Images showed popular sites left completely flooded and people wading through the streets as Venice was hit by a storm.
St Mark’s Square – one of the lowest parts of the city – was one of the worst hit areas.
St Mark’s Basilica was flooded for the sixth time in 1,200 years, according to church records. Pierpaolo Campostrini, a member of St Mark’s council, said four of those floods had now occurred within the past 20 years.
The mayor said the famous landmark had suffered “grave damage”. The crypt was completely flooded and there are fears of structural damage to the basilica’s columns.
The city of Venice is made up of more than 100 islands inside a lagoon off the north-east coast of Italy.
Two people died on the island of Pellestrina, a thin strip of land that separates the lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. A man was electrocuted as he tried to start a pump in his home, and a second person was found dead elsewhere.
Mr Brugnaro said the damage was “huge” and that he would declare a state of disaster, warning that a project to help prevent the Venetian lagoon suffering devastating floods “must be finished soon”.
“The situation is dramatic. We ask the government to help us,” he said on Twitter, adding that schools would remain closed until the water level subsides.
He also urged local businesses to share photos and video footage of the devastation, which he said would be useful when requesting financial help from the government.
People throughout the city waded through the flood waters.
A number of businesses were affected. Chairs and tables were seen floating outside cafes and restaurants.
In shops, workers tried to move their stock away from the water to prevent any further damage.
One shopkeeper, who was not named, told Italy’s public broadcaster Rai: “The city is on its knees.”
Three waterbuses sank, but tourists continued their sightseeing as best they could.
One French couple told AFP news agency that they had “effectively swum” after some of the wooden platforms placed around the city in areas prone to flooding overturned.
On Wednesday morning, a number of boats were seen stranded.
A project to protect the city from flooding has been under way since 2003 but has been hit by soaring costs, scandals and delays.
The so-called Mose project – a series of large barriers or floodgates that would be raised from the seabed to shut off the lagoon in the event of rising sea levels and winter storms – was successfully tested for the first time in 2013.
The project has already cost billions of euros in investment. According to Italy’s infrastructure ministry, the flood barriers will be handed over to the Venice city council at the end of 2021 following the “final phase” of testing.
Italy was hit by heavy rainfall on Tuesday with further bad weather forecast in the coming days. Venice suffers flooding on a yearly basis.
Is climate change behind Venice flooding?
By BBC meteorologist Nikki Berry
The recent flooding in Venice was caused by a combination of high spring tides and a meteorological storm surge driven by strong sirocco winds blowing north-eastwards across the Adriatic Sea. When these two events coincide, we get what is known as Acqua Alta (high water).
This latest Acqua Alta occurrence in Venice is the second highest tide in recorded history. However, if we look at the top 10 tides, five have occurred in the past 20 years and the most recent was only last year.
While we should try to avoid attributing a single event to climate change, the increased frequency of these exceptional tides is obviously a big concern. In our changing climate, sea levels are rising and a city such as Venice, which is also sinking, is particularly susceptible to such changes.
The weather patterns that have caused the Adriatic storm surge have been driven by a strong meridional (waving) jet stream across the northern hemisphere and this has fed a conveyor belt of low pressure systems into the central Mediterranean.
One of the possible effects of a changing climate is that the jet stream will be more frequently meridional and blocked weather patterns such as these will also become more frequent. If this happens, there is a greater likelihood that these events will combine with astronomical spring tides and hence increase the chance of flooding in Venice.
Furthermore, the meridional jet stream can be linked back to stronger typhoons in the north-west Pacific resulting in more frequent cold outbreaks in North America and an unsettled Mediterranean is another one of the downstream effects.
The emission of greenhouse gases into Earth’s atmosphere is a by-product of modern marvels such as the production of vast amounts of energy, heating and cooling inhospitable environments to be amenable to human existence, and traveling great distances faster than our saddle-sore ancestors ever dreamed possible. However, these luxuries come at a price: climate changes in the form of severe droughts, extreme precipitation and temperatures, increased frequency of flooding in coastal cities, global warming, and sea-level rise (1, 2). Rising seas pose a severe risk to coastal areas across the globe, with billions of US dollars in assets at risk and about 10% of the world’s population living within 10 m of sea level (3⇓–5). The price of our emissions is not felt immediately throughout the entire climate system, however, because processes such as ice sheet melt and the expansion of warming ocean water act over the course of centuries. Thus, even if all greenhouse gas emissions immediately ceased, our past emissions have already “locked in” some amount of continued global warming and sea-level rise. In PNAS, Nauels et al. (6) <<https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/10/31/1907461116>>examine how greenhouse gas emissions since 1750, and anticipated future emissions, contribute to global sea-level rise.
They find that emissions from 1750 to 1991 have committed us to about 60 cm of additional sea-level rise by the year 2300, relative to the mean from 1986 to 2005, with another 24 cm stemming from greenhouse gases emitted between 1991 and 2016. So, through our emissions thus far in modern human history, we have committed to a total sea-level rise of about 84 cm over the next couple of centuries. This is the price we pay for the luxury of about 200 y of relatively unchecked greenhouse gas emissions.
Aug 6, 2018 … Even if the Paris agreement is successfully implemented, the planet could still heat up by 5 degrees Celsius, scientists warn.
The lead authors say:
“Our study suggests that human-induced global warming of 2 degrees Celsius may trigger other Earth system processes, often called ‘feedbacks,’ that can drive further warming — even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases.”
“These tipping elements can potentially act like a row of dominos. Once one is pushed over, it pushes Earth toward another. It may be very difficult or impossible to stop the whole row of dominoes from tumbling over.”
Climatologist Phil Mote presented 10 myths about climate change Tuesday night but ended his presentation with an 11th myth: There is no hope.
“I find several reasons for hope,” the director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University told the Columbia Forum.
Mote pointed to an increase in solar panel installation, more people driving electric cars, wave energy testing off the coast of Newport, geothermal power plants and teenage activist Greta Thunberg.
“The young people getting passionate about this and pushing for change gives me great hope,” he said.
Mote’s presentation at Baked Alaska in Astoria opened the 30th season of the Columbia Forum speaker series.
He addressed some of the most common myths about climate change, including that the Northwest will see little effect from global warming.
“We’re seeing all these fires and they are clearly linked empirically to the warming climate,” Mote said. “It’s not like fires have never existed, but they are bigger.”
He said rising temperatures cause snow drought, which in the distant future will affect flow levels in the Columbia River to run counter to irrigation demands.
“Rising seas and increasing storminess are already wreaking havoc with many of the coastal areas,” Mote said.
He shared an analysis of infrastructure at risk from 4 feet of sea level rise in counties along the coast.
Clatsop County was ranked the most affected county in all categories, including the number of people affected, number of homes, number of miles of roadway and number of sewage treatment plants.
“So, even 4 feet of sea level rise or high water event can really have impacts,” Mote said.
Another myth he shared is the idea global warming is natural.
“There’s a big difference between the human influence and the natural influences and together they can explain most of what we saw in the 20th century record,” Mote said.
However, he said science shows that human influence has been the dominant cause of global warming.
And scientists are not divided over that, he said.
