Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

Climate Change News: NYC’s Steps & Alaskan Erosion

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New York City can’t afford to pooh-pooh climate change.  How much infrastructure is within a few feet elevation of sea level?  How much is that infrastructure worth?  Billions?  Trillions?  Recognizing this, NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg requested a report from the NYC Panel on Climate Change to provide one of the first detailed examinations into how a specific location could be affected by a climate system being forced by people.  The report that came back identified some interesting items.  It was based on the 2007 IPCC Report (more on this in a moment).  Thankfully, Bloomberg knows that waiting is not an option for a metropolitan area.  There are too many things to take care of and the timeline before they’re affected is moving up.  The time for action is now when options can be discussed and fleshed out, prior to the time when events move to crisis level.  Another point to be made is that at this time, few municipalities are seriously studying the potential risks involved with climate change.  As New York begins to grapple with the situation, lessons in improving and moving infrastructure will be learned.  Other places will be able to benefit from those lessons.  After all, it will take billions of dollars and years of effort to fortify our infrastructure from rising seas and stronger storm systems.  The sooner we start, the cheaper it will end up being.

Some of the reports’ findings:

The report predicts average annual temperatures will increase by 4 to 7.5 degrees Fahrenheit and extreme events such as heat waves, intense rain, droughts and coastal flooding will become more frequent and more intense.

Coastal floods that are now expected occur once every 10 years could occur once every three years and floods that occur once in a century could begin to occur once in every 15 to 35 years, the report said.

According to the U.N. panel, global temperatures are likely to rise by between 2 and 11.5 degrees F and sea levels by between 7 inches and 23 inches this century.

I will once again point out that at the time of the 2007 IPCC Report, lots of good information was used.  Unfortunately, many signals from the climate system since then have indicated that climate change is occurring faster than even the most pessimistic model used for the IPCC Report.  The predictions made by the report to policy makers were out-of-date right after their initial issuance.  That’s not indicative of anything wrong with the process.  It is indicative that policy makers need to view the IPCC recommendations through the correct lens.  Those recommendations should operate as a baseline or floor, not as a ceiling.  Policy makers need to stay on top of the latest science results that have come out since the 2007 IPCC Report and base their policies on those updated results, not the results from years ago.

*****

In a similar vein, a news report came out regarding coastal erosion in the Alaskan Arctic.  The rate of erosion along a stretch of coast recently doubled from previous rates.  The erosion could be tied to declining Arctic sea ice extent, rising sea level, and stronger storms and waves, all of which are associated with climate change.

The details: Average annual erosion rates along the area studied had already climbed from about 20 feet (6.1 m) per year during the 1950, 60s and 70s to 28 feet (8.5m) per year in the period from the late-1970s to the early 2000s. The most recent erosion rates reached an average of 45 feet (14 meters) per year during the 2002 to 2007 period, said Benjamin Jones, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Anchorage.  They also documented sections of coastline that eroded more than 80 feet (24 meters) during 2007 alone.

45 feet per year is pretty significant.  Just like New York, infrastructure is being affected in addition to the land itself.  The difference is clear, of course: northern Alaska isn’t New York City.  But the effects of a changing climate are already here.  They will only get more numerous and more significant as time goes on.  We must stop forcing the climate system with our greenhouse gas emissions – today, not tomorrow.

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