Act 2: SCIENCE
In his quest, Writer seeks three wise men: the ORACLES of WATER, HUMAN LIFE and the FUTURE. Each is a highly respected expert, a leader in his field.
Writer goes in search of the ORACLE OF WATER. Richard Alley, a professor of geosciences at Penn State, has testified before the U.S. Senate about abrupt climate change, chaired the National Research Council committee on the subject, and is himself a leading real-life paleoclimatologist. He is an expert on ice cores, long tubes of ice dug from glaciers that reveal changes in Earth’s climate over millennia. If anyone knows whether the climate really undergoes such massive shifts, he does.
In the spooky half-light of an Arctic morning, Writer stumbles across the ice, calling to the Oracle. Suddenly, a whirring sound fills the air, becoming a vibration below. Then, with a pop, a spinning figure shoots from the ice, twirling like a mad gopher. As the figure slows we see it is the Oracle, busy drilling ice cores. He speaks.
WRITER: Dr. Alley, I must know: Is the science behind this movie real, despite exaggerations and impossible timelines?
Cut to a montage of shots, in which the Oracle reveals how abrupt climate change works, illustrating his points with magazine-style infographics. (See a copy of the Oracle’s documents on page 61.)
WRITER (voiceover): The Oracle explained that abrupt climate change centers on something called the Great Ocean Conveyor, a loop of current that moves throughout the world’s waters. It keeps much of the Northern Hemisphere toasty by pulling warm tropical water north and pushing cold water south.
He said that when the warm water, which travels on the surface, reaches its northernmost point, near Iceland, it releases its heat into the atmosphere. This heat warms much of the Northern Hemisphere, especially Europe. The now cold water sinks to the ocean bottom—cold water is denser than warm—and this movement, this sinking, drives the entire current: It draws warm water north and shoves cold water south.
The Oracle then went on to show me how, paradoxically, if Earth warms too much, the weather—at least in much of the Northern Hemisphere—will get cold. If global warming proceeds apace, and enough Arctic ice melts, this melted ice—cold, fresh water—will mix with the warm, salty water coming up in the current. Since freshwater is less dense than salty water, the lukewarm, brackish water won’t have any reason to sink, and the engine that powers the ocean current will shut down. Melting Arctic ice could snap the conveyor belt.
The consequences of this shutdown would be sudden and catastrophic: No more heat for Northern Europe or the east coast of North America; they would turn into frigid wastelands. Ocean temperatures would fluctuate dramatically and in turn disrupt weather patterns worldwide (remember El Nio?). Droughts, floods, apocalyptic storms, subarctic temperatures or searing heat become the norm, depending on which unfortunate corner of the globe you happen to call home.
WRITER: So there is some science behind what happens in the movie?
ALLEY: Well, it wouldn’t be anything like in the movie, with people freezing and shattering and such at minus 150
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