Monday, November 25, 2013

The Star Wars Intro to My Dissertation Defense

As some people may know I have been very busy working on my PhD Dissertation, causing me to rather neglect this blog. I did, however, pass my dissertation defense last Friday (November 22nd), so hopefully I will have a little more free time. The title of my defense was Behavioral evolutionary studies of graphoglyptid trace fossils through the geologic record.

When I give a presentation I like to have a little fun with it. So there were several little jokes and me-isms scattered throughout my defense. The most notable though would be my introductory slide (after the title slide) which played the following clip. I am attaching it here for those of my friends and colleagues who couldn't make it to my defense.

I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Geology of the National Parks in Pictures - Yellowstone

You can find more Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures as well as my Geological State Symbols Across America series at my website


View of my father back in 1997 and me in 2010 during an Old Faithful eruption.

Along the geyser hike looking back towards Old Faithful along Firehole River.

Rainbow with eruption. I'm pretty sure this is Old Faithful erupting but there was another nearby geyser erupting about the same time, so I am not positive.

Lovely algae cover on the water.

Some more hot springs.

My wife and recently born child doing the geyser hike near old faithful.

Stopped to take a geology geek picture of the Continental Divide. However, I think the water ended up going in the same direction, so I think the sign is a bit off.

Panorama of Yellowstone Lake with some hot springs in the front.

Another view of Yellowstone Lake with the wife in the middle.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Some formations near the Mammoth Hot Springs section of the park.

More formations near Mammoth Hot Springs.

 A buffalo was blocking traffic so I wanted to put together a slide show of him walking passed the car.

You can see the rest of the National Park Pictures at my website.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Geology of the National Parks in Pictures - J.D. Rockefeller Parkway

You can find more Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures as well as my Geological State Symbols Across America series at my website


This is a bizarre "National Park" in that there is nothing to it. They wanted a park to connect Yellowstone NP with Grand Teton NP, so they made this one. There is only one place to stop and that is this "visitor's center". The mosquitoes were so bad here I literally jumped out of the car, snapped some pictures, went inside the building for 5 second, then left. It doesn't even have its own webpage. They use part of the Grand Teton NP webpage.

You can see the rest of the National Park Pictures at my website.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Geology of the National Parks in Pictures - Grand Teton

You can find more Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures as well as my Geological State Symbols Across America series at my website


Us getting ready for our first real hike with the few month old.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Geological Movie Review of The Day After Tomorrow - Questions

Geological Movie Review of The Day After Tomorrow - Overview

As the FINAL post for The Day After Tomorrow, here are some questions I designed to be asked in a class while reviewing the movie. You can also find a PDF of this information at my website (linked through the overview page). The Overview page is now complete with a link to the live website with all of the parts in one easy to find location.

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Geological review questions based on the movie

            This is a list of geological questions based on the movie The Day After Tomorrow. Some of the questions can be answered while watching the movie, while others will need extra research on the internet. Some will be both. This is to help broaden your understanding of the geological world and how Hollywood can distort basic scientific principles to make a hit movie.

1. How big was the ice-shelf that broke off in the movie?

2. Has something on this magnitude actually occurred in the past?

3. What is wrong with the “North Atlantic Current” as it is depicted in the movie?

4. The storms are referred to as “hurricanes” in the movie. Are these hurricanes?

5. If they are not hurricanes, could storms form in the manner described in the movie?

6. What actually happens when you sink air from the upper atmosphere?

7. Is it plausible (not probable) that jet fuel can freeze in the center of a storm?

8. What kind of wave is shown flooding New York City?

9. Is it possible for this type of wave to occur?

10. Would it be possible to flood New York City to the extent shown?

11. How does a typical glacier form?

12. Are these glaciers that are forming in the movie?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Geological Movie Review of The Day After Tomorrow - Part 9

- Scientific Input -
1:57:24 - The scientific advisor for the movie is Michael Molitor, PhD. Now I understand that most scientists do not want their names on these types of movies, understandably so, because they may destroy any credibility the scientist may have. Also most decisions about the plotline is essentially the choice of the director with the scientist's ideas taking a back seat. But in reality who is Dr. Molitor and what is his specialty in? He is the founder of CarbonShift Ltd, an Australian company with a focus of helping other companies become more climate aware. He was formally a faculty member at UC San Diego and also a member of the faculty at the Climate Research Division at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He also served at the external advisor to BP on their climate change strategy (UNSW). So all in all, it seems like he is a good person to have as an advisor to a climate change movie.
- Other Notes of Interest -
1:01:22 - Why is there a Russian ship in the middle of NYC? It's not like they were trying to help us or anything because they just sailed in and stopped. The US military maybe I could see, but a Russian ship? I do not see the point.
1:14:39 - They have a conversation in the movie about burning Friedrich Nietzsche. Now I can't see the book they are burning but the interesting thing is that one of Nietzshe's books entitled The Antichrist began partly with: "...Only the day after tomorrow belongs to me. Some are born posthumously." I doubt that the choice in author was coincidental for that scene.
1:55:02 - And who can leave out the memorable last line - "Have you ever seen the air so clear?" I mean what can be a better conclusion to a global destruction movie then a comment on how much better the air quality is after the destruction of most of the planet.
- Overview (or important thoughts to take home) -
     For a movie that plays fast and quick with science, they have an amazing number of small details correct like the date and location of the UN Conference on Global Warming and the ice sheet that broke off of Antarctica. But the main problem I have with this movie is that not only the rate at which things are happening (as stated in the movie, it's happening "too fast") but also some of the basic science points. The freezing of jet fuel, the temperature of the troposphere, the basics of how storms work. They played loose and fast with so much of it that things just started to fall apart. Also they piled the sciencey stuff to the front half of the movie, cramming as much as they could in so that the actioney stuff could dominate the second half of the movie, making for a dense scientific movie with more work than it was worth trying to puzzle out. So, in general, I would say that even though they got some details right, they gave science a good pounding in order to get their "climate change bad" agenda across. Now I'm all for fixing this climate change thing we have going on here, but I like facts more than sensationalism to get people to do it.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Geological Movie Review of The Day After Tomorrow - Part 8

