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Global Warming: Want to see if your house will be flooded?

by ManfromMiddletown Sun May 7th, 2006 at 11:12:17 AM EST

For most people, climate change is an abstract concept.  

Reports earlier this year that the Greenland ice cap is losing its ice cap brought a brief frenzy of concern that we had reached a tipping point in which the cataclysmic consequnces of global warming were to be revealed a la Apocolypse to the world.  The facts are less dramatic but not much less disturbing. Greendland's ice cap losing much larger amounts of area during the summer melt.

In February 2006 researchers discovered glaciers in Greenland were moving much faster than before, meaning that more of its ice was entering the sea.

In 1996, Greenland was losing about 100 cubic km per year in mass from its ice sheet; by 2005, this had increased to about 220 cubic km.

A complete melt of the ice sheet would cause a global sea level rise of about 7m; but the current picture indicates that while some regions are thinning, others are apparently getting thicker.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

From the front page ~ whataboutbob

While there's still much debate as to how much of the Greenland ice cap will be lost to global warming, one thing is certain.  The broad trend in the region over the greater part of the last century is towards warming.

Talking about climate change solely in terms of global warming is misleading though, because there are a multitude of factors contributing to climate changes.  Some like greenhouse gases will raise temperatures, others like particulate matter in the atmosphere which  leads to global dimming that tend to lower global temperatures (ironically, potentially leading to a masking of the full extent of global warming.)

Remember that by itself the loss of the Greenland ice shelf would raise sea levels by 7M (roughly 21 ft), and while this is the worst case scenario in Greenland, this number does not include potential sea rises resulting from loss of sea ice in the Arctic, which is at risk of melting, leading to a loss of sea ice.

Projections suggest that the Arctic ice cap will be much smaller as sea ice is loss to warming, and as the loss of permafrost could release water into the ocean, and potentially release massive amounts of methane, itself a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere creating an runaway train effect far greater than the impact created by human impacts alone.

Such a cascade could potentially lead to further catastrophe by unleashing the massive ice sheets of the Antarctic into open seas, with disastrous consequences

Huge, pristine, dramatic, unforgiving; the Antarctic is where the biggest of all global changes could begin.

There is so much ice here that if it all melted, sea levels globally would rise hugely - perhaps as much as 80m. Say goodbye to London, New York, Sydney, Bangkok, Rio... in fact, the majority of the world's major cities.

But will it happen? Scientists divide the Antarctic into three zones: the east and west Antarctic ice sheets; and the Peninsula, the tongue of land which points up towards the southern tip of South America.

"Everybody thinks that the Antarctic is shrinking due to climate change, but the reality is much more complex," says David Vaughan, a principal investigator at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, UK.

The full catastrophic melting of the Antarctic ice sheet leading to an 80 M (240 ft) sea rise isn't likely, but the complexities of climate change make even the best projections meaningless, but the point is that things are going to change, and that the unforseen like massive methane emissions from permafrost melts could make what currently seems highly unlikely plausible.

And again change is certain, one of the more extreme examples of this is the in the near future the mythical Northwest Passage will be ice free, and subject of contention between the US and Canada.

As the ice melts, it is going to be possible to send products along Murmansk to Monterrey route.

Hugging the western side of Hudson Bay, 1,000 miles north of Winnipeg, Churchill is the continent's only subarctic industrial port. As such, it's the most efficient point from which to ship grain or goods produced midcontinent to northern Europe or to Russia. Via Churchill the route from Edmonton to Liverpool is almost 1,000 miles shorter than through Montreal. With fuel costs rising, the potential savings are compelling. Oceangoing ships too big for the St. Lawrence Seaway can get in and out of Hudson Bay (ice permitting, of course).

Sitting in this chilly catbird seat is Denver railroad magnate and real estate developer Patrick Broe, 57. In 1997 his company, Omnitrax, the largest privately owned operator of short-line railroads in North America, bought the port for $7 from a Canadian government happy to unload a moneyloser. As part of the deal Omnitrax also paid $11 million to the Canadian National railroad for an 800-mile stretch that links Churchill to Canada's grain belt.


