Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Why Sea Level Rise May Be The Greatest Threat To Civilization

I pointed out in a Dredd Blog series that there is no denying the threat of nuclear war as a means of human extinction (Civilization Is Now On Suicide Watch - 2).

It was also pointed out in that post that those who inhabit the home of climate change deniers, the GOP, agree with that assessment of nuclear war (ibid).

Today, I want to argue the case that sea level rise (SLR) is the greatest threat to civilization at this time, even though it is not the greatest threat to human species (extinction) at this time (Civilization human species).

The graphic and link under the graphic captures the concept, because it shows a city abandoned when SLR has reached a certain level (causing the city to have to be abandoned) because, among other things, the people that once thrived there have had to move inland because infrastructure is severely impaired.

The people are not yet extinct, but the coastal part of the city is.

The sea, being an equal opportunity sub-merger, will have done the same thing to thousands of cities around the globe, destroying civilization as we have known it (see e.g. Will This Float Your Boat - 10, Will This Float Your Boat - 9, The Question Is: How Much Acceleration Is Involved In SLR? - 4).

Very Little More Will Cause This To Happen

To illustrate this point (how big a deal is 3 ft / 1 m. of SLR) let's calculate the percentage
Fig. 1 USGS (click to enlarge)
of each melt hot spot on the globe today, all of them in Greenland and Antarctica, to get a feel of where we are going.

At those hot spots (see Fig. 1), let's do a conversion to percentage: 3 ft. ÷ 263.5 ft. = 0.011385199 = 1.14%.

How little it will take can also easily be seen by a statement from a scientist who is studying those locations closely and regularly:
"One of them, Totten glacier, holds the equivalent of seven metres of global sea level."
(Dr. Rignot East Antarctica glaciers, cf. Totten Glacier Melting). The percentage of that one glacier which needs to melt to cause 3 ft. / 1 m. of SLR is: 1÷7 = 0.142857143 = 14.3%.

When about fourteen percent of just one glacier, the Totten Glacier, melts or flows to the sea, or when about one percent (1.14%) of all the world's ice melts and/or flows to the sea, civilization as we know it goes lights-out, and a different "maybe civilization" emerges:
The harms associated with climate change are serious and well recognized. The Government’s own objective assessment of the relevant science and a strong consensus among qualified experts indicate that global warming threatens, inter alia, a precipitate rise in sea levels, severe and irreversible changes to natural ecosystems, a significant reduction in winter snowpack with direct and important economic consequences, and increases in the spread of disease and the ferocity of weather events. [quoting U.S. Supreme Court]
"By volume, more than 95 percent of U.S. international trade moves through the nation's ports and harbors, with about 50 percent of these goods being hazardous materials." [quoting NOAA 'Ports']
(Will This Float Your Boat - 10). If you are having a difficult time wrapping your mind around this, look at the depiction of New York harbor at the top of the post.

Ask yourself how all those container ships can come into that harbor to load or unload "95 percent of U.S. international trade" (their cargo).

The roads to and from the harbor are closed, the power is off, everyone is gone inland to camps, etc., and it is that way at every port at every coastal area.

Food, clothing, oil, coal, gas, and other goods and bads cannot go back and forth in the manner of Current Civilization's established international intercourse.

We are talking about a game changer, and it could happen far more quickly than you have yet heard.

If "the dam breaks" massively at either Greenland or Antarctica, lights-out will happen before governments and their citizens can prepare for what is to come quickly:
Following the 2002 disintegration of the northern and central parts of the Larsen B Ice Shelf, the tributary glaciers of the southern surviving part initially appeared relatively unchanged and hence assumed to be buttressed sufficiently by the remnant ice shelf. Here, we modify this perception with observations from IceBridge altimetry and InSAR-inferred ice flow speeds. Our analyses show that the surfaces of Leppard and Flask glaciers directly upstream from their grounding lines lowered by 15 to 20 m in the period 2002–2011. The thinning appears to be dynamic as the flow of both glaciers and the remnant ice shelf accelerated in the same period. Flask Glacier started accelerating even before the 2002 disintegration, increasing its flow speed by ∼55% between 1997 and 2012. Starbuck Glacier meanwhile did not change much. We hypothesize that the different evolutions of the three glaciers are related to their dissimilar bed topographies and degrees of grounding. We apply numerical modeling and data assimilation that show these changes to be accompanied by a reduction in the buttressing afforded by the remnant ice shelf, a weakening of the shear zones between its flow units and an increase in its fracture. The fast flowing northwestern part of the remnant ice shelf exhibits increasing fragmentation, while the stagnant southeastern part seems to be prone to the formation of large rifts, some of which we show have delimited successive calving events. A large rift only 12 km downstream from the grounding line is currently traversing the stagnant part of the ice shelf, defining the likely front of the next large calving event. We propose that the flow acceleration, ice front retreat and enhanced fracture of the remnant Larsen B Ice Shelf presage its approaching demise.
(Earth and Planetary Science Letters, emphasis added). The co-author of that paper is Dr. Rignot, who is featured in the videos below.

Nations will become more isolated, in terms of volume of shipping, and will have to rely on themselves (use more local products) orders of magnitude more than they have been (Will This Float Your Boat - 9).

The next post in this series is here.

HBO Vice: "Our Rising Oceans", with Dr. Eric Rignot:
2:43 - "One meter [of SLR] would be a global catastrophic event, 3 meters would remap the world as we know it?"

2:50 - "Yes, absolutely."


  1. Humanity is 'so not ready for this.' Engineers have given fair warning that our infrastructure is in dire need of attention in every aspect: from the electrical grid to bridges and roads, from gas and water pipes to sewer treatment systems, all of it needs immediate repair and maintenance, and a lot of it needs to be replaced or upgraded. None of this is happening and this should indicate the level of concern "our leaders" are likely to display with this concern too.

    It's like we're COUNTING on catastrophe, guaranteeing it through our inaction and neglect! What kind of "wise" is that? It's not even clever! Maybe our species is de-evolving!

    Devo - Monsterman


  2. You know what they call "alarmists" decades later when it turns out they were right?


    1. Then there have been several in the realm of AGW and climate change (The Exceptional American Denial).

      Wonder what they call those who try to discredit and destroy those who forsee and try to warn?

      Good to hear from you again Scott!