Climate change could submerge U.S. land worth billions of dollars, study finds


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Grace Smith | September 22, 2022

Sea level rise from climate change could submerge billions of dollars worth of U.S. land, a study from Climate Central said. The analysis found that by 2050, 650,000 properties of land over four million acres could fall underwater, decreasing its value by $108 billion by the end of the century. 

In the U.S., 30 percent of the population lives in a largely populous area near coastlines, where sea level plays a large role in flooding and erosion. 

“Sea level rise is ultimately going to take land away from people,” said Don Bain, a senior adviser with Climate Central, who wrote the report. “That’s something we haven’t come to grips with.”

The global sea level has risen eight to nine inches since 1980, which is mostly because of melted ice from glaciers and ice sheets as seawater warms. And, in many U.S. coastline locations, sea level rise is greater because of erosion, groundwater pumping, and more. By 2050, Climate Central estimates that In Hudson County, New Jersey, $2.4 billion worth of property will be underwater. In Galveston, Texas, over 4,200 buildings that are currently above sea level will be partially or fully underwater. And, 75 percent of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, will be submerged.

The report lists options for communities to reduce risks to properties:

  • Adjust land development to locations outside of high-risk zones
  • Partake in the National Flood Insurance Program and the Community Rating System incentives to help better financial stability for community members.
  • Use science to create improvements in stormwater systems, raising roadways, building levees, and improving coastal wetlands will for now, protect the tax base.
  • Educate taxpayers so they can adapt to the new economy and rising sea levels.

Continued global warming will set off five climate ‘tipping points’


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Grace Smith | September 9, 2022

Failure to stop the continuation of global warming will set off five major climate tipping points if warming surpasses 1.5 degrees Celsius, per a new study. Currently, the earth is warming at a level of 1.1 degrees, but if that number hits over 1.5, those disastrous changes will become irreversible.  

The study estimates that 1.5 degrees Celsius warming will trigger extreme ice melt for Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, which could lead to over 30 feet of sea level rise. Coral reef deaths will occur from 1.5 to 2 degrees, and an important current in the North Atlantic will also stop circulating, impacting weather in Europe. The study also found that larger ocean currents will stop circulating above 2 degrees of global warmth and the Amazon Rainforest will die. 

“Since I first assessed tipping points in 2008, the list has grown and our assessment of the risk they pose has increased dramatically,” Tim Lenton told The Guardian. “Our new work provides compelling evidence that the world must radically accelerate decarbonizing the economy.”

To limit warming from 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius – a 2015 Paris agreement policy that the study indicated is crucial to abide by – all countries must complete promises of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, for there is no leeway or flexibility in not following through.

The US Will See Sea Levels Rise at an Unprecedented Rate


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Josie Taylor | February 21, 2022

According to a new government report, the US coastline will see sea levels rise in the next 30 years by as much as they did in the entire 20th century. The projected increase is especially alarming given that in the 20th century, seas along the Atlantic coast rose at the fastest clip in 2,000 years.

By 2050, seas lapping against the U.S. shore will be 10 to 12 inches (0.25 to 0.3 meters) higher, with parts of Louisiana and Texas projected to see waters a foot and a half (0.45 meters) higher, according to a 111-page report issued Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and six other federal agencies.

The report did have some good news, like the worst of the long-term sea level rise from the melting of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland probably won’t kick in until after 2100. 

The report “is the equivalent of NOAA sending a red flag up” about accelerating the rise in sea levels, said University of Wisconsin-Madison geoscientist Andrea Dutton, a specialist in sea level rise who wasn’t part of the federal report. The coastal flooding the U.S. is seeing now “will get taken to a whole new level in just a couple of decades.”

The reason why sea level rises more in some places than others is because of sinking land, currents and water from ice melt. The U.S. will get slightly more sea level rise than the global average. 

While higher seas cause much more damage when storms such as hurricanes hit the coast, they are also becoming a problem on sunny days.

Cities such as Miami Beach, Florida; Annapolis, Maryland; and Norfolk, Virginia, already get a few minor floods a year during high tides, but those will be replaced by several “moderate” floods a year by mid-century.

New Study Finds Glaciers Contain Less Ice Than Previously Thought


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Josie Taylor | February 10, 2022

Advances in satellite technology have revealed that the world’s glaciers contain significantly less ice than previously thought, according to a study published in Nature Geoscience on Monday.

The Nature Geoscience study assessed how quickly glaciers were moving across the landscape, or their velocity. These measurements allow scientists to more accurately measure volume, but collecting this information has been limited by technology.

The work analyzed more than 800,000 pairs of images of glaciers taken between 2017 and 2018, and found that many were shallower than previously assessed. Scientists now estimate there is 20 percent less glacial ice present with the potential to melt into the ocean and raise sea levels. 