- Glacier Formation -
- Snow Covered World -
Snow Covered Earth1:03:06 - Beginning with the second half of the movie, they start to describe what is going to happen to the Earth following the cessation of the storm activity. They mention that ice and snow will cover "the entire Northern Hemisphere" (apparently the Southern Hemisphere doesn't get cold?). This will lead into what is known as a perpetual cycle of cooling. The white snow reflects the sun, preventing warming, causing the Earth to cool even more. They also state that the Earth's temperature will be close to that of the last ice age, which is about 8°C cooler than it is today ( Now keep in mind this is the average global temperature, not any one particular locality. The movie is stating that this one storm is going to drop the entire global temperature 11 times lower than the entire rise in temperature the planet has seen in the last century due to human activity (NASA). That is terribly extreme, but it seems to fall in line with the extremeness of the entire movie.
Alpine Glacier
- Frozen Oceans -
1:09:02 - The snow covered world represented in the image above left (as seen in the movie) was supposed to represent snow and ice fall (I assume). But with their freezing of the oceans they tread dangerously close to "glaciers". Looking at the map they presented (again, pictured above left), they show a world much as it is represented during the ice age, with white covering the landmasses. This white in the ice ages was representative of glaciers, a thing far different than those frozen blocks of water presented in the movie. Now they never call them glaciers but there is no doubt that this is what they are meant to be. Typical glaciers form in cold weather up in the northern latitudes or higher altitudes when the snow fall is greater than the snow melt during the summer, hence more snow accumulates than can melt. This forms into a thick sheet of snow that eventually compresses into mostly ice. The continued snow fall at the beginning of a glacier pushes the front of the ice forward at a slow but steady rate, often millimeters to meters per year (meters on the really fast end). Glaciers can form up to and beyond a mile thick and can cover great distances in the form of continental glaciers, like in Antarctica and Greenland. These are different from alpine glaciers, which only form near the peaks of mountains where the weather is cold enough most of the year.
Statue of Liberty Snow      To form the "glaciers" in the movie, they seem to take the 'freeze the ocean' approach as illustrated in NYC. Typical salt water freezes at -1.9°C, but in the process it excludes all of the salt (NOAA). This renders the remaining water saltier (brine), lowering the freezing point even lower. That along with the shear size of the ocean makes freezing ocean water nearly impossible. Even in the Arctic, subice water is still liquid. The salt in the water also reduces the rate at which sea water freezes (NASA). During this time in the movie and shortly after, it shows people moving around outside trying to reach warmer climates. This indicates that even before the 'big freeze' occurs in the movie the temperatures are cold enough to freeze salt water to a point that people could walk on it. And once again we tread into ridiculous territory where it is clearly impossible to do what is done in the movie, but they go right on ahead and do it anyway.
1:21:06 - Working his way up the eastern seaboard, Jack finds himself walking on top of a four storey mall, which has completely frozen over. I assume the method of "glacier" formation was the same in this instance as it was in NYC. And we have the same problems as before, although at least it was tempered in the southern region to only being ~50 feet thick.
1:47:11 - The "glacier" shown at the end of the movie covered the Statue of Liberty with a thickness of about 200 feet with the water frozen out into the Atlantic for the foreseeable distance. Again, ridiculous, but it follows the theme of the movie.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Geological Movie Review of The Day After Tomorrow - Part 7

Geological Movie Review of The Day After Tomorrow - Overview

- Super Flooding -
- Starting off Slow -
NYC Flooding0:43:20 - As the movie moves along they continue to get more and more unrealistic. This includes the massive flooding along, apparently, everywhere in the northern hemisphere, including coastal lands from Nova Scotia to Florida. These are the only confirmed areas of flooding, but since they are flooding in such a variety of areas you can assume that most coastal areas of North America are affected as well.
   The flooding in the movie started with a "slow" rise in water seen through the sewer grates below some of the cars. Flooding in New York City is not unheard of. Hurricane Sandy in 2012 showed that NYC could easily be flooded to some extent. However, the movie at this point centers around the New York Public Library which is located at the corner of W 42nd St and 5th Ave. The elevation at this point is ~57 ft (FEMA) which is not super high (obviously) but it is significantly higher than most of the regions adjacent to the water. The library is located approximately equal distance from the East River and the Hudson River, where most of the flooding would come from. It is not even in the Category 4 Hurricane Flood Advisory (as pictured to the left) (
     The flooding in NYC is because the city is prone to storm surges, which is where the wind pushes the water against the shore. It is not an increase in the actual water level from normal, just an increase in the local water level. If it is high tide, like it was for Hurricane Sandy, then the water has a higher starting point from which the storm surge can flood from. But assuming a "normal" storm, or even a large hurricane category 4 storm, the water level would not even be close to reaching the library as can be seen on the map to the right (light blue is category 4 storm surge).
- Nova Scotia Waves -
0:43:53 - Following the flooding in NYC, flooding is mentioned in Nova Scotia. Since it is along the eastern shore of North America, we can assume that the flooding in Nova Scotia and NYC are tied to the same storm surge event. Statue of LibertyIn Nova Scotia, it was mentioned that the "ocean rose by 25 feet in a matter of seconds". Assuming that this is broadcast media sensationalism, let us take it as a large wave that over took the island. If we look at wave heights for Hurricane Sandy, it was recorded that they reached a record 32.5 feet before hitting land (Climate Central). Given waves of this height for a Category 1 hurricane, it is easy to believe that Nova Scotia could be inundated by waves of 25 feet with a far larger storm.
- Tsunami? -
0:48:06 - We are now entering into what is getting to be really unbelievable. We are shown what could only be considered a ~240 foot tsunami cresting the Statue of Liberty. A tsunami is generated from something like an earthquake or a volcanic eruption, both of which can displace large quantities of water or land (by moving land you move the water on top of it). Nothing in the movie has indicated any such event as happening. A storm surge is strong at times but there is definitely not enough wind power to generate such a strong wave. That and the wind power would need to be ramped up suddenly causing such a tsunami to form, otherwise it would just be a gradual storm surge increase. Also, immediately following a normal tsunami, the water rapidly retreats due to the imbalance that is caused with the water being at a higher elevation then what gravity will allow it to be, so most of the water will return to the sea. This is contrary to the movie where not only does the water not retreat, it rises. Which, is indicative of a storm surge. In a storm surge, the water will remain on land as long as the wind providing the force to keep it there remains strong. On a side note, the water level did decrease from the ~240 feet at the Statue of Liberty to ~100 feet when it hit the library.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Geological Movie Review of The Day After Tomorrow - Part 6

