WASHINGTON (CBSDC) – When Roland Emmerich’s “The Day After Tomorrow” came out in 2004, climatologists panned the disaster movie’s science.

They ridiculed the imagined future of climate change as sudden and fatal drops in temperature, saying such phenomena are physically impossible.

But new research says that kind of rapid freezing is not just a Hollywood special effect.

Extreme cooling is caused by a collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), an ocean circulation system in the North Atlantic that moderates temperatures north of the equator.

“The basic scenario of the AMOC as a result of global warming is not completely out of the blue or unthinkable,” study author Sybren Drijfhout told The Washington Post.

According to Drijfhout and his team at the University of Southampton in England, current warming patterns suggest that a collapse of the AMOC is possible. And it would actually resemble the nightmare scenario found in “The Day After Tomorrow.”

Using advanced computer models, the researchers found global temperatures could drop as much as 50 degrees Fehrenheit in a very short amount of time.

Normally, this current keeps the North Atlantic relatively balmy by pulling warm water from the Indian Ocean and South Atlantic to the northern hemisphere.

But if climate change disrupts the current, Western Europe could see 35-degree temperature drops while the U.S. East Coast would deal with massive flooding if sea levels rise.

“This would affect hundreds of millions of people,” Drijfhout advised. “At least temporarily, Europe would suffer conditions that would look like the Little Ice Age of the Middle Ages.”

The collapse of the AMOC would come as the rest of the globe warmed. The rising heat would eventually overtake the cooling ocean current, though it would take about 40 years to a century for the effect to reverse.

“When it comes to climate change,” Drijfhout warned, “we are playing a dangerous game.”

The study is published in Nature Scientific Reports.

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