“The closer you are to the evidence and to the work that all of the scientific community is doing, the clearer it is that humans are responsible,” Mote said.
He also addressed the common misconception that there is time to prevent irreversible damage from climate change.
“At whatever point we stabilize CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, in other words at whatever point we’re done emitting CO2, that’s roughly where the temperature will stop,” Mote said. “There’s nothing particularly magical about 2 degrees Celsius.”
He said there’s more impact with each degree, but there is no tipping point. He said carbon dioxide emissions just need to be reduced as quickly as possible.
“There’s a huge gap from where we’re headed absent of policy and where we think we want to go in order to stabilize global climate. And this is one of the most out-in-front states in the union, California and a couple of others being ahead of us,” Mote said.
He said stabilizing carbon dioxide emissions will be a major challenge.
“My view as a scientist is I want to see emissions reduced because I understand the harm that will happen if we don’t reduce emissions. And whatever policy gets us to reduce emissions is fine with me — if it’s cap and trade, if it’s carbon tax, if it’s just executive branch regulation — at any means necessary,” he said.
Climate change is already here. It’s not something that can simply be ignored by cable news or dismissed by sitting US senators in a Twitter joke. Nor is it a fantastical scenario like The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 that starts with a single crack in the Arctic ice shelf or earthquake tearing through Los Angeles, and results, a few weeks or years later, in the end of life on Earth as we know it.
But these early omens of our unstable, hot, wet future can be difficult to wrap our heads around. So Teen Vogue partnered with the team at the nonprofit news service Nexus Media, who developed a timeline predicting how climate change could affect three major US cities over the course of the 21st century. Climate change will look different in different places across the world, but we chose three places with distinct geographic concerns and climate vulnerabilities—to ground all the ominous statistics and headlines in a real sense of place. These are cities you may have visited, or where you may have family, or where you may even live.
According to the research Nexus compiled, St. Louis will see flooding, extreme heat, severe rainfall, and drought in the surrounding farmland. In Houston, on the Gulf of Mexico, hurricanes will grow more destructive and temperatures will soar. San Francisco will witness rising sea levels, fierce wildfires, and extreme drought.
This timeline is based on interviews with a dozen climate experts and a review of several dozen scientific studies. The projections assume an average sea level rise of six feet by 2100—a little more in some places, and less in others—and the business-as-usual emissions scenario, which assumes that we will continue to pollute and use fossil fuels at our current rate.
Rather than a scientific assessment, it is a rigorously researched prediction of what our future could bring unless we come together as a country and as a global community—fast—to address climate change as the crisis it is.
As Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, put it: “The future is not set in stone. Some amount of change is inevitable. It’s as if we’ve been smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for decades, but we don’t have lung cancer yet.”
“The amount of change that we’re going to see—whether it’s serious, whether it’s dangerous, whether it’s devastating, whether it’s civilization-threatening—the amount of change we’re going to see is up to us,” she continued. “It depends on our choices today and in the next few years.”
Houston’s starting to get hot. It’s now about one degree fahrenheit warmer in Houston than it was in the second half of the 20th century. Houstonians can expect especially balmy falls this decade, as autumns are warming faster than other seasons in Texas.
Houston knows how much it stands to lose from climate change. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey devastated the city, which was supercharged by warm waters in the Gulf. But Houston is also helping to drive the rise in temperature. Several major oil companies and a vast network of oil refineries and petrochemical plants call the city home.
This decade, St. Louis is expected to be more than two degrees fahrenheit warmer than it was, on average, during the latter half of the 20th century. While locals have endured more sweltering summer days, they have felt the change the most during the cold months. Missouri winters are warming faster than summers, springs, and falls.
Warmer air holds more water, which can lead to more severe rainfall. In recent years, rainstorms have pummeled the Midwest and led to widespread flooding across the region. In 2019 in St. Louis, rivers reached near-historic levels, and floodwaters inundated the area around the city’s iconic Gateway Arch.
For San Franciscans, the beginning of the decade will feel only a little different from past years. In 2020, it’s expected to be less than one degree fahrenheit warmer in San Francisco than it was, on average, between 1950 and 2000. The change is small, but locals can sometimes feel it in the spring, which is warming faster than the other seasons, or on especially hot days.
But there are new worries for the city. Rising temperatures have fueled ongoing drought in recent years, which has, in turn, led to more wildfires. Fires now burn more regularly across the Sierra Nevada as well as coastal mountain ranges. The flames may ruin plans for weekend getaways to Yosemite or deliver noxious smoke to the Bay Area. And locals may start to reach for air masks as dangerously smoky days become more common.
“We get a lot of the smoke that comes from the wildfires that happen in inland California, and that makes it really hard to breathe the air,” said Kristy Dahl, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who is based in San Francisco. “Last year when there was a massive wildfire hundreds of miles away, San Francisco for a day [ranked among] the worst air quality in the entire world.”
By 2030, temperatures are expected to have warmed almost two degrees fahrenheit in Houston. Seas are expected to have risen a little more than a foot, enough to occasionally flood some low-lying areas outside the city. Warmer waters in the Gulf of Mexico will raise the speed limit for winds during hurricanes and ramp up rainfall during storms.
“Hurricanes are not getting more frequent, but they are getting stronger and bigger and slower,” said Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University. “They’re intensifying faster and they have a lot more rain associated with them today than they would have had a hundred years ago.”
By 2030, temperatures are expected to have warmed around three degrees fahrenheit in St. Louis. The kind of rainstorm that currently strikes the Midwest around once every five years will hit around once every three years this decade.
“We’ve seen these record-breaking, devastating floods in the Midwest,” said Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University. “It’s not like they’ve never had floods before, but the floods are just getting a lot worse and a lot more frequent.”
This could mean trouble for local infrastructure. Rivers swell after heavy rains, and the rush of water can weaken bridges by carrying away sediment from around their foundations. This could be a big problem in Missouri, which is home to hundreds of aging bridges, many of which have been deemed deficient. Climate change could mean even more heavy repair costs for taxpayers.
This decade, the rise in temperature is expected to pass two degrees fahrenheit in San Francisco. That may not feel like a lot in the city. But warmer weather is taking a serious toll.
California’s drought will get progressively worse this decade, the product of warmer temperatures drying out soil and meager rainfall failing to replace the water lost. Rising temperatures will also yield less snowfall. The snow that does come down will melt in the spring and early summer, depriving the state of a critical source of water in the late summer, when, historically, melting snow has fed streams and rivers.
The snow drought will strain farmers in the Central Valley, while putting pressure on cities to use less water. The water restrictions the state put in place in 2018 will have grown much more severe in the past 12 years. Officials could urge Californians across the state to take shorter showers and stop watering their lawns to cope with the worsening drought.
This decade, sea level rise around Houston is projected to reach two feet, enough to inundate much of nearby Freeport and Jamaica Beach. That extra water will mean that hurricanes, when they strike, will deliver more powerful floods to coastal areas.
“A small and steady rise of the water level elevates a platform for flooding that we’ve had throughout history,” said Maya Buchanan, a sea level rise scientist at Climate Central. “That means larger storm surges.”
