The glaciers win in “Snowpiercer”, but at what cost?

Humanity struggles to stay warm in a train speeding around a frozen Earth in "Snowpiercer". (© 2013 - RADiUS/TWC)
Humanity struggles to stay warm in a train speeding around a frozen Earth in “Snowpiercer”. (© 2013 – RADiUS/TWC)

Remember when Godzilla used to be scary?

Climate change horror seems to be the new go-to disaster for Hollywood films as of late. Unlike giant floods, tornados or even Godzilla, the world freezing over affects everyone at once. There might be an escape from a giant atomic lizard, but when the temperatures change, there’s nothing we can do as a species but adapt.

That adaptation comes in the form of a speeding, circumnavigating train in the new movie Snowpiercer. The exposition in the opening minutes of the movie sets up the scenario: to counteract warming global temperatures, scientists in the present day developed a chemical that will cool the earth when released into the atmosphere. It worked a little too well.

What’s left of humanity is stuffed into a train, divided so neatly into class sections it would make a political science sophomore blush. The poor are crammed into industrialized bunk beds in the tail section while the rich at the front of the train enjoy saunas, sushi and never-ending raves. After spending 17 years in the squalid back of the train eating gelatinous black protein blocks, Curtis, the film’s lead (Captain America‘s Chris Evans), reluctantly leads an uprising to take over the engine.

What’s interesting about Snowpiercer isn’t so much the setting but that climate change horror seemed to be playing a larger role in movies right now. As New Yorker film critic David Denby wrote about the Snowpiercer, “The current designers of awe, in Hollywood and elsewhere, have gone back to the Apocalypse. They’ve created what might be called the Seven Horsemen of the Multiplex: aliens, pandemics, floods, ice, comets and other interplanetary flotsam, nuclear war, and zombies.”

That fourth one, ice, popped up in last year’s The Colony, which imagines humanity living underground after the world freezes over once climate-changing weather machines break down. In both films, the fear seems to come from geoenginnering gone wrong as much as it does from a permanent Ice Age. (In some sense, this is also what the mega-hit Frozen is about.)

http://www.cinetirol.com/en/home/snowpiercer-in-tirol-1664477.html
On location at the Hintertux glacier in Austria. (from left) TJ Park (Producer), Sung Ho Nam (Production Manager), Dooho Choi (Co-Producer), Alex Hong (DoP), Thomas Fuchs (Cine Tirol), Bong Joon-Ho (Director), Robert Bernacchi (Co-Producer). (Cine Tirol Film Commission)

In an odd way, Snowpiercer highlights the seriousness of glacial retreat; only a cosmically huge event is capable of bringing them back. One scene in the movie features a shot of the Hintertux glacier in the Tyrolean Alps of Austria. Though the movie takes place in 2031, the glacier will almost certainly be visibly smaller by time that year actually rolls around.

Over Independence Day weekend, Snowpiercer only took in a little over a million dollars at the box office. In South Korea, where it was co-produced, the movie made nearly $60 million, setting a new record in that country. This was the first English-language production for Snowpiercer‘s director, Joon-ho Bong, whose monster movie The Host achieved popularity in the U.S. when it was released in 2006.

Whether the most expensive Korean movie ever made finds popularity here in America (which accounts for only 2 percent of worldwide box office receipts so far), remains to be seen. Audiences may instead choose to find comfort this summer in a much more comforting disaster from the east: Godzilla.

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What a 2,600-year-old pine needle can tell us about the melting Alps

https://flic.kr/p/i4ayMr
Glaciers in the Alps are melting twice as fast as those in other parts of the world. (Flickr/Tormod Ulsberg)

The glaciers of the Alps are melting – and at twice the rate of other glaciers around the world. But what did those glaciers look like in the past? The retreat of glaciers can reveal important data about our climate’s past.

High up in the eastern Alps, near the Swiss-Italian border, glaciologists are drilling into snow and ice to extract ice cores, which can uncover the region’s climate history. Under the highest glacier in the eastern Alps, Alto dell’Ortles, researchers have discovered evidence of a changing climate.

That’s 262 feet below the surface of the glacier, to be exact. There, a conifer needle encased in solid ice was recently found. Carbon dating indicates that the needle is 2,600 years old. In other words, it tells us that for at least 2,600 years, this glacier, and likely others in the region, have remained frozen.

Frozen ice extends up from the bedrock to a level 98 feet below the surface of the glacier, where material is found that corresponds to the early 1980s. At that level the scientists started to find layers composed of grainy, compacted snow – indicating the glacier had partially melted and then refrozen.

Paolo Gabrielli, one of the research scientists working on the project, reported this evidence of “current atmospheric warming at high elevation in the Alps is outside the normal cold range held for millennia.”

When analyzed for dust and trace metals, these ice cores will offer up more clues about the region’s past climate. And because annual layers can be detected in the ice cores, they can yield a high-resolution climate record.

The team will also investigate the question of why glaciers in the Alps are disappearing faster than those found around the world.

“Ortles offers us the unique possibility to closely verify if and how regional environmental changes can interact with climatic changes of global significance,” Gabrielli said.

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