On a tropical island, fossils reveal past — and possible future — of polar ice

The balmy islands of Seychelles couldn’t feel farther from Antarctica, but their fossil corals could reveal much about the fate of polar ice sheets.

About 125,000 years ago, the average global temperature was only slightly warmer, but sea levels rose high enough to submerge the locations of many of today’s coastal cities. Understanding what caused seas to rise then could shed light on how to protect those cities today.

The balmy islands of Seychelles couldn’t feel farther from Antarctica, but their fossil corals could reveal much about the fate of polar ice sheets.

About 125,000 years ago, the average global temperature was only slightly warmer, but sea levels rose high enough to submerge the locations of many of today’s coastal cities. Understanding what caused seas to rise then could shed light on how to protect those cities today.

By examining fossil corals found on the Indian Ocean islands, University of Florida geochemist Andrea Dutton found evidence that global mean sea level during that period peaked at 20 to 30 feet above current levels. Dutton’s team of international researchers concluded that rapid retreat of an unstable part of the Antarctic ice sheet was a major contributor to that sea-level rise.

“This occurred during a time when the average global temperature was only slightly warmer than at present,” Dutton said.

Dutton evaluated fossil corals in Seychelles because sea level in that region closely matches that of global mean sea level. Local patterns of sea-level change can differ from global trends because of variations in Earth’s surface and gravity fields that occur when ice sheets grow and shrink.

In an article published in the January 2015 issue of Quaternary Science Reviews, the researchers concluded that while sea-level rise in the Last Interglacial period was driven by the same processes active today — thermal expansion of seawater, melting mountain glaciers and melting polar ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica — most was driven by polar ice sheet melt. Their study, partially funded by the National Science Foundation, also suggests the Antarctic ice sheet partially collapsed early in that period.

“Following a rapid transition to high sea levels when the last interglacial period began, sea level continued rising steadily,” Dutton said. “The collapse of Antarctic ice occurred when the polar regions were a few degrees warmer than they are now — temperatures that we are likely to reach within a matter of decades.”

Several recent studies by other researchers suggest that process may have already started.

“We could be poised for another partial collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet,” Dutton said. More

Photos above from Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands.

 

 

Climate Change: The State of the Science

 

Climate Change: The State of the Science

Published on Nov 19, 201 3 • Produced by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme and Globaia and funded by the UN Foundation.

The data visualization summarises and visualizes several of the most significant statements in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recent Fifth Assessment Report, (Working Group I summary for policymakers, the Physical Science Basis). In 2014, IPCC will publish summaries concerning societal impacts, mitigation and adaptation. The statements and facts presented are derived from the IPCC summary for policymakers.

Download the IPCC Working Group I summary for policymakers (The Physical Science Basis) here: www.climatechange2013.org

Produced and directed by Owen Gaffney and Felix Pharand-Deschenes

Animation Felix Pharand-Deschenes GlobaTa

“If we save Tuvalu, we save the world

“If we save Tuvalu, we save the world” – UN Climate Convention, Peru


9 December 2014, Lima, Peru – The Prime Minister of Tuvalu paid homage to ancestors buried in Peru at the UN Climate Convention today. Taking the floor at the High Level Segment of the 20th Conference of the Parties, he began his statement acknowledging the interesting and tragic historical connection with Peru.

During the 1860's slave traders known as blackbirders took approximately 400 people from Tuvalu to work in Peru. None of them ever returned.

“There are Tuvaluans buried here on this land and we pay our respects to our ancestors who were brought here against their will,” stated Hon. Enele Sosene Sopoaga, Prime Minister of Tuvalu – remembering the history of Tuvalu before looking to the future.


“I am here at this important meeting as the highest representative of the people of Tuvalu. I carry a huge burden and responsibility. I carry their hopes that there will be a future for Tuvalu. This is an enormous burden to carry. It keeps me awake at night. No national leader in the history of humanity has ever faced this question. Will we survive or will we disappear under the sea? I ask you all to think what it is like to be in my shoes.”

On the frontlines of climate change, the greatest single threat to the island atoll, Tuvalu is heartened by the progress leading to a new climate change protocol made at the UN Climate Convention in Peru yet also very clear that they will not support a new protocol without a substantive programme on loss and damage. The new agreement must be agreed upon by the end of December, 2015 in Paris, the host of the next Conference of the Parties.

“Tuvalu, and I suspect most of the world, believes that reaching a comprehensive new protocol in Paris is absolutely essential. We cannot repeat Copenhagen. We cannot suffer the frustration and humiliation of being asked to accept a half-hearted response to a critical global crisis.”

