King Tide in Pacifica, California. A sneak peek of the photos Jamie Jones of Jamie Jones Photography took for Drowning Islands this morning of the King Tide overtaking the sea wall in Pacifica.
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“The sea level on a stretch of the US Atlantic coast that features the cities of New York, Norfolk and Boston is rising up to four times faster than the global average, a report said Sunday.
This increases the flood risk for one of the world’s most densely-populated coastal areas and threatens wetland habitats, said a study reported in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Since about 1990, the sea level along the 1,000-kilometre (620-mile) “hotspot” zone has risen by two to 3.7 millimetres (0.08 to 0.15 inches) per year.
The global rise over the same period was between 0.6 and one millimetre per year, said the study by the US Geological Survey(USGS).
If global temperatures continue to rise, the sea level on this portion of the coast by 2100 could rise up to 30 centimetres over and above the one-metre global surge projected by scientists, it added.
The localised acceleration is thought to be caused by a disruption of Atlantic current circulation.
“As fresh water from the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet enters the ocean, it disrupts this circulation, causing the currents to slow down,” USGS research oceanographer and study co-author Kara Doran explained.
“When the Gulf Stream current weakens, sea levels rise along the coast and the greatest amount of rise happens north of where the Gulf Stream leaves the coast (near Cape Hatteras).”
The hotspot stretches from Cape Hatteras, Northern Carolina to north of Boston, Massachusetts and also includes other big cities like Philadelphia and Baltimore.
“Extreme water levels that happen during winter or tropical storms, perhaps once or twice a year, may happen more frequently as sea level rise is added to storm surge,” Doran told AFP.
“Scientists predict that this will lead to increased beach erosion and more frequent coastal flooding.”
Another study has shown a one-metre sea level rise to increase New York’s severe flooding risk from one incident every century to one every three years.
The USGS report was based on actual tide level measurements, said Doran. Other studies have shown a similar hotspot using climate models.
In a 2007 assessment report, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change saidglobal warming would cause the sea level to rise by up to 59 centimetres by century’s end.
Even this relatively modest projection would render several island nations unlivable and wreak havoc in low-lying deltas home to hundreds of millions.
But reports since then have said that melting Arctic ice plays a greater role in sea level rise than previously suspected, and most climate change scientists now project the ocean will rise roughly a metre by century’s end.
Climate warming causes sea levels to rise by melting land-ice and through the thermal expansion of water.
In a separate study in Nature Climate Change, European scientists said a 1.5-degree-Celsius rise in global temperatures would see sea levels peak at about 1.5 metres above 2000 levels.
But warming of two degrees would result in sea levels reaching 2.7 metres — nearly double.
The UN is targeting a 2 C (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) limit on warming from pre-industrial levels for manageable climate change.
“Due to the long time it takes for the world’s ice and water masses to react to global warming, our emissions today determine sea levels for centuries to come,” said lead author Michiel Schaeffer of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.”
For those people and countries that face sea water inundation in the coming years, Orsos Island and similar island designs could pose as an interesting strategy and possible solution. While costly, radical, and still a far cry from their natural habitat, this article in today’s gizmag.com provides an interesting perspective (and great photos) of what floating island homes may look like in the years to come.
“Floating islands are environmentally friendly and leave a zero footprint after its lifespan, and opens opportunities where there is a scarcity of land,” Jasper Mulder, General Manager of Dutch Docklands Maldives told Gizmag. “They are the answer to urban limitations and climate change. It secures a safe and sustainable future where conventional building methods fail.”
See full story here: http://www.gizmag.com/orsos-floating-island-superyacht/22771/
As we already know, the mega-emitting United States is not immune to the impacts of climate change. But usually when we think of beach erosion, we think of coral atolls poking out of the middle of vast oceans, sparsely populated and rarely mentioned. Yet, as the New York Times points out in its recent story entitled “Hawaii’s Beaches Are in Retreat, and Way of Life May Follow,” beach erosion is also a problem in the United States. The full story is copied below, and available at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/15/science/hawaiis-beaches-are-in-retreat-and-way-of-life-may-follow.html?_r=1.
Most beaches on the state’s three largest islands are eroding, and the erosion is likely to accelerate as sea levels rise, the United States Geological Survey is reporting.
Though average erosion rates are relatively low — perhaps a few inches per year — they range up to several feet per year and are highly variable from island to island and within each island, agency scientists say. The report says that over the last century, about 9 percent of the sandy coast on the islands of Hawaii, Oahu and Maui has vanished. That’s almost 14 miles of beach.
