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  • Mridul Mittal

Is ‘Day After Tomorrow’ Unfolding Today?

Updated: May 22, 2019

In August 1981, a scientific paper was published in a journal called Science that carried several projections about the climate changes that we are likely to experience based on the rate of manmade CO2 emissions. Written by a team of atmospheric physicists, the study included several graphs that noted the growth of atmospheric carbon dioxide and attempted a futuristic prediction of how the weather would be after twenty years.

They were spot on…

Let me quote an extract from this study –

“The global temperature rose by 0.2ºC between the middle 1960’s and 1980, yielding a warming of 0.4ºC in the past century. This temperature increase is consistent with the calculated greenhouse effect due to measured increases of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Variations of volcanic aerosols and possibly solar luminosity appear to be primary causes of observed fluctuations about the mean rend of increasing temperature. It is shown that the anthropogenic carbon dioxide warming should emerge from the noise level of natural climate variability by the end of the century, and there is a high probability of warming in the 1980’s. Potential effects on climate in the 21st century include the creation of drought-prone regions in North America and central Asia as part of a shifting of climate zones, erosion of the West Antarctic ice sheet with a consequent worldwide rise in sea level, and opening of the fabled Northwest Passage.”

When the scientists revisited this study in the journal after almost 31 years and found that what was once an apocalyptic future is sadly the present of today.

Man has been predicting the weather for many centuries now. Ancient Babylonians used to predict the weather using cloud patterns. Ancient Chinese by 300 BC had perfected a calendar that had around 24 festivals and each one of them was celebrated to denote a particular change of weather.

Today we have satellites, Super Computers, and the most sophisticated technology in place and yet are not able to accurately predict the weather due to the changing climatic conditions. Ancient Greeks believed that God’s intervention was often responsible for the adverse weather conditions. Many also interpreted thunderstorms as Zeus’s anger unleashed upon the people.

It is unfortunate that we can’t blame the Zeus for our current climate crisis because we and we alone bear the blame for ruining this planet for our children.

2015 – A Record Year in Climate Change

I am sure 2015 would find mention in all Geography books that our future generation will read in the years to come.

Why is it important?

Here is why.

That’s the year when all the dire warning that environmentalists had given came true.

Let me give you some of the biggest climatic incidents that shook the world in 2015. Some parts of the world experienced extremely high temperature while some had to endure extreme low temperature.

In 2015, an extreme heat wave struck India and Pakistan killing thousands of people. In South India, in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana more than two thousand people died of heat exposure. In Pakistan, with the heat wave rising as high as 49 degrees the death toll was more than 2000 people.

Deaths due to heat wave are nothing new to India or Pakistan especially during the summer months but even by their statistics this was the highest death toll in over 30 years!

Washington’s State Olympic National Park is the normally the wettest place in the US. The lush rain forest that gets over 150 inches of rain can’t be anything else, wouldn’t you agree?

   Washington’s State Olympic National Park

But the year 2015 had other plans for this rain forest. The weather became so hot that ancient trees became dry kindling for a raging forest fire. Irony took on a new meaning when rain forests became fodder food for a fire! Over 1600 acres of forest was consumed in the fire.

July 2, 2015, was the hottest day in Britain and Guardian one of its popular newspapers was running a live blog about the rising heat wave all over the United Kingdom, which had to be shut down due to overheated servers!

Northwest of Los Angeles, California a wildfire claimed 1200 acres of land and spread wildly through a major highway spreading chaos and destruction.

Jun 28, 2015, was recorded to be the hottest day in Washington State and what was alarming was the fact that the temperature was rising neck to neck with America’s hottest desert reaching as high 107 degrees!

I could go on and on about the freak cyclones that hit Socotra Island or the hurricanes that simultaneously attacked Australia. The fact of the matter is that unless the carbon emissions are cut and contained we are facing an imminent threat of inundation by seas in the coastal towns leading to economic collapse and migrations.

Unexpected Atlantic Slowdown

Ancient man was able to predict the weather using stars, sun, moon, and shapes of the cloud, subtle wind movements, frogs and other animal behavior. The weather too had been fairly predictable which is what enabled civilizations to grow and thrive. Today, however despite sophisticated satellites monitoring the weather patterns it is becoming increasingly difficult to predict because we are grappling with unprecedented situations.