- Flash Freezing -
- Frozen Mammoth -
AMNH Mammoth0:38:10 - Our first introduction into flash freezing comes from the mammoth in the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), which was said to be "perfectly preserved in the Siberian tundra with food still in its mouth and stomach, indicating that it froze instantly which grazing". First off, as far as I am aware there are no preserved mammoths in the AMNH. They do have at least one skeleton though (pictured right). From the looks of it, in the movie they were in one of the Mammal Halls, which displays modern mammals that have been stuffed and posed among a backdrop of their environment. So obviously the movie made up some more information. Moving on.
     Besides this, is it possible to 'flash freeze' a mammoth. There are a few examples of mammoths being frozen and preserved to the present. The best preserved example is a baby mammoth which fell into a river and was frozen there (Guardian). There are other animals that have been frozen as well including a cave man with food in his intestines (eScienceNews) and a bison (Atlas Obscura). None of these have evidence of being 'flash frozen' though. Should this frozen mammoth be real, one possible explanation was that the animal fell within a crack in the glacier, (a crevasse if you will) which are usually in abundance and can be tremendous in depth, and the animal was either killed from the fall or injured to the point that death was imminent. After that, the cold weather preserved the remains of the animal intact, hence no flash freezing necessary. And the death is quick enough where food is preserved in the gut. I doubt there has been any remains of a mammoth, or any other prehistoric beast, found frozen with food still in it's mouth. That borders on ridiculous. So this is partially possible, however their analysis of the facts led to bad conclusions.
- Helicopter Popsicle -
0:39:36 - As the storms intensify, we find ourselves in the midst of a flash freezing craze focused on some helicopters. The reason that is given for the helicopters going down was that the fuel in their lines froze. The temperature quoted in the movie as being able to freeze jet fuel was -150°F (-101°C). For military purposes, the jet fuel used in helicopters is either JP-5 or JP-8 (ExxonMobil). JP-5 has a freezing point of -50.8°F (-46°C) and JP-8 has a freezing point of - 52.6°F(-47°C). Jet fuel can, however, even be used beyond this temperature, where the fuel is still able to flow. The limit of this flow temperature is about 6°C below that of the freezing point ( So, although the freezing point of jet fuel is much warmer than what they were stating (why make something like that up?), it stands to reason that IF (and that's a big if) the temperature were to drop to -150°F the fuel in the helicopter would likely freeze almost instantly. I don't know if that would take the helicopter down, but at least the fuel lines would be frozen.
- Frozen Air -
0:52:07 - Our main question with the freezing is, how fast can the temperature drop within the center of a storm? It appears that in the movie, the extreme cooling is due to the storm "pulling super-cooled air down from the upper troposphere". One of the main problems with this is that as air descends, it warms up (as stated in the movie). So descending air shouldn't be able to be that cold. And not only that but it is happening in three different storms at the same time. Alright, assuming that air can be brought down from the upper troposphere without warming up because it descends so rapidly (a physical impossibility based on the law of thermodynamics, but moving on), what is the temperature of the air up there? The temperature in the upper troposphere can get down to -50°C (Soich and Rappenglueck, 2013), which is barely above the freezing point of jet fuel as mentioned above but nowhere near the super freezing temperatures that are mentioned as happening in the movie. So could cold air be brought down from the upper troposphere, possibly. Could it be super cold, possibly. Would it be the super freezing -101°C as mentioned in the movie, no way.
1:36:32 - The comment is made in the movie that the temperature is dropping in the eye of the storm at 10°C per second. I like someone's comment on another page (ClimateSight) which stated that in under a minute the air would reach absolute zero. Absolute zero is the temperature where all movement stops (-273.15°C). Let us assume that we are dealing with -10°C as a starting temperature, since people were traveling outside. A bit high maybe but whatever. Starting at -10°C, it would take 27 seconds to reach absolute zero. That is beyond ridiculous, I don't even know what to say about it.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Geological Movie Review of The Day After Tomorrow - Part 5