The findings have important implications for public safety, the state’s multibillion-dollar tourism economy and the way of life Hawaiians treasure, said Charles H. Fletcher, who led the work for the agency.
“This is a serious problem,” said Dr. Fletcher, a geologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Sea level does not rise uniformly around the world, and so far, Dr. Fletcher and other geologists said in interviews, Hawaii has escaped some of the rise that has occurred elsewhere as earth’s climate warms. But that situation is unlikely to continue, the report says.
Hawaii’s geological history also leaves it unusually vulnerable. The islands formed, one by one, as a tectonic plate carrying them moved to the northwest over a “hot spot,” where a plume of molten lava pushes through the seafloor. Over the millenniums, this material cools, accumulates and eventually rises above the waves. (Loihi, an underwater — for now — mountain southeast of the island of Hawaii, is the latest to undergo this process.)
But once the slow plate movement carries an island away from the hot spot, its volcanic material begins to compress, causing the island to start to sink, worsening its erosion prospects.
The new analysis, “National Assessment of Shoreline Change: Historical Shoreline Change in the Hawaiian Islands,” is the latest in a series of reports the geological survey has produced for the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, California and some of Alaska. Over all, their findings are similar: “They all show net erosion to varying degrees,” said Asbury H. Sallenger Jr., a coastal scientist for the agency who leads the work.
He said the studies aimed to establish a baseline from which scientists could “really assess what sea level rise actually does in the future to our coasts.”
S. Jeffress Williams, another scientist with the agency, said researchers had over the years produced a number of studies of Hawaii’s shorelines, using various methods of data collection and analysis. “Many were well done, but it is sort of mixing apples and oranges,” he said, referring to the need to adopt standard study methods. The new work aims to allow researchers to compare data from states around the country.
And though it seems self-evident that erosion must be tied to rising seas, “you have to document it,” Mr. Williams said. “Sea level rise is only one of the driving forces that control what happens at the shoreline.” For example, he said, on a beach that receives a steady influx of sand, “you can have marginal erosion or stable or even accreting shorelines.”
But that is not ordinarily the case in Hawaii, where the typical response to erosion has been to protect buildings with sea walls and other coastal armor. “It’s the default management tool,” Dr. Fletcher said. But in Hawaii, as nearly everywhere else this kind of armor has been tried, it results in the degradation or even loss of the beach, as rising water eventually meets the wall, drowning the beach.
He suggested planners in Hawaii look to American Samoa, where, he said, “it’s hard to find a single beach. It has been one sea wall after another.”
But the most common alternative approach, replenishing beaches with pumped-in sand, is difficult in Hawaii, where good-quality sand can cost 10 times as much as it does on the East Coast, Mr. Williams said.
Dr. Fletcher said he believes the answer lies in encouraging people to move buildings and other infrastructure away from the shoreline, a strategy coastal scientists call retreat. “If we want beaches we have to retreat from the ocean,” he said. But, he added. “It’s easy to say retreat; it’s much harder to implement it.”
Dr. Sallenger said he hoped the work in Hawaii and elsewhere would help policy makers.
“We don’t define what rules and laws are written about coasts and exactly how they are managed,” he said, “but this is information that can be factored into that process.”
We have finished day five on our Spicy Green and Sustainable film project in Grenada. I have loved the experience of delving into this country and being exposed to its climate and weather related vulnerabilities and triumphs. These people are strong, brave, courageous, and incredibly industrious.
The island is made up of incredible beaches, of course, but also towering mountains- quite a bit higher in elevation than islands I typically find myself in. That being said, even though they are not “drowning,” climate impacts abound. Notice the dead trees in the pictures, the engulfed sea barriers, and the hurricane ravaged buildings.
Our videographer Jamie Jones has been up to some incredible work (and I have seen the clips!)- we have interviewed over twenty NGOs, government officials, and policy makers so far. Today, our footage of “real” Grenadians started, which has already been an incredibly rewarding experience. More pictures to come over the next nine days!
I wrote this piece for the Huffington Post this past weekend in honor of Earth Week- I’ll repost the incredible articles written by friends and colleagues in drowning islands around the world this week as well. The full link follows the story.