That’s bad news for people who live near the shore. Around half of deaths caused by hurricanes are the result of coastal flooding, and waters tend to inundate poor neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color, which are more likely to lie in flood-prone areas.
In 2040, St. Louis is expected to be four degrees fahrenheit warmer than it was at the end of the last century. While that may sound like a small number, it means big problems for the city. A small uptick in the average temperature could lead to milder winters, stifling summers, and changing rainfall.
St. Louis will tend to see wetter springs and drier summers. That means the region will withstand heavier downpours, but it will also endure long stretches without a drop of rain. Despite the growing peril of major flooding, extended dry spells and rising temperatures will dry out the land. Drought will set in in Missouri, endangering farms.
And just remember—it will never be this cool again.
By 2040, sea levels are predicted to rise around one foot, enough to encroach the beaches on the west side of the city and Candlestick Point on the east, popular recreation areas. Parts of San Francisco Airport and Oakland Airport will flood regularly, making air travel in and out of the city more difficult.
Drought will have grown increasingly severe. Forests will dry out, and become vulnerable to bark beetles, which burrow into trees to lay their eggs. Healthy trees can ward off the bugs by covering them in resin—but already struggling trees have no way to protect themselves.
Large parts of forests will die, and the dead trees will become tinder for wildfire. In 2040, fires are expected to burn around twice as much of the Sierra Nevada as they do today. Areas south of San Francisco will also grow more vulnerable to erupting in flames.
By midcentury, temperatures are expected to have warmed more than three degrees fahrenheit in Houston. Waters in the Gulf of Mexico will have also warmed, fueling more dangerous storms.
In the decades to come, the Gulf will see more category-four and -five hurricanes, like Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Katrina, according to Suzana Camargo, a climate scientist at Columbia University. Warm water is like ammunition for cyclones, arming them with more powerful winds and heavier rains. People might want to think twice before they purchase a home in Houston.
“I think people have to think very carefully how they are going to plan when they want to buy a house,” Camargo said, explaining that in the future, cyclones will deliver more flooding to seaside cities and towns.
St. Louis is expected to have heated up by more than five degrees fahrenheit on average by the middle of the century. Hot weather will dry out soil. Past 2050, the Central Plains, including much of Missouri, can look forward to decades-long drought.
This drought will be especially disastrous for Missouri farmers. Growers will have to take more water out of underground aquifers to feed their crops, drawing down a limited supply of groundwater, often at great cost. This, in turn, could drive up the price of food.
By 2050, temperatures in San Francisco are expected to have risen more than three degrees fahrenheit. In the second half of this century, changing weather patterns will yield lasting dry spells, leaving much of California to endure long stretches without rain. Around the time someone graduating high school today turns 50, they can expect California to enter a decades-long drought—with disastrous consequences.
Farmers in California will have to draw more and more water from underground. Eventually, they may not be able to grow fruits and vegetables in parts of the state. This will drive up the cost of many foods, such as strawberries, almonds, and lemons.
Snow will also start to disappear from the Sierra Nevada. By 2050, projections say, there will be a third less snow than we see today. San Francisco depends on that snow for its water, and a dry Sierra Nevada could mean a looming water crisis for the city.
The drought will also leave California’s forests all the more vulnerable to wildfire—fires that could cover San Francisco in smoke, making it dangerous to go outside.
By 2060, temperatures are expected to have warmed by more than four degrees fahrenheit. The city could see up to 25 days a year with temperatures over 100 degrees fahrenheit.
Local sea level rise, meanwhile, is expected reach three feet during this decade. This will raise the level of Buffalo Bayou, the waterway that stretches through the middle of Houston. The Scholes International Airport in nearby Galveston will sink into the sea, and at high tide, water will flood much of the San Jacinto Battleground, site of the 1836 clash where Sam Houston, the city’s namesake, overcame the Mexican Army.
St. Louis is expected hit a six-degrees-fahrenheit increase in its average temperature this decade. While this might be bad news for humans, it’s good for many insects, who love warm weather. Rising temperatures will bring disease-carrying mosquitoes to St. Louis’s doorstep. Missourians will have to be more vigilant about their health as the bugs could spread tropical viruses like Zika, dengue, and yellow fever around the warming Midwest.
Climate change will also bring more deer ticks to St. Louis. Because warmer air can hold more water, as temperatures rise, so does humidity—and deer ticks thrive in humid weather. While ticks are little seen in Missouri today, later this century they will fan out across the state, potentially spreading Lyme disease. Those afflicted will endure fever, headache, and fatigue. They may see their joints swell or feel their face droop.
By 2060, temperatures in San Francisco are expected to have risen by more than four degrees fahrenheit.
Wildfires will burn roughly three times as much of broad swaths of the Sierra Nevada as they do today, laying waste to large stretches of California’s pristine forests.
This decade, sea level rise is projected hit two feet. Water will begin to spill over the edges of the Mission Creek Channel, while threatening routine floods around San Francisco’s iconic Fisherman’s Wharf. Waters will have flooded much of nearby San Rafael, north of San Francisco. To the south, Foster City will be underwater, displacing thousands of residents—many of whom currently work in the tech industry.
By 2070, Houston is projected to be more than five degrees fahrenheit hotter than at the end of the 20th century. This warming is part of a larger trend that is heating up the planet and melting ice in Greenland and Antarctica, raising the sea level near the city.
“As flooding events get more severe, that can impact property values, and that could impact where people decide to live,” Buchanan said, explaining that rising seas will drive down the value of homes in low-lying areas.
By this time, waters will have already subsumed much of the coastline from Freeport, south of Houston, all the way to New Orleans. Rising seas will make much of the Gulf coast unrecognizable as the ocean swallows up most of southern Louisiana. Later this decade, sea levels are expected to have risen by four feet.
In 2070, St. Louis is projected to be more than seven degrees fahrenheit hotter than it was at the end of the last century. Before the decade is through, the city is expected to see eight degrees fahrenheit of warming. Rising temperatures will have utterly transformed the weather in Missouri, making it virtually unrecognizable to current residents. The city will see around 20 fewer days of frost each year than it does today, as well as around 20 extra days with temperatures over 95 degrees fahrenheit. The heat will be felt most acutely in neighborhoods short on trees and parks.
Outside the city, severe heat will cripple the growth of corn and soybeans at nearby farms. So will drought, which experts say will be worse than at any time in living memory. The state will endure more consecutive days without rain. When it does rain, however, it will pour. Warmer temperatures will produce more extreme rainfall.
By 2070, San Francisco’s average temperature is expected to have warmed by more than five degrees fahrenheit. Drought will be more severe than at any time in living memory. Rising temperatures and diminished rainfall will take a toll on trees around the San Francisco Bay. More and more evergreen forests will die off and grasslands will spring up in their place, fundamentally changing the landscape around the city.
By 2080, temperatures are projected to have warmed around six degrees fahrenheit on average, a dizzying change in the weather that means Houston won’t feel like Houston anymore.
The city will grow warmer and wetter. Around 2080, Houston will feel something like Ciudad Mante in Mexico does today, with its warmer, drier winter.