- Super Storms -
- Global Storms -
Typhoon Tip0:31:40 - In the movie, the northern hemisphere is being consumed by three continental sized storms. One is located on North America where "Canadians are reporting tremendous circulation moving down from the Arctic". The second is in Russia where "there's a low pressure system unlike anything we've seen". The third one is over Scotland. They also mention Australia, which has recorded the strongest typhoon on record. This brings up the question, can the Earth sustain three-four continental sized storms, that are in essence one global storm with 3-4 separate aspects of it (pictured in the movie below right)? When looking at other planets in the solar system this does not seem too to far fetched, at first. In 2001 a dust storm encompassed half of Mars (NASA), although Mars does not have any oceans which would interfere with such a storm. On Earth, the largest storm systems that our planet sees on any given year are the Atlantic hurricanes and the Pacific typhoons. The largest storm ever recorded was 1979's Typhoon Tip, whose diameter could stretch from New York City to Dallas, a total of 1,380 miles, with wind speeds up to 190 mph (Scientific American). It would take a storm at least four times that size to equal the one of the continental storms in the movie. The largest storm to have formed in the Atlantic was 2012's Hurricane Sandy, which reached a 1,000 miles in diameter (Huffington Post).
3 Super Storms
     The problem with storm formation on Earth (or the benefit of it depending on how you look at it) is that the mix of oceans and continents break up air currents that flow around the globe. The extreme differences between the temperatures of water and land make circulation of air currents nearly impossible to predict (have you listened to your weather forecaster lately?). These differences are what would also limit the size of the storms that the Earth could sustain. The Earth goes through a see-saw type effect where rains in one part of the globe occur as the same time as droughts in another part (USA Today). The atmosphere needs to counterbalance itself. It can not be raining everywhere at the same time, as well as it can not be sunny everywhere. So I would have to say that a global storm made up of 3-4 mini global storms is impossible due to these differences as well as air currents moving these storms around the globe. One of these mini-global storms (for instance only one of the big storms happening, like the North American storm) is entirely possible, however unlikely to occur.
- Climate Influencers -
0:31:57 - It is stated in the movie that the only force strong enough to effect global weather is the sun. There are actually many variables that effect the Earth's weather patterns, the sun being only one of them. As stated in the movie, a shut off of the North Atlantic current also has an impact on the global climate. And although it is true that the ocean has a strong effect on the climate, it is an unequal relationship. Air patterns can shift much more quickly than ocean patterns. Changes in the ocean currents takes 10's-1,000's of years to take place, making it's influence on short term atmospheric changes minimal (USA Today). Man-made influences also play a role in the climate including increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and heat generation by major cities (LA Times). But again, these are slow build ups (at least in the terms of a human life-span). They take 10's of years to influence the atmosphere. One last source of climate influencing factors is the Earth itself. Volcanoes can deliver a tremendous amount of heat, chemicals, and ash to the Earth's atmosphere over a very short period of time. These chemicals and ash stratify within the atmosphere blocking out the sun for most of, if not all of the Earth within days of the eruption producing a nuclear winter. These eruptions have the potential to alter the Earth for millions of years following an eruption (
Volcanic Eruption Cloud     Besides a volcanic eruption, which was not mentioned in the movie so we can assume there was none, the only thing that could influence our atmosphere over the short term (days to weeks) would be extraterrestrial. Should something happen to the sun, like it going out, that would severely effect out global climate almost instantly. Other solar effects like solar flares and solar output do have an impact on the strength of storms and weather patterns but nothing that could be altered over a period of days or weeks. These fluctuations are cyclic and slowly build up and wind down with the solar output. They are also somewhat predictable based on these patterns (Science Daily). The extraterrestrial influence most likely to effect our climate almost instantaneously would be a large meteorite impact. A large enough impact has the same effect as a large volcanic eruption, which would be to put dust and debris into the atmosphere with atmospheric circulation distributing the particles across the globe. An impact along with the volcanic eruptions are what are cited as the main downfall of the dinosaurs ( So, in the movie, without a volcanic eruption or a meteorite impact, I would say that anything altering the climate of the Earth within days is near-impossible to impossible.
- Cold Weather Hurricanes -
Extratropical Cyclone0:41:58 - The movie goes on to state that the weather in Scotland is looking like a hurricane. The major problem with this is that hurricanes don't form over land. They also don't form in cold weather. Well, let us first remove the use of the term "hurricane" since a hurricane has a specific definition of a cyclonic storm that forms in the western North Atlantic ocean. Since these storms did not form there, they are obviously not hurricanes by definition. They are cyclonic storms, cyclones, and cyclonic storms can form over land or water. Cyclones that form outside of the tropical regions are often referred to as mid-latitude or extratropical cyclones ( As in the movie, they are areas of low pressure with winds that flow around the low pressure center, counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern. They occur at a strong temperature gradient where there is a boundary between a cold air mass and a warm air mass. The cold front comes into a region of already warmer air and then starts to rotate around. The storm can then either strengthen or weaken depending on the differences in the gradient. Extratropical cyclones are also known to travel more over land than their tropical counterparts which are associated with water ( In the movie, the drastic changes in temperature were directly responsible for the storm formations. So in theory, it could be possible that one or two of the these extratropical cyclones could have formed due to the sudden changes in temperature, which would result in a cold weather front coming into an already warmer area. I am not saying that these could have been super storms that froze everything in site, just that they could exist as a possibility.
- Complete Cloud Cover -
1:30:10 - Reaching the end of the movie we are shown the perspective of the guys in the space station again. But this time, all they can see are clouds of a storm with a 50 mile diameter central vortex. I won't go into the size of the vortex since we have already determined the size of these storms was a little exaggerated, but in regards to the cloud cover, current estimates state that the Earth has about a 70% cloud cover on any particular day (NASA). Even assuming that these super storms could whip up some more moisture, it has already been stated that these storms are forming over land. Storms get their energy and moisture by forming over the oceans. So without the moisture supply of the ocean it is impossible to obtain enough moisture to create complete cloud coverage over a significant portion of the planet, which would be however much the astronauts could see at any one time.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Geological Movie Review of The Day After Tomorrow - Part 4

