Continuing with the recent wave of lighthearted holiday posts, I’d like to present a recent study by the University of Bristol on the climate of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The paper follows closely on the heels of Air New Zealand’s decision to turn one of their jets into Smaug – the fearsome dragon of Hobbit fame.
Photo credit Air New Zealand
The study touches on several topics, including “the importance of prevailing wind direction for elvish sailing boats, the effect of heat and drought on the vegetation of Mordor, and the rain-shadow effects of the Misty Mountains.” As silly as the analysis sounds, it offers a glimpse into the versatility of climate models in predicting not only the climate of the present day, but also of past and fictitious worlds.
Like the Earth’s pre-industrial atmosphere, the Middle Earth model was initialized with a CO2 concentration of 280 ppm. This quickly rose to 1120 ppm (almost 3 times higher than the Earth today), attributed to emissions from Mount Doom. One factor the author fails to consider is the contribution from deforestation by Saruman and Sauron in their warmongering efforts (although he does mention dragons as a potential cause of forest fires).
Of particular interest are rainfall distribution patterns. The prevailing winds blow over the ocean and onto the land. As the wind rises over mountains, it cools, forming clouds and releasing its moisture as rain. This results in drier climates on the eastern slopes of the Misty Mountains and in Mordor. The author identifies eastern Europe (in particular Belarus) as the most similar climate analog to the Shire, and Los Angeles or West Texas as the closest to Mordor. He recommends further research in the libraries of Minas Tirith to construct thorough climate records and vegetation maps.
A similar study was conducted earlier this year by Johns Hopkins University in an attempt to predict when winter will finally fall on the Game of Thrones’ land of Westeros. The authors were, however, unable to come to a solid conclusion on the subject. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all!
Be warned: you may have just sustained a lethal dose of mostly harmless science.
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