March 20, 2012 – Vol.17 No.1
HEADS IN THE SAND AS OCEANS RISE.
by Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News
One of the “slides” that makes up the “show” of my screensaver is of a public beach access in Holmes Beach, Florida. Holmes Beach is on Anna Maria Island which is just south of St. Petersburg, just north of Sarasota and due west of Bradenton, where I now live.
The access is at the end of an east-west cross street on the island. As far as I can tell the right of way for the street runs across the pink-white beach all the way to the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The slide, taken circa 2008, shows a shaded, sand and pine needle covered path leading through a stand of tall Australian Pines. (Which, by the way are not indigenous to the area and considered invasive.)
Today, that scene is quite different. The pines are gone. Not even the stumps remain.
Their disappearance is suspicious. Next to the beach access, where there were once older single story homes, are now two tall trophy homes. One can only imagine the spectacular Gulf sunsets from either home with the trees gone.
Beaches are fragile things. Even barefoot steps that loosen the crisp top layer will enhance erosion. Tree roots and grasses can hold sand together in wind and storm. On Anna Maria, like so many islands on the planet only a few feet above sea level, every square inch of beach protection is precious. Yet, to the obvious one percent who can afford to remove what appears to be public property for the sake of a personal view, the grip of roots holding sand together means nothing. The beach, as beaches often do, is currently in retreat with replenishment needed soon. Should a hurricane pass through, that section of beach is now even more vulnerable than just a few years ago without those tall pines.
Holmes Beach, Florida, Anna Maria Island beach access circa 2008 (left) and today
When governments and politicians will get a more manly grasp on controlling development on the nation’s shoreline is anyone’s guess. They need to now, yet probably won’t. New studies show the planet continues to warm and the seas continue to rise steadily, and expected to accelerate. Some projections have it that without constant dollars being fed into beach replenishment, the inheritors of our suspicious trophy homes might find the waves at their doorsteps sometime mid-century. In less than 20 years time oceans could rise about 8 inches, about what they’ve risen in the past 100 years.
Studies by researchers at Climate Central, of Princeton, New Jersey, and from the University of Arizona and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, say that oceans could rise between one and two meters by the end of the century. And, that’s just from glacial meltwater from Greenland and Antarctica and expanding ocean water as it warms. Of course, the inundation won’t come all at once. The oceans will creep higher at an increasing pace. Beaches will get narrower. Flooding over sea walls will be more common. Tensions between waterfront landowners, inland taxpayers and government leaders will heighten as budgets strain to build fortifications to hold back the rising tide.
But 1 - 2 meters is nothing compared to a prediction in another study. Even at current, elevated levels of CO2 oceans should be up to 70 feet deeper. That study has Greenland and West Antarctica melting completely, while parts of East Antarctica go as well. Fortunately, glacial ice is slow to melt and it could take hundreds of years for entire land masses, complete with buildings, roadways and bridges, to disappear beneath ocean waves. At seventy feet most of the world’s port cities will abandoned by then. But some sturdier buildings might survive with sea water coming in 7th story windows. It won’t be a pretty sight. The U.S. Capital Building is at elevation 82 feet, so it will be good for fishing from its steps and still dry. It seems likely that Congress won’t be meeting there in a few hundred years. The White House, on much lower land will be long gone.
Scientists in Britain have also done some recalculations of the Earth’s temperature and have included data from more than 400 new observation stations across the Arctic, Russia and Canada where most of the current warming has been. Though the temperature rise is the same, about 1.4 F since 1900 (0.75 C), the warmest year on record is now 2010, not 1998. Climate skeptics have been saying lately that temperatures have leveled off since 1998 proving the Earth isn’t warming. The new 2010 peak will however take that plateau out of the curve.
The update, compiled by the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre and the Climatic Research Unit (Cru) at the University of East Anglia, and is one of three global records used extensively by climatologists is reported in the published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
Other scientists in Britain think we should start immediately to stop the thinning of the Arctic ice cap by “whitening” cloud cover with fine water droplets to reflect more sunlight and cool things off. A melting arctic isn’t a concern for sea level rise since its caps is made of floating ice. The concern at the top of the globe is the possibility of a giant methane release as water warms above freezing and land-side tundra thaws. Methane is 25 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Still another study, this time from Berkeley Lab in the U.S., is showing that its not just greenhouse gases warming the atmosphere, it’s soot from dirty power plants, vehicles and even wood stoves and campfires. This black carbon landing on pristine white snow in Arctic regions reduces reflectance of solar radiation back into space. Previous studies have also showed that glaciers made dirty with black carbon melt faster than clean ones.
My home is enough above sea level so as not to worry. But, the painful loss of a beloved island seems possible, even in my lifetime.
UK Met Office
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory - Berkeley Lab
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