Featured Image Credit: Jay Mantri
By Emily Persico
John Englander, oceanographer and author of the book “High Tide on Main Street: Rising Sea Level and the Coming Coastal Crisis,” spoke at the Virginia Aquarium last week on the science of sea level rise.
“Greenland has enough ice that if it were to melt entirely, it would raise sea level globally 24 feet and Antarctica seven time that [at] 186 feet,” he says.
Despite common misconceptions, melting land ice is indeed the main cause of sea level rise, not melting ice in the Arctic Ocean.
“Floating ice does not affect the level of liquid,” explains Englander, using the analogy of ice cubes in a cup. “You have to add ice cubes or add liquid and, because of that, the ice melting around the North Pole has no effect on the level of the oceans.”
As a direct result of human-caused climate change brought about by increased heat-trapping gasses, oceans are predicted to rise somewhere between 11 to 38 inches in the next 75 years. Coupled with the effects from warmer water and ocean acidification, sea levels rising will have a significant and devastating effect on coastal ecosystems. The recent collapse of a huge chunk of the Great Barrier Reef is one example and, unfortunately, it is just the beginning of what is to come.
“We’re in a different world,” Englander told the audience. “Sea level rise is a permanent change.”
Natural ecosystems will not be the only places to suffer. Hundreds of millions of people in coastal societies are also at an increased risk of flooding, affecting our food supply, our drinking water, and our very homes.
While the current and potential damages caused by sea level rise have been well researched in the scientific world, policymakers have been slow to react.
“This is going to happen, but the problem is that it’s slow and our brains don’t seem to program well for slow emergencies,” says Englander, pointing out that we regard immediate, less probable threats such as terrorist attacks much more seriously.
“This is the most daunting challenge we face over a long term,” concludes Englander.
Education, though, is key. The more people who understand sea level rise and its associated risks, the more we can accomplish on a global scale to quell its tide of destruction.
It starts with you.