“The new protocol must be comprehensive it must cover all issues in a meaningful way. It has to include effective mitigation targets for all countries. It must deliver real outcomes on adaptation and loss and damage. It must deliver the necessary finance to transform our society. And it must deliver the technology and the necessary capacity building to ensure everyone can respond to climate change. All these pillars are essential.”

The coral atoll nation of Tuvalu consists of nine inhabited islands with the highest point above sea level being four meters. Now experiencing climate change impacts through saltwater intrusion into agricultural areas, lack of potable water and coastal erosion – the fate of Tuvalu is in the hands of the international community.

“I ask everyone who leaves this room to look into the eyes of the first child they see. I want everyone to look into the child’s eyes and imagine what those eyes will see in ten or twenty years. Will they see hell or will they see a sustainable planet.”

“Let us stand proud in Paris. Let us look into the eyes of children and say, yes we have a real future for you. Let us make 2015 the year we saved the Earth! Let us make 2015 the year we saved Tuvalu. For if we save Tuvalu we save the world.”

To access the full statement presented by Hon. Enele Sosene Sopoaga, Prime Minister of Tuvalu at the High Level Segment of the 20th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change please visit: http://unfccc.int/files/meetings/lima_dec_2014/statements/application/pdf/cop20_hls_tuvalu.pdf

Portraits of Resilience | Christine Germane | TEDxRenfrewCollingwood

 

Portraits of Resilience | Christine Germane | TEDxRenfrewCollingwood

Published on Nov 26, 201 4 • This talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. Listen as photographer and educator Christine Germane tells the stories of Portraits of Resilience, a unique project that illustrates the ethical dimension of the climate change discussion through documenting and sharing the personal stories of indigenous youth. Since 2000, Christine Germane has been collaborating with Indigenous communities as a photographer, educator and curator. The international photojournalism project titled Portraits of Resilience has allowed her to work with indigenous youth to illustrate the personal and ethical effects of climate change on their communities. Since its creation in 2008, the project has occurred in 12 countries and has been exhibited internationally, including the launch at the National Museum of Denmark. With a range of education, awards, and project coordination experience within art and design under her belt, Christine’s exceptional work has provided youth with a medium to share their voice during a crucial period of time.

Twitter ©Germane Photo

Facebook Christine Germane Photography

Email: christinegermano@yahoo.com

Web http://www.christinegermano.com

The end of beaches? Why the world’s shorelines are in serious trouble

We can have our beachfront properties — our Miami high-rises, our Hamptons mansions, our Jersey boardwalks — or we can have our beaches. But as geologist and Duke University emeritus professor Orrin Pilkey has been arguing for decades now, we can’t have both.

Bradenton Beach, June 2012

As the oceans warm and sea levels rise, coastal living is becoming an increasingly risky proposition. Any climate scientist would tell you not to invest in a beach house, and yet large-scale migration inland is something we’ve yet to see. The beaches themselves can withstand extreme weather, of course. But it’s our attempts to hold them in place, through techno-fixes like seawalls and beach replenishment, that ironically enough will end up destroying them. Sooner or later, Pilkey argues, we’re going to be forced to retreat. The question is whether there’ll be any beach left by then.

The Last Beach,” which Pilkey co-wrote with J. Andrew G. Cooper, a professor of coastal studies at the University of Ulster, is but his latest attempt to drive home just how wrong-headed our push to build on and preserve shorelines is. It’s been an uphill battle; for Pilkey, what counts as progress was that people acknowledged his plea not to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy instead of just attacking him for suggesting it — even if they didn’t really end up following his advice.

Bring pollution, oil spills and the destructive business of sand mining into the picture, and it’s not so extreme, Pilkey told Salon, to imagine a future where beaches as we know them — as places to live and even as places to visit — will no longer exist.

Our conversation, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.

We don’t typically think of beaches as something that can “go extinct,” but it seems like that’s basically what you’re arguing here.

That’s exactly what we argue: that beaches in developed areas will not be there, that they will be replaced by seawalls large and small. There will be beaches left in remote places and on national seashores and things like that, perhaps — although they’ll be suffering too, because they’ll be eroding and retreating back separately from the developed areas, which will be standing still for a while.

By the time we really begin to see what’s happening, like we are right now in Florida, we’ll be worrying about Manhattan and Queens and Boston and Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Miami, Charleston, all those cities. We fully expect that the great expense required to hold back the shoreline — which is a losing proposition in any event — will be overwhelming for them.

