Thursday, March 10, 2016

Sea Here or Surfs You Right

Glib title. Alarmingly serious reality. “The oceans are rising faster than at any point in the last 28 centuries, and human emissions of greenhouse gases are primarily responsible, scientists reported [February 22nd].
“They added that the flooding that is starting to make life miserable in many coastal towns — like Miami Beach; Norfolk, Va.; and Charleston, S.C. — was largely a consequence of those emissions, and that it is likely to grow worse in coming years… The scientists confirmed previous estimates, but with a larger data set, that if global emissions continue at a high rate over the next few decades, the ocean could rise as much as three or four feet by 2100, as ocean water expands and the great ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica begin to collapse.” New York Times, February 22nd.
The U.S. National Academy of Sciences presented documentation (approved for release on January 4th) of the work of major scientists from all over the world on this topic. Here’s their own summary: “We present the first, to our knowledge, estimate of global sea-level (GSL) change over the last 3,000 years that is based upon statistical synthesis of a global database of regional sea-level reconstructions. GSL varied by ±8 cm over the pre-Industrial Common Era, with a notable decline over 1000–1400 CE coinciding with 0.2 °C of global cooling. The 20th century rise was extremely likely faster than during any of the 27 previous centuries. Semiempirical modeling indicates that, without global warming, GSL in the 20th century very likely would have risen by between −3 cm and +7 cm, rather than the 14 cm observed. Semiempirical 21st century projections largely reconcile differences between Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projections and semiempirical models.
In short, seas are rising much faster than originally assumed. What makes this even more diabolical is that when hurricanes and other major storm hit, not only do they create storm surges that move rapidly inland, but they also erode the natural barriers, such as North Carolina’s Outer Banks (see above picture). This is now and near term. Later? For example, we can expect to see as much as 30% of Florida (the south) under water. High rises from major urban areas surrounded by ocean water. Florida is particularly vulnerable because the underlying limestone will conduct the water under any surface barriers they are able to build. But repeat this pattern, on a global scale, along virtually every coastal community.
“Experts say the situation will grow far worse in the 22nd century and beyond, likely requiring the abandonment of many of the world’s coastal cities… ‘I think we can definitely be confident that sea-level rise is going to continue to accelerate if there’s further warming, which inevitably there will be,’ said Stefan Rahmstorf, a professor of ocean physics at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and co-author of a paper [noted above] released [February 22nd] by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“‘Ice simply melts faster when the temperatures get higher,’ Dr. Rahmstorf added. ‘That’s just basic physics.’… In a report issued at the same time as the scientific paper, a climate research and communications organization in Princeton, N.J., Climate Central, used the new findings to calculate that roughly three-quarters of the tidal floods now occurring in towns along the American East Coast would not be happening in the absence of sea-level rise caused by human emissions.” NY Times.
People in these areas will slowly lose their homes, farms, businesses… just about anything that requires land to create value. And since global ocean levels, subject to ebbs and flows of various currents, are roughly the same worldwide, the damage will happen pretty much simultaneously everywhere there are seas or oceans. For those inland, shifting climate patterns will change agricultural values, adding never-ending droughts in some regions… even an increase in raging fires… while other regions will watch lakes and rivers overflow their banks. Unfamiliar insects and strange diseases will migrate to keep up with the temperatures with which they were accustomed.
All of these variables will exert political pressures, force massive population movement (as we are witnessing in Europe), and foment military expeditions in a world with dwindling resources. Wars fought over oil may rapidly move to violent struggles over water and food. And every human being on earth, every nation, will be materially impacted by it all. Nations will rise and fall. Insurrections will redefine political power and boundaries. And still we have an entire American political party dedicated to ignoring what can be done to reduce the human impact on it all. They’ll be dead when their children and grandchildren pay the price for their miserable shortsightedness.
I’m Peter Dekom, and I am wondering why all of these lessons have to be learned the hard way?

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