Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Greenland Riveria

Before we get to the (sadly routine) news of catastrophic polar melts, here's an interesting bit of trivia about which I was ignorant: "Greenland is a largely self-governing region of Denmark."

The news? Turns out the Danes are about to have some sweet new property:

The sudden appearance of the islands is a symptom of an ice sheet going into retreat, scientists say. Greenland is covered by 630,000 cubic miles of ice, enough water to raise global sea levels by 23 feet.

Carl Egede Boggild, a professor of snow-and-ice physics at the University Center of Svalbard, said Greenland could be losing more than 80 cubic miles of ice per year.

“That corresponds to three times the volume of all the glaciers in the Alps.” Dr. Boggild said.

Although this is routine news, the science is definitely creepy.
The abrupt acceleration of melting in Greenland has taken climate scientists by surprise. Tidewater glaciers, which discharge ice into the oceans as they break up in the process called calving, have doubled and tripled in speed all over Greenland. Ice shelves are breaking up, and summertime “glacial earthquakes” have been detected within the ice sheet....

There is no consensus on how much Greenland’s ice will melt in the near future, Dr. Alley said, and no computer model that can accurately predict the future of the ice sheet. Yet given the acceleration of tidewater-glacier melting, a sea-level rise of a foot or two in the coming decades is entirely possible, he said. That bodes ill for island nations and those who live near the coast.
What's scary is that scientists keep getting caught off guard by how wrong they were on their predictions. Unable to account for all the factors creating global warming, they inevitably lowball the effects. The progression is geometric, not incremental, and it now seems axiomatic that estimates are lowballs.

I was at the Oregon Coast this weekend, and for the first time, I really began to study the geography. Oregon's lucky in many ways. The Coast Range of mountains run right up along the Pacific, in many areas, mountains climbing straight out of the water. For towns and buildings on any of these elevations, danger isn't imminent. But on much of the most coveted property behind sandy beaches, condos and hotels crowd around like interested spectators. We took a stoll down Rockaway Beach, which is one of Oregon's major tourist stops, and I noticed that the sea ran all the way up to a sandy 6-foot bluff on which these hotels were built, often not more than 20 feet from the edge. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to envision erosion gobbling this entire beach up, to the tune of millions of dollars of damage.

Things are going to change, and they will leave a lot of people impoverished and homeless. I don't have to look far to see who those people will be. Maybe the wise among us will begin speculating by buying up tracts of Greenland.


Zak J. said...

The end of the last ice age has some parallels to this. There was a steady increase in temperatures over thousands of years which was abruptly--perhaps instantly--reversed. This event is known as the Younger Dryas event in geology/climatology. The event is very evident in marine diatoms fossils in the Atlantic. The most readily accepted theory is that the entire eastern ice shelf in Canada melted enough to raise itself and essentially sluff off into the Atlantic. The big ice cube reversed the global warming trend as it took about 1,000 years to melt.

Some expect Greenlandic & Antarctic ice shelves to sluff off in the same manner. At least things would cool down for awhile. Pity about the coastal cities & crops though.

iggi said...

i've already begun selling tracks of Greenland...


hank said...

happy u-know-wut day. geezer