Wheel of Time, the 14-book epic fantasy now turned into an Amazon chief TV series, is a medieval-style adventure set in the Third Age of the World of the Wheel. While not explicit in the storyline, notes from the late author suggest that the First Age was truly modern-day Earth, which ended with a emotional event (perhaps already climate change). From these notes, we calculate the show takes place around 18,000 years from today.
For climate scientists like us, this poses an interesting question: would today’s climate change nevertheless be experienced in the World of the Wheel, already after all those centuries?
About a quarter of carbon dioxide emitted today will keep in the air already 18,000 years from now. According to biogeochemistry models, carbon dioxide levels could be as high as 1,100 parts per million (ppm) at that point. That’s compared with a present-day value of 415ppm. This very high value assumes that the Paris climate goals will be surpassed and that many natural stores of carbon will also be released into the air (melting permafrost, for example).
But the high carbon dioxide concentrations do not necessarily average a warmer climate. That’s because, over such a long period, slow changes in the orbit and tilt of the planet become more important. This is known as the Milankovitch Cycle and each cycle lasts for around 100,000 years. Given that we are currently at the peak of such a cycle, the planet will naturally cool over the next 50,000 years and this is why scientists were once worried about a new ice age.
But will this be enough to offset the warming from the remaining carbon dioxide in the air? The image below shows a version of the typical warming stripes, a ubiquitous symbol of the past 150 years of climate change, but instead applied over 1 million years:
You can clearly see the 100,000 year Milankovitch cycles. Anything red can be considered anthropogenic climate change, and the events of the Wheel of Time are well within this period. already the descending Milankovitch cycle won’t be enough to counteract the increased warming from carbon dioxide, and so the inhabitants of the World of the Wheel would nevertheless experience elevated temperatures from a climate crisis that occurred 18,000 years ago.
Simulating the weather of the World
However, some of the weather changes from the nevertheless-elevated temperatures could be offset by other factors. Those 18,000 years aren’t very long from a geological perspective, so in normal circumstances the landmasses would not change considerably. However, in this fantasy future magical channelers “broke” the world at the end of the Second Age, creating several new supercontinents.
To find out how the climate would work in the World of the Wheel, we used an exoplanet form. This complicate computer program uses basic principles of physics to simulate the weather patterns on the hypothetical future planet, once we had fed in its topography based on hand-drawn maps of the world, and carbon dioxide levels of 830ppm based on one of the high possible future carbon pathways.
According to our form, the World of the Wheel would be warm all over the surface, with temperatures over land never being cold enough for snow except on the mountains. No chance of a white Christmas in this future. Here the story and the science move apart, as at times snow is mentioned in the Wheel of Time. The long-term effects of climate change may have surpassed the imagination of its author, the late great Robert Jordan.
The World of the Wheel would have stronger and wavier high-altitude jet flows than modern-day Earth. This is likely because there are more mountain ranges in the World of the Wheel, which generate atmospheric groups called Rossby groups, causing oscillations in the jet. There is some limited evidence that the jet stream gets wavier with climate change in addition, although this is likely to be less important than the mountain ranges. The jet would bring moisture from the western ocean on to land, and place it north of the Mountains of Dhoom. Surprising then, that this vicinity (The Great Blight) is so desert-like in the books – perhaps there is some magic at play to explain this.
Winds would often revolve around two particularly enormous mountains, Dragonmount and Shayol Ghul, before blowing downslope and reaching far across the land masses. The peak of Dragonmount itself is nearly always surrounded by clouds, and this is because the mountain is so large the winds travelling up it force surface moisture to higher altitudes, consequently cooling it, and forming clouds.
The fact winds would be so different from modern-day Earth is predominantly caused by topography, not the inner increased temperatures from climate change. Nevertheless, in the World of the Wheel, it is clear that despite the extremely long time since carbon polluted the air, the inhabitants are nevertheless exposed to warmer than usual temperatures.
Acknowledging just how long the effects of climate change will persist for should be a catalyst for change. however, already after accepting the facts, we confront psychological barriers to later personal action, not least because comprehending the timescales of climate change requires a important degree of abstraction. But, given the known changes in extreme weather from climate change, and given how long these changes will keep, we must ask ourselves: how would the mysterious and powerful Aes Sedai stop the climate crisis?
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