As the climate changes, Houston’s native wildlife could start to head north. At the same time, plants and animals that currently make their home south of Houston may start to work their way toward the city.
St. Louis is expected to be nearly nine degrees fahrenheit warmer by 2080. The temperature will have changed so drastically that St. Louis no longer feels like the same city.
Around 2080, St. Louis will start to feel like Prosper, Texas, does today. This new St. Louis will be hotter and drier. Summer weather will go from balmy to sweltering, and the city will see much less rain during the warm months.
It’s not just that St. Louis will feel more like Prosper. It might start to look like it too. Animals that currently live around Prosper could head northward as the climate changes, searching for a new home that feels like their old one. At the same time, the shrubs and grasslands that stretch across north Texas could start to edge their way toward Missouri.
By 2080, the average temperature is expected to have risen by more than six degrees fahrenheit in San Francisco. The city will start to feel a lot like present-day Los Angeles. The weather will be warmer and drier, much like the current climate in Palos Verdes Estates, a coastal city in the Los Angeles area.
With less rainfall, many of the trees that make their home in San Francisco will die. At the same time, the smaller, scrubbier plants that make their home in LA could migrate toward the city. It’s not just that San Francisco will start to feel like LA, scientists say. It might start to look like it too.
By now, temperatures are projected to have warmed close to seven degrees fahrenheit, while sea levels will have risen five feet, subsuming the coastline. Much of nearby Galveston is underwater.
It’s not just hot days that threaten Houston. Rising temperatures will allow the air to hold more water, increasing humidity—which could be a big problem for public health.
“As humidity rises, it becomes harder and harder for the sweat to evaporate off our skin—and it’s that evaporation of sweat that cools our bodies,” said Kristy Dahl, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “So it might only be a temperature reading of 90 degrees, but if you have 60% humidity, it’s going to feel hotter than 90 degrees.”
Dahl said that Houston will heat up so much that it will be hard to quantify how hot it will feel.
“By the end of the century, Houston would see about three weeks of what we call off-the-charts heat conditions, which are when the combination of temperature and humidity falls above the national weather services heat index scale,” she said. “What that means is that we can’t even calculate a heat index to reliably warn people about how dangerous it is.”
St. Louis is expected to have warmed by almost 10 degrees fahrenheit, a transformational change in the climate of the city. Rising temperatures could provoke a spike in violent crime—when people are hot, research shows, they tend to feel more aggressive.
By the end of the century, St. Louis will endure around 80 days per year where the heat index is above 100 degrees—compared to just 11 days at the end of the 20th century, according to Kristy Dahl, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“It’s really striking because historically those off-the-charts conditions have only occurred in the Sonoran desert region of the US, the California-Arizona border,” Dahl said.
In addition to extreme heat, the city will also endure severe drought, punctuated by the occasional supercharged rainstorm. The kind of downpour that currently strikes the Midwest around once every five years will hit around once every year or two. The most severe storms—the kind that currently show up once every 20 years—now arrive once every six or seven years.
Heavy rainfall will lead to flooding, and floodwaters will mix with raw sewage, helping to spread bacteria. Rains will also swamp homes and businesses, offering a place for mold to grow.
By now, San Francisco is projected to have heated up more than seven degrees fahrenheit on average. The extra heat will mean many people will be spending more time outdoors, potentially leading to a spike in violent crime.
The state will be mired in lasting drought. Wildfires could consume around four times as much of the Sierra Nevada as they do today, as well as forests closer to San Francisco, endangering locals.
The Bay Area is expected to have seen more than three feet of sea level rise. The San Francisco and Oakland Airports will be completely underwater. Across the bay, coastal flooding will inundate parts of Alameda. Low-lying areas on the south end of the San Francisco Bay will also be flooded, including some of San Jose.
By the end of this century, temperatures are expected to have warmed close to eight degrees fahrenheit in Houston. In the summer, Houston will feel something like Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, does today. High temperatures will average over 100 degrees fahrenheit during the warmest months.
By making life harder for workers, severe hotter weather will shrink the economy of the greater Houston area by 6%. Extreme heat will also kill hundreds more people each year. Poorer neighborhoods tend to be warmer, in part because they tend to have fewer trees. People who live in those neighborhoods are also less likely to have air conditioners, which will put them at greater risk.
On top of the heat, Houston is expected to have seen close to six feet of sea level rise by 2100. Waters encroach on the east side of town near the water, where oil refineries and chemical plants could continue to service our catastrophic addiction to oil and gas. Routine flooding of these facilities may cause dangerous explosions and potentially release toxic chemicals into the air.
Much of the city, however, will stay safe from the encroaching sea. That means Houston could absorb hundreds of thousands of new residents by 2100—people who were driven from Miami and New Orleans by ever-worsening coastal floods.
By the end of this century, St. Louis is expected to have warmed by roughly 11 degrees fahrenheit. Winter will scarcely look like winter. Summers will have gone from hot to unbearable.
During the hottest months, it will be so scorching that it will be dangerous to go outside for much of the day. People will depend more on air conditioners to stay cool, leading to bigger electric bills. Elderly people, particularly those who can’t afford to run an air conditioner, will face the risk of heat stroke and death.
The intense heat will take an immense toll on the local economy. Farms in Missouri and southern Illinois could see yields cut in half, ruining livelihoods.
In St. Louis itself, experts project that heat will stifle productivity by making it too hot to work. This could help cut the city’s economic output by around 8%.
By 2100, San Francisco is expected to have heated up by more than eight degrees fahrenheit on average. It will be hot and dry. Snow will be hard to find in the Sierra Nevada. By 2100, the mountain range will see two thirds less snow than we see today, depriving San Francisco of a much-needed water source.
Seas will have risen four feet, projections say. Large parts of Alameda will be underwater. Hunters Point will have flooded, as well as much of Mission Bay. And flooding won’t be limited to San Francisco.
Sea level rise could flood the homes of 13 million Americans by the end of the century, leading to a massive exodus from many coastal areas. By one estimate, rising seas in places like Oakland, Alameda, and San Mateo could spur close to 300,000 residents to move to inland cities in Arizona, Texas, and New Jersey. It is the poorest neighborhoods that will be the most vulnerable to floods.
Editor’s note: This story is based on RCP 8.5, the so-called “business-as-usual” emissions scenario that assumes that Earth will continue to heavily rely on fossil fuels as the global economy grows. Per Nexus Media, “As we are currently doing virtually nothing to stop climate change, RCP 8.5 is a pretty good predictor of what’s going to happen over the next couple of decades. Part of that is because it will take a while for the climate to reach a new equilibrium, so even if we stopped polluting now, the planet would continue to warm for decades.” It looks at a sea level rise of six feet, on average, globally, based on the findings of this widely-cited 2014 study.
Waste could contaminate Florida’s water as seas rise 03:54
(CNN)A major UN report released this week shows the sea level is rising around the globe, which means people who live in coastal cities face real risks from losing their property, and in some cases their live, to the rising ocean and the intense storms these warmer waters bring.
And it will make it harder for more than 60 million people in the United States to flush their toilets.
These systems will be incredibly vulnerable to sea level rise and heavy rains. The climate crisis has brought both. In areas with drought, it may also be difficult to get the volume of water needed to keep the tanks functioning, studies show.
