The Rising Oceans

March 16th, 2007 by David

   I am sitting in an internet cafe in Punta Arenas, Chile, right now, doing web searches to figure out just how big of a problem sea level rise will be. The sea level has already risen over the past century, although only about one inch. As more glacial ice melts, what will it do from here on?

Monterey Bay and Research Station
Malibu, CA
La Paz Shoreline

   The most likely result is not that bad – maybe a foot and a half this century. This could be very bad for many places I have visited – especially along the Caribbean coast—and also make storms much worse, not to mention erode some nice beaches. But I might not call it a disaster.

Mazatlan Coast
Beach at Placencia
Coast at Omoa
Panama City
The San Blas Islands

   The problem, though, is that it takes a long time for ice sheets to melt, and we don’t really know how long that is. In the ‘long run,’ which could be centuries or millennium, with a likely 3 degree C warming, the ocean could rise 80 feet. We don’t know if it is centuries or millennium, because computer models for ice sheets are very inaccurate. If it is centuries, as some argue, the oceans could rise much faster than we would like – maybe a foot a decade. And, again, we don’t know, but, well, do we want to find out?

Cartagena
Cartagena sits barely above sea level
Santa Fe Coastline

   As I have said before, I am in Punta Arenas right now. Punta Arenas sits on the shore of the Straight of Magellan on the southern tip of South America, and is just one of the many cities on the coast that I have visited. Throughout this entry I have interspersed photos of the coastlines I have visited on this trip – take a look at them and envision what a 1 foot, 10 foot, or 80 foot sea level rise would look like.

Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales Shore
Punta Arenas Shoreline

One Response to “The Rising Oceans”

  1. Julia says:

    For a google mash-up that lets you experiment with different sea level rises and zoom in on your coastline of choice, see http://flood.firetree.net. Some of the results are surprising. For instance, pretty much any rise means where I live–in Sacramento, California, 80 miles from the coast, will be under water, due to the Delta and the low-lying Central Valley flooding.

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