Photo from Perito Moreno Glazier in Argentina
I have recently finished High tide in the Main Street book, by John Englander, both Oceanographer and great blogger. It is the perfect opportunity to talk about one of the most evident and important consequences of climate change: Sea Level Rise. In this post I am not going to review the book, the short summary is that I liked it because it is clear, short and well explained. So, highly recommended. Instead of talking about the book itself I prefer to make a short list of ideas/data about sea level rise, some are from the book but the list is like a personal compilation. So let’s go:
- Sea Level Rise is one of the most clear and stronger consequences of climate change.
- The reason for sea level rise is mostly the melting of land ice. The ice over water does not change seal level. So the places to watch are, in strict order, Antartica, Greenland and Glaziers around the world. The water thermal expansion is a small effect in comparison.
- Meters (the key factor and the most difficult):
- The total range of melting is quite impressive. If all that ice is melted the sea level can rise mode than 60 m. In the ice ages the sea level was almost 200 m lower than today. A rule of thumb from historical records is 10 m with a temperature 2ºC more than now.
- Greenland ice alone is 7 m of sea level rise.
- In this moment the measurements are in order of mm or cm.
- The projections for this century are a bit uncertain and depend on what we do but are in the range of 0.5 m to 1 m.
- Those meters are in vertical. The translation in area lost in the cost strongly depends on the particular case, but it can be much more in flat lands.
- Sea level rise needs some time, the melting is not immediate but lasts for a long time and it can not be stopped.
- There are important tipping points difficult to predict. When some parts of Greenland or Antartica start to melt they will go fast to the sea and sea level will accelerate. It is difficult to say at which temperature will occur and this adds a lot of uncertainty.
- Most problems start before too much rising: Stronger storms, coastal flooding, high tides, freshwater salinization,…
- Economical consequences will be huge and will start in the moment we get convinced of sea level rise.
- Many beautiful and expensive coastal areas will loose their property value.
- The most extreme case are the islands that will become inhabitable. Some countries will disappear. How do we value them?
- Some coastal zones will be protected with dams or other means but that is quite expensive too and the grade of protection will depend on the amount of sea level rise.
- Only countries or regions with enough money and vision will be able to prepare protection measurements.
- Some zones just cannot be protected due to soil structure.
- Many specific infrastructures will have to be adapted many times
- We have developed our civilization with a stable sea level and many infrastructures like harbours are built very precisely for a sea level.
- Our civilization is concentrated in the coastal areas, for many reasons. Their change will have a deep effect.
3 months ago I attended a public conference about climate change and health in Bilbao, it is called klimagune, and it is part of the divulgation work done by bc3 research centre. It was interesting for me and the presentations are available in its web, the one from Paul Wilkinson and the other from Bilbao’s perspective. There were even some tweets (#klimagune). From the two hours, the video and the two lecturers I remember two or three points that came to my mind in this quite extreme winter:
- The important difference of mitigation and adaptation, and that in any case both will be needed.
- The idea that we will suffer climate change to some extend and it will have many effects and some directly in our health, but if we do not surpass the 2 ºC barrier we should be able to cope with them as they will be incremental.
- The story of malaria coming to Europe is quite possible as it was before, just in my house not so far ago.
- Even a wet city like Bilbao can suffer from water supply problems as the rains will be more extreme and irregular.
- Sea rise level can have many effects in coastal areas before we are under the water.
The pity was maybe that we were no more than 30-40 people there. Maybe not a failure but few in any case, climate change is not in the agendas of most people in the world and this is something to work about, for example by showing those presentations.
Venice collage from Wikipedia
Some places are more worried about climate change than others, or at least shout be. It is normal as some enjoy a wonderful weather that can only be worsened, or depend a lot on their current climate or sea level. This is the case for Venice This study shows (link in Spanish)the flood frequency will increase in this wonderful city. And floods in Venice affect 75% of the city old town, it is one of the hefty prices of being so special.
Will this be definitive for Venice’s sustainability? I do not know but certainly they will have to be very aware of Greenlands melting to think about clever mitigating measurements if they do not want to become the most beautiful diving center in the world. Anyway, they will not be alone, the rest of us will suffer many other consequences of climate change some of them unpleasantly unexpected, and many will not have resources for the most basic mitigation.
This summer I was lucky to enjoy some vacation days in the very nice Canary Islands, concretely in Tenerife and La Palma. It was just holidays but Climate Change appeared, subtly in certain occasions I want to share with you again in this post as did in the previous one.
The images are from the Poris de La Candelaria a site with strange but striking beauty in La Palma island, concretely in Tijarafe town. Of course, my images are too poor to show the real beauty of this place that it is not a mayor turist attraction maybe due to the difficulties to arrive there. Nevertheless it is important for the locals for spare time use (fishing, sleeping near the sea, festivals,…) and also for the connection to their ancestors, as this places use is documented from the middle ages but is likely older.