- Building Up Storms -
- International Space Station -
International Space Station0:15:41 - We have entered the part of the movie where the major global storms start to manifest themselves. Our first view is from space, in what I can only assume is the International Space Station (ISP) since it was the only space station at the time of the movie (2002) (NASA). The figure to the right shows the space station in the movie (on top) versus an image of the International Space Station in 2006 (NASA). It is not actually a bad match. Knowing that they add and take modules off of the space station all of the time would account for any minor discrepancies and overall the main part of the station on the right portion of the image matches with the ISP in the bottom portion of the lower photo.
- Enormous Storms -
0:16:02 - One of the astronauts comments that there is an "enormous" storm system. The view that they present from the Space Station indicates that there are in fact three separate storm systems. We also know that this is in the northern hemisphere since one of the astronauts couldn't come home because of bad weather over Cape Canaveral (Florida). The location of all of this freezing and snowing in the northern hemisphere makes sense, since it is winter (November), while the southern hemisphere is in spring/summer mode. At this point in the movie it is difficult to get a scale on the storms since we aren't shown any landmasses. All we know are the locations.
- Weather Birds -
0:20:19 - Although not a geological problem, the massive amount of birds flocking and unusual animal activity has been used in the past to detect significant weather changes (PBS). It appears that animals may be able to pick up the changes in air pressure or small tremors in the Earth that humans do not detect. These changes warn the animals that something bad is going to happen and that they should seek shelter or get out of there. This is possibly the reason that many animals act unusual around storms, because they are trying to get to a safer location.
- "Too Fast" -
0:23:47 - When confronted with the speed at which everything was happening Jack Hall states that this wouldn't happen in our lifetime, it was happening "too fast". I feel the makers of the movie tried to save themselves a little at this point of the movie. The freezing of the Earth was happening much faster than the paleoclimatic models predicted for the previous ice age, which would take thousands of years. The movie even goes on to mention that there are "no forecast models capable of plotting this scenario" except for Jack's Model. However, Jack's model doesn't take into account the speed at which this storm is taking place in the movie. What that says to me is the movie makers take the scientist's worst case scenario in real life and amplify it 1,000-10,000 times. The reason this is unheard of is because it is impossible. The balance of the Earth is such that change on a global scale can not take place over a matter of a couple of days or weeks. It takes thousands of years at least to affect the entire planet. This is the point in the movie when it started to go off the rails and the movie makers wanted to acknowledge that. Jack Hall again correlates this to the event that took place 10,000 years ago, as was discussed previously.
     The new models of this storm have it taking 6-8 weeks before a full blown ice age is on, and then in actuality it takes 7-10 days. Lets first assume that the Gulf Stream has just been shut off, a feasible feet in itself since we are having a major impact on it already ( In theory this will cause a gradual cooling of the northern hemisphere, a little more each year, until snow stops melting in the northern latitudes during the summer. Then as the snow cover increases the Earth becomes whiter, reflecting more sunlight, preventing the sun from warming us and cooling the planet down further until glaciers start to form and so on. In reality, this is going to take a very long time (in regards to human lifespans). So no matter how quickly the Gulf Stream were to stop, the Earth is too big a place to undergo a transition from moderate climate one week to frozen ice ball seven days later.
- That's a Lot of Tornadoes -
0:25:34 - "Cyclonic System": AKA a cyclone - a large-scale atmospheric wind-and-pressure system characterized by low pressure at its center and by circular wind motion, counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere (
California Tornado0:26:12 - As the storms progress and increase in size throughout the first portion of the movie we now have the introduction of tornadoes in Los Angeles. California itself is not immune to tornadoes (a California tornado pictured left) and as of May, 2013 there are 400 tornadoes listed on the Tornado History Project as striking California since 1951 (TornadoHistoryProject). There are even 42 of those 400 that were in Los Angeles county alone and ranged in strength from a F0 to a F2 on the Fujita scale. The largest and most damaging Los Angeles tornado was on March 1st, 1983, a category F2 that traveled 3 miles, had 30 injuries, and caused $5-$50 million in damages. That same day also had one other recorded tornado (TornadoHistoryProject). We are not looking at Mid-West levels of destruction here, but tornadoes are far from unheard of in Los Angeles and California in general.
0:27:15 - As the storms build we then see four tornadoes (Pictured below from the movie) at once reeking havoc on the city. As I stated before, the most damaging tornado in Los Angeles only occurred with one other one but there was a day, November 9th, 1982 when seven tornadoes touched down during one storm in LA. Two of the storms reached an F2 status ( These tornadoes were remnants of Hurricane Iwa from offshore that produced winds exceeding 80 mph (Examiner). In general, the record for the most tornadoes from a single storm is 202 on April 27th, 2011 ( These were all from one storm with a reported 5 F5's on that day as well. So the storm system in the movie is not all that remarkable in that sense. The location and perceived strength (as witnessed by the amount of destruction) of all of these tornadoes in Los Angeles may be a little more unusual.

Day After Tomorrow Tornadoes

In the movie, the winds are reported as exceeding 70 mph. The Enhanced Fujita scale for tornado intensity is based on the wind speed of the tornado as indicated: EF0 = 65-85 mph, EF1 = 86-110, EF2 = 111-135, EF3 = 136-165, EF4 = 166-200, and an EF5 > 200 ( Since the speed of a tornado is hard to measure, the amount of destruction combined with the estimated speeds are used to calculate the EF of the tornado. So the tornadoes in the movie are likely going to be ranked an F0-F1 based on the wind speeds but the amount of damage that they produce indicates that those speeds were far below what is actually likely to be happening. Based on destruction the tornadoes are likely to be EF3-EF5's where an EF3 destruction contains "Entire stories of well-constructed houses destroyed; severe damage to large buildings" up to an EF5 which has damage that includes "automobile-sized missiles fly through the air in excess of 100 m; high-rise buildings have significant structural deformation; incredible phenomena will occur" ( So it is assumed that at least some of these four tornadoes in the movie are considered an EF3 to an EF5, which in relation to the most tornadoes from one storm is not unprecedented, but it is unusual in the least.
- Merging Tornadoes -
0:27:51 - While flying around in a helicopter we witness a merging of two tornadoes. This is truly a rare occurrence in nature. Typically when people think they see a merging of two tornadoes, one is really just going behind a second one. But in the rare instances when it does happen, usually it is in the form of one larger tornado absorbing a smaller one. The instances where two similar sized tornadoes merging into one larger one is almost unheard of (NOAA).

