Tolkien gesture – scientist maps climate of Lord of the Rings
Climate sceptics regularly work
themselves into a lather dismissing
mainstream climate science as
fantasy – but for once they have a
A researcher at Bristol University
has trained his powerful
supercomputer not at predicting the
earth's future climate, but on the
fictional world of Middle Earth – the
backdrop for JRR Tolkien's Lord of
To reproduce Middle Earth's
climate, Dr Dan Lunt, an expert on
past climate change, traced one of
Tolkein's famously detailed maps,
and then effectively "scanned" that
into the university's supercomputer.
"For a model to work, all you
need is a map of where continents
are, and how high the mountains
are," Lunt says. The machines at the
Advanced Computing Research Centre
then crunched the weather patterns of
Rohan, Mirkwood, and the rest of
Tolkien's world for about six days, or
roughly 70 years in the model.
According to Lunt's analysis, the
climate around Mount Doom (where
Frodo must take the evil ring of
power to be destroyed) is like LA –
hot, with the volcanic ash creating a
similar effect to LA's infamous smog.
Meanwhile the Shire, Frodo and Bilbo
Baggins' peaceful neighbourhood, is
most similar to Lincolnshire or
Leicestershire in the UK.
The Shire's climate is also
similar to that of Dunedin in New
Zealand, he found, suggesting the
director of the blockbuster Lord of the
Rings trilogy Peter Jackson chose the
wrong locations for filming. "They
made a mistake by filming in the
north island – they should've filmed
in the south island," says Lunt.
Writing under the pen name of
Radagast the Brown in a mock paper
on the work , Lunt also suggests that:
Ships sailing for the Undying
Lands in the west set off from
the Grey Havens due to the
prevailing winds in that region.
• Much of Middle Earth would
have been covered in dense forest
if the landscape had not been
altered by dragons, orcs,
• Mordor had an inhospitable
climate, even ignoring the effects
of Sauron – hot and dry with
But there's a serious point to the
exercise, says Lunt,:
"The serious side is that the
climate models I used, and those
[other models] out there, are
actually based on our
fundamental understanding of
science, of fluid mechanics, fluid
motion, the science of convection
in clouds, radiation from the
sun, and the science of biology.
And because of that, they're not
just tuned for the modern earth,
they can simulate any climate."
Climate models are used to
predict what might happen to future
temperatures as we pump out carbon
dioxide via our factories, cars and
power plants, leaving greenhouse
gases in the atmosphere at what the
UN climate science panel said in
September were "unprecedented"
levels . The Bristol team fed into that
IPCC report with models that largely
match previous climate records, a
match that "give us confidence in the
[projections for] future", says Lunt.
Lunt, who undertook the work in
his spare time, admits to being a bit
of a Lord of the Rings fan. "I read
them a few times as a child," he says,
before pausing. "And a few times as
an adult, I must confess."
His attention to detail is
certainly precious: there are even
translations of his paper for
Dwarvish and Elvish readers.