Many systems are clustered in coastal areas that are already expecting sea level rise, including around Boston and New York. Nearly half of New England homes depend on them.
Florida also has a disproportionate share. It’s home to 2.6 million systems, or about 12% of all the septic systems in the country, the Florida Department of Health estimates. Miami-Dade Countyaloneis home to more than 105,000 septic systems.
“Sea level rise is not a registered voter. It doesn’t have a party. It’s something that is going to affect everyone,” said Rebeca Sosa, vice chairwoman of the Miami-Dade County Commission, who spearheaded a study on septic tank vulnerability in the county.
She knows it’s not a glamorous political issue, but with a lot of her residents living on Social Security checks, they’re not going to have the extra funds to deal with the issue.
“Our job right now is to make sure that we make the state and the federal government understand … that we need help, so we can help those who are not going to be able to pay to have sewer lines.”
A county report predicts that within the next 25 years, 64% of the tanks could break and need repairs every year. The report found there are likely 1,000 properties already failing under current conditions.
That’s bad news for residents, but news that will keep some workers busy.
‘Contamination is a real possibility’
When Jason and Brittnie Nesenman were high school sweethearts, never in a million years did they picture themselves standing where they are today: Together, hovering over someone else’s poop.
Jason and Brittnie Nesenman have a lot of extra work fixing septic systems that are vulnerable to the climate crisis.
Jason gets a better angle on a bright blue corrugated hose as Brittnie oversees the operation. The hose runs from their tanker truck, painted with their company’s colorful slogan, “We love your stinkin’ business,” into a septic system. Workers concentrate as they move boards and branches. Together, they clean the tank dug into the side yard of a million-dollar home.
Brittnie shakes her head and laughs, as she describes the fortuitousness of Jason’s decision to start Jason’s Septic Inc. 15 years ago. It certainly didn’t feel that way at the time.
“I was pregnant when Jason came home and told me he quit his job working for a local plumber. I actually gasped,” Brittnie said. “I was a massage therapist. We had no money.”
It may not have been the most romantic gesture when Jason swapped his beloved classic car for a septic draining tanker truck, but it gives the couple a sunny future at a time when the climate crisis darkens Miami-Dade County’s doorstep.
“With the sea level going up, the water table has risen up,” said Jason.
With a sewer system, he explains, water is whisked away to a water treatment plant.
With septic, the dirt around the tank filters out the contaminants. You flush your toilet, the waste fills a tank on property. Bacteria breaks it down. The heavier material falls to the bottom of the tank. Eventually, the effluent goes into underground pipes and gets released into the soil.
Septic tank repair workers flush out a septic system in Miami.
The higher water table is eating away at all that dirt.
“Everything floats downhill, if there’s no more downhill and you’re in the water, it’s just not going to work,” Jason explains. “So the systems, the older systems aren’t lasting as long.”
No soil means no filter, and no filter means contamination, Jennifer Cooper concluded in her 2016 study titled“Hell and High Water: Diminished Septic System Performance in Coastal Regions Due to Climate Change.”
‘This is not a third-world country, this is Miami’
Even on sunny days, Miami is seeing flooding caused by the lunar orbit, which causes seasonal high tides, and what some scientists believe is rising sea levels due to climate change.
As he drives a golf cart from his tiny house real estate office to his lofted modern home, Marcelo Fernandes points to parts of his neighborhood road that flood.
Fernandes, a developer who sells homes in the area, says he has seen more floods due to high tides, even on days with clear skies.
His neighborhood is on septic. He’s worried about the sewage that will be in those flood waters when these septic systems break. Studies show this is a real threat to human health and to drinking water.
“When we are talking about flooding, we are talking about walking around in sewage, it’s bacterial infested sewage,” Fernandes says with disbelief. “This is not a third-world country, this is Miami. This shouldn’t happen.”
Doug Yoder, the deputy director of the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department, says the county has been strategizing and working on the problem of sea level rise for about 30 years.
With flooding due to sea level rise, the Miami area will have to improve its infrastructure to cope with the high tides.
“This water management system is probably one of the most complex anywhere in the world,” explained Yoder. “We are in a place where the ocean is directly connected to our shallow groundwater system. As sea level rises, which it is clearly doing, it is going to affect our ability to both protect our drinking water supply and protect the built environment.”
The county report estimates it would take more than $3.3 billion to build the infrastructure to connect residential and businesses to the system and to support the additional service that will be needed from pumping systems and move properties to traditional sewer.
“It’s going to require even more than that, because you would also have to tear up the streets, and increase the capacity in our treatment system,” said Yoder.
For residents, replacing a septic system with sewer could cost between $15,000 to $50,000 out of pocket. It’s not an easy bill to pay for many residents and not an easy sell for politicians. Miami Waterkeeper’s Silverstein worries the area isn’t ready to adapt.
“All of the rules and regulations aren’t there quite yet,” Silverstein said. “There’s still a lot of development and people are really just hoping for the best.”
Septic repair tanker trucks could be more common in coastal cities, due to the climate crisis.
‘How do we fix this?’
There are counties in the area that are already working to eliminate all their septic systems in the next decade. Martin County, for example, has about 10,000 systems left to replace. The county is sharing the cost with residents.
New developments there have to be connected to sewer lines. That’s not the case in Miami-Dade County, where there are still new developments being built on septic. Miami-Dade County Commissioner Sosa is introducing legislation to change that.
Sosa has serious concerns about how much this septic system problem will cost her constituents. She has worked with the governor to get funding. She also hopes to get more information to the public about the issue.
“How do we fix this? It’s not easy,” said Sosa.
Even if people have the money, if they live miles from closest sewer connection it may not even be possible to connect, Sosa said, so the area will have to come up with alternatives, like elevating some systems.
“We have to act and we have to act with speed,” Sosa said. “But if we don’t get funding assistance it’s going to be impossible to do.”
Politically, Sosa said it may be hard to find the money for this, but, she said the county’s future depends on it.
“We don’t need people saying ‘We don’t go to Miami-Dade County, because look at the problems they have with the sewer system. Look at the contamination we have with the drinking water,’ ” Sosa said. “It’s of an incredible importance. The drinking water and the safety and health of the people, that has no price.”
Arecent mountaineering trip found me and two climbing partners camping alongside a beautiful glacial lake in North Cascades National Park.
Purple flowers swayed in the cool breeze coming down from the glacier above us. No less than five wispy waterfalls flowed down a rock wall behind our camp — the melting runoff from a smaller glacier up above.
The scene was idyllic, but it also betrayed a sinister reality. The place where we were camping used to be all glacier. The lake beside us used to be solid ice. Now, like most glaciers globally, the glacier is in rapid retreat.
Any time in the wilds of Earth now brings solace, without which I lose my psychological and spiritual footing as the ongoing litany of loss, corruption, degradation, aggression, death and trauma that is the daily news assaults us all. It is in nature, and my loving nature with all my heart on a daily basis, where I find the equanimity necessary to continue walking forward into our increasingly broken world.
