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Video: scientists simulate the climate of The Hobbit's Middle Earth

Posted on 17 June 2015 by dana1981

Dan Lunt is a climate scientist at the University of Bristol, and also a tremendous fan of J. R. R. Tolkien’s books. He was able to stitch together enough information to create a model of the fictional world of Middle Earth and simulate its climate.

As part of the Denial101x course, John Cook interviewed Lunt and discussed the process of simulating the climate of Middle Earth. The interview revealed some interesting tidbits. For example, as discussed in Part 2 below, parts of New Zealand, near where the movie was filmed, have a similar climate to that of The Shire. Los Angeles and Alice Springs, Australia share a climate similar to that of Mordor.

 The climate of Middle Earth interview, Part 1.

 The climate of Middle Earth interview, Part 2.

 The climate of Middle Earth interview, Part 3.

I also inquired whether Lunt might consider simulating the climate in the fictional world of Game of Thrones. 

Click here to read the rest

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Comments 1 to 10:

  1. When I was at University (Galway, West of Ireland) we used to get a kick out of finding Tolkien's names on old examination papers - apparently he often visited as an External Examiner in Old English during the 1940s and 1950s. That was when Lord of the Rings became a runaway success, late 1960s. I remember the Profesor of Geology had a theory that some of the topography of the edges Mordor was inspired by the barren Connemara mountains and bogs. I suppose the climate blows that one way, but at least visually ... ??

    Connemara, Ireland

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    Moderator Response:

    [RH] Reduced image size.

  2. Just to show that Tolkien buffs are never satisfied, I reproduce my (tonge in cheek) comment on Lunt's paper from when it was first released below.  Prior to that, however, I want to note the excellent teaching value of the model and of the video's by John Cook.  Well done in both cases.  And now, my comment:

    "There are several things to be said about the climate modeling of Middle Earth, the most obvious of which is that it failed to reproduce the climate of Middle Earth. This can be seen clearly in the Forodwaith which is shown as far to warm relative to observations. The predicted broadleaf forest over the grasslands east of Mirkwood are also a concern.

    It is difficult to assess whether is a problem with model physics, or the set up. Certainly, the set up does not match geographically with Middle Earth as it is known. In particular, Tolkien said:

    ““The action of the story takes place in the North-West of ‘Middle-earth’, equivalent in latitude to the coastlands of Europe and the north shores of the Mediterranean (…) If Hobbiton and Rivendell are taken (as intended) to be about the latitude of Oxford, then Minas Tirith, 600 miles south, is at about the latitude of Florence. The Mouths of Anduin and the ancient city of Pelargir are at about the latitude of ancient Troy.”

    (Quoted from here, note, the map at that site is a load of crap)

    Being more specific, The Grey Havens, the Shire, and Rivendel are all approximately on the same latitude, about that of Oxford (52 degrees North) on modern Earth. Contrary to that, the model places the latitude of the Grey Havens at about 60 degrees North. The model does correctly place Pelargir and the Mouths of the Anduin at about 40 degrees North, however, but the consequence is that Middle Earth is expanded in scale.

    The more northerly latitude of the Shire in the model is difficult to reconcile with the the warmer than observed Forodwaith. Clearly the observed Middle Earth is colder overall than is shown in the model, a fact possibly attributable to the lower solar constant in the past, but more probably attributable to a lower CO2 content, thus explaining the reasonable temperature estimates for more southerly lands in the model. A CO2 content significantly lower than the preindustrial value used would allow colder northerly latitudes due to arctic amplification.

    The poor model geography is not restricted to just the poor scaling of Eriador (the territory west of the Misty Mountains) and Rhovanion (that east of the Misty Mountains as far as the Iron Hills). The model topography is clearly shown as including Numenor and the undying lands. That clearly identifies it as a model of the Second Age of Middle Earth. It is, however, purported to be a model of Third Age Middle Earth, as clearly indicated by its purported (see below) author, Radagast the Brown. Radagast as one of the Istari, did not arrive on Middle Earth from the undying lands until 1050 of the Third Era. Indeed, as Middle Earth was flat until the fall of Numenor, at which time the undying lands were removed from the Earth and became only accessible on elven vessels, it is impossible that the model be both of the Second Age, and hence also impossible that the model topography is correct.

    I need not go into the entirely speculative extended eastern and southern continents shown in the model topography.

    In addition to representing poor scholarship, the article is a transparent forgery. This is most clearly seen in the fact that the “Elven” and “Dwarvern” versions are merely transliterations of English into the Tengwar and Cirth scripts. Even the identification of Cirth as Dwarven is incorrect, it having been originally devised by Elves, and merely adopted for the Dwarves. Had “Radagast” being who he claimed to be, he would no doubt have composed the article in quenya, the more scholarly of the two elvish languages. He also would probably not have produced a Khuzdul version, the dwarves being secretive and not teaching the language to others.

    I am disappointed that you have ignored these clear modeling flaws, not to mention the transparent forgery to concentrate on trivia about some inconsequential “climate scientist” who appears not to have the least knowledge of Middle Earth."