Negotiations between Omnitrax and the Canadian and Russian governments have been aimed at creating an "Arctic Bridge," a trade corridor from Murmansk to Churchill, then straight down the middle of North America to Monterrey, Mexico. "Murmansk-to-Monterrey" is the hot phrase on cold lips in Moscow and in Manitoba.

In the new world created by the shrinking of the Arctic ice shelf, the fortunes to be made from Arctic trade are going to create the condition for divise conflicts. Between the US and Canada over control of the Northwest Passage, and between Canada and Denmark over the resources in the area betwen Greenland and the Canadian

But the same rising waters that open the Northwest Passage threaten to inundate heavily populated costal regions throughout the planet.  The problem with global issues like the rise in sea levels brought on by global warming is that is often very hard to illustrate how this will impact us personally.  

British blog Firetree.net has created a compelling tool to demonstrate how the global issue of global warming can get very personal.   As sea levels rise, it might just be your town, your house that descends below the waves.  The next time that you think that reducing Carbon footprint will destroy your way of life, consider the alternative, with the wave lapping at your doorstep, and the sad knowledge that home is going to be gone forever as the waters rise.

With only a 1 M sea level rise much of New Orleans will lie beneath the waves, and what remains stands without the protective ring of bayous to guard against Hurricanes. In Europe, Venice and Amsterdam lie beneath the sea.  In Asia, Saigon (Ho Chi Mihn City), and the Mekong Delta fall one last time to the wave. In Africa, Alexndria is gone.

At a full 7 M rise, the Okechobee empty directly into the sea, and the urban area of Miama-South Florida is a narrow spit of land from Palm Beach south.  In Washington, DC the sea extend past Lafayette Park onto the front lawn of the White House.  In Europe, London's East End is underwater, as is Hamburg.  In Asia, much of Southern Iraq is underwater as is much of Southern Bangladesh and Shanghai.

At 14 M .... the Netherlands is reduced to but a quarter of its former self.  All of Florida's coastal cities are under water, and Mobile bay extends north nearly to Jackson.

Remember that that Greeland ice shelf alone could raise the sea 7 M if it melts.  If there's a catastrophics cascade effect methane emissions as the permafrost in Siberia melts, we could see the Antartic lose it's western ice shelf, and sea level rises above 14 M.  This is no certainty that all this will occur, and the total collapse of the Western Antarctic ice shelf raising sea levels by 5 M is estimated at only 5% or 1 in 20.  Better than Russian Roulette, but not much.  And the sum of glacial melting may be much worse than its parts.

I want to encourage you all to find your own home and see how how the ocean would have to rise to put you under water.

My house would be underwater if the sea rose
. 2M (6ft) 20%
. 4M (12 ft) 20%
. 6M (18 ft) 0%
. 8 M (24 ft) 0%
. 10 M (30 ft) 20%
. 12M (36 ft) 0%
. 14M (42ft) 40%

Votes: 5
Results | Other Polls
Let's all go thank the blogger who wrote the Google hack to make the flood maps possible.

Leave a comment on the diary he announced this in.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Thu May 4th, 2006 at 01:43:20 PM EST
Surprisingly enough it seems that the answer is 'none of the above' (for the poll questions - 70m would leave all of the borough underwater).

Fun game but it's not the cities I'm worried about - wealthy, densely populated, urban areas can probably count on a certain leeway - they're worth the expense of protecting.

by MarekNYC on Thu May 4th, 2006 at 03:00:55 PM EST
Can't alter a poll. I realized there was no answer after I clicked on submit.

I just don't see Miami or New Orleans coming out of this ok.  And the Netherlands, what happens when the Zuiderzee  wall is breach, and the North Sea  can batter the Dutch coast?

