Climate change has reached a tipping point. Melting Antarctic glaciers, rising waters and changing temperatures are happening at a rapid pace and are irreversible.
So, what does this mean for the world’s sea levels? And how will it affect where we live and travel?
Over the past century, the burning of fossil fuels and other human and natural activities have released enormous amounts of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. These emissions cause the earth’s surface temperature to rise, and the oceans absorb about 80% of this additional heat. And when water heats up, it expands.
As seawater reaches destinations farther inland, it can cause destructive erosion, flooding of wetlands, and lost habitats for fish, birds, and plants. When large storms hit land, higher sea levels mean bigger and more powerful storm surges that can strip away everything in their path. According to the National Climate Assessment, coastal infrastructure including airports and port facilities are “increasingly at risk from sea level rise and damaging storm surges.”
Airports with at least one runway that is 12 feet or less above sea level could experience flooding during storm surges.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy flooded all three of New York City’s airports: John F. Kennedy International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport and LaGuardia Airport. LaGuardia even had to close for three days.
So what places are most vulnerable as the tide rises? Many major cities such as London and New Orleans already need storm surge defenses. Nigeria, Maldives and other low-lying countries are among the areas at the highest level of risk.
The National Climate Assessment expects oceans to rise four more feet by 2100, enough to potentially swamp many cities along the U.S. East Coast.
More dire estimates, including a complete meltdown of the Greenland Ice Sheet, push sea level rise to 23 feet. That’s enough water to submerge London. According to the National Climate Assessment, burning fossil fuels increases the levels of carbon dioxide. When this interacts with ocean water, it creates carbonic acid, which increases the ocean’s acidity. In addition, hundreds of millions of people live in areas that will become increasingly vulnerable to flooding. Higher sea levels would force them to abandon their homes and relocate. Low-lying islands could be submerged completely.
By Peter Greenberg for PeterGreenberg.com