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Global Warming Will Cause Sea Levels to Rise Global Warming, 2002 From Opposing Viewpoints in ContextIn the following viewpoint, Stuart R. Gaffin finds that rising sea levels as a result of global warming are inevitable and that understanding the effects of the rise will be crucial in taking preventive measures against flooding. According to Gaffin, forecasts suggest that during the twenty-first century, thermal expansion of warming oceans and the melting of glaciers and ice caps will cause a sea level rise of up to one meter. Small island nations are currently facing the greatest risk from sea level rise and will meet with increased erosion, greater energy demands, coral reef deterioration, loss of income, and destabilized human settlements, in the author’s opinion. Gaffin is a staff scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, an organization working to protect the environmental rights of all people.As you read, consider the following questions:How many people around the globe does Gaffin claim are living in the flood zone?1.In the author’s opinion, how far would beaches retreat along the California coast if sea2. levels were to rise by one meter?The accumulation of anthropogenic greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, principally carbon dioxidebut also methane and nitrous oxide, is expected to cause substantial warming of the Earth.Atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased 30% over its pre-industrial level. Without policy intervention, it will continue to increase to much higher levels over the next century due to increasing energy demand related to development and population growth. Climate models project that,as a result, the Earth’s surface could warm anywhere between 2 and 6 degrees Fahrenheit (1 to 3.5 degrees Celsius). Many ecological consequences will ensue, among the most direct of which will be the melting of small glaciers and ice caps on land and the expansion of seawater as it warms. Both these effects will cause global sea level to rise. This viewpoint discusses the impacts of that rise on selected coastlines and islands.Many case studies estimating land loss and other impacts of global sea level rise have been conducted around the world and reported in the scientific assessment reports of the IntergovernmentalPanel on Climate Change (IPCC). By convention most of these studies have reported impactsassociated with benchmark sea level rises of 1 or 0.5 meters. Obviously, these impacts will not occur as isolated “events” in the future, but rather as a continuing and accelerating process of impacts, and large land losses will take place with sea level increases below 1 meter and also below 0.5 meters.This viewpoint surveys the literature of impacts and, using downward proportioning when necessary, illustrates a range of possible impacts below 1 meter sea level rise both for selected sites worldwide and for the United States. It also superimposes these impacts onto the IPCC projections for futureglobal sea level rise….The threat of sea level rise spans an enormous range of possible impacts from the relatively small and manageable to the catastrophic. And all the possible repercussions are assuredly negative.One must include in any calculation of the effects of sea level rise a rapidly growing human population that relies heavily on coastal lands for food, recreation and natural resources. The majority of the world’s people live near sea level in large coastal cities or on coastal plains. Although more work needs to be done to quantify the number, a commonly cited estimate is that 50 to 70 percent of humanity lives within the coastal zone. More relevant and rigorous though is the estimate that 46 million people, mostly in developing countries, presently live in the flood zone and are exposed to astorm surge in an average year and that this number would double if sea level rises 50 centimeters (cm).As with current population distribution, population growth over the next few decades will also be concentrated near the sea. However, like picnickers on the beach ignoring the coming high tide, we show little inclination to retreat from the edge. For this reason, some have referred to the trends of sea level rise and coastal population growth as a “collision course.”Responding to sea level rise by retreat, accommodation, or protection will impose a complex set of hard choices on society that will vary widely around the globe. The choices made will be dictated by many issues, including geography, technology, human resources, politics, cultural acceptance, and economic considerations.Estimates of Current and Past Century Sea Level RiseThe seas have risen over the past century. Based on global tide gauge data, the rate of rise has averaged between 1 and 2.5 millimeters (mm) per year over the past 100 years, with a best estimate