It seems to us to be pretty obvious — and I think most geologists would agree with this — that in a 50- to 100-year timeframe we’re in trouble. The best example of that, the proof in the pudding, is Florida, where they have hundreds of miles of highrise-lined shoreline. What can they do? You could move the buildings back, but that’s very costly and there’s no place to move them to. So what we see right now, especially with the current governor of Florida, is the building of seawalls right and left. All you have to do is declare an emergency and you can build a seawall.

In the book, you also discuss how beaches have become dangerous places. So would you say there’s also a loss of beaches, not physically, but as we are able to enjoy them?

Yeah, that was the point of that. We, by the way, were really shocked — the one chapter that was really out of our range was pollution, and we were rather shocked at the numbers. We saw repeated statements about how to use a beach, if you’re going to go to a beach what should you do and how should you use it, in the technical literature, but it hasn’t been getting out to the public. Maybe that’s a little bit of irresponsibility on the part of some of the biochemists in not getting that out to the public. On the other hand, I know what would happen. They would get heavily criticized, probably, as being alarmists.

But yes, the fact is that the beaches are getting more and more polluted, and as more and more villages and towns and cities crowd up against the beaches that’s going to continue. Some of the things the literature said seemed rather outrageous to us. One is never to go barefoot on a beach. That’s a tough one. The one thing that everyone agrees is a bad thing to do is to get buried in the sand. And who in this world has not been buried in the sand at some time in their life? If you have a cut or an abrasion of some kind… I’ve always thought that going in the salt water had a healing effect on cuts, but that was really wrong. I’ve told that to a thousand students over the years, and if any of them are reading this I take it all back. It’s very dangerous.

Well, not very dangerous. There’s a very low probability of getting something, but if you do, the probability of getting something serious is high.

And that’s worse than it used to be?

There are no numbers to show it, that we know of, but yes. The pollutants on beaches are higher than they used to be, we think.

I imagine that you must have trouble getting people to take some of the issues you write about seriously. For example, there’s the beach that was stolen in Jamaica — something like that can come off as an offbeat, funny news story instead of a serious environmental crime. Do you come across that sort of response often?

Where we are not taken seriously? Of course, but I’m used to that because I’ve been arguing for years that we need to move houses back and retreat from the shoreline, or let houses fall in, but not leave them in place. My argument in the past in similar situations has been that we have a choice at the shoreline: We can have beaches or we can have buildings, but we can’t have them both. You have to take your choice — and of course, that is met with a lot of derision by beach property owners.

“The Last Beach,” I anticipate, will be met with some derision, because it seems a little extreme. But it’s not extreme at all. Of that I am certain. In my 40 years of working on this I can see the situation deteriorating. We’re going down a bad road, no question about it, and I feel confident about that.

Right after Superstorm Sandy, you wrote an article for the New York Times arguing that we shouldn’t rebuild. What kind of response did that get?

I got some money — somebody wanted to support my next book. Everything that happened to me directly was good, and I think the response was really good, surprisingly good. I heard that the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) — which is a civilian group beating a hard drum of “there’s no need to retreat” — in their newsletter they made a few nasty comments about me…

A long time ago, when I started saying these things, the response was really negative, like “aw, c’mon, don’t be stupid, nobody’s going to move back.” Now, moving back is not outrageous, and the relationship between seawalls and the loss of beaches is pretty widely known. I think I can say that the response to that editorial was so different than it would have been 30 years ago, 20 years ago. And that’s a good thing.

What about the actual response from people working on recovery from the storm? Did anyone listen? Is the East Coast going to be just as vulnerable the next time a storm comes?

Thirty years ago, the response would have been massive seawalls, there’s no question of that. Hurricane Sandy was the first time I’ve heard serious discussion on the part of the governors of New Jersey and New York about maybe moving back and not rebuilding. As it was, they didn’t do much — they basically rebuilt — but that was music to my ears. I’ve never heard that before. In the past it’s always been “c’mon, we’re Americans, we’re not going to throw up our hands and slink away.”

Almost every house, if there was a house left, had an American flag in front of it. It brought out patriotism, for some reason or another. I guess that’s better than depression, but it’s different. Even though most of these things didn’t bear fruit, we’re getting there. I guess I’m learning that it takes years to get this into the public understanding. I don’t know how many years it’s going to take before we really start moving back, but we’re going to have to, no question about it, or we’ll just give up on the beach. I really believe that we will give up on the beach, for the most part. Beach replenishment, you see, will not be feasible as the sea level rises, because you’re holding the shoreline back in place, where it doesn’t want to be.

