Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Friday, February 4, 2011

We've Discovered Atlantis!

And Poseidon received for his lot the island of Atlantis …   Plato’s Timaeus

It is not surprising that the ancients spoke of cities slipping beneath the waves:  since the end of the last Ice Age, sea levels have risen hundreds of feet, until they reached the relatively stable levels enjoyed for the last several millennia.  It stands to reason that some coastal communities disappeared before the rising seas in antiquity, perhaps including Atlantis, “standing before the Pillars of Hercules.”

Miami: 2.3 million souls just above the rising seas
In our century, we don’t need to go looking for Atlantis.  We’ve got Miami.

The OECD ranks it #1 in the world in terms of monetary loss from climate change at $3.5 trillion – assuming we continue with business as usual.  Coastal and marine experts worldwide project significant sea level rise during the lives of our children and grandchildren, and most predictions range from 2-5 feet.  The big unknowns are the earth’s three great ice sheets: Greenland, and the Eastern and Western Antarctic ice sheets.  These contain enough water to raise sea levels by about 210 feet.  And two of them are retreating under warmer polar climates.

Researchers at Tufts University recently completed a study for the state of Florida, which graphically set forth the impact on Florida of rising seas levels.  They used a moderate projection of 27 inches in the next 50 years – a relatively conservative estimate of the impact of business-as-usual greenhouse gas policies.  What’s striking is how much of the state will simply disappear beneath the waves.  But nowhere is this as striking as in South Florida, home to Key West, the Everglades, and of course, Miami.

Monroe County, home to 80,000 people, the beautiful Florida Keys and the ecologically irreplaceable Everglades will disappear entirely.  ENTIRELY. Miami-Dade County – with its population of 2.3 million souls – will lose 69% of its land.  In the city of Miami, 380,000 people today live on land that will be below sea level in 2060 -- assuming we continue our consumer-driven carbon binge.

Miami in 2060: a narrow, soggy peninsula
But we’ll build levies to save them won’t we?  I’m afraid not.  Unlike New Orleans, Miami sits on strata of very porous rock and sand – a blessing for drainage in our day, but a sieve for sea water in the future. 
But there is hope, if we can believe the work of climate researchers.  They tell us that if the world begins immediately, and reduces 50% of its CO2 emissions by 2050, then we might hold sea level rise to as little as 7 inches by 2100.  On our current carbon joy-ride, however, we can expect seas to rise by about 55 inches – far above the scary images presented on these maps.

Odds are, I won’t be here to see the worst of these events.  But this is our Father’s world.  And these are our Father’s people.  And some of them are my kids, and, as of last year, my beautiful new granddaughter.  She’ll be 50 years old in 2060, the year these maps are forecasting.

We’d better not mess this up.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

Not Venice: Parts of Miami already  flood frequently at high tide

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