of 1.8 mm/yr. Therefore over the past century the oceans have risen between 10 and 25 cm, with a best estimate of 18 cm (= 7 inches).The past century of sea level rise is roughly consistent with that expected from models of oceanic thermal expansion and analysis of the retreat of the world’s mountain glaciers: seawater expansion and glacial meltwater seem to have contributed roughly equal amounts. However, the uncertainties involved in this consistency check are still large and is an area needing further study.There is compelling geologic and archaeological data that the rate of sea level rise during the past 100 years represents a significant acceleration of that over the previous 2,000 years. Such studies constrain the rate of rise over the previous two millennia at 0.4 mm/yr. There is no strong evidence that sea level rise has accelerated during the past few decades, but this conclusion depends critically on a small number of long tide gauge records. Measurements made with satellite radar altimeters will improve significantly the observational database on sea level rise in the future.Projecting Future Sea Level RiseThe Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published forecasts of future sea levelrise using a variety of assumptions about future global warming and the physical processes leading tosea level increases. The projections are shown in the graph. These projections are referred to in the IPCC reports as the “extreme” range of possible sea level increases due to the various uncertainties, as explained below.The projections were made using “business-as-usual” (i.e., no-further-climate-policy) emissionsscenarios published by IPCC in 1992 and referred to as the “IS92 a-e” series. These scenarios, in turn, were based on a range of assumptions about future population growth, economic development,resource availability, and technological changes. The IS92e scenario is the “high” emissions projection, while the IS92c scenario is the “low” projection. The IS92a scenario is a widely used “best” estimate.The emissions scenarios drive models of sea level rise that take into account both the thermal expansion of seawater as it warms and the thinning of mountain glaciers on land. Critical model estimates include the extent to which both the climate will warm in response to a given increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases and the glaciers will melt as a result of this warming.Despite the large range in the emissions scenarios (6-35 billion tonnes of carbon in the year 2100), this uncertainty results in only a small spread in the projections for sea level. By far, most of the range shown in the graph is due to the climate sensitivity and ice melt parameter assumptions. The forecasts suggest that over the next century thermal expansion will contribute about 60 percent to sea level rise, while the remaining 40 percent will result from glacial, ice cap, and Greenland ice-sheet melting.Also shown in the graph, for comparison, is the sea level projection that results from a scenario of greenhouse gas emissions that stabilizes atmospheric carbon dioxide at 450 parts per million (ppm) inthe future. Although greenhouse gases are stabilized in this projection, global warming continues because of lags in the climate system and the sea level rises accordingly. Environmentalists and ecologists favor 450 ppm as the stabilization target to facilitate adaptive responses by ecosystems. However, even this low-end target results in considerable sea level rise that continues for centuries past 2100.An important point to bear in mind when reviewing the graph is that the IS92a estimate represents a future rate of sea level rise that is two to five times that experienced over the past century (1-2 mm/yr). Thus the rate of land loss and increase in storm surges experienced in the past will not be an adequate guide to the losses that will be suffered and the adjustments that will be required in the future….General Impacts of Global Sea Level RiseIn assessing the general impacts of a rising sea, it should be noted that the world’s coastlines (like the world’s climate) have enjoyed relative stability for thousands of years following the end of the last ice- age cycle which terminated 10,000 years ago. Thus most coastal landforms have had time to achieve relatively stationary configurations, although changes are continually taking place due to such short- lived disturbances as earthquakes and storm events.It is easily appreciated that a global sea level rise will lead to increased marine submergence of low- lying coastal areas, generally referred to as inundation. High and low tides will advance landward accordingly. The new high and low tides will lead to increased erosion as nearshore waves break farther inland.Erosion is an important effect amplifying inundation, thus leading to even greater land loss. The magnitude