When it comes to sea level rising by feet or meters, the biggest fear is melting mountains of ice piled up on Antarctica. Recently NASA scientist Eric Rignot told us those glaciers are melting six times faster now than in the 1950’s. In another just-published paper, scientists discovered the marriage of two forces making that happen. This could determine the future map of the world, as disastrous sea flooding invades farmlands, cities, and whole nations.
The science is challenging. It involves a 34 million year history of Antarctic ice, tiny single-celled animals, carbon dioxide, and the astronomical place of Earth in space. All of that.
Fortunately we have lead author Dr. Richard Levy here to help. Dr. Levy is a Paleoclimate Scientist and Programme Leader at New Zealand’s GNS Science, a government Crown Corporation. Levy is a veteran of scientific expeditions to Antarctica, with many papers about the coldest continent on Earth. He is the co-author of “Antarctic ice-sheet sensitivity to obliquity forcing enhanced through ocean connections” as published in Nature Geoscience 2019.
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Normally I recommend listeners go straight to the science published in the journals. In this case, I think you should start with a great summary published at phys.org: “Antarctic ice sheet could suffer a one-two climate punch”. Without understanding scientific terms like “obliquity”, you might miss the importance of Levy’s work without this article by Devitt, and my Radio Ecoshock interview.
To understand the underlying astronomical cause of changes in Antarctic ice, we need to grasp Milankovitch cycles: "the collective effects of changes in the Earth’s movements on its climate over thousands of years. The term is named for Serbian geophysicist and astronomer Milutin Milankovic. In the 1920s, he hypothesized that variations in eccentricity, axial tilt, and precession of the Earth’s orbit resulted in cyclical variation in the solar radiation reaching the Earth, and that this orbital forcing strongly influenced climatic patterns on Earth."
OBLIQUITY OR AXIAL TILT
“The angle of the Earth’s axial tilt with respect to the orbital plane (the obliquity of the ecliptic) varies between 22.1 and 24.5°, over a cycle of about 41,000 years. The current tilt is 23.44°, halfway between its extreme values. The tilt last reached its maximum in 8,700 BCE. It is now in the decreasing phase of its cycle, and will reach its minimum around the year 11,800 CE.
Increased tilt increases the amplitude of the seasonal cycle in insolation, providing more solar radiation in each hemisphere’s summer and less in winter. However, these effects are not uniform everywhere on the Earth’s surface. Increased tilt increases the total annual solar radiation at higher latitudes, and decreases the total closer to the equator.
The current trend of decreasing tilt, by itself, will promote milder seasons (warmer winters and colder summers), as well as an overall cooling trend. Because most of the planet’s snow and ice lies at high latitude, decreasing tilt may encourage the onset of an ice age for two reasons: There is less overall summer insolation, and also less insolation at higher latitudes, which melts less of the previous winter’s snow and ice.”
ANTARCTIC SEA ICE MAY DETERMINE THE FATE OF COASTAL CITIES AROUND THE GLOBE
Richard Levy tell us: “Antarctica turns out to be way more sensitive to climate change than was previously thought.” And the key, key factor is the state of Antarctic sea ice. That southern pole sea ice was staying strong, even growing a little since 2014. Since then, it has begun a decline every year, likely including this one. The sea ice serves as “buttress”, a block that slows down the flow of Antarctic glaciers into the ocean.
When sea ice melts it is like an ice-cube in your glass because sea ice does not raise sea level. But ice from the big glaciers can put sea levels up at least 20 meters, or 75 feet higher. Imagine that. Richard Levy says their data suggests that in previous times, when the world was 1.5 degrees warmer (than pre-industrial) sea levels were 6 to 9 meters higher than they are now. We may already have a long way to go, as the seas relentlessly rise over the next centuries.
We know from the study led by Eric Rignot that Antarctica is already losing ice mass, at a rate 6 times greater than in the 1950’s. Antarctica is melting. It will melt even faster as the sea ice there continues to shrink.
This paper provides a double-checked visual graphic of the last 34 million years of the Antarctic ice sheet. That time map can be used by a lot of other scientists, and amateur climate bloggers like myself.
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As cities build more flood-management infrastructure to adapt to the effects of a changing climate, they must go beyond short-term flood protection and consider the long-term effects on the community, its environment, economy, and relationship with the water.
Adapting Cities to Sea Level Rise, by infrastructure expert Stefan Al, introduces design responses to sea-level rise, drawing from examples around the globe. Going against standard engineering solutions, Al argues for approaches that are integrated with the public realm, nature-based, and sensitive to local conditions and the community. He features design responses to building resilience that creates new civic assets for cities. For the first time, the possible infrastructure solutions are brought together in a clear and easy-to-read format.
The first part of the book looks at the challenges for cities that have historically faced sea-level rise and flooding issues, and their response in resiliency through urban design. He presents diverse case studies from New Orleans to Ho Chi Minh to Rotterdam, and draws best practices and urban design typologies for the second part of the book.
Part two is a graphic catalogue of best-practices or resilience strategies. These strategies are organized into four categories: hard protect, soft protect, store, and retreat. The benefits and challenges of each strategy are outlined and highlighted by a case study showing where that strategy has been applied.
Any professional or policymaker in coastal areas seeking to protect their communities from the effects of climate change should start with this book. With the right solutions, Al shows, sea-level rise can become an opportunity to improve our urban areas and landscapes, rather than a threat to our communities.
“Every Floridian should read this book. It is the clearest and most readable description of how and why the sea level changes and what the future has in store for us.”—Orrin H. Pilkey, coauthor of Global Climate Change: A Primer
Sea levels are rising—globally and in Florida. Climatologists, geologists, oceanographers, and the overwhelming majority of the scientific community expect a continuation of this trend for centuries to come. While Florida’s natural history indicates that there is nothing new about the changing elevation of the sea, what is new—and alarming—is the combination of the rising seas and the ever-growing, immobile human infrastructure near the coasts: high-rise condos, suburban developments, tourist meccas, and international metropolises.
The stakes are particularly high in Florida, where much of the landscape is already topographically low and underlain by permeable limestone. Modern-day sea-level rise poses unprecedented challenges for sustainability, urban planning, and political action.
Sea Level Rise in Florida offers an in-depth examination of the rise and fall of sea levels in the past and the science behind the current data, both measured and projected. The authors also discuss ongoing and potential consequences for natural marine and coastal systems and how we can begin to plan strategically for the inevitable changes.
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For as long as humans have been inhabiting coastal areas and recording what occurs in their environments, coastal zones have been defined through dynamic interactions. And this is further underlined by a more recent development: observed sea level rise. In a thorough but not overly technical approach, Adapting to Sea Level Rise in the Coastal Zone: Law and Policy Considerations provides a legal-policy framework for facing the challenges of sea level rise.
The book includes an analysis of sea level rise adaptation strategies that examines the legal impacts of coastal land use decisions based on the current interpretation of private property rights in relation to public control over those rights. The author discusses the science behind sea level rise and highlights policy complexities and options. He then presents an overview of related legalities, and bringing it all together, applies the principles offered in the book, concluding with strategies and solutions and a perspective on the future.
If we accept the premise that sea level rise is occurring and will continue for the foreseeable future, then we must begin to consider policy responses to this risk in coastal regions. Part of any pragmatic policy response must include a review of the options available to public institutions when developing and implementing rational adaptation policies. This book offers practical legal/policy approaches to sea level rise adaptation that promotes sound planning in the face of climate change and rising seas.