Last year during a trip to the Marshall Islands, I met a man named Henry Romeu, an American coast guard who was on a mission in the Pacific Ocean. He monitored various pacific islands and their surrounding waters, monitoring fishing zone boundaries and reacting to various emergencies as they arose. As you can imagine, Mr. Romeu had interesting stories to tell, but it was one exacting comment about the power of the sea that stuck with me. With seriousness in his eyes he said “there is nothing immune to the ocean. Nothing.” These words were uttered just inches from the water’s edge, on an island in a country that hovers just above sea level. During my time there, residents recounted stories of flooding during particularly bad king tide storms where they fled to the tallest point on the island — a small bridge that takes just moments to walk across. They flock there because the Mr. Romeu was correct: nothing is immune to the ocean.
The vast majority of scientists agree that as the earth heats up, which is hastened by our consumption of fossil fuels and other human activities, warming waters and melting ice will raise sea levels and kill off protective coral reefs. The impacts of climate change are felt the world over, but some of the very least immune people on the planet are those that live in the coral atoll nations of the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Maldives. These coral atolls lie only a few feet above the sea, rendering them acutely vulnerable to intensifying storm surges, spoiled or depleted fresh water reserves, food security stresses, ocean acidification, water-level rise, and the other disastrous impacts of climate change. Other countries around the world, including low-lying coastal or riverside communities in the Arctic, Caribbean, Pacific and in Bangladesh, face similar dire circumstances. Each of these communities face similar impossible questions: how do we cope with the intensifying impacts of flooding and erosion? Who pays for the increasing weather-related disasters? Where do we move if we are left with no choice but to leave our homes? Why does climate change deal its toughest blows to those that contribute to it the least?
The expert community has few answers for these novel questions. At a 2011 conference entitled “Threatened Island Nations: Legal Implications of Rising Seas and a Changing Climate” held at Columbia Law School, researchers and academics addressed these novel issues. They discussed where islanders would move, whether or not they would lose statehood status after relocation and the political turmoil that would surely follow when these Diasporas scattered around the globe. At the end of the conference, co-sponsoring representatives from the markedly vulnerable Republic of the Marshall Islands gave a rather alarming, heartfelt and sincere speech of clarification. In essence, the speech went like this: I am sorry if you have misunderstood, but we have not given up yet. We are staying on our islands and will fight for our home until the bitter end.
We have watched in horror and offered support to those that have suffered in recent tsunamis, tornadoes, earthquakes and floods. These are appropriate human responses to events that humans ostensibly have done nothing to bring about. Yet we seem to care very little for those around the globe that are threatened with what some call the “slow moving tsunami,” despite the fact that our action and inaction tragically hasten the submersion of land mass, societies and culture. I have had the incredible good fortune to walk among many of these people on their drowning islands, and I am continually struck by their lack of blame and their sense of hope. They do not point fingers at Westerners, asking why we continue emitting while we have been told that we are warming the earth and hastening sea level rise. They do not talk of relocation funds or lawsuits. Instead, they simply want to share their stories and the appreciation they have for the land they inherited. They gently remind me that this is not just an island problem, but a global issue, as nothing is immune to the ocean.
Tomorrow morning marks the beginning of a two week eco project in Grenada – a simultaneous greening of a historic plantation inn and the filming of a documentary which highlights Grenada’s tremendous accomplishments on the world stage of leadership in sustainability and climate activism. My team (of volunteers- are they amazing or what?!) consists of Jamie Jones (Photographer and Videographer), Aimee Gerot (Team Assistant and Liaison), Andy Meakins (Architectural Design and Planning), and Kody Jones (Construction Captain and Problem Solver). We are enthusiastic to participate in a project that is rooted in Grenada success and Grenadian talent- our lineup is packed with movers and shakers, including organic farmers, women small business owners, inspired politicians, and leaders in sustainability, just to name a few. I will post regularly – if you know of something in Grenada that we should know about, chime in!
(Note- this post will be located under the “special projects” tab)
I have never been to Saipan or walked on the beaches of the American Memorial Park, but this picture caught my attention this week (and apparently the attention of National Geographic). The shot is taken in, ironically named, American Park in Saipan, and the location is clearly losing topsoil, nutrients, and the ability to support plant life due to wave action. The photo is beautiful but sad, and reminds me of other locations I have seen around the world where trees give way over time to the sea. The photo of Saipan belongs to Mamang Sorbetero.
Link to short feature: http://news.yahoo.com/photos/national-geographic-your-shot-slideshow/national-geographic-your-shot-photo-1334189822.html