of the erosion accompanying a sea level rise is generally determined by an equation called the “Bruun Rule.” A simple explanation is given by James G. Titus and coworkers which is repeated here. The visible part of a beach is generally much steeper than the underwater portion, which comprises the active “surf zone.” While the extent of inundation is determined by the slope of land just above water, the total shoreline retreat is determined by the average slope of the entire beach profile. The slope of the whole beach profile is generally shallower than that of the above-water portion, leading to greater land losses.As an example, for the United States, a 1 meter rise in sea level would cause beaches to retreat (erode plus inundate) 50 to 100 meters from New England to Maryland, 200 meters along the Carolina coast, 100 to 1000 meters along the Florida coast, and 200 to 400 meters along the California coast.Effects of Sea Level Rise on Small Island NationsSmall island nations, many of which are only a few meters above sea level, may be facing annihilation due to the inevitability of significant sea level rise as shown in the graph. Thus they deserve special attention in any report on sea level rise impacts. Among the most vulnerable of these islands are the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Tonga, the Line Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Cook Islands (in the Pacific Ocean); Antigua and Nevis (in the Caribbean Sea); the Maldives (in the Indian Ocean)….Among the impacts that small islands will face due to sea level rise and climatic warming are (1) increased coastal erosion; (2) changes in aquifer volumes with increased saline intrusion; (3) greaterdemand for air conditioning and hence energy consumption and fossil fuel importation; (4) coral reef deterioration resulting from sea level rise accompanied by thermal stress; (5) social instability related to inter-island migration; (6) loss of income through negative impacts on tourist resort location; and (7) increased vulnerability of human settlements because of increasing size.Policies and practices that will exacerbate these problems include (1) coral reef mining; (2) land reclamation; (3) construction of harbors, jetties, and breakwaters; (4) overutilization of acquifer resources; (5) lack of in-country data covering physical and biological resources; (6) shortage of manpower; and (7) inadequate disposal of sewage and toxic chemicals. The failure to adequately address current environmental problems will leave the islands more vulnerable to future climatic and sea level changes.Climate change will affect rainfall, wind and monsoon patterns. Upwelling zones in the ocean may shift, affecting fisheries. Storms and droughts may increase. Evapo-transpiration rates may change.The general weather related changes may lead to impacts on agricultural crops, natural vegetationand the growing season.Finally it is interesting to note that since marine resources provide the bulk of small island income, if they could continue to occupy the island through protection, they may remain economically viable. However protection measures will have to be carefully analyzed. Dikes, for example, are infeasible because of coral atoll porosity. Thus the islands would most likely have to elevate.The complexity of the details of the impacts on small islands of a sea level rise is a useful prelude to keep in mind when considering the abbreviated land loss impacts shown in the graph.Impacts of Sea Level Rise Superimposed on IPCC ProjectionsAbbreviated summaries of the consequences of sea level rise on selected coastlines and islands are presented in the graph, which focuses on global impacts….The graph superimposes captions for land loss impacts at various locations on top of the IPCC sea level rise projections. The impacts are keyed to “global/relative” sea level rises in 10-cm increments starting at 20-cm and increasing to 100-cm….The particular countries shown were selected because they are often cited for being especially vulnerable to sea level rise and are subject to large land-loss risks….The loss of land and the extent of vulnerability shown in the graph generally refer to losses that will be suffered without any attempts at protection, mitigation, or adaptation. Obviously, such human responses will be considerable, and the ability of various countries to deal with sea level rise will differ greatly. However projections of human mitigation strategies are obviously uncertain and in some cases protection measures may not lower the land-loss estimates but merely be measures to protect economically valuable structures.Finally, even though the impacts cited are generally confined to “land-loss” estimates, as illustrated with the discussion of the small islands, a much more complex array of threats will be involved, including infrastructure losses, storm surges, salt water