Does Delaware have a future (above water)?

[Update:  The paper by Hansen and 16 collaborators is interesting not only for what it says but its manner of publication.  Traditionally, scientific publication occurs after a “peer review” process carried out quietly by reviewers selected by the editors of the publication.  In this case, the paper has been published in an online “discussion journal” and anyone can comment.  This is expected to lead to to more formal publication of an (perhaps) amended paper.  In the meanwhile, the review process is opened up to public scrutiny and participation, and we are seeing the work earlier than we otherwise would.  It also illustrates how challenging it is to straddle the line between science and activism.  For access to these discussions I suggest starting with this Washington Post article:  What live peer review looks like when the fate of the planet is at stake.


Sea Level Fig 8

Impact of sea level rise on Delaware, due to ice melt from Greenland and the West Antarctic combined. The remaining land areas are shown in green.

Hansen’s recent paper suggests a serious potential for a sea level rise of 5 to 9 meters (30 feet) within fifty years.

First, this is a bad air time.  The forecast for Friday is CODE YELLOW for ozone.  The forecast for Sunday and Monday is CODE YELLOW for ozone AND particles.  An earlier forecast was for CODE ORANGE on Saturday for ozone and the levels are still projected to be in the 90s (CODE ORANGE begins at 100).  Weather conditions are not projected to be extreme, but it will be near 90 deg and humid.  The pollen forecast is medium high.

These are not healthy conditions and we urge you to take care.

On to Sea level rise

Green Delaware has been writing about this for a long time, pointing out that Delaware is the lowest-lying of all the 50 states and that sea level rise is likely to be much higher than the official forecasts.  See this post from a couple of years ago.  The reason one can say this with confidence is simple:  The official projections coming from sources such as NOAA take into account only those causes of sea level rise for which there is overwhelming evidence and consensus, and tend to assume gradual change.  But there are many more, some with catastrophic implications.  This approach makes political/bureaucratic sense but produces underestimates of what’s likely to happen.

State officials have produced a “Vulnerablity Assessment” report saying:

“Statewide, between 8% and 11% of the state’s land area (including wetlands) could be inundated by a sea level rise of 0.5 meters to 1.5 meters [3.3 to 4.9 ft.] ,[by year 2100] respectively. Within those potentially inundated areas lie transportation and port infrastructure, historic fishing villages, resort towns, agricultural fields, wastewater treatment facilities and vast stretches of wetlands and wildlife habitat of hemispheric importance.”

These upper and lower ranges of sea level rise were apparently chosen by a DNREC “Sea Level Rise Technical Workgroup” in 2009.  (Need we say that Green Delaware hasn’t been asked to participate in any of this?)

At that time, NOAA was saying it had “very high confidence” that sea level rise by 2100 would be less than 2.0 meters.

It appears that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is modeling a “likely range” of sea level rise of 0.52-0.98m (1.7 to 3.2 ft.) for business-as-usual greenhouse gases.

James Hansen

But how realistic are these numbers?  Lets listen to James Hansen, perhaps the world’s best known climate scientist, in a commentary on a recent paper:

“… the climate models are extensively tested, and paleoclimate changes confirm their approximate sensitivities.”

“In contrast, we show in a prior paper and our new paper that ice sheet models are far too sluggish compared with the magnitude and speed of sea level changes in the paleoclimate record. This is not surprising, given the primitive state of ice sheet modeling. For example, a recent ice sheet model sensitivity study finds that incorporating the physical processes of hydrofracturing of ice and ice cliff failure increases their calculated sea level rise from 2 meters to 17 meters and reduces the potential time for West Antarctic collapse to decadal time scales. Other researchers show that part of the East Antarctic ice sheet sits on bedrock well below sea level. Thus West Antarctica is not the only potential source of rapid change; part of the East Antarctic ice sheet is also susceptible to rapid retreat because of its direct contact with the ocean and because the bed beneath the ice slopes landward (Fig. 1), which makes it less stable.”

“My conclusion, based on the total information available, is that continued high emissions would result in multi-meter sea level rise this century and lock in continued ice sheet disintegration such that building cities or rebuilding cities on coast lines would become foolish.”

I highly recommend reading Hansen’s entire post.  The full paper is here and a shorter version here.

The map at the top reflects the effects on Delaware of melting Greenland and the West Antarctic ice cap–about 14.6 meters (48 feet).  See discussion and more figures here

Hansen’s recent paper suggests a serious potential for a rise of 5 to 9 meters (30 feet) within fifty years.  Read that again a couple of times.

Here’s an example of the many other threats:

Climate change ‘triple threat’ increases severe flooding risk in biggest US cities

So what does this mean for Delaware?  How much sense does it make to develop Fort Dupont, one of the lowest-lying pieces of land in Delaware.  To talk about expanding ports on the Delaware River?  To allow houses to be built on lots sure to be inundated?  Another nuclear reactor at Salem (Artificial Island)?

Are you optimistic about cutting emissions enough to head off disaster, recognizing that the reductions have to happen very fast and that much seal level rise is locked in regardless?

Government is not good at long range planning or thinking.  But there is a lot to think about here.  What do YOU think?

Alan Muller

 Upcoming:  Obama administration “Clean Power Plan”

The recently published “final” plan and related materials amounts to something like 3000 pages.  We’ve been working through it and discussing with others doing the same.  Preliminary impressions:

The plan is extraordinarily artful in establishing a program without the consent of Congress, which is not available as the Republican house leadership will not cooperate.

But, the rate of carbon emission reduction from electricity generation that the Plan calls for is less than has already been happening, mostly due to less coal burning, more gas burning, and the growth of the wind industry.

There are serious concerns with the treatment of nuclear power and ” biomass” in the Plan.

So, it can be said that the Clean Power Plan lays a regulatory foundation, and seems to have a good chance of withstanding legal attacks from fossil fuel and utility interests.   But, in and of itself the CPP won’t do much to abate climate change.

As to the cost, most objective analyses suggest either no impact or  reductions in the cost of electricity.  This, for example.  But, utilities are expert at using bogus excuses to get unjustified rate increases and this happens all the time in Delaware.

Green Delaware’s headquarters in Port Penn

Since 1997 Green Delaware has been headquartered in an under-repair 18th century house in Port Penn.  But this has become a distraction from our real work and the project needs to be passed on to others.  (Some of the background here.)  So we are looking for an interested buyer.

One thought on “Does Delaware have a future (above water)?

  1. John Crowley

    Alan, My issue is the internal combustion engine, so in the meantime it’s, “fun,fun, fun till Daddy takes the T-Bird Away.” jc


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