Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Polar Ice Melting Faster, Raising Seas

Same old, same old.   Yet again we've discovered that the polar ice fields are melting faster than we had predicted causing sea levels to rise faster than forecast.

This is becoming a bit stale.   Every three or four months another study comes out saying the same thing - the ice is melting faster than we predicted.   That, however, is not in itself the real story of these successive announcements.

The real story is that the polar ice melt is accelerating much faster than we thought it would.  It continues to increase, faster and faster and faster than we imagined.  It is repeatedly becoming faster than we believed it would become faster and it's the element of ever faster that is the important part.

Today's BBC report warns that ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica will soon become the biggest driver of sea level rise.   Sea levels are now rising about 3mm a year, just over an inch a decade.   That doesn't sound too bad but the important part is that the rate of rise keeps increasing.    And, as it increases, so too will the coastal regions impacted by it.

Sea level rise operates in conjunction with another climate change phenomenon - an increase in the frequency and severity of major storm events.   These combine to create a variety of problems from coastal storm surge inundation and erosion to salinization of groundwater resources.   Around the world a disproportionate concentration of people live in coastal areas.   Those in the most low-lying coastal areas are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of global warming-driven climate change.   Two days ago The Guardian cited a report warning that climate change will "wreak havoc on Britain's coastline by 2050."  There are also rarely mentioned studies that predict large parts of America's eastern seaboard will be hammered by these very same conditions and could face large-scale population displacement.

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