intrusion into both the freshwater supply and agriculture, altered tidal and wave action.Response StrategiesResponse strategies to sea level rise can be grouped into three categories: retreat, accommodate and protect.As described in the IPCC reports, retreat strategies’ measures emphasize the abandonment of land and structures and the resettlement of inhabitants. This policy would further entail preventing development in coastal areas and withdrawing of government subsidies for coastal protection. InMaine and South Carolina, for example, state legislation exists to explicitly limit how land can be developed that is vulnerable to sea level rise.Accommodation stresses the conservation of ecosystems with continued occupancy and adaptive management. This strategy would employ advanced planning, modification of land-use and building codes, protection of ecosystems, and hazard insurance.Protection relies on the defense of vulnerable areas, populations, and economic activities. Hard structural options include dikes, levees, seawalls, breakwaters, floodgates, and saltwater intrusion barriers. Soft options include periodic beach nourishment, dune restoration, wetland creation, drift replenishment and afforestation. In the Netherlands, for example, dikes are built with extra elevation in order to allow for sea level rise. Similarly in San Francisco reclaimed land has to be of a certain elevation in order to allow for sea level rise.Not all of these options are feasible for all regions. For example, heavily populated areas, island nations like Japan and seaside tourist centers probably have little choice but to protect. In many countries, the scarcity of technology and a dearth of personnel will limit the choice of accommodation options. Retreat and resettlement options will involve questions of international refugees and related disputes as well as issues of cultural traditions: To what extent will various communities be willing to resettle? How will changed or lost access to traditional fishing and hunting sites be tolerated?Most of all though, economic considerations (resources and costs) will probably determine the feasibility of various options. In many countries, just the maintenance of existing shoreline could require substantial funding compared with the nation’s GNP.The literature on costs usually divides them into three categories: (1) capital costs of protective measures, (2) annual costs of forgone land services and (3) the costs associated with increased flood and storm frequencies….In the United States further thinking about beach protection policy is needed given the prospect of accelerated sea level rise. In 1996 the US administration attempted to limit beach nourishment projects because of the extensive US coastline (88,000 miles) and the costs now and in the projected future. Clearly US governmental policy will have to more carefully consider the need for beach nourishment programs because the impacts will only be worse in the future.Prevention Is NecessaryOf all the forces of nature, the oceans may inspire the deepest respect and awe in many people. To see this powerful force humbled by human activity through global warming, such that its basic characteristics of sea level, coastal configuration, and (possibly) wave and storm activity are fundamentally altered must also strike a deep chord in many people. The comparative “irreversibility” of sea level rise—it will continue for many centuries even if global warming were stopped—is far longer than most other impacts from climatic change. Through greenhouse gas emissions we risk jeopardizing our complex socio-economic relationship with the sea. The rational response must be toprevent, to as great an extent as possible, dangerously high levels of greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere.Further Readings BooksNigel Arnell. Global Warming, River Flows and Water Resources. Chichester, England: Wiley, 1996.Ronald Bailey, ed. Earth Report 2000: Revisiting the True State of the Planet. New York: McGraw- Hill, 2000.Roger Bate and Julian Morris. Global Warming: Apocalypse or Hot Air? London: Institute of Economic Affairs, 1994.Melvin A. Benarde. Global Warning … Global Warming. New York: Wiley, 1992.John J. Berger. Beating the Heat: Why and How We Must Combat Global Warming. Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Hills Books, 2000.W. Bradnee Chambers. Inter-Linkages: The Kyoto Protocol and the International Trade and Investment Regimes. New York: University Press, 2001.Alston Chase. In a Dark Wood: The Fight over Forests and the Rising Tyranny of Ecology. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995.Gale E. Christianson. Greenhouse: The 200-Year Story of Global Warming. New York: Walker and Company, 1999.Jack Doyle. Taken for a Ride: Detroit’s Big Three and the Politics of Pollution. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2000.Francis Drake. Global Warming: The Science of Climate Change. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.Christine A. Ennis and Nancy H. Marcus. Biological Consequences of Global Climate Change. Sausalito, CA: University Science Books, 1996.Ross Gelbspan. The Heat Is On: The Climate Crisis, the Cover-up, the Prescription. Reading, MA: Perseus Books, 1998.Ross Gelbspan. The Heat Is On: The High Stakes Battle over Earth’s Threatened Climate. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1997.Al Gore. Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.Michael Grubb, Christiaan Vrolijk and Duncan Brack. The Kyoto Protocol: A Guide and Assesment. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1999.Martin M. Halmann and Meyer Steinberg. Greenhouse Gas Carbon Dioxide Mitigation: Science and Technology. Boca Raton, FL: Lewis Publishers, 1999.John Horel and Jack Geisler. Global Environmental Change: An Atmospheric Perspective. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1997.John Houghton. Global Warming: The Complete Briefing. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.Catrinus J. Jepma and Mohan Munasinghe. Climate Change Policy: Facts, Issues, and Analyses. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.Jeremy Leggett. The Carbon War: Global Warming at the End of the Oil Era. London: Penguin,2000.Nick Mabey et al. Argument in the Greenhouse: The International Economics of Controlling Global Warming. New York: Routledge, 1997.Robert Mendelsohn and James E. Neumann, eds. The Impact of Climate Change on the United States Economy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.Patrick J. Michaels and Robert C. Balling Jr. The Satanic Gases: Clearing the Air About Global Warming. Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 2000.Thomas Gale Moore. Climate of Fear: Why We Shouldn’t Worry About Global Warming. Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 1998.Michael L. Parsons. Global Warming: The Truth Behind the Myth. New York: Insight Books, 1995.S. George Philander. Is the Temperature Rising?: The Uncertain Science of Global Warming. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998.S. Fred Singer. Global Climate Change: Human and Natural Influences. New York: Paragon House, 1989.S. Fred Singer. Hot Talk Cold Science: Global Warming’s Unfinished Debate. Oakland, CA: Independent Institute, 1997.P.C. Sinha, ed. Global Warming. New Delhi, India: Anmol Publications, 1998.P.C. Sinha, ed. Sea-Level Rise. New Delhi, India: Anmol Publications, 1998.Mark C. Trexler and Christine Haugen. Keeping It Green: Tropical Forestry Opportunities for Mitigating Climate Change. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute, 1995.Karl K. Turekian. Global Environmental Change: Past, Present, and Future. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996.Sylvan H. Wittwer. Food, Climate, and Carbon Dioxide: The Global Environment and World Food Production. Boca Raton, FL: Lewis, 1995.Periodicals Seth Borenstein. “Experts See Global Warming Disaster,” San Diego Union-Tribune, February 19, 2001.David Bramley. “Weather, Climate, and Health,” World Health, September/October 1998.Grover Foley. “The Threat of Rising Seas,” Ecologist, March/April 1999.Ross Gelbspan. “The Global Warming Crisis,” Yes!, Winter 1999/2000.James Glanz. “Droughts Might Speed Climate Changes,” New York Times, January 11, 2001.Bob Herbert. “Adjusting to the Earth’s Weather Extremes,” New York Times, September 24, 1999.Mark Lynas. “Storm Warming,” Geographical, July 2000.Lewis MacAdams. “In a Summer of Fire, Is Warming a Cause?” Los Angeles Times, August 27, 2000.Thomas Gale Moore. “Happiness Is a Warm Planet,” Wall Street Journal, October 7, 1997.David Nicholson-Lord. “The Drowning of the Earth,” New Statesman, March 6, 2000.Kelly Reed. “To the Extreme,” Greenpeace, Winter 2000. Available from 702 H St. NW, Washington, DC 20001.S. Fred Singer. “The Sky Isn’t Falling, and the Ocean Isn’t Rising,” Wall Street Journal, November 10, 1997.Tomari’i Tutangata. “Rising Waters, Falling Hopes,” Toward Freedom, November 2000.John Noble Wilford. “Ages-Old Icecap at North Pole Is Now Liquid, Scientists Find,” New York Times, August 19, 2000.John Noble Wilford. “Open Water at Pole Is Not Surprising, Experts Say,” New York Times, August 29, 2000.Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2002 Greenhaven Press, COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale.Source Citation Gaffin, Stuart R. “Global Warming Will Cause Sea Levels to Rise.” Global Warming, edited by James Haley, Greenhaven Press, 2002. Opposing Viewpoints. Opposing Viewpoints in Context, =oran95108&xid=633d6b93. Accessed 11 Mar. 2018. Originally published as “High Water Blues: Impacts of Sea Level Rise on Selected Coasts and Islands,” w Document Number: GALE|EJ3010222219


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