And you, dear reader, where is it you find your equanimity? Whether it is a place, a person, an activity, or a mental state, please remember to go there, regularly or as you are able, as the unraveling of Earth’s biosphere continues apace.
The signs are ever with us. In particular, in the past month, scientists have warned that it appears as though the Greenland Ice Sheet has experienced a record melt year. This year alone, it lost enough ice to raise global sea levels by more than one millimeter. Researchers told the BBC they are “astounded” by the acceleration in melting and expressed fear for coastal cities in the future. One scientist told the BBC, “So, we’re losing Greenland — it’s really a question of how fast,” and said Greenland is already facing a melting “death sentence.”
At the same time, the Amazon rainforest was burning amid record wildfires (an 80 percent increase of fires compared to the same period last year) that have scorched more than 1,300 square miles at the time of this writing. Stunningly, Thomas Lovejoy, who has been studying the Amazon since 1965 and had already warned of Amazon tipping points due to deforestation, told The Washington Post that if the Amazon is lost, its disappearance alone would add the equivalent of 38 parts per million to atmospheric CO2 levels, which are already at a record of 415 parts per million. Given the critical role the Amazon currently plays in sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere, these developments mean yet another self-reinforcing feedback loop has been added to the planetary climate crisis.
The situation is dire enough that the UN’s chief of biodiversity warned that the burning of the Amazon could lead to a “cascading collapse of natural systems” across the planet.
Meanwhile, scientists are warning people who live in coastal areas to get out. It’s not a question of whether they’ll need to move, researchers emphasize in a recent study — it’s a question of when.
The psychological toll from the climate crisis continues to make itself known as we progress deeper into runaway climate disruption. A recent Reuters piece thankfully brings our attention back to this fact, alongside the obvious psychological challenges brought about intensified disasters like floods, fires and other extreme weather events. Such disasters correlate with rises in suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, among other issues, according to the American Psychological Association.
In places around California that have been devastated by climate-crisis-fueled wildfires, the psychological toll is evidenced by a growing mental health crisis in the aftermath of large areas being burned off the map, such as in Paradise and Santa Rosa. Entire communities are having to cope with PTSD as a result, and we can expect this only to intensify.
A recent draft UN report warned that damage from climate-disruption-driven superstorms and rising sea levels could increase by 100-fold or even more, displacing as many as 280 million people around the world. Additionally, the report warned that without dramatic changes, at least 30 percent of all the permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere could thaw within 80 years.
Another component of rising seas is thermal expansion of the water: As water warms it expands, taking up more room and thus leading to rising levels. Warming water also has a negative impact on marine species dependent upon cooler waters, like salmon.
In Alaska, the water is already so warm it is killing off large numbers of salmon, as has been the case during an “unprecedented” atmospheric and marine heat wave this summer. The fish are dying from heat stress.
Additionally, the warm Alaskan waters are intensifying paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) levels across the Southeastern region of that state. This means that harvesting shellfish is becoming increasingly dangerous, as ingesting enough PSP contaminated seafood can literally kill you.
This is all occurring because, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, another major marine heatwave is happening across the northeastern Pacific Ocean. The waters off the west coast of North America are now 5 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than usual, and the event has been dubbed the “northeast Pacific marine heatwave of 2019.” Scientists are concerned it could resemble the “blob” that occurred several years ago in the same region, which caused massive algae blooms and killed sealions and myriad other species of marine life up and down the coast. Current temperature charts show this heatwave could even be worse.
Meanwhile, water woes are besetting the Great Lakes region of the U.S., causing the city of Detroit to declare a state of emergency. “The havoc wreaked on communities bordering the Great Lakes is a result of their water level steadily rising over the last five years and spiking to record levels this spring and summer,” the Guardian wrote of the crisis. “In 2019, the lakes’ depths ranged from 14in to nearly 3ft above long-term averages, according to data from the US army corps of engineers.” Naturally, the extreme rainfall is linked to the climate crisis, and the flooding ravaged homes and roads across the region.
A recent study showed that 100-year flooding events could soon be happening on a yearly basis around parts of the U.S., showing that the aforementioned crisis in the Great Lakes will probably become a regular occurrence. The study warned that both the Northeast and Southeast will likely experience this as tropical storms and hurricanes intensify. Extreme rain events will continue in other regions as well.
It is clear, and now being reported more regularly, that people living in coastal areas will have to leave. Homes, businesses and entire major cities will all have to be abandoned or relocated entirely. Indonesia is already in the process of relocating the capital city of Jakarta, a major city with millions of people. This could well be the model for other major coastal cities around the planet, assuming there is time to carry out such relocations.
In fact, a group of scientists, in a paper published in the journal Science, have urged people living on coasts to move away from them while they still can, so as to avoid the panic and chaos that are looming on the very near horizon as sea level rise accelerates and storms and their flooding events intensify in both frequency and power. Retreating from coastal areas now, rather than waiting, is the obvious and prudent thing to do.
The biggest news on the wildfire front has, of course, been the fires scorching the Amazon, which continue to burn.
However, those are far from the only ones. This summer, wildfires have raged across Alaska, the Arctic, Greenland and Siberia (where more than 21,000 square miles of forest were scorched). Fires in the Canary Islands forced 8,000 people to evacuate).
In the Congo, the world’s second largest rainforest, there were 50 percent more fires than the 2,000 burning up the Amazon, as at the time of this writing the Congo had 3,000 fires burning, while the Amazon was being scorched by 2,000.
As to be expected, wildfires becoming increasingly common, larger and more devastating around the world as runaway climate disruption deepens.
Record high temperatures continued in many places around the planet. Anchorage, Alaska, saw its warmest August on record — the third warmest month ever recorded for the state since record-keeping began — as wildfires continued to ravage much of the U.S.’s northernmost state.
The heat waves that beset Europe over the summer killed 1,500 people in France alone, according to another report.
Amid all of this, the Trump administration’s blatant denialism continues.
Trump was the only national leader at the G7 to skip a special session that had been dedicated to addressing the climate crisis as well as the wildfires scorching the Amazon.
Lewis Ziska, a top-level climate scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), resigned in August because the USDA had buried his research. Ziska explained that the administration is actively censoring climate science, and told a reporter, “This is no longer about the science. This is somebody’s ideology.”
Meanwhile, the corporate media remains true to form as well, when it comes to largely ignoring the climate crisis. A recent report by Media Matters for America showed that ABC, CBS and NBC mentioned the fact that climate disruption was responsible for the intensification of Hurricane Dorian only a single time over 216 different news segments covering the devastating storm.
And it isn’t just the Trump administration and corporate media actively censoring the reality of the climate crisis. Not to be left out, the Democratic National Committee actively voted down a resolution for a presidential primary debate that focused solely on the climate crisis. Instead, the candidates had to rely on CNN holding a debate on the topic.
Meanwhile, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of attempting to roll back regulations on oil and gas companies that require them to run inspections for methane leaks at drilling wells and platforms. Methane is 85 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2 over a 10-year time scale.
Lastly, to underscore the severity of this ever-worsening crisis, a recently released book has revealed how scientists have been consistently underestimating the pace of climate disruption — and underestimating the severity of its threats.
