A blog explaining science and technology through the movies ... or explaining the movies through science and technology, depending on the point of view. English is not my first language, so I apologize for the mistakes you are likely to find in the posts

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Waterworld: ice flows to the sea

In 1995 Kevin Costner, directed by his namesake and friend Kevin Reynolds, got a half success / half failure with the pretentious and very expensive film Waterworld. The movie’s plot consisted of melted ice caused by the greenhouse efect raising the level of the sea until drowning the whole Earth mainland.

Global heating is produced by the burning of those known as fossil combustibles’ (coal, oil and any other one with an organic origin): combustion produces CO2, a gas that seems to prevent the sun's heat leaving the Earth again, warming the planet like the glass in a greenhouse (that’s where the name comes from).

In the ten years that have gone since Waterworld, climatic change is seen as more and more of a threat: nevertheless, exageration in the movie is obvious, since the amount of ice existing in the planet isn’t at all enough to cover the Earth. Scientists consider that melting all the ice in the poles would ‘only’ increase the level of the sea by about 70 metres, which means that cities like Madrid and many others wouldn’t even notice it, most of the Earth would still be as dry as it is now.

That doesn’t mean global warming and ice melting shouldn’t be considered as a noticeable risk. Melted ice is fresh water and would cause a drop of the salt level in the sea which could bring important disturbance in sea life. But that would be the least important thing compared to changes in weather brought by a warmer planet with a cooler ocean.

This last point is very dangerous because it is simply imposible to predict its consequences. Weather isn’t ruled by well known laws but is chaotic (and we will talk much more about chaos theory in the future), so that neither can we see what will happen, nor can we avoid it. All the hurricanes and natural disasters that have been going on lately in places where these kinds of phenomena were unknown are giving us a ‘little’ advice about what could happen. Even when we won’t end up with gills as in Waterworld, we’d better take it seriously.


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