See the Sea

June 8, 2009

Apparently, this global-warming scenario seems to be getting worse.
This morning from the Washington Post:

Sea levels could rise faster along the U.S. East Coast than in any other densely populated part of the world, new research shows, as changes in ice caps and ocean currents push water toward a shoreline inlaid with cities, resort boardwalks and gem-rare habitats.
Three studies this year, including one out last month, have made newly worrisome forecasts about life along the Atlantic over the next century.
While the rest of the world might see seven to 23 inches of sea-level rise by 2100, the studies show this region might get that and more — 17 to 25 inches more — for a total increase that would submerge a beach chair.

Researchers say rising seas are one of the most tangible consequences of a changing climate.
They rise because they are warming, expanding in volume like a highway bridge on a summer day.
And they rise because they are filling up, fed by melting ice.
In the 20th century, global seas rose about 0.07 inches per year — a steady climb up tide gauges, even as the world debated the existence and the science of climate change.
“It doesn’t matter who’s causing global warming. Sea-level rise is something we can measure,” said Rob Young, a geosciences professor at Western Carolina University.
“You can’t argue that sea level isn’t rising.”
And it has been rising faster in the mid-Atlantic because the land here is sinking.
Understanding this phenomenon requires thinking of the Earth as an enormous balloon.
Push down in one spot on the ball’s surface and surrounding areas are raised up.
Glaciers did this to Earth’s surface during the last ice age: they pressed down on northern North America and areas to the south tilted up, like the other end of a seesaw.
Today, thousands of years after the glaciers retreated, the seesaw is tipping back the other way, and the region from New York to North Carolina is falling about six inches per century.

And from ABC News:

In the history of Earth, there have been five mass extinctions in which at least half the species on the planet disappeared.
Scientists believe the extinctions were brought on by natural disasters — massive volcanic eruptions, rapid climate changes and meteors hitting Earth.
Today, scientists say we are in the middle of a “sixth extinction” — and for the first time, it’s being caused by one species — us.
It seems inconceivable that we could do so much damage to our planet that we actually cause society as we know it to collapse. But historical precedent shows that it is, in fact, a very real possibility.
“Every society that collapsed thought it couldn’t happen to them,” says Joseph Tainter, an expert in anthropology and societal collapse.
“The Roman Empire thought it couldn’t happen. The Maya civilization thought it couldn’t happen.
Everyone thought it couldn’t happen to them. But it did.”
These populations grew too much and exhausted their resources — and their climate suddenly changed. People were forced to fight each other for what little was left or face starvation. Entire societies broke down.
“Civilizations in the past have lost the fight,” says climatologist Heidi Cullen. “They have collapsed as a result of the inability to deal with several different events going on at once. I think the takeaway is that honestly, we are not that special.”

But just how bad could things get?
In one scenario, scientists imagine that by the year 2100, immense storms irreparably damage major metropolises.
Streets, subway tunnels, and buildings would flood and begin to rot. The stagnant water would breed filth and displace residents, forcing them into homelessness.
Poverty levels and death rates could skyrocket.
A new and virulent strain of disease might develop — then mutate and spread around the globe, potentially claiming tens of thousands of lives.
In this scenario, as the crisis explodes, looting grows rampant, major world powers go to war over water, and millions of people die from famine.
Civilization literally collapses under its own weight.

A bit of something to ponder.
(h/t to Raw Story).

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