Climate Change and Sea Level Rise
Recently, Dr. Peter H. Gleick, President and Co-founder of the Pacific Institute noted in a National Geographic, ScienceBlog (Mis)Understanding Sea-Level Rise (SLR) and Climate Impacts, “One of the most important and threatening risks of climate change is sea-level rise (SLR). The mechanisms are well understood, and the direction of changes in sea-level is highly certain – it is rising and the rate of rise will accelerate.”
David Hone, Shell’s Climate Change Advisor, expressed a similar opinion a few years ago in a blog The real issue, “As CO2 levels in the atmosphere continue to rise (and given the current state of global action they could quite possibly go on rising for much of this century) we hear a great deal about storms and droughts but not a huge amount about the really difficult issue that most countries face, rising sea levels.”
Contrary to Dr. Gleik’s assessment, debate still rages concerning SLR mechanisms.
As Stefan Rahmstorf notes in a RealClimate post What makes sea-level rise? “The causes of global sea level rise can be roughly split into three categories: (1) thermal expansion of sea water as it warms up, (2) melting of land ice and (3) changes in the amount of water stored on land.”
In a Nature article, Model estimates of sea-level change due to anthropogenic impacts on terrestrial water storage, Yadu Pohkrel et al. postulated, “climate-driven changes in terrestrial water storage and the loss of water from closed basins have contributed a sea-level rise of about 0.77 mm yr−1 between 1961 and 2003, about 42% of the observed sea-level rise.”
The Rahmstorf article and subsequent comments generally question Pohkrel’s finding yet the U.S. Geologic Survey points to aquifer declines of as much as 400 feet in the Houston, Texas area, due to extensive ground-water pumping and lesser declines in various other parts of the United States, as only one example of where water mining is taking place. The mined water in turn ends up in the oceans.
Dr. Gleick correctly IMO asserts, “We only have three options for sea-level rise: trying to reduce the rate of rise (mitigation), coastal defense or retreat (adaptation), and suffering the impacts.”
The Dutch have opted for and have perfected the coastal defense option. Jason Box however, has pointed to the probability that we have already set in motion 69 feet of SLR thus coastal defense ultimately will be a lost cause.
Neither paints a pretty picture.
As to suffering the impacts, the insurance company Allianz has estimated as much as $28 trillion in coastal infrastructure will be at risk by 2050 with as little as a half meter of SLR.
There is little wonder therefore why mitigation has garnered most of the attention of policy makers.
Unfortunately however that focus has almost exclusively been on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, which seems logical enough on its face considering the buildup of this gas has precipitated the problem.
To reduce their atmospheric footprint and to stay in the game in a carbon constrained world the petroleum, natural gas and coal producers have touted carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) as a panacea and have garnered much of the political focus and public investment for their cause aided and abetted by their unfair competitive positions of market dominance.
A main limitation of CCS however is its energy penalty. It is expected to consume between 10 and 40 percent of the energy produced by a power station using it and will increase resource consumption by as much as a third.
Considering energy efficiency is a primary interest of the incoming Energy Secretary this would seem to rule CCS out. He is on record however as supporting it, along with nuclear power and hydraulic fracking.
Fracking and natural gas do nothing to reduce SLR nor in fact does nuclear power. As the Union of Concerned Scientists has revealed, “nuclear power plants are about 33 percent efficient, which means that for every three units of thermal energy generated by the reactor core, one unit of electrical energy goes out to the grid and two units of waste heat go out into the environment through cooling systems.”
Most of this heat ends up in the ocean thus worsening SLR.
Nuclear, solar and wind are carbon free, at least in so far as producing energy is concerned, but not even total reliance on carbon-free energy sources or the capture and sequestration of every molecule of carbon that is burned will reduce SLR.
As the National Academy of Sciences states in a paper Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions, “climate change that takes place due to increases in carbon dioxide concentration is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop. Following cessation of emissions, removal of atmospheric carbon dioxide decreases radiative forcing, but is largely compensated by slower loss of heat to the ocean, so that atmospheric temperatures do not drop significantly for at least 1,000 years.”
This assessment is corroborated by Jennifer Meyers, Climate change to continue to the year 3000 in best case scenarios, and Gerald A. Meehl, et al, How Much More Global Warming and Sea Level Rise? “even if the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere had been stabilized in the year 2000, we are already committed to further global warming of about another half degree and an additional 320% sea level rise caused by thermal expansion by the end of the 21st century.”
We exist in a greenhouse that is storing enough heat in the oceans each year to power nearly 500 100-watt light bulbs per each of the roughly 6.7 billion people on the planet.
Ceasing to add thickness to the glass windows in place in our greenhouse does nothing to alleviate the problem at hand.
So what can we do?
SLR has been considered by this author the past four years with the conclusion we can convert ocean heat to mechanical energy to offset thermal expansion, convert liquid ocean volume to gas by electrolysis to enable the Hydrogen Economy, desalinate ocean water, capture runoff before it enters the ocean for use in irrigation and the replenishment of depleting aquifers, move surface heat to a depth of 1000 meters where the coefficient of expansion is half that of the surface – ocean thermal energy conversion moves 20 times as much heat as is it converts to work – and throttle the movement of tropical heat to the poles by storms by converting the heat that drives the storms to mechanical energy and moving heat to the depths.
A common response to these proposals is, they will be too costly.
$28 trillion at risk with only a half meter of SLR?
- Snake oil – as an expression that originally referred to fraudulent health products or unproven medicine but has come to refer to any product with questionable or unverifiable quality or benefit.
- Placebo – a simulated or otherwise medically ineffectual treatment for a disease or other medical condition intended to deceive the recipient.
- Poisons – substances that cause disturbances to organisms.
All of the prescriptions currently scripted to address the “real issue” of climate change contain elements of one or more of the above, with the result the affliction, its most significant consequence and the dispensing fees are all being communicated to our children.