Day After Tomorrow: Fact vs. Fiction

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The disaster film epic, The Day After Tomorrow, depicts a world where global warming triggers an abrupt climate change, creating a worldwide superstorm that unleashes unimaginable global weather disasters. In the span of just a few days, tornados devastate Los Angeles, huge hail pounds Tokyo, and colossal tsunamis and blizzards whip New York. Could it really happen? Are these events based on true scientific fact? Like much science fiction, The Day After Tomorrow is based on some solid scientific fact Climatologists consider a sudden global warming-induced climate shift unlikely in the next 100 years, but do acknowledge their computer models are too crude to know just what the probabilities are. It goes like this: The ocean helps keep the global climate in balance. Warm water from the tropics travels north along the US coast, makes a right turn and heads for Europe. There, it gets saltier, sinks and heads back under the Atlantic to the tropics to get warmed up again. Some of the latest thinking suggests that this conveyor belt has shut off abruptly in the past due to melting glaciers and ice sheets in the North Atlantic. The resulting cold water freshens the normally salty water and keeps it from sinking. This shuts the whole thing down and creates large imbalances in global temperature because the Earth has lost a critical way to manage its temperature (not unlike the way your body manages your body temperature). Guess what Mother Nature really hates losing? Her balance. In The Day After Tomorrow, temperatures in New York City plummet from sweltering to freezing in hours. Temperatures in parts of the world could drop, but not nearly as rapidly or dramatically as portrayed in the movie. In a warmer world, additional rain at middle and high latitudes, plus melt from glaciers, will add more fresh water to the oceans. This could affect currents that transport heat north from the tropics and might result in parts of North America and Europe becoming relatively...
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