Casaubon's Book

Staniford On Sea Level Rise

What I like about Stuart Staniford’s work is that he does such a lovely job of offering useful and clear visual descriptors of things that are often otherwise made less clear. The design of a good graph or visual is worth a lot. So I thought this bit about the way sea level rise plays out in the emerging data was very useful.

For the range of climate models used in the IPCC AR4, and for multiple different emissions models, they show the prediction range associated with that model (the different colored bands). The interesting thing that emerges here is that it sort of doesn’t matter much what we do as a society – the model predicts about the same amount of sea level rise regardless. (A1FI and A2 are both high emissions scenarios, but B1 is a mitigation scenario in which the world transitions away from fossil fuels over the course of the twenty first century:

Well worth a look.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 darwinsdog
    April 9, 2010

    “The interesting thing that emerges here is that it sort of doesn’t matter much what we do as a society – the model predicts about the same amount of sea level rise regardless.”

    I catch a lot of shit for saying this sort of thing.

    Empirical data indicates that IPCC projections are under-estimates. Climate is warming & sea levels rising faster than their “worst case” scenario.

    And sea level rise won’t be as nice & smooth as these graphs indicate. There will be a sudden surge when the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) collapses. The WAIS rests on unconsolidated glacial till on the sea floor. As it looses mass it will abruptly float free, break up, drift northward & rapidly melt. This has happened before over the course of the Cenozoic. How soon it will happen again is anyone’s guess. When it happens low lying rice growing regions of south Asia – the “breadbasket” of billions – will be inundated. Famine on a scale never before seen in human history will ensue, with accompanying social upheavel. The time scale for WAIS collapse: years to centuries, i.e., imminent, in terms of ecological or evolutionary time.

  2. #2 Mitty
    April 9, 2010

    I was struck by the way Staniford expressed that it wouldn’t be completely disastrous because Silicon Valley and San Francisco’s financial markets could still function. Of course they are very important, but that looked like a lot of farm land under water, and that farm land produces food that is shipped all over the US.

  3. #3 Sharon Astyk
    April 9, 2010

    Well, yes, but Stuart and I tend to disagree on the fungibility of agricultural land – his take, as I understand it, is that this will be compensated for by the opening up more Canadian land. I don’t agree, but I do think his analyses are intersting.

    Sharon

  4. #4 DennisP
    April 9, 2010

    But as I understand it, the increased extent of cultivatable Canadian land is comprised of lower quality (newer) soils and will be less productive than the farmland lost far to the south. This seems to be a common mistake among people who think that newly-warmed land can simply replace acre-for-acre the land lost to global climate change.

  5. #5 Mike Cagle
    April 9, 2010

    Yeah, I “like” the chart, but I don’t “like” the chart. Goodbye Venice (and all its namesakes), New Orleans (for real this time), Galveston, Florida Keys, Everglades, lower Manhattan … and add you own favorite low-lying places (though Death Valley may not change much).

  6. #6 darwinsdog
    April 9, 2010

    The Canadian Shield was stripped bare by the Laurentide Ice Sheet, washed clean by the flood waters of proglacial lakes floating their ice dams & draining, and never had 10K years of tallgrass prairie building soil on it. Anyone who thinks that Canada can become the agricultural substitute of the flooded lower midwestern United States must be thinking that it’s going to be business as usual in terms of fertilizer & diesel input. There’s no substitute for those rich mollisols that are being lost, whether to erosion or sea level ingression. The inability of people to think things through never ceases to amaze me. Is it denial or simple stupidity, or a combination of both?

  7. #7 Glenn
    April 9, 2010

    As an ex-pat from California I may also note in addition to a lot of farm land, the flooded delta of the Sacramento/San Joaquin river system is currently a brackish estuary. It is a nursing ground for scores of species. To turn this totally saline in a matter of a few decades will be devasting for many biosystems and commercial fisheries. Any attempts to mitigate the flooding by construction of dams and tide gates will only divide fresh water from salt water and totally eliminate the estuarine environment, with even faster destruction of fisheries.

    Glenn

  8. #8 deadatheists
    April 10, 2010

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  9. #9 Jim Thomerson
    April 11, 2010

    There was a paper in Nature, sometime in the late 80′s – early 90′s about coping with sea level rise. The first and best, but not to be implemented, solution was coastal zoning. Others included digging canals to flood Death Valley and the Dead Sea. i sent a copy over to friends in the Army Corps of Engineers.

  10. #10 Consumer
    April 12, 2010

    I will never understand this obsession with sea level rise.

    Yes, someday it will be a problem, but there are so many other problems associated with anthropogenic carbon release that I think it will be seen as a footnote in the story of climate change.

    Think Himalayan glacial melt, monsoon shifting, ocean acidification, etc.

  11. #11 darwinsdog
    April 12, 2010

    “…I think it will be seen as a footnote in the story of climate change.”

    Seen by whom? Your comment would seem to suggest that you think Homo will survive all the environmental insults you list, among others.