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.

1 comment:

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