Byline: MICHAEL HANLON
WE HAVE had some strange weather lately - parts of the country have been treated to some quite spectacular downpours this week - but imagine what it would be like if the climate went really crazy.
Imagine, for instance, if Britain was plunged into a winter the like of which we have not seen for 10,000 years, when the last Ice Age ended. The Thames and even the Channel would freeze over and the entire country would grind to a halt.
Famine would stalk the land and southern Europe would face a refugee crisis, as starving Northerners headed to where food could still be grown. In North America, gigantic storms and 100ft waves would pound the great cities of the eastern seaboard, followed by month-long blizzards that would encase the skyscrapers of New York in ice.
Tornadoes and hurricanes would batter the city, wrecking whole blocks at a time.
Across India, heat would be replaced by driving winds and subzero temperatures. In a matter of weeks our civilisation, the greatest the world has known, would start to break down. Technology would be no match for the new Ice Age.
This is the alarming scenario in what promises to be this summer's movie blockbuster, The Day After Tomorrow. Set in the near future, the $125million film paints a chilling picture of a planet whose climate has gone haywire - a catastrophe triggered by global warming.
But instead of getting hotter, the movie postulates a scenario whereby the greenhouse effect actually triggers a new Ice Age. It sounds preposterous, and it is safe to say that the film, made by the same team responsible for alieninvasion hit Independence Day, will be long on special effects and short on dialogue, characterisation and plot.
But could it ever happen?
Amazingly, there is some scientific basis for this doomsday scenario, and the filmmakers insist the plot is based on real scientific research about what could happen to our climate in the coming century. The idea is being taken seriously, and the plot of The Day After Tomorrow has even been mentioned in august journals such as Science magazine.
At first glance, it seems worryingly plausible. The science behind the plot is based on the relationship between global warming and the Gulf Stream - the huge current which sweeps warm water and mild air from the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean up the eastern U.S. coast and across the Atlantic to Britain.
It is the Gulf Stream off our western coast that gives Britain its mild, temperate climate; without it, southern England would have the climate of Labrador or Siberia, parts of which are on the same latitude, and Scotland would be sub-Arctic tundra. It also keeps the ports of the eastern U.S.
ice-free in winter.
The Gulf Stream pumps the equivalent of 27,000 power stations of warmth into Britain every year. Without it, temperatures in summer would be much the same, but winters would see the mercury regularly plunging to 30c below and the seas around our coasts would freeze.
So how could global warming trigger such a dramatic cooling?
Some scientists have recently speculated that as the world gets warmer, much of the Greenland ice sheet could melt, releasing huge quantities of cold, fresh water into the North Atlantic. …