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Recent Talk on Sea Level Rise Stresses Need for Acceptance and Adaptation

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San Francisco at sunset from the Alameda Oakland Ferry.

San Francisco at sunset from the San Francisco Bay Ferry.

On a beautiful summer day last week, we took the late afternoon ferry across the bay to hear oceanographer John Englander speak about sea level rise at the Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco. His talk, “Melting Ice, Rising Seas and Shifting Shorelines: The New Normal,” pointed to the sobering realities ahead. Rather than being stymied by the potentially overwhelming, unprecedented circumstances ahead of us though, Englander called us to rise to the occasion with innovative ways to adapt and embrace this new reality. With a mixture of humor and solid science, Englander also encouraged us to do everything possible to reduce CO2 levels and slow the global warming trend.

Sea level will keep rising even if everyone on the planet is 100% green and sustainable. In fact, even if we somehow magically figured out how to make energy without any carbon emissions, and capped CO2 levels at the current 400 ppm, the oceans will still get higher, changing our coastlines. These are the facts.” — John Englander

Englander relayed that within decades, not hundreds of years, we’ll be living with a new reality: the North Pole will be ice-free. This, however, will not raise sea levels much as its ice that’s already floating on water. The potential upside, Englander noted with a wry smile, was more direct global shipping routes.

Ten indicators of global warming: science shows we've got all ten happening right now. (NOAA)

Ten indicators of global warming: science shows we’ve got all ten happening right now. (NOAA)

The real concern he expressed was the melting of the glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland where ice is currently supported on landmasses. That ice will flow into the sea and inevitably raise sea levels around the globe. This excellent five-minute video, “Meltwater Pulse 2B,” from Yale Climate Forum explains what scientists are projecting about these glacier melt rates based on their research.

As we took the ferry back across the bay, our vantage point at nearly water level helped us look at the shorelines and areas we know so well with a new perspective. Englander’s presentation was a keen reminder that much work remains to create short and long term plans to adapt to higher sea levels, as individuals, cities and regions. The

The South Pole as seen from Appolo 17 in December 1974. (NASA)

The South Pole as seen from Apollo 17 in December 1974; there is less ice now. (NASA)

setting sun blazed behind the beautiful city and bridges, just as it will many years into the future. It’s up to us to take action now to create and secure a future where we can live with the circumstances we’ve created: the “New Normal” of higher sea levels.

You can catch the major points of Englander’s talk on this eleven minute TEDx Talk, “Sea Level Rise – Fact & Fiction.” Englander also has a compelling book available, “High Tide on Main Street,” as well as a good compilation of other resources on his website including books, other websites and climate change research.

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About the Author ()

Sharol Nelson-Embry is the Supervising Naturalist at the Crab Cove Visitor Center & Aquarium on San Francisco Bay in Alameda. Crab Cove is part of the East Bay Regional Park District, one of the largest and oldest regional park agencies in the nation. She graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a degree in Natural Resources Management and an epiphany that connecting kids with nature was her destiny. She's been rooted in the Bay Area since 1991 after working at nature centers and outdoor science schools around our fair state. She loves the great variety of habitats stretching from the Bay shoreline to the redwoods, lakes, and hills. Sharol enjoys connecting people to nature with articles in local newspapers and online forums. Read her previous contributions to QUEST, a project dedicated to exploring the Science of Sustainability.