Rising sea level from global warming

Two interesting studies were release this week concerning seal level rise and global warming.

The first is particularly troubling report from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, showing the coast line of New Jersey moving inward as much as 480 ft (Yahoo News Release, Full Study). While sections of Atlantic City could certainly withstand an architectural refresh, this seems like a particularly brutal impact for the Garden State.

Some other interesting points raised in the study.

  • New Jersey is sinking. The local rate of sea level rise is almost double the global mean due to land subsidence and sediment compaction. Still about 70% of sea level rise is due to climate change.

  • Between 1% and 3% of NJ Land Area (170 km2 to 442 km2 ) will be inundated this century. (Reference point: New York City is 800 km2)
  • Because of a higher base, the average 5 year storm will produce “100 year floods” with water levels over 10 feet!
  • Our tasteless Atlantic City comment aside, the report also forecasts tremendous economic damage from displaced land use. About 10% of the vulnerable land is classified as urban/residential, making a large scale Katrina-like impact quite likely, especially with impactful episodic flooding.

The second study is even a little scarier, showing that current glacial data is exceeding the forecasts of the established climate models (see Discovery Channel article, or full article for $9). Although unlikely to fully melt, the Greenland ice sheet contains enough water to raise sea levels 15-20 feet. This Helheim glacier study showed that one Greenland glacier has rapidly accelerated its retreat, and that this has decreased resistance to flow from the melting glacier.

What does this mean for you? Well, as the reports lead author suggests, this is like raising a floodgate on a dam. As the glacier retreats, its ability to stop water flowing down the glacier is limited. This challenges the assumptions of many climate change models, and may lead to even greater levels of worldwide flooding.

Both studies underscore the importance of acting now on climate change, given that one quarter of the world’s population lives within 100m of sea level. One the eve of COP/MOP-1 our Government’s attitude to climate change seems overwhelmingly shortsighted.

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