Let me explain.

Have you seen the movie Day After Tomorrow?

In the movie, thanks to global warming the arctic ice melt adding freshwater to the Atlantic Ocean, which plunges the world into an ice age at an unpredictably rapid pace.

Many climatologists and glacier experts dismissed the movie as just another Hollywood entertainment. Some were however compelled to post blogs and scientific rebuttals reassuring the people that such things were too farfetched and outlandish.

However, the way global climate system is behaving scientists are afraid that the Hollywood movie plot might unfold in reality. Let us look at some of before and after photos that would best describe what Global Warming is doing to our planet-

In Greenland, the ice sheets are melting at a rapid rate and a massive amount of freshwater is getting added to the ocean that is slowing the circulating currents. Since fresh water is less dense than salt water it resists the natural sinking motion at the northern edge of the Gulf Stream and the result is slowing down of Atlantic’s deep current. Though this may not lead to rapid formation of snow as it was depicted in Day After Tomorrow it does have other implications that are significant.

With the increase in freshwater and the slowdown in the Atlantic currents, some of the ocean are cooling down. An unexpected development, this only proves the fact that our climate model predictions are rather conservative by nature.

So how will this slowing down of Atlantic currents affect us?

If you had watched the movie, you would see that fierce storms and rains were followed by the onset of ice and snow in the sea plunging the world into the next ice age.

In real life, though we are spared of such dramatics. It takes decades for the cooling to take place but this phenomenon by itself is very significant because there are many major implications in this imbalance that would affect the ecosystem.

Stefan Rahmstorf, a German Oceanographer, and Climatologist who has been researching the role of ocean currents in climate change said, “If the slowdown of the Atlantic overturning continues, the impacts might be substantial,” says Rahmstorf. “Disturbing the circulation will likely have a negative effect on the ocean ecosystem, and thereby fisheries and the associated livelihoods of many people in coastal areas. A slowdown also adds to the regional sea-level rise affecting cities like New York and Boston.”

Migrating Marine Life

With the ocean water warming up the entire marine ecosystem is undergoing a flux of change.

Today in San Francisco beaches you will spot lots of humpback whales, which used to be a rare sight once upon a time. With the ocean water warm, the whales are finding it difficult to feed in their regular habitat hence this migration.

In northern Alaska, an oil expedition found 35,000 walruses on a single beach, which totally brought home the fact that their habitat (Sea Ice) is increasingly hard to find.

Salmon fishes that are crucial to the coastal ecosystem are an endangered species because the rivers have become too polluted and warm for them to travel around and lay eggs.

Acidification of the Ocean

If you thought that ice sheets melting and sea water level rising is bad enough, there is worse heading our way. Acidification of the ocean happens naturally when the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases. When the seawater absorbs Carbon dioxide, it significantly reduces the seawater pH and carbonate ion concentration.

Why is this important?

It is important because Calcium Carbonate minerals are the building blocks for skeletons and shells for many marine animals and fishes. Let’s take marine snails as an example. Shellfish uses dissolved Carbonate to build their shells and protect themselves from their predators but today their shells are dissolving in the acid sea. Research shows that there is a 0.1 drop in the pH levels of the seas since the preindustrial era. The extent of damage that the acidification has caused is still being studied but it is evident that its impact on the marine life is significant.

The way forward

2015 will also be known for yet another historical event. In Paris, all countries came together to meet, discuss and pledge their commitment to saving our planet. The Paris Climate Change Summit is the need of the hour. A single windmill or a lone house with solar panels cannot change the rapid pace of climate change that is occurring all around us. What we need is drastic action from countries and their governments?

Have you heard of Uruguay?

No? Not many did before the Paris Climate Summit.

Uruguay is a very small South American Country but what they achieved in terms of sustainable energy is nothing short of astounding. Within a short span of a decade Uruguay slashed its carbon footprint so much so that today 94% of their country’s electricity is through renewable energy.

If a small country like Uruguay can accomplish such a feat imagine how much more a country like India can do?