The Day After Tomorrow: Global Warming Not Enough To Stop Dawning Ice Age

The Day After Tomorrow (2004) was a film that showed what would happen if climate change and global warming went unchecked. There is an ironic twist to the fate of Earth when it comes to global warming. A period of dramatic cooling could take effect as a result of global warming causing a chain of events beginning with the warming of the oceans and ending with disastrous consequences to humans, wildlife, and the habitability of much of the Earth’s surface.

Approaching the situation from a new angle, researchers have determined that it would take 40 years to recover from the abrupt ice age depicted in the film The Day After Tomorrow. Global warming itself would be ended for at least 20 years. The mechanics of this are twofold: global warming and the sudden collapse of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC).

Professor Sybren Drijfhout, who conducted the study, determined that some areas of Earth would be more affected than others. Parts of the British Isles would take up to a century to return to similar weather to now.

The fact is that if we lose the gulf stream, then events could spiral into extreme weather patterns and if that tips in favor of a mini ice age, we are doomed to decades of freezing temperatures globally. This is an ironic twist of fate considering that intuitively one would expect global warming to cause a rise, not a drop in temperatures. This is where it is easy to get confused.

The extent to which we should worry about the scenes depicted in the film, it is extreme compared to the predictions based on this cooling period. Although, the cooling would be dramatic, it would not involve the conversion of entire continents to arctic regions. However, arctic weather could be a regular feature as it was throughout the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Drijfhout calculates that recovery for the Earth could take at least two generations.

“The planet earth recovers from the AMOC collapse in about 40 years when global warming continues at present-day rates, but near the eastern boundary of the North Atlantic including the British Isles it takes more than a century before temperature is back to normal.”

Ironically, the collapse of the AMOC is caused by heat exchange between the atmosphere and ocean. As the oceans heat, and the current system of winds on the Earth slow down, thereby changing the global wind patterns such that warm air can no longer circulate in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

The fact that certain population live in these regions, such as the bulk of the United States, this would place large economies at risk and would create a situation, as depicted in the movie, of the day after tomorrow when, in a twist of fate, Americans must emigrate to Mexico.

Putting the drama of human devastation aside for a moment, if one agrees this should be avoided, then global warming should be stopped.

In fact, Professor Sybren Drijfhout conjectures that the natural forces which have counteracted human attributable global warming are likely to end soon, if they have not already.

Would humans simply adapt to colder temperatures, as these two men in Moscow playing chess in the frost?
LONDON - JANUARY 28: A London street is covered in snow as snow storms hit London on January 28, 2004 in London. The extreme cold would bring life to a standstill.
A school bus drives along a highway in a snow storm in Brooklyn on March 5, 2015 in New York City. It is believed that if global cooling were to take place, it would be scenes like this which would be normal for all times of the year, not just winter.

The Day After Tomorrow website, set up to check the science of the film by the same name, explains what would happen in the worst case scenario.

  • Glacial ice sheets and polar ice caps melted.
  • Sea levels rise due to the above melting.
  • Coastal areas are flooded.
  • Increases in precipitation and therefore river runoff and ocean salinity changes (changing ocean currents).
  • Marine life decimated as a million species become extinct by 2050.
  • Crops ruined, resulting in famine.
  • Fresh water declines.
  • Extreme weather more common.
  • Droughts and floods across the globe.
  • Human population cut due to malnutrition, heat stress, and widespread disease, including cholera.

The evidence exists for the movement toward this worst case as the top part of the above are beginning to happen. This is a chain of events, so if we are starting at the top, then the bottom would occur 50 years later. Hence, “The Day After Tomorrow.”

Experts say that time is currently on our side.

“The timeframe for such an event would not be days or weeks but rather decades and the deep freeze would probably not reach Ice Age proportions.”

Still, 50 years is not 500 years, and this means many of us will still be alive — or at least our children will be — when the day after tomorrow is upon us.

[Images by Spencer Platt, Ian Walton, Oleg Nikishin / Getty Images]