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Thu May 4th, 2006 at 03:08:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I said some leeway - meaning that a densely populated urban area in a wealthy country would probably be protected if global warming left it a little bit under sea level e.g. NO and much of the Netherlands right now - but not infinite protection. I don't know enough about Miami's situation to say, but yes, NO's and Holland's long term future seem bleak.  
by MarekNYC on Thu May 4th, 2006 at 03:46:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
9 meters, and I live in the Netherlands. You are quite right that a prosperous and densely populated country like the Netherlands can afford huge dikes, after all, that's how we do it now. Building a sea-wall of sufficient size along the whole coastline is possible, just expensive. An increased water flow in the rivers, especially the Rhine, might be a more difficult problem.
by bastiaan on Sat May 6th, 2006 at 07:09:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd be on the beachfront if the sea level rose by 14m, apparently.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 4th, 2006 at 04:19:50 PM EST
At 260 M I think I'll be fine in Indiana, I'd like to see this at the full shebangabang, 80 M, i.e.Antarctica desnuded of ice. I get the sad feeling with the current occupants of the White House (and 10 Downing St. for that matter) we are all truely fucked when it comes to global warming.  

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg
by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Thu May 4th, 2006 at 04:55:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Apparently I'm safe where I am. Although I'll need a submarine or an amphibian vehicle to use the M4 to get to Bristol or London.

But huge swathes of Somerset and Lincolnshire disappear altogether. And there's a comment on the blog about how the map ignores tidal ranges, suggesting that the real areas would be much bigger.

It's interesting zooming in on the maps instead of the sat images to get a better feel for the damage. A street where a friend lives in Penzance is half in the water and half out of it. Imagine what that means in real terms, with rows of crumbling abandoned half-flooded houses all over the country, and the old beachfront areas completely underwater.

And a lot of road and rail links disappear or are badly broken. Not least the Tube in London, although with the City and West End flooded there would be nowhere much to commute to anyway.

It's easy to miss that the destruction will be about a lot more than just lost land area. And it would take a unique and unprecedented engineering effort to protect these important areas all around a coastline.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu May 4th, 2006 at 04:57:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd still have to drive 2h to get to the Atlantic and 1h30 to get to the Mediterranean, even if the sea level goes up by 14m. That's quite unfair, even more so since I don't drive.
by Alex in Toulouse on Thu May 4th, 2006 at 05:38:04 PM EST
Here at 6000 feet (1800 meters) there's no beach in my future. Drought, on the other hand, is a bit of a concern--although we can easily enough cut off the water to Los Angeles in order to keep our lawns green.

Also, luckily, the Wyoming coal and gas fields that provide our electricity and heat are also beyond reach--as long as those nasty coastal dwellers don't suddenly get a hankering to live in the sunny, high altitude West...

by asdf on Thu May 4th, 2006 at 07:52:36 PM EST
asdf- we can meet up and go surf Nebraska!
by US Blues on Fri May 5th, 2006 at 08:55:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
kewl tewl.

Nomad will probably spit coffee on the keyboard.  but it's a nice thought experiment.  makes things more conceivable.

we may be the only species in terrestrial history to run exquisite, exhaustive predictive models of our own swan dive...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu May 4th, 2006 at 09:48:38 PM EST
MfM's diary is a breath of fresh air on this, really. And personally I find the decreasing Greenland ice and the melting permafrost one of the biggest concerns in the changing climate debate, so I won't lose any coffee over this diary. To the contrary. I'd argue for focus and action exactly to attempt stemming these developments.

That doesn't mean I could apply some critical points, but most of the work has already been superbly done by Pierre, downthread, for which I'm grateful. It gets wearisome to get huffy every 24 hours.

