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Antarctica’s Disintegration Could Actually Lead to a Hollywood Disaster Scenario

When movies become reality.

Meaghan Beatley

Meaghan Beatley

Image: The Day After Tomorrow/Fox

A New York Times report on Antarctica's disintegration suggests we may be seeing scenarios previously thought "fit only for Hollywood disaster scripts" in the near future. So should we be preparing for a Day After Tomorrow ending soon?

"That movie focused on changing ocean currents in the Atlantic with some other unrealistic things," Robin E. Bell, the lead Columbia University scientist of the expedition, gently chided in an email.

Bell and her team have spent the last two Antarctic summers flying over the world's largest chunk of floating ice—the Ross Ice Shelf—measuring the rate at which it is melting. It's still unclear what exactly is causing the warming of ocean waters, the New York Times' "Antarctic Dispatches" reports, but what is undeniable is that it's directly leading to rapidly rising sea levels.

"The change will be faster than anything we have seen before," Bell told Motherboard. "In the last 100 years, the water in lower Manhattan has gone up 11 inches. We are looking to more than that in the next 100 years. How much is what we are trying to figure out."

Peter de Menocal, the founder of Columbia University's Center for Climate and Life, told Motherboard that the report's reference to a Hollywood disaster script has less to do with handsome actors gazing stormily into the distance and more to do with lost business.

"The concern many economists have is that accelerating sea level rise will eventually reveal the vulnerability of coastal real estate investment in cities such as Miami and Shanghai or Guangzhou and this could trigger a much larger economic crisis," Menocal explained.

Obviously, loss of lives and forced displacements are chief concerns too.

"Most of the world's investment is focused along the coastlines, so the disaster here is loss of property and life, and forced migration," he said. "This is happening already for small Pacific island nations, who are leaving their ancestral islands."

A World Bank report predicts that some 1,300 Pacific Islanders will seek to migrate to Australia and New Zealand annually due to climate concerns.

"Antarctica is the heart of the planet's 's climate system. Although it's so remote, it's remarkably important," Menocal explained. "It's a source of deep water formation that ventilate global abyssal depths of the world ocean, so if the ice were to melt appreciably, it could be expected to influence global ocean circulation. The world has a lot invested in keeping the Antarctic ice intact."

And forget about fighting the elements with Jake Gyllenhaal. "The film was a largely fictitious reimagining of events related to the very real 'Younger Dryas' cooling event that occurred at the end of the last Ice Age around 12,000 years ago," Menocal says. "They took an event that likely occurred over decades to centuries, and accelerated it to take place over a weekend in the film."

"That said, the film did get something right—climate change is extremely disruptive and people don't respond well to disruption.

Read more of Motherboard's climate change coverage:

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