Climatologists Modelled Middle Earth Weather In Geekiest Study Ever

Have you ever wondered what the weather was like for the hobbits, elves, wizards, and orcs of Middle Earth? If you’re going to see the “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” this weekend, now you’ll have a better understanding of what kind of climate the characters should be experiencing.

Climatologists from the University of Bristol actually simulated what the weather would be like in author J.R.R. Tolkien’s fictional world of Middle Earth from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The climate of The Shire

It turns out The Shire, where all the hobbits like Bilbo Baggins live, has a climate similar to “shires” in the United Kingdom — Lincolnshire and Leicestershire. On the other hand Mordor, the terrifying land that Frodo and Sam travel to to destroy the one ring in the final Lord of the Rings book, has a climate more like Los Angeles and Western Texas.

Screenshot 2013 12 13 15.35.25Bristol UniversityWhat is this? A climate paper for Dwarves?

It might sound a little far-fetched and silly, but the scientists from the University of Bristol actually used a climate model similar to the models used for the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reportreleased in November.

“Because climate models are based on fundamental scientific processes, they are able not only to simulate the climate of the modern Earth, but can also be easily adapted to simulate any planet, real or imagined, so long as the underlying continental positions and heights, and ocean depths are known,” said Richard Pancost, one of the scientists who worked on the climate model, in a press release.

Radagast the Brown, one of the wizards from Tolkien’s Middle Earth, is the scientific paper’s author. The paper itself is written in a way that anyone, climate background or not, can understand. They’ve even translated it for Elves [PDF] and Dwarves [PDF].

Dan Lunt, a climatologist who worked on the model, told “The whole Middle Earth thing grabs people’s attention, but then actually the paper that we wrote… is aimed at the general public. It’s aimed at someone who is interested in climate science but has no background.”

How the climatologists were able to simulate the conditions of Middle Earth

In the paper, Radagast tells us that he used measurements “derived from maps and manuscripts from the extensive archives in Rivendell.” In reality the scientists used the maps of Middle Earth that are included in Tolkien’s novels for the data they plugged into the climate model computer.

Middle Earth climateBristol UniversityThe 2-D world transferred onto a 3D map

The model requires a spherical representation, and since the only information about Middle Earth is available on flat two dimensional maps, there was some degree of accuracy lost converting it to a 3D model. The scientists also assumed the radius of Earth and Middle Earth are the same.

The model can even predict wind power. The scientists found that the location Bilbo sets sail from at the end of Tolkien’s story actually makes sense: the “Grey Havens” is actually the area on the map that likely produced the strongest winds.

The scientists also found high levels of CO2 in Middle Earth and attributed it to the greenhouse gas emissions of Mount Doom: the volcano that Frodo throws the ring into in the last book.

They were even able to determine what kinds of plants would grow in different areas of Middle Earth.

The work is meant to be light-hearted, but using the models to simulate past weather conditions of actual Earth, not the fictional Middle Earth, can help test the accuracy of these models.

“A core part of our work here in Bristol involves using state-of-the-art climate models to simulate and understand the past climate of our Earth,” Lunt said in a press release. “By comparing our results to evidence of past climate change, for example from tree rings, ice cores, and ancient fossils of plants and animals, we can validate the climate models, and gain confidence in the accuracy of their predictions of future climate.”

It should be noted that the climatologists did not have any funding for this study and worked on it in their spare time.

Some of the maps from the paper, showing the temperature, precipitation, and winds in Western Europe (left), the Cretaceous North Atlantic (middle), and Middle Earth (right):

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