In 2009, American geologist Adrian Helmsley visits astrophysicist Satnam Surtani in India and learns that neutrinos from a huge solar flare are heating Earth’s core. Helmsley presents his information to White House Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser, who brings him to the president.
In 2010, during a chaotic mass protest in Vancouver, U.S. President Thomas Wilson and other world leaders begin a secret project to ensure humanity’s survival. China and the G8 nations begin building nine arks, each capable of carrying 100,000 people, in the Himalayas near Cho Ming, Tibet. Nima, a Buddhist monk, is evacuated and his brother Tenzin joins the ark project. Funding is raised by selling tickets at €1 billion per person. By 2011, articles of value are moved to the arks with the help of art expert and First Daughter Laura Wilson.
In 2012, struggling Los Angeles science-fiction writer Jackson Curtis is a chauffeur for Russian billionaire Yuri Karpov. Jackson’s former wife (Kate) and their children (Noah and Lilly) live with Kate’s boyfriend, plastic surgeon and pilot Gordon Silberman. Jackson takes Noah and Lilly camping in Yellowstone National Park. When they find an area fenced off by the Army, Jackson and his children climb over the fence. They are caught and brought to the geologist Adrian, who has read Jackson’s books. After they are released they meet Charlie Frost, who hosts a radio show from the park. After Jackson and his children leave, Adrian learns that the Earth is about to undergo drastic changes in a few hours, realizing that it came much earlier than expected, as only four of the arks have been completed by this time.
That night, after the military evacuates Yellowstone, Jackson watches Charlie’s video of Charles Hapgood’s theory that polar shifts, Earth Crustal Displacement and the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar predict a 2012 phenomenon. According to Charlie, anyone who attempted to inform the public was killed, including Jackson’s NASA contact. Soon after Jackson and his children return home, he delivers Yuri’s sons Alec and Oleg to the airport. Realizing that Charlie was right, Jackson rents a plane and rescues his family as the Earth-crust displacement begins, and they escape from LA by air as California collapses down into the Pacific Ocean.