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The science of Godzilla

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Friday, May 16, 2014, 5:36 PM - Godzilla is back, and unlike some past incarnations that decided to add more humorous aspects to the story, the version that showed up in theatres Thursday night seems to have returned to the serious themes of its six-decade-old origins. The story is gritty and serious, but what about the monster himself? Can we really take Godzilla seriously, based on science?

The first thing we can do here is just put aside the 'fire-breathing' aspect (although technically it's always been 'atomic breath'), mainly just because it's too easy. Let's just deal with exactly how big Godzilla is, and what that means for any possibility that such a large creature could exist.

There have certainly been some very big animals on Earth in the past. We're all familiar with dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus Rex (at least from the Jurassic Park movies). They could grow to over 12 meters long and weigh in at over 7 metric tons, which is impressive, but definitely not the largest. The sauropod known as Amphicoelias fragillimus, which was around roughly 90 million years before T. Rex, could grow up to 60 meters long and tip the scales at over 120 metric tons. It's been established over the years that dinosaurs shrank in order to survive, evolving into smaller and smaller forms, until they evolved into the many species of birds we have around today, but even now there are some very large creatures in existence. For example, blue whales have been known to grow up to 170 metric tons. 

How big an animal can get depends on a few things, like how much food they have access to and what kind of stress their bones can take. Although he started off a lot closer to A. fragmillimus in size back in the '50s, these days Godzilla is said to be over 100 meters tall (not including the tail?) and he breaks the scales at tens of thousands of metric tons. That causes a lot of problems for our favourite radioactive kaiju, which Jake Roper goes into great detail about in the following video from VSauce3!

So, although Godzilla himself isn't all that realistic, the story is really allegory for other things that we fear that are much more real: Nuclear disasters like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi certainly come to mind, brought on by failures of technology or planning. Disasters dealt by nature, such as earthquakes and tsunamis feature prominently in our minds as well. 

Director Gareth Edwards told The Sydney Morning Herald: "We can't get rid of that inner fear because it's in our DNA. So we live in these high-rise buildings, with this fear, and the fear becomes high-rise. It shouldn't work, it should be absurd; these movies should not work at all. But they do and I think it's because it taps into this expectation that nature is going to come and destroy what we've created or kill the people we love. And I think that will never go away."


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