News You Really Need To See: “The Crisis of Rising Sea Levels: Water’s Edge”

“The Crisis of Rising Sea Levels: Water’s Edge”

Reuters, December 12, 2014

“Sea levels have risen an average of 8 inches globally over the past century as a result of glacial thaw, polar ice melt and the expansion of water as it warms, according to the United Nations-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  For much of Europe, higher seas are aggravating storm surges like those that battered Britain last winter – setting up daunting political and economic choices about what to do in response.  At Lowestoft, about 30 miles south of Happisburgh, the sea has risen 4.1 inches since 1962, based on readings from a tide gauge there.  It’s one of at least 105 gauges worldwide to show an increase of 4 inches or more during the same period, according to a Reuters analysis of data from the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level, based in Liverpool, England.  The analysis encompassed annual sea level readings from 229 tide gauges worldwide with data covering a 50-year period.  In Europe, the largest increase was at Dieppe, France, a city on the English Channel.  Like Happisburgh, its cliffs are crumbling as seas rise.  A gauge in the harbor showed an increase of about 8 inches since 1960.  Around the world, the biggest increases were in Asia, reflecting the greater impact in that region of subsidence, the process by which geological forces and the extraction of groundwater cause the land to sink.  Near Bangkok, Thailand, a tide gauge showed an increase of nearly 3 feet since 1959.  In Manila, the Philippines, the sea level rose about 2.7 feet.  As the rising waters take a worsening toll, European governments and local authorities are forced to ask: What’s our coastline worth?  And can we afford to defend it all?  About 200 million people – 40 percent of the European Union’s population – live within 30 miles (50 km) of the sea, and the numbers are growing.  In some parts of the Mediterranean coasts of Spain and France, the population jumped as much as 50 percent from 2001 to 2011.  In most cases, EU coastal investments are focused on strengthening existing infrastructure to deal with sea level rise and more extreme weather.  …  But as the costs of protection rise, Britain, Germany and some other nations have begun giving up besieged land to the sea.  This process of retreating from rising seas is euphemistically referred to as ‘managed realignment.’  Since the 1990s, dikes and levees sometimes centuries old have been destroyed in 118 projects around Europe, converting 15,500 acres (6,300 hectares) of farmland into salt marshes or tidal wetlands, according to a database run by ABP Marine Environmental Research Ltd, a British marine environmental consultancy.”

Quickie Analysis:  England’s King Cnut famously tried and failed centuries ago to command the tide to rise no further.  Now Europe, and the rest of the world, is facing the same challenge. 

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