Part 3: Rising seas and signs of sparkle
Sea level rise may be the most tangible effect of climate change we’ve got. Especially if you’re from Tuvalu.
It’s a metric we can all understand and scientists have been able to model how much sea level rise relates to each degree of warming.
Where are we now?
Looking at core samples, tide gauge readings and satellite measurements, scientists have worked out that the global mean sea level has risen by 10 to 20 centimetres over the last century. No big deal, right? Trouble is, it seems to be accelerating. In the last 20 years, sea level has risen twice as fast as it did in the 80 years before that.
Where’s all this extra water coming from?
Almost all of the water on Earth lives in two places – 97% is in the oceans and 2.7 percent is ice.
If all the ice on the planet melted, sea levels would rise 65 metres.
At just 25 metres, Banks Peninsula would be an island and 1.8 million New Zealanders would be looking for a new place to live. Check out Jonathan Musther’s interactive maps for 10 metre, 25 metre and 80 metre scenarios.
These projections are fun to catastrophise over, but total melt is unlikely. If it did happen, it would probably take 5,000 years. But glacial ice is only one part of the story. Remember that 97% of water that lives in the oceans? Well, as the temperatures warm, the oceans warm too. In fact, the oceans absorb about 80% of the extra heat. Warm water expands and so the oceans simply take up more space. About half of the past century’s sea level rise is attributed to thermal expansion.
The trouble with sea level rise.
One of the lesser-known effects of sea level rise is the problem of salt-water getting into groundwater – which reduces the freshwater available for drinking and farming.
And then there is the obvious one – cities underwater. With 4 degrees of warming, predictions are that 470 to 760 million coastal residents will be displaced. It’s being called “the largest migration in history”. And where there is migration, there is bound to be conflict.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for a New American Security, two Washington think tanks, have reported that flooding will likely lead to “armed conflict over resources.”
Drought and migration have already been linked to conflict in Darfur, Somalia and even Syria, where more than 200,000 people have been killed and six million have been displaced.
Kill me now?
Not just yet…there are some reasons to be optimistic. Peter Diamandis is. He thinks we’ll use the power of exponentially growing technology to make great leaps and exceed the basic needs of every person on the planet.
Tim Flannery was one of the first climate change authors to scare the crap out of me with his book The Weathermakers in 2003. But his 2015 book is optimistically named Atmosphere of Hope and at the WORD Christchurch festival last year, he talked about some exciting emerging possibilities for mitigating climate change.
So keep those sparklers burning. Keep slashing turns. Stay in the game.
#Thinkaboutit is a new series of ski designs with something to say. Do you think about this stuff too? We’ll be releasing a limited edition of 5 numbered Fire topsheets this winter. If you’re keen to get first dibs on this topsheet when it’s released, sign up for updates here.
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