The revised estimate reduces global sea level rise by 3 inches if all glaciers were to melt. This raises concern for some communities that rely on seasonal melt from glaciers to feed rivers and irrigate crops. If glaciers contain less ice, water will run out sooner than expected. Between 2000 and 2019, these rivers of ice lost roughly 5.4 trillion tons.

Countries are already struggling with disappearing glaciers. Peru is investing in desalination to make up for declining freshwater, and Chile hopes to create artificial glaciers in its mountains.

‘Waste’ Activist Fights Sanitation Crisis Affecting the Rural Poor in the U.S.


Image from Wikimedia Commons

Nicole Welle | November 26, 2020

Activist and author Catherine Coleman Flowers’ work spurred a study in 2017 that revealed environmental and sanitation problems in rural America.

The 2017 study discovered that more than one in three people in Lowndes County, a rural county in Alabama, had tested positive for hookworm. This parasite was previously thought to have been eradicated in the United States because it usually only infects people in areas without access to proper waste management and sanitation, but this study revealed that it is not an issue confined to “developing” countries. The large number of infections in rural America revealed significant gaps in access to basic sanitation and led activists to look further into the cause of the issue, according to an Iowa Public Radio article.

When looking at rural areas in Alabama, Flowers found that many families lacked access to an on-site septic system and were sometimes facing fines and jail time when they could not afford to have one installed. Lowndes County has dense clay soils and a high water table, so families living there need access to a special, more expensive septic system that can cost around $28,000. Most families, both poor and middle-class, do not have the resources to have one installed and are forced to deal with improper sanitation and legal action.

The current septic system technology was designed before climate change caused sea levels and water tables to rapidly rise and changed rainfall patterns. Flowers says that the next steps toward solving the sanitation problem in Lowndes County and elsewhere will require people to acknowledge climate change and work towards developing new, more affordable technologies that will account for rising sea levels.

Social inequality and coping with climate change


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Coastal communities are among the most vulnerable as climate change alters global conditions (flickr)

Julia Poska| November 1, 2018

As climate changes around the world, certain areas will become inhospitable to human life; coasts will flood, city water supplies will face crises, and islands will disappear. Unfortunately, people living in such areas cannot always cope with the change, according to a new study published in Annual Review of Environment and Resources. 

“Many of the people most at risk from environmental changes have the fewest freedoms and therefore the least ability to adapt in the face of such difficulties,” said lead author Jon Barnett in a media release.

Worldwide evidence compiled by Barnett and other researchers from the Universities of Melbourne and Exeter suggests that protecting human rights and freedoms is key  to reducing the impacts of climate change for the vulnerable. Freedom of movement is especially important, as it  provides those facing environmental threats the option to leave.

The Australian researchers highlighted the perils threatening Pacific Islanders in their report. The tiniest islands of Micronesia and Melanesia could be underwater in a matter of decades as sea levels rise. Policies in Australia and New Zealand that welcome islanders to move to mainland create security for those people, who typically have minimal economic and political resources.

 

 

On The Radio – Pace of sea level rise tripled since 1990


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A new study found that sea levels are rising nearly three times faster than in previous centuries. (Chris Dodd/flickr)

Jenna Ladd| June 12, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses a recent study that found sea levels are rising at a significantly faster rate than in the past. 

Transcript: Scientists, in a new study, have found that the Earth’s oceans are rising nearly three times as quickly as they were throughout most of the 20th century.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

This new finding is one of the strongest indications yet that a much-feared trend of not just sea level rise, but its acceleration, is now underway.

Their paper, published in May’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, isn’t the first to find that the rate of rising seas is itself increasing — but it finds a bigger rate of increase than in past studies.

The new paper concludes that before 1990, oceans were rising at about almost a half an inch per decade. From 1993 through 2012, though, it finds they rose by almost one and a quarter inches per decade.

To learn more about the study, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

IPCC issues 2014 Climate Change Report


Copyright: © Belspo / Nevens
Copyright: © Belspo / Nevens

This year’s climate change report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that the impacts from climate change are already occurring.

With over 300 authors from 70 countries, this report is a worldwide scientific collaboration. They state that world leaders have a limited time to reduce carbon emissions to avoid disastrous warming.

Major impacts from climate change include sea level rise, large-scale shifts in temperatures that would disrupt human life and natural ecosystems, increased diseases, and decreased or disrupted food production or food quality.

The authors argue that today’s governments are not prepared for the consequences of climate change, and stress how today’s actions determine our future.

View the full report here.

Opinions, reactions, and summaries of the report can be found at The New York Times, USA Today, or The LA Times, among many others.