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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

What Climate Change in the Far North Means for the Northeast

Iceberg floating away from Greenland. Brocken Inaglory, Wikimedia Commons. https://bit.ly/3aLJgXn

George Harvey

With a changing climate, we are increasingly seeing extreme weather. A tiny amount of that is extreme cold. Most is hot. Hot, dry weather produces droughts and wildfires. Hot, rainy weather produces floods. In all of this, one thing we can be quite sure of is that the world’s glaciers are melting and increasing the rate of climate change.

When floating ice melts and when glaciers melt, there are different effects. Melting sea ice does not cause the sea to rise directly, because the ice is already floating on the water, but its loss is nevertheless part of a vicious cycle of warming. Ice is really good at reflecting sunlight. Water is not. As floating ice melts, the ocean is able to absorb more sunlight that otherwise would have been reflected back into space. So, less ice means that the ice melts faster. An article from BBC Focus Magazine reports that the UK’s Meteorological Office (the country’s national weather service) now estimates that the Arctic Ocean will be clear of ice by 2035 (https://bit.ly/2Qfpiuv).

When glacial ice melts, in addition to the problem of exposed land being heated by the sun to speed melting, the water runs into the ocean, causing sea levels to rise. And we can be sure they are rising. Measurements of sea level are taken by NASA satellites, thousands of times per second. The entire ocean is mapped, and the resulting averages are said to be correct to within about a tenth of an inch (https://go.nasa.gov/2FGFnHC).

According to an article published by NASA in 2019, global warming had increased the rate of melt from Greenland. In the 1990s, it was about 25 billion metric tons per year, but what the article calls the “current” average is 234 billion metric tons (https://go.nasa.gov/3hfJ0SR). Unfortunately, that study provides an average based on data collected over a period of years, so the average is over conditions during that time – not the current rate.

According to a CNN report, a study focusing on more recent data shows a continuing rise in the rate of melting in Greenland to 280 billion metric tons during its study time. The study states the glaciers have gone to a point where they may never be able to recover, regardless of what we do to stop climate change . That same study projects that sea-level rise from all sources will come to three feet by the end of the century. It states that because most of our big cities are on ocean water, three feet is enough to displace about 40% of the population of the United States (https://cnn.it/2EvAn83).

Now comes the really bad news. According to another study reported by CNN, the ice on Greenland is melting far faster than any of the earlier studies indicated. This particular study focused on just the melting for the year 2019, meaning it is as close to current as it could be. It states that the amount of ice lost in 2019 was 532 billion metric tons, with 223 billion metric tons lost in July alone (https://cnn.it/2YqgUNl).

The numbers here indicate that the rate of melting from Greenland may be doubling every six years. This makes me wonder whether the projections of a three-foot rise in sea levels during this century might be far too conservative.

We should reflect on what this means for all of us. Certainly, the U.S. already has internal climate refugees. It has been three years since the residents of Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana were offered $48 million by the federal government to move because of a combination of rising seas and subsiding land. Refugees are also moving from other coastal areas. (https://bit.ly/2Yt0eou)

Although, three feet might not sound like much, even the inches that have already happened cause regular flooding in places like Miami. Last year, a report from local radio station WLRN, focused on pressure put on residents of the city’s Little Haiti neighborhood to move out. This is happening because wealthy people want to be able to move in and take advantage of the fact that Little Haiti has an altitude of seven feet above sea level (https://bit.ly/2Yr44hL).

Nearly every community near an ocean or tidal river is in jeopardy. It is just a beginning of a trend that could reach overwhelming proportions in the next two decades, because people will start to move out when they understand that a problem is coming up. And for some, the problem is already starting to get difficult.

Ports are already having trouble with the few inches of sea-level rise. With three feet, they will have to be rebuilt, as will railroads and highways. New sites for all the waste collected at all the nuclear plants and chemical facilities near the coast will have to be found. The list goes on.

Here in the Northeast, the future will undoubtedly see large numbers of people moving inland from Boston, New York, and other coastal communities. States like Vermont and New Hampshire could see large increases in population. This means people will find it harder to afford rent. There will be pressure on the land just as farmers are puzzling over what crops they can grow in a changed climate. Energy, road, municipal infrastructure, and more will need to be upgraded.

These are problems we have no choice about. The work must be done. There may be good news in this for those of us who are young and inclined to be part of the solution. Difficult as the future might seem, it may also be a time of great opportunities to do great things.

Climate migration was also discussed in the October 2018 issue of Green Energy Times (https://bit.ly/35Wmhby)

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