Saturday, January 12, 2008

Is sea level rise going down or up?

A couple of scientific papers recently (see my Del-icio-us bookmarks) has led to some climate sceptics to point to the fact that sea level may indeed be overstated, a fallacy or perhaps not linked to global climate change.

The first paper by Fletcher and company used various scientific techniques to study the role of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of the planet approximately 200 million years ago, a time when the islands that we know today, even the Seychelles, did not exist. His results are interesting from several perspectives; most relevant is the conclusion that during intense greenhouse warming, cold events leading to the formation of glaciers could happen. This combined with other evidence shows that the sea level might actually go down by 25-40 metres during such an event.The obvious interpretation by some sceptics is that sea level may actually not rise but go down.

The second paper by Bornemann and others, found out that large ice sheets existed over 90 million years ago, despite the fact that the planet was much warmer than it is today. During that period others have argued that crocodiles roamed the Arctic region, and temperatures in the western tropical Atlantic Ocean were 37 degrees Celsius. These findings seem to question our arguments that the ice poles were ice-free during the past warm periods of the planet.

These arguments are linked to the fact that with the formation of ice on land, sea levels will fall and with the subsequent melting of this ice the sea level will rise again. Naturally the outcomes of warming and cooling are much more complex than this and there is much more to learn. It is estimated that if all of the Antarctic ice were to melt it would contribute to about 60 metres, melting of Greenland ice will contribute about 7 metres, and other glaciers about 0.5 metres (see Wikipedia).

Of course, many ‘overzealous’ sceptics say "Aha ! then sea level rise will not happen or it may not be as dramatic as some paint it out to be". In my view these two papers highlight 3 important points which is of significance to small islands and other areas that would be affected by sea-level rise:

1. The evidence today that both Antarctica and Greenland ice is melting is fact, supported by a huge number of scientific papers, video evidence and reports. One therefore cannot rule out sea level rise in the present and near future, and many scientists agree that ‘the current phenomenon is happening at a much different time-scale and context than what happen in prehistorical times’. On the 3rd Jan 08, I reviewed a paper which indicated that research from prehistoric coral reefs showed a rapid raise in sea level rise, following by subsequent decreases in sea level.

2. As I have argued before the rate of sea level rise is still a very imprecise science due to the lack of long-term historical data and also observing system constraints. However, the fact that the sea level is rising cannot be disputed.

3. A very small rise is sea level, no more than 1 to 2 metres, will affect most islands and most low-lying parts of the world. This is what we should focus our energies on, because communities will be displaced, traditions will be lost and economies will be affected if we do not avoid this 1-2 metre rise. The research into our prehistory shows us that the variation in sea levels within a warm period can involve several cycles of rising and decreasing. Are we on the rise or on the decrease in sea level level? The present scientific evidence points to a rise, hence we need to be concerned.

In conclusion these changes described by those important research into our past, indicates the unpredictability of the climate if we continue to with business as usual and supercharge the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. Remember a temporary sea level rise is still sea level rise and would cause the same damage as a permanent sea level rise would. Perhaps one adaptation option would be to ‘temporarily’ evacuate the islanders, and then relocate then back at the advent of the cold snap !!! Perhaps there is hope after all..who knows.

Evidence is available and has been presented by the IPCC 2007 reports which clearly indicates that we are supercharging our atmosphere with carbon dioxide arising from human activities. Think about it - in those days we had crocodiles and a number of other species– today we have human lives which we all value so much – not just our fancy car or ORV.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Senator urges for more research on the potential impacts of sea level rise

In 2001 a landmark study on the coastal impacts of climate change on a Canadian island, the Prince Edward Island, sent shock-waves across the small community of over 135,000 islanders. This report concluded that storm surges were going to become more frequent and more violent. Now seven years down the line, Senator Percy Downe is asking for a new study. “The importance of up-to-date research on this issue cannot be understated,” Downe said on Monday 8th Jan to the Guardian.

Indeed Senator Downe’s campaign cry got a response from the capital, Ottawa, which stated that “Environment Canada recognizes the threat that climate change poses to the environment and Canadians, including residents of Atlantic Canada. Based on research by the Geological Survey of Canada in 1998, we know that a significant area of Atlantic coastline is sensitive to sea-level rise, and residents are at risk due to impacts such as increased coastal inundation and erosion.”

Of course an important consideration would be adaptation. Although Canada may have land in the interior to relocate the 460 or so affected properties however, it would be interesting to understand how these ‘islanders’ would react to abandoning their properties and way of life without even considering options for adaptation. Furthermore, it is estimated that the island would also lose over 30 designated heritage properties.

Is this a small price to pay for no action on climate change? What about islands with no motherland to turn to? Further research on adaptation will assist these small islands in developing appropriate adaptation strategies. Investing in adaptation now can limit the impacts of climate change in the long term. In a previous post we saw how Malaysia is addressing the issue at the highest political level in order to avoid significant loses to their economy and livelihood of their people.

Click here for an interesting background WIKI on Prince Edward Island

Monday, January 07, 2008

We need stronger sea-walls says Fiji Director

Talking with the Fiji Times, the Director of Environment in Fiji, Mr Epeli Nasome is of the view that we need stronger walls to keep out the waves that are causing serious erosion on the islands of Fiji.

He claims that "As the water level rises, it forces its way into some of these water systems, up rivers, estuaries and even underground, that's what adds salt to what was once fresh water." As a result he is advising people to move to higher ground and rely on rain water. These reports are not isolated and many islands, coralline and volcannic have been reporting increased rates of coastal erosion. Are these as a result of climate induced sea level rise? Sadly, many islanders do not have the resources to find out.

However, such incidents cannot be treated in isolation as there is measurable change in the sea level. Due to its complexity climate change cannot be directly measured, a bit like medical diagnosis in the olden days. What we see are the symptoms and although we can debate as to the causes, the fact remains that we need to address the symptoms. Island nations do not have the technical capacity and knowledge to address those symptoms. For example, Seychelles created an environmental engineering section to build adequate capacity to address recent occurences of coastal erosion and flooding. These specialised areas of applied science takes years to build and the need for knowledge transfer between countries is needed more than ever.

See my del-icio-us links below for the link to the article.