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11/19/2009 10:34 AM     print story email story  

Climate Change on Track for Worst-Case Scenarios News

World experts on the polar regions told U.S. Senate staffers and the national press corps today that they are witnessing the accelerated melting and break-up of the polar ice caps, and that previous worst-case scenarios for a meter of sea-level rise this century are the new minimum of what we can expect.

After stopping in cities from Maine to Florida, the scientists wrapped up their “Hip Boot Tour” organized by the climate education group Clean Air-Cool Planet, by briefing policymakers on the mounting effects of climate change, and unveiling the most detailed maps yet showing what could happen to the Chesapeake region if nothing is done.

The maps cover the area from Cape May, N.J., through the Washington, D.C. metro area, and south as far as Assateague Island, Md. If nothing is done, large areas of the Eastern Shore, as well as areas of Baltimore, are in danger of flooding.

They depict a future with the boardwalks in Ocean City and Rehoboth, the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, areas of Baltimore from the Inner Harbor to Dundalk, and even the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis subject to flooding or complete inundation.

Drs. Gordon Hamilton of the University of Maine and James White of the University of Colorado at Boulder described how rapidly the Arctic and Antarctic are changing. “Nothing compares to being in a small boat, slowly sailing through the glassy waters of a glacial fjord and being surrounded by icebergs larger than the town I live in. And to know that these icebergs are being calved off the ice sheet at a rate three times faster now than just a few years ago,” said Dr. Hamilton.

According to the scientists, previous estimates for rising seas due to global warming were overly optimistic. In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released an estimate of 18-59 centimeters (7-23 inches) of sea-level rise. However, that estimate explicitly did not include the effects from loss of ice in Greenland or Antarctica. The new estimate of one meter or more of worldwide rise, with more expected on the East Coast of the U.S., includes those effects.

Fresh data from the poles now indicates a minimum of three feet of rise by the year 2100 or sooner, which will have much more of an impact on the Chesapeake Bay area and the nation, they said. More recent estimates that attempt to approximate the ice term result in higher rates of rise - 0.5 - 1.4 meters by 2100 with an empirical model (Rahmsmtorf, Science), or 0.8 - 2 meters by 2100 with extrapolations from contemporary ice dynamics (Pfeffer et al., Science).

It is also worth noting that sea level is actually rising faster than was projected in all of the earlier IPCC scenarios (see Rahmstorf et al., Science).

Clean Air-Cool Planet’s Vice President for Policy, Brooks Yeager, explained what this meant for the region. “The impacts of a meter of sea-level rise for the Chesapeake Bay area's physical and economic infrastructure would be very dire,” said Mr. Yeager, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Department during the Clinton administration. “Many of the region's transportation and business facilities will need protection that would cost billions of dollars, or risk regularly going underwater. And many of our ocean beaches, which drive a large tourism industry, would be at risk of being swamped.”

To avoid this scenario, the speakers recommended a three-pronged approach to addressing climate change:
First, they advocated doing what we can to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases to lessen future global warming, with personal actions at home to reduce energy use and by supporting society’s conversion to clean energy and ultra-efficient homes, vehicles, appliances, and factories.

Second, they urged public support for both federal legislation to cap carbon dioxide emissions and reduce them through a cap-and-trade mechanism, and U.S. involvement in international efforts in Copenhagen this December to control black carbon from diesel, methane, and tropospheric ozone emissions that scientists believe are accelerating Arctic warming and melting.

Finally, they said, we need to begin planning for the infrastructure changes needed to mitigate or minimize the impact on our cities and adapt as much as possible to the climate change from the greenhouse gas emissions already in the atmosphere, such as by respecting a “new flood plain” and preparing to move back from the rising ocean and building sea walls.

In Related News...

The world is now firmly on course for the worst-case scenario in terms of climate change, with average global temperatures rising by up to 6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, leading scientists said yesterday.

Read full coverage by The Independent at the link below.


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