    I noted with pleasure that John Cook in questions in the first video picked up on the fact that Middle Earth was flat (until the fall of Numenor), but Lunt evaded his question on that point.  However, he failed to pick up on the fact that Elves did leave Middle Earth from near the mouths of the Pelargir (near Tol Amroth).  Lunt offered an explantion as to why they left from the Grey Havens rather than "western Gondor" but Tol Amroth was at the same latitude as western Gondor so his explanation explains too much.

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  3. shoyemore @1, Mordor, or at least the plains of Gorgoroth which Frodo and Sam transited, was presented by Tolkein as being almost devoid of plant life.  Ergo even Mordor pound is too verdant to represent Mordor:

    Further, the reason for the baren terrain of Gorgoroth presented by Tolkein was the poisonous fumes from Orodruin, so that even the spinifex that dominates the vegetation in Mordor Pound would probably not have survived there.

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  4. Sorry, I forgot to add a link to Lunt's paper.

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  5. Tom Curtis @2:

    Well played, sir. Well played.

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  6. Tom Curtis,

    Wonderful tongue-in-cheek critique of Dan Lunt's model. Kudos to Cook and Lunt for the videos.

    Your knowledge of MIddle-Earth is better than mine, but I still have a hankering for a view of Mordor's edge across the Dead Marshes, approaching from Emyn Muil being like the top picture. I am sure the rainfall in the West of Ireland does not match that of the model (about a factor or 2 higher, I think), but as a visualisation it pleases me.

    The best MIddle Earth of all is the one we retain in our imagination. John, Dan & Tom have stimulated our imagination and supplied worthy endnotes to the trilogy itself.

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  7. shoyemore @6, that Connemara inspired Tolkein's conception of the geography from the Dead Marshes looking towards Mordor is certainly possible.  I suspect, however, that like most major geography in middle earth it was determined by the necessities of a concieved history moderated by the requirements of the narrative.  From that perspective Emyn Muil would have been conceived first, along with the nature of Mordor as surrounded by mountains.  With that, we then add Dagorlad ("battle plain") and the Dead Marshes as necessary battle sites due to their relation to the primary exit from Mordor.  Tolkien would then have fleshed out both with two different conceptions of the effects of combat on geography.  Dagorlad (previously home to the Ent wives) was, in effect England (or the Shire) made desolate by warfare; while the dead marshes hark back to "no man's land" of the Somme (where Tolkein fought).

    On that theory, we must imagine the Dead Marshes as looking like this:


    Only we must imagine the unrecoverable corpses still preserved by vile magic, and the pits and hollows fill with stank water forming ponds covered by an algal scum and dank struggling grasses on the verge of any land still above water.

    That speculation has support both in Tolkein's description of the Dead Marshes:

    "Dreary and wearisome. Cold, clammy winter still held sway in this forsaken country. The only green was the scum of livid weed on the dark greasy surfaces of the sullen waters. Dead grasses and rotting reeds loomed up in the mists like ragged shadows of long forgotten summers."

    And also in Tolkein's own comments in his letters.

    On this view, then, the rise above the bog of the mountains of Mordor are a necessary consequence of the notion that Mordor is surrounded by high, nearly impassable mountains, while the foreground is determined by an imagining of the Somme turned swampland.

    (The picture, by the way is of Scwhabben Redoubt, where Tolkein fought as part of the 25th division).

    Finally, the only worthy endnotes to the trilogy are The Silmarillion, Hurin's Children, and sections of Unfinished Tales which I heartilly recommend to anybody who has read and enjoyed the trilogy.  I understand that some people find the Silmarillion difficult going as it is not in the style of modern novels, so if you have tried to read the Illiad or the Mort d'Arthur and not enjoyed them, perhaps read only Hurin's Children.

    I would be delighted to think of myself as (and certainly Lunt has) contributed a useful footnote to Tolkein scholarship.

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  8. This picture from the Canada tar sands looks like Mordor to me, and all the life is gone.


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  9. Tom Curtis #7,

    Well imagined. Those Connemara mountains also have their ghosts. You can still come across the stone walls with the outline of cottages and fields where communities of people planted potatoes before the Great Famine of the 1840s. A morbid or vivid imagination could run wild, especially on a overcast & gloomy West of Ireland day.

    Personally, I love the area, but you could not miss echoes of the great calamity that once happened thereabouts.

    Tolkien had many influences that worked on his imagination, and (maybe) his brief visits to the Connemara did influence him.

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  10. The pope had a perfect right to comment on climate change.  After all, his was the organization that god bequethed her good works to.  When God gave us dominion over the fish that swim in the sea, the birds that fly in the air and everything that goes forth upon the land, dad was passing on to us his miraculous good works into our hands.  I don't think he intended for us to trash his creation but to protect and even improve it. (sorry, if god made it, it was perfect and couln't be improved).  Pope Francis is just pointing out to his sinning followers that they are the ones that are destroying the earth.  The pope must find it somewhat frustrating that by and large, it is the athiests and agnostics of the population that want to preserve gods bounty while his followers take gods work as a licence to destroy it.

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