“The Day after Tomorrow”
Ignores Scientific Principles

By Alisha Kamboj

For years, scientists have worried about the scientific fallacies in the media that misinform individuals who may not be able to differentiate between fact and fiction.

After seeing the film "The Day after Tomorrow," Andrew J. Weaver[1] commented: "The media hype generated by a blockbuster movie provides a great opportunity to reach a wide audience and talk about nonfiction earth science."

The film bends the line between scientific fact and science fiction. Among the misconceptions in the film are the depictions of hurricanes and abrupt climate change.

Hurricanes in the movie form in the ocean and on land; produce frozen precipitation; and freeze people with Arctic winds of minus-150 degrees F. However, real hurricanes gather strength from heat and moisture in warm ocean waters and lose strength on land. Additionally, hurricanes cannot produce frozen precipitation because the water vapor in hurricanes rises too swiftly to allow for sufficient cooling and the precipitation that falls goes through a very warm region of air.

Also, no hurricane could cover the entire Northern Hemisphere. Since a strong atmospheric gradient and winds are only possible over small distances, there cannot be storms everywhere at once, as depicted in the movie. Even if such storms were possible, wind of minus150-degrees F are colder than any temperature so far detected in nature. The lowest recorded temperature on Earth was minus-128.6 degrees F at Vostock, Antarctica on July 21, 1983.

Although climate change can occur in parts of the world, it would be impossible for the climate to change as abruptly as depicted in the movie, i.e., the arrival of a new ice age in a matter of a few weeks. At one point in the movie, the temperatures in New York City are said to be dropping 10 degrees every second. This is a physical impossibility as New York would, within minutes, be at absolute zero — a theoretical state at which matter neither emits nor absorbs heat energy. This state would result in the death of all organisms on Earth.

Emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases affect ocean currents, but they cannot trigger an ice age. Increased levels of greenhouse gases would result in higher temperatures in most parts of the planet. Additionally, Earth’s orbit is in a different phase than the last major ice age 20,000 years ago, and the Northern Hemisphere is receiving more solar energy in the summer than would be associated with another ice age.

In the movie "The Day after Tomorrow" there are a plethora of incorrect concepts regarding hurricanes and abrupt climate change. Although the movie is quite interesting, some of what is portrayed needs tweaking. In order to dispel misconceptions about science, the public must be properly educated and the popular media should depict scientific facts, and not science fictions.

[1] Climatologist at the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria, British Colombia, Canada.