The film The Day After Tomorrow was heavily criticized by climate scientists when it first screened at cinemas in the year 2004. However, the scenario of an abrupt collapse of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulations (AMOC) was never actually investigated, until now.
The film depicts catastrophic climatic effects in a series of extreme weather events that ends in global cooling, which leads to a new Ice Age. The movie is based around the major northward current in the Atlantic Ocean (AMOC) collapsing, which then starts an environmental disaster.
According to Professor Sybren Drijfhout from Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton, the German climate model — ECHAM — at the Max-Planck Institute showed if global warming and a collapse of the AMOC occurred simultaneously,
there would be a period of 20 years where the Earth would cool instead of warm.
After that, global warming would continue as though the AMOC had never collapsed, but there would be a globally averaged temperature offset of about 0.8°C (1.4°F).
“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 [the] temperature is back to normal,” Drijfhout said in a press release.
“When a similar cooling or reduced heating is caused by volcanic eruptions or decreasing greenhouse emissions, the heat flow is reversed, from the ocean into the atmosphere. A similar reversal of energy flow is also visible at the top of the atmosphere. These very different fingerprints in energy flow between atmospheric radioactive forcing and internal ocean circulation processes make it possible to attribute the cause of a climate hiatus period.”
Could The Day After Tomorrow happen?
In the study, which was published in Scientific Reports, it says the recent period of very weak warming cannot be attributed to one single cause. However, El Niño most probably plays a role and possibly also changes in the Southern Ocean due to shifting and increasing westerlies.
“It can be excluded, however, that this hiatus period was solely caused by changes in atmospheric forcing — either due to volcanic eruptions — more aerosols emissions in Asia, or reduced greenhouse gas emissions,” Prof. Sybren said.
“Changes in ocean circulation must have played an important role. Natural variations have counteracted the greenhouse effect for a decade or so, but I expect this period is over now.”