And, where is the link to climate change? The link is in my thoughts. They told me that in spite of its peaceful aspect in winter the storms can be strong there causing some damages in the amateur houses. In consequence I thought that in the future they will have to work harder to repair the damages in the stronger storms or even one day leave this place to the fishes due to sea level rise. I know it will not be the worse consequence of climate change but it will be a pity for them and for the eventual visitors.
Photograph from the entrance to Poris de la Candelaria
Photograph from inside Poris de la Candelaria towards the sea
I read this post recently and found it a terrific explanation of one of the most direct and frightening consequences of climate change: sea level rise. (I also bought his book High Tide on Main Street but I will try have to read it later).
One of the figures he gives is the best summary for me: Roughly sea level raises 20 m for each ºC, based on historic data. It does not happen immediately, the huge ice sheets need time to thaw but once the temperature is fixed it is unstoppable. Considering a moderate target of 2 ºC for our future warming if we do things relatively well and stop current business as usual in a reasonable time, this would lead to a terrifying figure of 40 m sea level rise. Others sources mention basically 21st century predictions as this article ( Antonio Zecca, Luca Chiari, Global and Planetary Change.). It calculates a lower limit of 80cm this siecle and more for the next 200 years; or the NOAA, witch estimates between 20 cm and 2m.
The problem to solve in order to predict the sea level rise is very complicated. Even knowing the exact amount of water coming from Greenland or west Antarctica, or the exact temperature rise and subsequent water dilatation it would be complex as the seas are filling the land floating in the magma. So, we have to be conscious or the great error margins and the difference between coasts.
But anyway, going back to the 40 m, I think my house would be included there, some years ago, in some floods just 3 m were enough to reach the lower floor, so I will not be here to see it but it could be sad to my grandsons to say this part of the sea was our grandfathers house.
A long time before that, with much less, it is likely that some housing market will realise about that and the wonderful coastal second houses or investment values will drop sharply causing an economical and maybe financial crack, and even before the strong storms will become a great problem for inhabitants owners and insurance companies.
Antartica Map from Wikitravel
This year is the hundredth anniversary of two famous historical events: sinking of the Titanic and south pole discovery race by Admunsen and Scott. The first being mentioned in some climate change related posts, the second has engaged me through the wonderful book by Apsley Cherry-Garrard: The Worst Journey in the World. I am still reading it but I know the end of the story, it was epic, as deserved in the last land of the world discovered by mankind. It was so difficult that it was not done again by food until 40 years later, with temperatures always below zero, strong blizzards,… Admunsen was completely successful and Scott to some extent, as he reached the pole, but he was second and his last five men died, including him in the return journey.
Scott five-men subgroup who reached the south pole (from wikipedia)
But this is not a blog about south pole, just some climate related thoughts:
- The two ships of the two expeditions (the Fram and the Discovery) were “hybrid”, combining coal fueled steam engine and wind. It is a pity we lost the wind as our main driving force to navigate.
- Nevertheless, this year new adventurers were able to make this south pole journey based on kites help. It was not the only expedition to remember the great effort of Admundsen and Scott in a low carbon way. Interesting.
- Scott expedition was the first to use oil sledges. The combustion engine was not so reliable that time and he obtained less result than expected from them, but this was the first serious attempt, later it became the main way to reach so difficult places. In the other hand he did not allow to sacrifice any dogs or ponies and they were really in a hard situation.
- Scotts men made great efforts to gather scientific information, that expedition was not only geographical, it had many other scientific purposes. Those data have been very valuable for scientific progress in different fields, their climate records were valuable too.
- Admunsen expedition was very practical, based in snow and dog expertise, with only a clear objective and the means to get it. The dogs were sacrificed to feed other dogs in order to reduce the load. They were fast and reliable and learned many techniques from Inuits. Their success was based in the clever utilization of proven knowledge. Making too many trials in extreme situations maybe counteracting.
- This can be an idea to climate change too. Our success as global society in this huge challenge will be more likely using in a new way and in a new context our previously acquired knowledge, instead of waiting for new wonderful technologies.
- One last thought: Those men discovered a land which contains enough water to raise the sea level several meters. It is in our hands to avoid the massive thawing.
Admunsen and Scott routes from wikipedia
Saint Jean de Luz beach in a winter sunny day
In the first week of this year I had the chance to visit the wonderful Basque town of Saint Jean de Luz, a beautiful site living just in front of the sea. Apart from the very nice day trip in a gorgeous winter sunny day, I was surprised to see the heavy walls in front of the beach, before the first line of houses. It was a walk too, but the structure and stony aspect was of a wall.
Reading the touristic explanation my thoughts were confirmed, it was a wall to protect the houses and streets from the sea. The peaceful sight of the beach could become a terrible wave under heavy storms and the inhabitants had fought for centuries. It has been a war with many battles, and some of them sourly lost but nowadays it seems quite under control.
And I asked myself, what will happen with a higher sea level and more extreme weather events in the next decades? Because when thinking about consequences of climate change and sea level rise I always think about sunk houses but before any house sinks it will happen that seafront houses and restaurants will suffer severe damages under storms and will have it very difficult to renew the insurances.
I hope they will be able to adapt as they have been for centuries, but this time, even with much better means the battle will be tougher.