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