

And at least one climate model makes precisely such a prediction. Sybren Drijfhout, professor in physical oceanography and climate physics at the University of Southampton’s National Oceanography Center, writes in the journal Scientific Reports that he simulated the probability of an abrupt collapse of the AMOC phenomenon, as a consequence of manmade greenhouse warming.

This was the event that triggered climate disaster in the 2004 Hollywood movie The Day After Tomorrow. And although Professor Drijfhout’s paper does not cite the movie, he did use an advanced climate model to test the scientific premise on which the film was based.

He reports that the simulations show that if global warming and a collapse of AMOC occur simultaneously, the planet may cool, rather than warm, for about 20 years. Thereafter, global warming will resume as if AMOC had never collapsed. Within 40 years, the Earth would be warming at present rates.

This cooling is unlikely to involve the sudden, catastrophic glaciation in Europe and North America that provided part of the Hollywood spectacle. But it could certainly affect local European temperatures for a few decades.

“Near the eastern boundary of the North Atlantic (including the British Isles), it takes more than a century before temperature is back to normal,” Professor Drijfhout says.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Interactive Map Shows 414 U.S. Cities Already Locked Into Catastrophic Sea Level Rise

Rolling Stone’s Jeff Goodell Shares Insights Into Obama’s Climate Strategy

Melting of Antarctic Ice Shelves Could Double by 2050, Dramatically Increasing Sea Level Rise

Viral Video Confronts the War on Science

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

By Wenonah Hauter

Five years ago this week, an emergency manager appointed by then-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder made the devastating decision to save money by switching Flint's water supply over from Detroit's water system to the Flint River. Seen as a temporary fix, the new water supply was not properly treated. High levels of lead leached from the old pipes, poisoning a generation of Flint's children, and bacteria responsible for an outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease killed more than a dozen residents.

Read More Show Less
Los Angeles-Long Beach, California is listed as the nation's smoggiest city. Pixabay

Seven million more Americans lived in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution between 2015 and 2017 than between 2014 and 2016, and climate change is partly to blame, Time reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Kissing bug. Pavel Kirillov / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that the kissing bug, which can transmit a potentially deadly parasite, has spread to Delaware, ABC News reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
"Take the pledge today." Screenshot / StopFoodWasteDay.com

Did you know that more than a third of food is wasted or thrown away every year? And that only 25 percent of it would be enough to feed the 795 million undernourished people in the world? That's why today is Stop Food Waste Day, a chance to reflect on what you can do to waste less of the food you buy.

Stop Food Waste Day is an initiative of food service company Compass Group. It was launched first in the U.S, in 2017 and went global the year after, making today it's second worldwide celebration.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

Berries are among the healthiest foods you can eat.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral on April 15 in Paris, France. Veronique de Viguerie / Getty Images

When Paris's Notre Dame caught fire on April 15, the flames threatened more than eight centuries of culture and history. The fire evoked shock, horror and grief worldwide. While the cathedral burned, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed determination to rebuild what the French regard as a sacred site.

Read More Show Less
An artist's impression of NASA's InSight lander on Mars. NASA / JPL-CALTECH

Scientists have likely detected a so-called marsquake — an earthquake on Mars — for the first time, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced on Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
Hero Images / Getty Images

Across the political aisle, a majority of American parents support teaching climate change in schools even though most teachers currently do not.

Read More Show Less