Tides Of Change: Could Rising Ocean Levels Gobble Up Entire Cities And Islands?
Posted by GreaterGoodness
Climate change and global warming are a real threat to the survival of the global ecosystem. Yet, for many in the United States, dire predictions of future catastrophe have had little impact on day-to-day life. Although many informed citizens grasp the need to redouble efforts to decrease the nation’s collective carbon footprint, U.S. energy policy and individual behaviors lag far behind those beliefs. Nonetheless, recent data on the impact of global warming on sea levels, released by NASA on August 25, 2015, provide a clear warning that the time to act decisively on the issue of climate change is not some far-off day in the future, but now.
A Frightening Rise in Sea Levels
Over the past century, the Global Mean Sea Level has risen about 4 to 8 inches, says National Geographic. Even more alarming is the rate at which sea levels have risen since 1995 — about 1.3 inches per year, nearly twice that of the preceding 80 years. If this trend continues, experts predict a rise in sea levels of between 3 and 6.5 feet by the end of the 21st century, enough to submerge much of the eastern seaboard of the United States, including portions of New York, New Orleans, and Miami. Moreover, with even a 3-foot rise in sea level, up to 10 percent of the land mass of low-lying countries such as Bangladesh could be submerged, leaving as many as 15 million people displaced. Small island nations, such as the Maldives and the Marshall Islands, would completely disappear, according to CNN.
What’s Behind the Rising Tides?
Scientists credit three factors in the rise in sea levels: thermal expansion, the melting of the polar ice cap, and ice loss from Greenland and West Antarctica. The first is a direct reaction to rising global temperatures; as the atmosphere heats up, the oceans absorb about 80 percent of the heat. Since warm water expands, the oceans take up more space.
The second factor, the melting of the polar ice cap, is a seasonal phenomenon that’s accelerated by global warming. Each summer, the polar ice cap and surrounding glaciers begin to melt. Then, in the winter months, heavy snowfalls, which consist mainly of evaporated sea water, replenish the ice, thus maintaining the glaciers in a relatively stable state. Over the last century, however, consistently warmer temperatures have caused this fragile balance to shift, leading to a thinning of the ice cap and rising sea levels worldwide.
By far the most worrisome factor impacting rising sea levels is ice loss in Greenland and West Antarctica, which, according to NASA, has been happening at an unprecedented rate. Ice loss from Greenland, for example, has increased by about 31 gigatons per year since 2004, and ice loss in West Antarctica accelerated by about 28 gigatons per year during the same period, says Mashable. Warmer ocean temperatures also contribute to the destabilization of some of the region’s largest glaciers. In August 2014, for example, scientists watched from space as a 4.8-square-mile chunk of Greenland’s Jakobshavn Isbrae Glacier — a section large enough to cover all of Manhattan Island in a layer of ice 1,000 feet thick — crashed into the ocean over a period of just two days. If the entire Greenland ice sheet were to follow suit, sea levels could rise up to 23 feet by the year 2100, submerging large portions of many of the world’s coastal cities, including New York, London, Shanghai, Calcutta, and Bombay.
What Is Being Done?
In 2010, the participants in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed to limit global carbon emissions to an extent that would limit atmospheric warming to 2 degrees Celsius, a number which they believed would obviate the catastrophic impacts of climate change. Although many experts now say that this number is far from safe, neither the United States nor many of the high-carbon emitters in the international community have made substantial efforts to reach even that modest goal, the Council on Foreign Relations explains. One example: In May 2015, the Obama administration granted Shell Oil permission to drill for oil and natural gas in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, a move that dismayed environmentalists and belied the administration’s stated goal of decreasing the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels.
Despite dire warnings from the global scientific community, international efforts to decrease carbon emissions and curb global warming are falling far short of their goal. As a result, the effects of super-storms and rising sea levels continue to threaten coastal areas worldwide, including many large cities in the United States. If you’re concerned about this and other environmental issues, don’t wait for someone else to act. Visit Greater Goodness to learn more about climate change, and make a free, ad-sponsored donation to this important cause.