Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sea Level Rising

From United's Hemisphere Magazine
With sea levels rising, conservationists are working to prevent this trendy tropical getaway from becoming paradise lost.
Less than four decades ago, the Maldives, or Dhivehi Raajje (Dhivehi for "Island Kingdom"), was a sleepy, all-but-untouched chain of 26 pristine coral atolls--natural breakwaters that protect some 1,200 shape-shifting sandy islands from the Indian Ocean--hundreds of miles from anywhere. A conservative Sunni Muslim country, it boasted a fishing fleet of traditional dhonis, graceful, sail-driven wooden boats, without a single motor among them. The only way of contacting the mainland was by ham radio or morse code. Until 1972, when an Italian tour operator was persuaded to take a charter flight 400 miles southwest from Sri Lanka to see the islands' legendary beauty for himself, the area "was the same as it had been since the 17th century," notes Adrian Neville, a photojournalist and the author of Dhivehi Raajje: A Portrait of Maldives.
Today, it's a rather different story.
The tiny country, whose populace once sustained itself fishing for tuna in the rich local waters, now welcomes some 600,000 tourists a year. In 2006, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes spent their honeymoon yachting among the Maldives' hundreds of uninhabited islands, completely inaccessible to the paparazzi. At Huvafen Fushi, guests are apt to spot Indian steel billionaire Lakshmi Mittal's imposing mega-yacht moored in the distance. Supermodel Kate Moss, tennis star Roger Federer, and actors Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher have all been guests, lured by the promise of the ultimate jet-set escape.
But while the rarefied resorts of the Maldives are regularly lavished with praise in international travel magazines, last fall the remote country made headlines for a different reason.
Shortly after Mohamed Nasheed, a charismatic 41-year-old, became the Maldives' first democratically elected president, he declared that the country, which rises barely three feet above sea level in most places, would soon disappear beneath the waves. His plan, Nasheed said, was to divert profits from the billion-dollar-a-year tourism industry into a "sovereign wealth fund" with which to purchase a new homeland--possibly in Sri Lanka, India or farther afield, in Australia--for his 380,000 fellow citizens. "We can do nothing to stop climate change on our own and so we have to buy land elsewhere," he told The Guardian, dubbing his scheme "an insurance policy for the worst possible outcome." Indeed, though the islands are responsible for an infinitesimal fraction of the world's carbon emissions, experts consider them among the most vulnerable spots on earth to the effects of global warming. If a September 2008 study published in the journal Science is to be believed, sea levels could rise by anywhere from two point six to six and a half feet by the year 2100-- essentially erasing the Maldives from the map altogether."

Monday, May 18, 2009

North Carolina receives funding for study

Full study found at:

Summary by Veronique Carola

After being identified as one of the three states most vulnerable to sea-level rise by NOAA, the state of North Carolina has been allocated $5,000,00 in funding to perform a risk assessment and mitigation strategy demonstration on the potential of sea level rise and the impacts directly linked to climate changes.

In this study, a scenario of potential sea level rise will be developed using the demographic conditions of North Carolina; this will take into consideration four different time slices (near term (2025), medium term (2050), long term (2075)). The flooding aspects to be evaluated are linked to sea level rise and its increasing frequency and/or the intensity of coastal flooding and erosion.

This study will stretch from 2009 to the end of 2011, with a study scope concentrating on three aspects: Sources (climate or weather events), Pathways (flood control structures, coastal landforms) and Receptors. Specific receptor systems to be assessed are Aquaculture and fisheries, Environment and Ecology, Agriculture, Coastal Structures, Transportation infrastructure and Societal systems.

This work is a collaboration of key stakeholders, i.e. state and federal agencies, universities, research institutes, contractors and so on. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been advised to use the results of this study to assess the implications of climate change and to disseminate the findings to other states.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sea-Level Rise Overstated, but Things Still Grim

From: Time Online

By Jeffrey Kluger

Good news is relative. A Dow of 10,000 looks awfully sweet right now, for example, but it would've seemed like a disaster back when daily closes were closer to 14,000.

That's the kind of pick-your-perspective choice offered by a new paper published in the journal Science about the catastrophic rise in sea levels we could expect if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) continues to melt away as a result of global warming. According to a study by a team of researchers from the U.K. and the Netherlands, the much feared collapse of the WAIS could cause a 9-ft. rise in the planet's seas and oceans, laying waste to coastal lands and immersing some nations entirely. That's a doomsday scenario by most measures — until you consider that the prevailing theories had put the increase at a staggering 15 ft. to 35 ft. (See pictures of New York going green.)

But the comparative good news becomes a lot less good if you happen to live on either coast of the U.S. The complicated workings of planetary physics would cause seas to rise unevenly, and the Atlantic and Pacific shorelines of North America would be harder hit by an Antarctic thaw than perhaps any other place in the world.

The most dangerous part of the Antarctic ice cap is in the west, where much of the continent lies slightly below sea level. Ice shelves that fringe the land keep the seawater out, but if those should melt, the water would rush in and destabilize the larger sheet, leading to slipping, more melting and the possibility of a catastrophic collapse. Picture New Orleans when the levees overtopped; now picture the flooding going global.

"Once a runaway instability starts, it cannot be stopped until a new stable position is found [for the ice sheet]," writes geophysicist Erik R. Ivins in an editorial accompanying the Science paper. (See pictures of this fragile earth.)

The British-Dutch team, led by polar climatologist Jonathan Bamber of the University of Bristol, long suspected that the old estimates were a little alarmist. For one thing, in previous studies, climatologists had defined the area that would be most susceptible to a collapse too widely, including, for example, the Antarctic Peninsula, which the paper calls "both topographically and glaciologically distinct from the WAIS," mostly because it lies largely above sea level. Its higher elevation would put it out of reach of coastal meltwater, keeping its ice cover primarily intact. What's more, even within the areas of the WAIS that lie below sea level, there are localized spots that poke above it, and these too would be relatively safe. Factoring in these and other mitigators, Bamber's team reran the computer models and came up with their newer, slightly rosier forecast.

So how high would we have to pile the sandbags? It depends where you live, since the ocean would rise higher at some points around the Earth than others. Why? Because adding water to the oceans is not like adding it to a lake or a pond or even a bathtub, where the level rises everywhere uniformly. A lake or a pond or a bathtub is not a 6.6 sextillion–ton sphere of rock and dirt spinning through space. The Earth is, and that makes all the difference.

The ice that would melt into the ocean even in Bamber's updated, less extreme models might be small compared with the overall mass of the Earth, but that redistribution of mass would still cause the planet's gravity field to change slightly, which, in turn, would change the vector of its rotation. Think of the way water sloshes in a bucket, varying by how you swing or carry it. On a vast scale, that's what would happen if the WAIS collapsed, and the direction of the sloshing would hit the U.S. especially hard. Other areas that would take a particularly bad beating would be the coastlines bordering the southern Indian Ocean.

All this makes the need for a deal at the multinational climate summit set to convene in Copenhagen this December all the more pressing. And if you need one more reason to hope we at last get warming under control, consider this: The new study did not even consider the sea-level impact of Greenland, glaciers and other ice-capped lands melting. Add that water to the bucket, and you ought to get things sloshing but good.