This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 220 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
When we’re faced with threats of inundation, our reaction has traditionally been to build walls. Sea-level rises, storms and floods have been held back with solid barriers, seawalls and dykes. We have used walls to keep out people, too: the fact that this has failed throughout the ages has not stopped its recent revival in the United States.
The climate crisis threatens global sea-level rises of well over half a metre if we fail to act, while tidal storm surges will reach many times that height. Fiercer and more frequent hurricanes will batter us, and millions of people who live in areas where crops have failed and wells run dry will be forced to flee their homes. But walls will not work with the climate crisis, even if the temptation to try to keep out the consequences, rather than dealing with the causes, is as strong as ever.
The prospect of a “climate apartheid”, in which the rich insulate themselves from the impacts of the climate emergency while the poor and vulnerable are abandoned to their fate, is now real. According to the UN, climate-related disasters are already taking place at the rate of one a week, though only a few of them – such as Hurricane Dorian – get reported.
Nowhere on Earth will be untouched, with the number of people facing water shortages set to leap from 3.6 billion today to 5 billion by 2050. At least 100 million people will be plunged into poverty in the next decade, and in the decades following that, rising sea levels will swamp coastal cities from Miami to Shanghai, wiping $1tn a year from the global economy. Agriculture will become increasingly difficult, with more people displaced as a result, searching for liveable conditions elsewhere.
The Global Commission on Adaptation, headed by Bill Gates and Ban Ki-moon, warned this week that we have failed to plan adequately for a crisis that is now upon us. At a series of high-level meetings beginning in the next few weeks, and continuing into next year, world leaders and representatives of civil society and businesses will try to devise a better response. Among the questions they face will be how to set new targets, secure new funding and take more effective action to help the world not just prevent further warming, but to adapt to the impacts already being felt.
Currently, 20 times more is being spent on reducing emissions than building resilience to the effects of rising temperatures and extreme weather, according to the Commission on Adaptation. That seems patently unbalanced, and neglecting adaptation is putting millions of people and their livelihoods in danger now, as well as storing up problems for the future.
What’s more, money invested today will pay dividends in the near future. Spending less than $2tn by 2030 would result in more than $7tn saved in damage avoided and better economic growth. These sums sound huge, but are a fraction of the amount the world will spend on infrastructure in the next decade.
And modern adaptation means more than building seawalls. Restoring natural features, such as mangrove swamps and wetlands, can do far more to protect coastal regions, as well as nurturing biodiversity and tourism. New technology will play a key role, as early warnings of extreme weather give people time to take shelter or protect their property. Engineering climate-ready infrastructure encompasses everything from porous pavements to urban trees to provide shade.
What’s clear is that we need to adapt and build resilience now, because climate change is no longer a comfortably faraway problem. The predicted ravages have come sooner than expected: heatwaves over much of the northern hemisphere last year, floods and extreme weather in south-east Asia, Arctic ice melting at unprecedented levels this summer, and Hurricane Dorian, one of the strongest ever recorded. Worse still, some of these effects are likely themselves to increase temperatures further, in a series of feedback loops. The fires in the Amazon are destroying a vital “carbon sink”. Shrinking ice reveals darker water that absorbs more heat than highly reflective snow. Melting permafrost releases methane, a greenhouse gas many times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
It is tempting, in the face of these events, to suggest that the game is up for trying to prevent climate change. The emissions reductions needed to stop it are so vast, and the changes to our way of life so total, that it may seem like all we can do is adapt to the consequences. The hastening prospect of a “climate apartheid” is morally revolting as well as politically alarming, and could lead to a kind of paralysis.
The view that adapting to inevitable climate change should be our priority, over futile and ruinously expensive attempts to cut emissions, has been spread by those who want to continue to emit CO2, come what may. Fossil fuel companies saw adaptation, along with the idea that we could geo-engineer our way out of trouble, as a way to keep selling oil while paying lip service to the climate science. Now it is gaining traction among more respectable thinkers. Jonathan Franzen, the American novelist and nature lover, whipped up a storm when he suggested in the New Yorker that: “In the long run, it probably makes no difference how badly we overshoot 2C … Every billion dollars spent on high-speed trains … is a billion not banked for disaster preparedness, reparations to inundated countries, or future humanitarian relief.”
It’s true that spending on adaptation is a good deal. It saves lives, and if used wisely could stave off the climate apartheid that experts foresee. But setting up adaptation versus emissions-cutting as an either-or choice is a grave mistake. Trying to adapt to the consequences of climate change while continuing to burn fossil fuels is like trying to mop up an overflowing sink while the taps are still running. As long as we continue to pump CO2 into the air, we are fuelling rises in temperature. We cannot outrun global heating any more than we can hold back the rising sea with dykes. And the fires blazing through the Amazon show that without action, things could easily get much worse.
It can seem that in a world of finite resources, we need to make a binary decision about where to put our efforts. That is an illusion. The truth is that dealing with the climate emergency requires an across-the-board approach, for the simple reason that all of our resources – economic, physical, social – are at stake. If we do not throw everything we can at the problem, there won’t be much left anyway. In short, there is no wall high enough to keep out the consequences of inaction on emissions.
• Fiona Harvey is an environmental journalist for the Guardian
America under President Trump might not own Greenland (yet), but decisions made by his administration will help determine the ice-covered island’s long-term fate and ours.
US emissions of greenhouse gases, as well as emissions from other countries, have tipped the balance to make Greenland a major contributor to global sea-level rise.
It’s no secret that the Greenland ice sheet is in trouble. This melt season, which is wrapping up, has brought the most significant ice loss, and related sea-level increase, since the record melt year of 2012.
Much of the ice melted in a one-week period when the island was in the throes of a heat wave that had moved in from Europe.
According to Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the University of Colorado, this year Greenland will add about 1 millimeter to global sea levels through glacial outflow and melt runoff, which translates to about 360 gigatons of water entering the North Atlantic.
Greenland ice melt, triggered by increased amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, has worsened coastal flooding in the United States and elsewhere.
Changes to the island’s gravitational pull as a result of shedding so much ice mean that some areas are being affected more than others. In Miami, where coastal flooding on sunny days has become a regular hazard, Greenland ice melt has greater effects than in other vulnerable coastal cities, such as Boston.
“Greenland really holds the fate of Miami in its hands in terms of how much sea level rise is going to come out of there,” Scambos said.
According to Ben Strauss, chief executive and chief scientist at Climate Central, a climate science and journalism organization, “100,000 Americans live per [each] vertical inch above high tide line, averaged over the first 10 feet. Every bit of sea level rise counts.”
Richard Alley, an expert on ice sheets at Penn State University, put the gravitational effects of Greenland ice loss into perspective in an email: “The ice sheet is so massive that its gravity affects the sea level – the ocean is attracted to Greenland’s ice enough to raise the sea level around Greenland.”
“If the ice melts, the mass is spread out into the world ocean very rapidly, but then the extra water that was held near Greenland also spreads out,” Alley said.
A complete meltdown is up to us
Studies have shown that during past periods when Earth was about as warm as it is today, the entire Greenland ice sheet was lost, raising global sea levels by about 23 feet.