Friday, July 05, 2013

Geological Movie Review of The Day After Tomorrow - Part 3

Geological Movie Review of The Day After Tomorrow - Overview

- Weird Weather -
- Snow over India -
Climate Change Buoy0:08:13 -  This next part of the movie shows some random weather events occurring across the planet. The first one is snow in New Delhi, which is mentioned as being "the coldest weather on record". Since the conference took place in real life from October 23rd to November 1st in New Delhi, we will use that time of year as our indication of what the weather would be like. The average high and low for the end of October is 87°F and 65°F (30.5°C and 18.3°C respectively) ( So if it was snowing this would be far outside of the norm. The record cold weather temperature for New Delhi is 30.9°F (-0.6°C), which could produce some nice big fluffy snow. This shows that any snow producing weather would be considered "the coldest weather on record". So in this instance the movie would be correct, if it were indeed snowing.
- Hedland Climate Research Center -
0:09:23 - Monitoring some of these weird weather events, in particular the oceanic temperatures is the "Hedland Climate Research Center, Scotland". Contrary to the UN Conference actually existing, the Hedland Climate Research Center was a made up name. It likely represented the Met Office Hadley Centre which is one of the UK's foremost climate change research centers ( Although, the Met Office is in Exeter, UK (Southeastern England) so it is not terribly close to Scotland. They do however monitor ocean temperatures via a system of buoys that are deployed across the world's oceans and ships in the Voluntary Observing Ship Programme ( The buoys that are used in real life vary greatly but comparing it to one of the climate change buoys used in Alaska (figured right), they are roughly similar.
Gulf Stream Flow
- Dropping Ocean Temperatures -
0:09:55 - The monitoring station in the movie records a temperature drop of 13°C with one of the buoys in the North Atlantic. Although it is blown off at this point of the movie as "rough seas", we later find out that these are accurate. In real life, it has been reported that during the roughest of weather the sea surface temperature (SST) has dropped on average 1.3°C due to storm activity. Hurricanes in particular can drop the SST up to 6°C with the record being held currently with a drop of 9°C after a typhoon (Zhu and Zhang, 2006). A drop of 13°C in this case would either be a cause for extreme alarm or more likely, as is done in the movie, written off as a malfunction with instructions to check it out and keep an eye on it. If the trend continues, then something needs to be done.
0:19:08 - As more buoys are showing the 13°C temperature drop, the scientists are starting to assume that this is not a malfunction and is the result of the Gulf Stream getting shut off as was predicted. It is hard to tell how fast the drop needs to occur to set off the alarm, however it could be assumed that it was over a relatively short period of time. Even in the winter, the water will not cool down that fast with currents and everything maintaining the heat trapped in the water. Even if the Gulf Stream is cut off, which is a must be for the temperature to drop that quickly, the water would basically have to stop flowing and convecting for this to occur. Not a likely scenario. To highlight the buoys shown in reference to the Gulf Stream, the three buoys shown are illustrated on the map to the left (the X's) (GoGreenCanada). It appears that the movie makers picked nice spots for the buoys though since they all appear to be directly influenced by the Gulf Stream. Should the Gulf Stream be shut off then the temperatures of the northern two would definitely be effected. The southern one though I am not sure about. If the Gulf Stream is cut off in the north by Greenland, what happens to the southern extent of the stream? Does the whole thing collapse or does it just get redirected? That I am not sure about.
World's Largest Hailstone
- Hail -
0:11:18 - The next weather anomaly we get is softball- to basketball-sized hail in the Chiyoda District, Tokyo, Japan. Hail forms from the supercooling of water droplets in thunderclouds that instantaneously freeze to debris in the air (dust, bugs, other ice crystals).The hail then travels up and down through the storm gathering layers each rotation through the storm. In essence this means that the larger the storm, the larger the hail (UCAR). Hence a gigantic storm with incredible strong winds can make super sized hail. The hail in the movie looked to range in size from softball-sized up to basketball-sized hail. The largest hailstone ever recorded was 8 inches across (20.3 cm), which is just about the size of the super hailstones seen in the movie (Wunderground). So, although the large amount of these supersized hailstones being rained down at one time is unlikely, the size of the hailstones is possible. I call this one plausible, although unlikely, even with a superstorm.
     As for the large amount of hail that was deposited at one time, having lived in West Texas for a couple of years I have seen cars that looked they were pummeled with hammers due to the amount and size of the hail that fell. It is also known that large amounts of hail can fall in an individual storm (NBCNews, Weatherwise) although that is typically smaller particles of hail falling over a prolonged period of time. The more hail that a storm contains requires a steady source of moisture, in the case of the movie, since Japan is an island it should have a ready supply of moisture. A storm would also need to be strong enough to cycle the hail stones enough to make them as large as they are seen in the movie. So, given the conditions in the movie, I see this as unlikely but plausible.
Hurricane Camille
- One Big Hurricane -
0:12:40 - Continuing the weird weather, the news reporter on the TV is talking about Hurricane Noelani, which is possibly the strongest hurricane ever recorded. It is mentioned as hitting an 'island chain" but no more specifics are mentioned. Although the strength of a hurricane can be measured in several different ways (wind speed, amount of damage, central pressure, etc.) the most common method is wind speed. In that regard, the current strongest hurricane on record is Hurricane Camille in 1969 with a wind speed of 174 knots (200 mph, 322 kph) (NOAA). The exact wind speeds are unknown though due to the fact that it destroyed all the measuring devices (Yahoo! News). There are not many Category 5 hurricanes in recorded history but it is possible that there could be a new "strongest hurricane ever recorded", especially considering that 3 of the Top 5 strongest hurricanes were in 2005, one of which was in the middle of October. So, although the end of October is a bit later in the hurricane season, this is still possible.
- NOAA -
0:13:44 - Continuing with the agency name dropping, we come to the "National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration", which if you add an "and" in the middle, is an actual government agency more commonly known as NOAA. This brings up the question though as to why did they make up the Hedland Climate Research Center if they were actually going to pull from real sources on other things. That doesn't make much sense to me, but whatever. In the movie they show the ice core storage room, which is assumed to be housed at NOAA, however I can find no indication that NOAA actually stores any ice cores. From what I have found, it seems as if the U.S. National Ice Core Laboratory (NICL) is the one in charge of the US ice cores and most of the ice cores that are not stored on site in Antarctica or Greenland seem to be stored at the USGS National Ice Core Laboratory in Washington (USGS). It could be assumed though that they are at the USGS in the movie and they just identified it wrong. Simple solution.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Geological Movie Review of The Day After Tomorrow - Part 2