The beaches will disappear much faster than they are now. In North Carolina a typical beach lasts about three years. In New Jersey it’s probably about the same, and in Florida, where the wave energy is a little lower, it’s about seven to nine years. In any case, it’s a very costly proposition and it’s definitely going to get more costly.

How far back do people realistically need to move?

It all depends on where you are. If you’re on a barrier island you can move to the back side of the island, but the problem with that is that the back side of the island is lower in elevation. The highest elevation on most barrier islands is at the front of the island, so you’re moving back but on the other hand the chance of being struck directly by waves is increased.

For the most part, if someone is going to go through the cost of moving they ought to get off the island. In Florida, there ain’t no place to get off the island. It’s very, very low and flooding quickly as the sea level rises. We have a photograph in the book of the so-called “Outlaw House” in North Carolina (Outlaw was the family name). It was moved back three or five times, depending on who you believe, and right now it’s very close to the beach once again. That’s a mom-and-pop cottage, and initially it was moved by mules. All the houses near the Outlaw House now are all McMansions. They can be moved, but they’re expensive. The McMansion that was in the movie “Nights in Rodanthe” was just moved down the highway a bit to a safer place — I say safer, but not safe.

In a recent interview, you said you’ve stopped defining yourself as a scientist and have instead become a scientific advocate. When and how did that change come about?

I started out as a deep-sea sedimentologist. I worked on the continental margin of North Carolina and the abyssal plains — I sampled 13 abyssal plains around the world — but I got tired of going to sea. When my parents’ house was damaged in Hurricane Camille, my father and I wrote this little book called “How to Live On an Island,” and it was three eighths of an inch thick and it cost a dollar fifty, and I couldn’t believe the impact it had. People were asking to quote us and so forth, and I realized there was a real vacuum here and I began to move to the beach. I traded a research vessel for a 16-foot skiff, and I’m very happy about that. It’s been very satisfying.

When I first came to Duke it was not possible, before you get tenured, to get involved with controversial things with the general public. One had to wait until one had tenure before one could start pounding on the table about these things, and by the time I got my 16-foot skiff I was already tenured. I had also been a journal editor and a couple other things, and that gave me credibility in the scientific community. Nonetheless, I remember a number of times being criticized by scientists, basically saying “you’re off-base for doing this kind of thing.” I have a 25-book series, “Living with the Shore” for every state, and we have local geologists who were the senior authors of each of these books. I think for probably every book, at least one of the authors would say “I’m not going to lower myself and make science so simple,” or something to that effect, saying that “we can’t expect the public to understand everything we’re doing.”

But I don’t think I hear much of that anymore. I think at least geologists, and probably a lot of others now, are recognizing the value of being able to converse with the public. I know that most universities, Duke included, appreciate work that has an impact on the general public. It’s not like it was when I started at all. We are rewarded for doing such work, although there are local problems in individual states, probably in every state, where public schools still have problems. Here in North Carolina, I know at least two, maybe three geologists who have been asked to turn in their emails, or to furnish all emails that have to do with sea-level rise.

What you’re asking of the public is really difficult: You’re asking them to give up something they love, that they can protect in the short term, in favor of looking at the big picture. It’s something that people come up against with a lot of these environmental and climate problems. Do you have any insights into how to get that message through to people?

The reason you go to beaches is because you went down there with your mother and father during the summer and had the most wonderful time in your whole life, and what could be better than to live there year-round? But here in North Carolina we have some really good newspapers, at least on this issue. I spent a few years back in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and I found that the people there were far less educated on the problem of beaches and seawalls and retreating shorelines. It was a very marginal thing in Massachusetts, but in North Carolina we have a much longer shoreline and a much higher-energy shoreline. So it’s not a surprise to most people. If they come here from Kansas it might be a surprise, but the locals here are pretty well-educated. Excepting the particular political situation we have right now, which is very pro-development — but that comes and goes — I think in North Carolina we’re better prepared than some other states.

The real resistance to good coastal management with a long-term view is coming not from the people who came down there because their mommy and daddy brought them to the beach. It’s coming from the people who are making money on it. From what I’ve seen here, the high-cost developments are the ones who are trying to change the laws to let them build seawalls. They’re going to protect the houses; they couldn’t give a damn about the general public. Up on South Hampton, New York, rich people are building massive walls. They’re doing things that are illegal in some communities, but when you have billions of dollars you can get an army of lawyers to hold off the community very readily. Wealthy communities are the problem. More

 

 

Caribbean small islands will be first in region to suffer from rising sea levels

NAROBI, Kenya, Monday November 3, 2014, CMC – A top United Nations official has warned that the small islands of the Caribbean will be the first territories in the region to suffer the effects of rising sea levels due to climate change.

Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program, Achim Steiner, said here on Saturday that the effects of climate change threaten the Caribbean’s tourism industries and, eventually, their “very existence”.

Speaking ahead of Sunday’s release of the Fifth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Steiner said sea-level rise will have an “immediate impact in economic terms” on the Caribbean Small Island Developing States (SIDS), stating that the Caribbean’s tourism infrastructure is 99 per cent along the coastline.

“Many small island nations are in a far more exposed situation simply because their territory is sometimes only two, three, four meters (6.5-13 ft.) above sea level,” he said, adding “therefore their very existence is being threatened.

“The changes also in, for instance, coral reefs and mangroves that are natural barriers and help strengthen the resilience of these countries, if coral reefs are dying then clearly countries become more vulnerable,” he added.

Steiner also cited the impact of more intense hurricanes and other extreme weather events on countries whose economies cannot bear the cost of reconstruction.

On a more hopeful note, he praised proactive efforts by some Caribbean countries, such as Barbados, where “energy efficiency efforts and renewable deployment are now on the agenda of investment and national development planning”.

The efforts of the Barbados government were one reason the United Nations decided to mark 2014 World Environment Day in Barbados, Steiner said. More

 

IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change. What does it mean for the Caribbean?IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change. What does it mean for the Caribbean?

The Caribbean’s response to Climate Change is grounded in a firm regional commitment, policy and strategy. Our three foundation documents – The Liliendaal Declaration (July 2009), The Regional Framework for Achieving Development Resilient to Climate Change (July 2009) and its Implementation Plan (March 2012) – are the basis for climate action in the region.

The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) underscores the importance, scientific rigour and utility of these landmark documents. The IPCC’s latest assessment confirms the Caribbean Community’s longstanding call to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees celsius as outlined in the Liliendaal Declaration. At the Nations Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) Meeting in 2009, which took place in Copenhagen, Denmark, the Caribbean Community indicated to the world community that a global temperature rise above 1.50C would seriously affect the survival of the community.

In 2010 at the UNFCCC COP Meeting in Cancun, governments agreed that emissions ought to be kept at a level that would ensure global temperature increases would be limited to below 20C. At that time, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), which includes the Caribbean, re-iterated that any rise in temperature above 1.50C would seriously affect their survival and compromise their development agenda. The United Nations Human Development Report (2008) and the State of the World Report (2009) of The Worldwatch Institute supports this position and have identified 20C as the threshold above which irreversible and dangerous Climate Change will become unavoidable.

Accordingly, the Caribbean welcomes the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report prepared by over 2000 eminent scientists. It verifies observations in the Caribbean that temperatures are rising, extreme weather events are occurring more frequently, sea levels are rising, and there are more incidences of coral bleaching. These climatic changes will further exacerbate the limited availability of fresh water, agricultural productivity, result in more erosion and inundation, and increase the migration of fish from the Caribbean to cooler waters and more hospitable habitats. The cumulative effect is reduced food security, malnutrition, and productivity, thus increasing the challenges to achieving poverty reduction and socio-economic development.

The report notes that greenhouse gases emissions, the cause of Climate Change, continues to rise at an ever increasing rate. Unless this trend is arrested and rectified by 2050, global temperatures could rise by at least 4°C by 2100. This would be catastrophic for the Caribbean. However, the report is not all gloom and doom. More than half of the new energy plants for electricity are from renewable resources, a trend that must accelerate substantially if the goal of limiting global warming to below 2°C by 2100 is to remain feasible.

The IPCC AR5 Report should therefore serve as a further wake up call to our region that we cannot continue on a business as usual trajectory. It is an imperative that Climate Change be integrated in every aspect of the region’s development agenda, as well as its short, medium and long-term planning. The region must also continue to aggressively engage its partners at the bilateral and multilateral levels to reduce their emissions. The best form of adaptation is reduction in emissions level.

Dr Kenrick Leslie

The IPCC will adopt the Synthesis Report of the AR5 in Copenhagen, Denmark in late October 2014. Caribbean negotiators are already preparing to ensure that the most important information from the report are captured in the Synthesis Report.

See the highlights of the Caribbean Launch of the UN IPCC AR5 Report in this video:

Learn more about the implications of the IPCC AR5 Report via http://www.caribbeanclimate.bz and @CaribbeanClimate.

* Dr Kenrick Leslie is the Executive Director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, the regional focal point for Climate Change.