With the world on course to experience about 7.2 degrees (4 Celsius) of warming above preindustrial levels by 2100, it’s possible we’ll pass a critical threshold beyond which there’s no preventing a complete or near-complete disappearance of the ice sheet.
“The critical threshold temperature is poorly known, but is not too many degrees above modern, [and] almost surely can be reached by human-caused warming if we continue to emit carbon dioxide rapidly from fossil-fuel burning and other processes,” Alley said.
Already, Greenland’s rate of ice loss has increased sixfold since the 1980s, going from 41 gigatons per year during the 1990s to 286 gigatons per year during the period from 2010 to 2018.
The rate and extent of surface melting across the Greenland ice sheet can quickly change with even a small amount of warming. “Raising the temperature by a degree or two more in summer means that a huge area of the ice sheet will begin to melt,” Scambos said.
A recent study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that in a high-emissions scenario, Greenland could contribute up to two feet of global sea level rise by 2100.
Other studies have shown that if significant emissions cuts are made in the next decade or two, the total amount of sea level rise from Greenland, as well as Antarctica and other sources, could still be limited.
But time is running out, regardless of who “owns” Greenland.
NASA oceanographer Josh Willis points the finger at both man-made climate change, and natural “but weird” weather patterns, and he believes that by the year 2100, ice from just Greenland could cause 3 or 4 more feet of sea level rise.
“[It’s] the end of the planet,” New York University air and ocean scientist David Holland told the AP. “It takes a really long time to grow an ice sheet, thousands and thousands of years, but they can be broken up or destroyed quite rapidly.”
Holland believes that Greenland’s melting ice problem comes in part from warm, salty water coming in from the Gulf Stream in North America.
A previous AP report claimed that there’s enough ice in Greenland that should it all melt, sea levels around the world would rise by 20 feet.
For years, scientists have watched and learned that those glaciers are crumbling and melting, the rate speeding up over the decades and imperiling the stability of the entire ice sheet. But while the science was clear that human influences on climate would affect the ice down the line, it has been hard to tell whether human-driven global warming has affected the melting already underway.
Now, a team has unraveled evidence of that human influence. In a study published Monday in Nature Geoscience, a team of scientists showed that over the past century, human-driven global warming has changed the character of the winds that blow over the ocean near some of the most fragile glaciers in West Antarctica. Sometimes, those winds have weakened or reversed, which in turn causes changes in the ocean water that laps up against the ice in a way that caused the glaciers to melt.
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“We now have evidence to support that human activities have influenced the sea level rise we’ve seen from West Antarctica,” says lead author Paul Holland, a polar scientist at the British Antarctic Survey.
The ocean eats the ice
The massive West Antarctic ice sheet holds something like 6 percent of the world’s fresh water frozen in its guts. If it all melted away, global sea levels would rise by about 10 feet or more. That’s not likely to happen anytime particularly soon, scientists think, but some parts of the ice sheet are particularly vulnerable, in danger of crossing a crucial “tipping point” if they retreat too far. (Read about the “tipping point” here).
The glaciers have been receding because their snouts spill over the edge of the continent into the surrounding ocean, which is warmer than the ice. The warm water melts away the ice.
Just how warm the ocean is, though, matters a lot. Over decades, the temperature of the water has waxed and waned, driven in part by natural climate cycles that send different water masses close to the edge of the ice sheet at different times, cycling through from cold to a little less cold every five years or so.
The main thing that controls whether warm water makes it to the edge of the ice sheet, it turns out, is the strength of the winds a little bit farther offshore, in the heart of the icy, bitter Amundsen Sea. Sometimes, those winds—cousins of the famous raging band of Southern Ocean winds known as the Roaring 40s—slacken or even reverse. When they do, more warm water ends up near the edge of the ice sheet, which means more ice melts away. (See what the world would look like if all the ice melted away).
“In the 1920s, the winds were pretty much consistently blowing toward the west,” says Holland. “So in the old days, it was cold all the time—it flopped between cold and very cold.”
But now, because of the slow warming of the planet, the whole baseline has moved up. Instead of the cycle flipping between cold and very cold, the flip is between warm and cold.
Scientists knew that the strength of the winds in this region of the Amundsen Sea affected the water temperature. Records of wind strength and direction only went back until 1979. But the patterns in this region match up nearly perfectly with conditions far away, in the tropical Pacific Ocean, where much better, longer-term records exist—so the team could extrapolate how the polar-region winds have changed over the last century.
They used a suite of climate models to look at how the wind patterns would have evolved over the last 100 years if human-caused global warming weren’t in play, and compared that with what the winds actually did. Today’s pattern—with about equal west-flowing and east-flowing winds—means the whole region ends up quite a bit warmer than it was 100 years ago, when the wind flowed toward the west most of the time.
Ice out of Balance
In the past, and even up to the early part of the record the scientists looked at in the 1920s, ice melted during warm phases and grew back during cold phases. But over the last century, that balance has come undone. The shifting winds and warm ocean phases have eaten away at the ice more quickly than it’s being replaced.
Several particularly notable moments of wind-flipping, like in the 1970s, matched up closely with major retreats of the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers.
Those glaciers are particularly sensitive to melting at their snouts. The ground underneath them, it turns out, is concave, like a bowl. The glacier ice is attached the “rim” of the bowl, but if it melts back past that edge, warm ocean water can spill underneath it and melt it even more quickly from the bottom.
In 1974, one of these strong moments of melting pushed the glaciers past one of these “rims,” and since then the glacier has melted much more quickly than it did before—at least 50 percent more melt after that un-groundig than before, said Eric Steig, an atmospheic and ice core scientist at the University of Washington and an author of the paper.
The suspect has been identified—and it’s us
The ultimate cause of the wind patterns, they found, is human-caused climate change. The extra greenhouse gases humans have pumped into the atmosphere over the past few hundred years have changed the way heat moves around the planet so thoroughly that they’ve changed the shape of the basic wind patterns at the poles.
The Antarctic ice sheet sat more or less stable in shape and size for many thousands of years. But about a century ago, pieces of it started to retreat in measurable ways. That’s well within the time frame when carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases had started to accumulate thickly in the atmosphere, so it seemed logical to think that human influence was affecting the ice. But Antarctica is a complicated place that changes a lot because of natural variability, so it has been challenging to pinpoint the extent of human influence on the changes.
“It was very hard to imagine that the ice sat around happily for millennia and then decided to retreat naturally just as humans started perturbing the system, but the evidence for forcing by natural variability was strong,” writes Richard Alley, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, in an email.
But a warming planet has very clearly changed the way winds move around Antarctica—and that change is likely to continue, unless something drastic happens to slow or reverse the warming process.
“If we carry this pattern forward, we may move to a situation where we’re flipping between warm and very warm,” says Holland. And that could be devastating for the ice.
But the future isn’t yet written, Steig stressed. Keeping future greenhouse gas emissions in check would go a long way toward keeping those crucial winds from weakening further, the water under the edge of the ice chilly, and the ice frozen.
“[West Antarctic Ice Sheet] melting will affect everyone,” says Steig. “The effects will be global, because sea level will rise globally.”