Geological Movie Review of The Day After Tomorrow - Overview

- Global Warming Conference -
-UN Conference on Global Warming-
0:06:20 - The main part of the movie kicks off with the "UN Conference on Global Warming, New Delhi". The UN Conferences on Global Warming do actually take place where countries across the globe discuss, what else, global warming. In real life, the conferences initially started in 1992 with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which was a treaty where countries got together and vowed to make a difference in climate change ( Following that, the UN set up an annual Conferences on the Parties (COP) about Global Warming. The COP started in 1995 in Berlin and continues to run up through today (as of 2013 when this is being written). In 2002 the conference was held in New Delhi (COP 8), as depicted in the movie ( The conference took place from October 23rd - November 1st. I find this amazing that they actually went to that level of detail to get this right.
- Climate Shift 10,000 Years Ago -
Climate Change0:06:21 - Jack Hall, which is the main character of the story (Quaid), goes on to talk at the conference about a "cataclysmic climate shift that occurred around 10,000 years ago". 10,000 years ago is the time when the Pleistocene epoch (the "Ice Age") approximately ended (it is actually dated to 11,700 years ago) and the Holocene (the age of humans) began. Generally, the climate has been fairly stable over the last 10,000 years in what is considered a "warm period" following an ice age (Nature). This stable period actually began around 10,000 years ago following a series of abrupt oscillations in the climate from 80,000 to 18,000 years ago (see Figure to left). As in the movie, these numbers are based on data obtained in ice cores, but this time they are mostly from Greenland. It has also been suggested recently that the climate was shifted about 10,000 years ago due to the extinction of the mammoths, in part due to humans, which changed the vegetation across the northern regions, which would have caused the warming of these northern regions like Siberia (Live Science).
     There is also an event that took place around 10,700 years ago termed the Younger Dryas, which seems to be a direct result of polar melting. This polar melting caused to temperature of Southern Greenland to rise by 7°C in about 50 years (Dansgaard et al., 1989). This event ushered in the warming that is known from 10,000 years onward. However you slice it, it appears that a shift in the climate did take place 10,000 years ago, as recorded in the ice cores. Although the shift seems to be more towards balance than out of balance.
            The problem though is that Jack goes on to state that what was detected in the ice cores, in the movie, was a concentration of natural green house gases that resulted in a smaller ice age that lasted 200 years. I have found no evidence of such an ice age. As mentioned in the previous paragraphs, I have found just the opposite, that 10,000 years ago was the beginning of stability in the climate. The ice age ended around 11,700 years ago and the glaciers took about 2,000 years to melt. That melting is what is visible as the strong uptick in the graph (to the left) before the final leveling out. This even led to climates being warmer and drier than they are today from 9,000 to 5,000 years ago ( So other than getting the timing right, the movie completely made up the "cataclysmic" event.
- Warming Leads to Cooling -
Ocean Circulation0:06:43 - The next part is basically the explanation for the entire movie. It is stated that global warming can trigger a cooling trend, i.e., increased temperatures can lead to an ice age. Having taken Glacial Geology I have learned (previous to the movie coming out) that this is actually correct, no matter how convoluted it may sound. The reason for this is that the temperature of the Earth is maintained by the Gulf Stream and it's northern extension, the North Atlantic Current, along with the rest of the global oceanic circulation currents. These "streams" are bodies of water within the ocean that have different temperature and chemical properties than the surrounding oceanic water. This causes countries like the UK and Norway to generally have warmer climates than their counterparts along the same latitude ( The result of an increasing temperature of the Earth (both as a result of global climate change, and its subset global warming) is that the ice sheets in Greenland are melting. The melting of the ice sheets releases a large amount of cold, fresh water into the northern Atlantic. Due to the low salt content the freshwater floats on top of the saltwater. If you look at the map (figure to the right), you can see that the warm Gulf of Mexico waters Gulf Stream in the Movieare carried up to the coast of England on the surface (red lines) then drop to the bottom of the ocean (blue lines) and circulate south along the coast of the Americas. The sudden influx of cold, fresh water into the North Atlantic could potentially cause the North Atlantic Current, which is salt water, to get cut off. This would shut down the conveyor belt of oceanic water mixing globally as we know it. Eventually it would get restarted, although likely in a different but similar pattern, but the immediate effect would be to cut if off completely. Without the warmer water being circulated to the poles, the entire Earth's temperature would begin to drop. So, the basic premise of the movie is correct, a warming trend could lead to another ice age.
     The main problem with this part of the movie though, is the map that they use (pictured left, arrows added to show direction of the movement as emphasized in the movie). It is a much simplified version of the already simplified figure above and to the right. The current they show of the Gulf Stream is actually running along the coast of Africa and Europe instead of from the Gulf of Mexico to England.
0:07:10 - The timeline of all of this occurring is also brought up in the movie which is a major flaw of the movie itself. Hall is asked when he thought this could happen and acting like a scientist he gives his best estimate, which could be any time really, anything from 100 years to 1,000 years. he stipulates though that something needs to be done today to help curb future catastrophes. Although, the timeline mentioned by Hall is feasible, this could take place over the course of the next few thousand years, the timeline of the movie takes a different course and is much sped up from that that is predicted.
0:32:23 - The North Atlantic Current is said to rely on the delicate balance between salt and fresh water. The movie then goes on to state that the current has reached a "critical desalinization point" due to the amount of fresh water dumped into the ocean by the melting of the polar ice, i.e. the Greenland Ice Sheet. What is meant by this "desalinization point"? Restating a little of what I said before, the way that the water circulation works in the North Atlantic is that warm water is carried north from the Gulf of Mexico. As it reaches the northern latitudes it then sinks. The heavier water is rich in salt, making it denser. Fresh water from rainwater and the melting of ice and snow, like from glaciers, is less dense than saltwater and therefore will actually float on top of seawater until enough mixing has taken place. This happens at all river deltas where fresh and salt water meet. What the movie is predicting is that the fresh water content has reached a maximum where suddenly the current is no longer dropping down into the ocean, cutting off oceanic circulation for the entire planet, or at least rerouting it, cutting off the warmer waters to the north.
     This scenario is a distinct possibility. The melting of the ice caps could have a significant impact on the planet, plunging us into a colder climate due to the melting of the polar ice caps (NASA). The problem though, is that if this were to happen it would take decades at the least to feel any significant impacts. The global temperature is not going to drop to freezing overnight, which is literally what the movie is stating. The globe is such a large place that it takes a large time for anything to change. Think of a truck versus a car driving down the highway. The larger the vehicle the more time it takes to alter its course.
- The Kyoto Accord -
0:07:10 - The Kyoto Accord is the next thing brought up in the movie. A controversial international treaty among nations that was started in 1997 and officially adopted in 2005. The purpose of the treaty was to legally bind countries to alter their greenhouse gas emissions ( The main controversy was that the United States would not back the treaty due to the harm it would place on the economy by putting an unwanted demand on industry ( and that it did not include China and other fast growing developing countries, which were responsible for a large percentage of the global greenhouse gases (USAToday). Since the US is one of the largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, this was seen as a possible failure of the document, although it has gone through without US backing. The depiction of the delegate from the United States shown in the movie is supposed to represent George W. Bush's rejection of the Accord due to the reasons that are mentioned in the movie.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Geological Movie Review of The Day After Tomorrow - Part 1

