Thursday, May 26, 2016

Sea level rise: it's inevitable



Flooding in Asuncion, Paraguay in December 2015. From The Atlantic.


Do you like to swim? Then climate change has good news for you.

Two weeks ago, I saw this article in Discover (telling myself "don't read the comments, don't read the comments.") It describes a record spike in Arctic ice melt observed on April 11th. Since that time, there has been "a second bout of unusual melting." Data provided by the National Snow and Ice Data Center demonstrates that in both cases of melting, the thaw exceeded 10% of the ice sheet's area. In light of these events plus "unusual, persistent warmth and large-scale fracturing of sea ice," the lead scientist for the Center is quoted as saying: "The Arctic is going to go through hell this year. Both the sea ice and the Greenland surface melting."

This threw me back to a March article in The Atlantic: "Preparing for the Inevitable Sea-Level Rise." It's been happening, it's going to continue happening, what is left unknown is just how fast it's going to happen. Part of what is complicating that understanding is not knowing the exact rate of ice melt. Regional effects are even harder to predict. Scientists have approximated that the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet alone could lead to a rise in global sea levels of 11 feet. Additionally troubling is the "two degree" concept. To understand this, we need to examine previous climate and geology. From the article:

"Looking back 120,000 years, the temperature was two to three degrees Celsius higher than today’s temperature—what scientists project climate change could bring within the next century. For example, in the interglacial age 120,000 years ago, temperatures were two to three degrees Celsius higher than they are today, and sea levels were three to nine meters higher. Scientists project that within the next century, climate change could bring current temperatures up to levels on par with this period."

This means interesting times for people who live in coastal areas like say, I don't know, Miami. New Orleans is already sinking but that's really nothing new.

One positive in all this may be that if we know it's going to happen we can take action. The article in The Atlantic describes how many initiatives are already underway. In strict terms of sea level rise, the argument over whether humans are causing it is nearly academic if the rise is indeed inevitable. We need to find solutions or start investing in inland properties. Maybe even rescue a few polar bears and penguins while we're at it.

Or maybe you can ease your conscience if you just keep repeating to yourself "we're not causing it."

For more information on sea level rise, please check out this presentation by PBS NOVA.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

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