It seems there are lots of diaries still to write. Global dimming seems to be in the need to be talked through; as well as the constant scare that the Antartica will dump its ice on our coastlines. The work seems cut out, while I'm trying to change my focus to stimulating and informing on action-driven incentives. Yet this subject and the dangers of the myth-machine is like a rash; you keep on scratching.

by Nomad on Fri May 5th, 2006 at 06:25:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Google hack is very nice. Here is another way to get such information, slower and more cumbersome, but probably more accurate (Google altimetry is <it>very</it> inaccurate): it's based on the NOAA altimetry/bathymetry database:
GEODAS  Design-a-Grid
You'll need to download a viewer to your machine to view the generated grids

I'll try and post some maps I generated with this tool, when I understand how to do uploads on EP. Interesting to note, France is one of the least affected portions of the world. Most affected, besides the obvious Bangladesh, Netherlands, islands, etc... are:

  • US East Coast and Florida (lots of property damage :-)

  • North of China (this spells big trouble)

  • The plains east of Ural

  • British East Coast (sorry, but it's not really a good idea to relocate to Perigord or Spain just now, see below)

  • The plain of the Po in Italy (bye bye Venice)

  • But you should also note that this won't happen in our lifetime !

    Loss of floating ice has no impact on the sea level (well, a few centimeters due to salinity difference), because it's already lifted by Archimedes force, due to the displacement of its weight of water. So only continental ice counts, and that's:

  • 70 cm for temperate glaciers (lesst than the planned 2m for thermal expansion of the upper layer of the oceans)

  • 7 m for Greenland

  • 70 m for Antarctic

  • BUT: if you calculate the thermal inerty plus latent head of fusion of all this ice, divide it by the total amount of sunlight power retained by anthropic greenhouse (I spare you the figures, but I really did it on a spreadsheet, can dig it out if someone is interested), you'll find out that it will takes something like a thousand year to melt, assuming 3x margin of error and all the sunlight power directed straight to the poles and zero ice albedo (which exactly the pessimistic opposite of reality).

    So in short: even our grandchildren will never see a 5 m rise in the level of oceans. Some will argue that the ice could flow from the continent into the sea, which would raise sea level without the need for the ice to melt. And this is probably happening for Greenland ... But for the antarctic, the altitude of the bedrock below the ice just doesn't offer enough slope for this (actually, the bedrock is sunk into the crust by the weight of the ice, and a good part of the antarctic continent is hardly at sea level, there is a nice radar map which shows you that on Wikipedia).

    In my view, the most worrying parts of Global Warming are the increase in the frequency of now-extraordinary storms, potential loss of the gulf stream, and relocation of nasty bugs and parasites (like malaria) to the temperate areas.

    by Pierre on Fri May 5th, 2006 at 04:11:59 AM EST

    Antarctica without its ice-shield. This map does not consider that sea level would rise because of the melted ice, nor that the landmass would rise by several hundred meters over a few tens of thousands of years after the weight of the ice was no longer depressing the landmass.

    A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
    by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 5th, 2006 at 06:33:14 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    Sadly the data cuts off at about 60/65 degrees north, just when I was getting interested. No data for anything north of Stockholm.
    (I realise disk space isn't free.)


    sapere aude

    by Number 6 on Fri May 5th, 2006 at 06:37:22 AM EST
    So I got curious about dear old California...and while SF loses all its bay front (back to the ocean from whence it came), another "bay area" just as large forms between Sacramento and the coastal foothills (where the Sacramento, San Joaquin and Sierra rivers all come together). Then I got curious about the Sea of Cortez...and it looks like the Salton sea becomes linked to that!! Hm,, maybe buy some land south of Salton sea now, and it will be beach front for our grandkids...<ouch>

    "Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
    by whataboutbob on Fri May 5th, 2006 at 08:29:20 AM EST
    Think how much of the US's fruit and vegetables are growen in the Central Valley.  When you mutliply that across the variety of economic activities  in the US and Europe, the economic impact is in the Trillions of dollars.

    And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg
    by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Fri May 5th, 2006 at 10:44:42 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    Well, the area that becomes an inland bay is now rice fields...fruit and nuts are grown at higher elevations, so won't be as impacted...but California is a major rice exporter...

    "Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
    by whataboutbob on Fri May 5th, 2006 at 03:48:31 PM EST
    [ Parent ]

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