 Geological Movie Review of The Day After Tomorrow - Overview

Disclaimer - This is going to be a geological overview of the movie The Day After Tomorrow. I am not going to focus on the plot, the acting, the directing or anything of the sort. This is purely a scientific critique on the movie and one from my own mind, so do not take that into effect on whether or not you are going to like this movie. In "science fiction" movies the role of the science advisors are often outranked by the director or other people in the movie and the science gets left out. This means that the bad science of the movie is often not a result of a bad advisor. So do not take my critique of the science as a direct shot at the advisor.
     Personally with all the "science" in the movie pushed aside I rather enjoyed this move as a mindless "action movie". This is not a critique on the acting, this is about how scientifically accurate is the movie. With that over, on to the geological review. I will also make time notes for when that part of the commentary is referring to. Other critiques of the movie can be found at 2016: The [Next] Year without a Summer, ClimateSight, and
- Geological Critique -
- The Story Basis -
     First off, the movie is not an original idea but is actually based on the novel The Coming Global Superstorm by Art Bell and Whitley Strieber. Now, I have not read this book so I can not make a review of the it, but according to the reviews of the book it seems that it is written by some extreme ecologists who are just trying to push global ecological reform. Not a bad goal but causing panic is not always the best way of going about it.
Larsen B Ice Sheet
- Ice Cores and the Antarctic -
- Drilling for Ice -
0:00:53 - In the movie, the scientists are retrieving ice cores along the Larsen B Ice Shelf, off the coast of Antarctica (pictured right). An ice-shelf is a floating piece of ice attached to the land, fed by an advancing glaciers (a large sheet of ice on land). Most of the world's ice-shelves are typically found around Antarctica but they can be located anywhere where a glacier runs into an open body of water (NSIDC).

Ice Drilling0:03:15 -  The first part of the movie is actually rather commonplace in the world of geology, retrieving ice cores. In the movie, they start by retrieving ice cores that are 26 feet deep. Ice cores are typically drilled using mobile installations since you want to drill multiple cores over a variety of areas, similar to drilling cores for oil but you never actually find any "oil". The main purpose of an ice core is to obtain information locked in the ice. Pictured left is some of the ice core drilling that is going on in Greenland. The movie has this pictured pretty accurately (NASA), although each drilling station in real life is going to be different due to the individual personalities working on the project. The 26 feet depth of their drill is really just the start of most ice core drilling. Most ice cores can extend up to 3km in depth, far exceeding what they started to do here (British Antarctic Survey).

Ice Drill
0:03:35 -  What is the equipment that they use? We get a brief glimpse of the actual drill going into the ice. In my opinion this looks like a pretty good match for an actual corer, since they likely used one in real life while filming the movie. The ridges are my only problem. They look a little more heavy duty than most of the ones I have found pictured on the internet (one is pictured right). This could be just a different type of ice corer though. The other type of drill/corer is a rock corer which looks completely different and doesn't have any ridges running along the length of the tube (Benthic Geotech). So in this instance the equipment is pretty close if not spot on.

- Breaking Apart -
Ice Shelf0:03:57 - The collection of the ice cores is not where the first geological catastrophe comes in, it is when a piece of the ice-shelf "the size of Rhode Island" breaks off, straight through where they were drilling. For a size comparison, Rhode Island is approximately 3,140 km2 . The interesting aspect of the Larsen-B ice shelf is that it was one of the first major ice shelves to break off of Antarctica back in 2002 (just before the movie was made). The size of that break off was 3,250 km2 . Exactly the right size to fit the description of the movie. So, the movie is obviously talking about the 2002 break off event.

    Now assuming the rare event of an ice-shelf breaking off, especially one of that size, and combine it with the fact the it broke directly through where they were drilling, can we assume that that was a coincidence. What are the likely occurrences that a core driller would cause an ice-shelf to break off? It most likely was for dramatic effect because I can't imagine a drill that was only a small fraction of the entire depth of the ice triggering the fracture. And it is not like they were driving giant nails into the ice. The ice corer removes pieces of ice limiting the amount of stress placed on the ice itself. Also, the likelihood that a core driller would break off a chunk of ice the size of Rhode Island is highly improbable, unless they happened to be drilling along cracks which were already established (scientists would avoid this due to contamination from meltwater in the crack) and it is already on the verge of breaking off, neither of which seemed likely in the movie.

Larson B Breakup   The breakup of the Larsen B ice shelf was not an isolated event. Shelves this size has broken off before and in increasing numbers. The largest ice shelf break off to date was back in 2000 when the B-15 iceberg, that was 31,000 km2 in area (The Encyclopedia of Earth), broke off of the Ross Ice Shelf (visible on the map above). One of the principle questions though is, what is the cause for these ice shelves to break off? The general reason for the break-off of an ice shelf is attributed to global warming. With global warming comes thinner ice shelves, faster moving glaciers, warmer bodies of standing water on the ice shelves, and a greater number of fractures ( All of these things combined to help break the ice shelf apart. The direct reason for a fracturing of an ice shelve is that during the summer months, the water on the surface melts and forms lakes on top of the ice shelf. The water in the lakes forces its way into the cracks in the ice. Then as the water works its way into the cracks it refreezes pushing apart the ice, allowing for more meltwater to flow down. The meltwater then enhances the fracturing, eventually causing the piece to break off. The breakup of the Larsen B Ice Shelf can be seen over the beginning of 2002 in the image to the right.

0:04:55 - Another thing to note is the thickness of the ice shelf as it breaks off. It is impossible to tell exactly how thick it is but it is at least on the order of 100's of meters thick. I do like the fact that you can see the water in the distance below as the camera pans down the ice crack. In real life, the thicknesses of ice shelves typically run from the 10's to the 100's of meters (Griggs and Bamber, 2011). The thickness of the Larsen B ice shelf was 220 m thick which could have been what was illustrated in the movie (NSIDC). Again, the movie seems to be in line with reality.

0:06:15 - How fast is it possible for these ice shelves to break off? In the movie it seems to happen in minutes, but in real life the Larson B Ice Shelf did not just break off if the mainland, it shattered. It took 35 days for the ice shelf to completely disintegrate (NSIDC) but the main ice section broke off within a few days (Science Daily). It is highly unlikely that the main cracks of the ice developed within the 60 seconds it took for the initial crack to form. This is a criticism of the movie that will be seen pop up again, it was just too fast to be real life. Currently, not an epic fail of the movie, but I think in this instance it was a weak spot.