Short summary: This is another climate change story hitting the news which is nothing to worry about. The early melt this summer is likely to mean a significant net loss but not unusual, similar to 2012 which also had an early melt. This is not a concern, it is just natural variability. It is balanced to some extent by snowfall in winter, which also was low this year. However, last year the amount of ice in Greenland actually increased due to large amounts of snowfall in the winter of 2017 - 8.

The long term trend continues at about 0.72 mm a year increase in sea level due to Greenland ice melting at present. This may increase later in the century. This is all expected and nothing to worry about, the IPCC projections still apply.

In this blog post, I’m also going to look at the effect of sea level rise on the Netherlands, which with their centuries of experience are helping other countries worldwide,also Bangladesh which is getting support of knowledge transfer from Netherlands and is facing similar issues in a country with much lower GDP per capita, and then Florida which though a wealthy state is facing major issues because of the porous limestone bedrock, the low lying country especially in Southern Florida which was below the sea during the last ice age, and an aging flood prevention / drainage system.

This is another article I'm writing to support people we help in the Facebook Doomsday Debunked group, that find us because they get scared, sometimes to the point of suicide, by such stories. Do share this with your friends if you find it useful, as they may be panicking too.

IN DETAIL - WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THE GREENLAND ICE?

We are getting headlines about the amount of ice Greenland is losing this summer. It looks like being a record melt season.

Photo by Steffen M. Olsen‏ , tweeted here:

That was just a one day melt on the 13th June, photo taken as the melt was at its peak.

Greenland is estimated to have lost about 2 billion tons of ice and temperatures were 22 C above normal the day before, and a high of 17.3 C was recorded in the village of Qaanaq.

See the account by the BBC here: The stark photo highlighting Greenland’s ice loss

However what none of the stories I’ve seen mention is that in 2017–8 we had very heavy snow in Greenland, and in 2018 a cool summer in Greenland leading to a net gain of ice in 2018.

Example stories:

You are talking here about a thin layer of surface mushiness and some melt water across 45% of the ice sheet. The ice sheets do melt in summer in Greenland but it’s unusual for it to happen so early in the year. It is because of a combination of the warm and sunny conditions from a high pressure that has got stuck over Greenland, combined with clear conditions without much cloud or snowfall which means the sun can warm up the ice.

Although the sheets melt in summer, in winter they freeze. In a warmer world you actually get more snow on Greenland in winter but you get more melting in summer and the amount of ice lost is a result of the balance of those two processes.

So, to understand what is going on here, you need to look at the mass balance over the whole year. It is a net loss in a warmer world but not by nearly as much as you'd think from the summer melt as you need to take account of the extra snowfall in winter in a warmer world. It varies from year to year and sometimes as in 2018 you get a gain.

Over the last decade from 2006 to 2017 there has been a small net gain in the central parts of Greenland and a net loss around the edges because of direct mass loss as well as glaciers calving icebergs into the sea.

Mass and Height Change

It’s contributed around 1 cm of sea level rise from 2003 to 2017 - notice the big melt there in 2012 but then in the following year 2013–4 there is almost no change. This year it looks set for an early melt much as happened in 2012.

The high melt rates have been due to warmer air moving over the ice sheet, which in combination with low snowfall over most of the ice sheet during the winter period means quite large amounts of melt might be expected this year. A large melt event this early is unusual but it’s not unprecedented a similar event happened in 2012 for example.

Three Decades of Greenland Ice Sheet Change

Right now we are in the middle of a phase of the North Atlantic oscillation which warms up Greenland in summer which is another factor. None of this changes anything in long term forecasts, it is just weather.

Greenland is currently adding about 0.72 mm a year to the sea level rise which is a bit under a third of the total sea level rise per year. They can work this out using satellites such as Grace which measures ice.

That would make it around a foot of sea level rise by 2100. However as the world warms up then it is possible that this increases to a higher rate. The NOAA has a new “Extreme” level of 1.5 meters which would translate to a 4 meters rise in Florida for “business as usual”. The IPCC’s last report in 2013 was published before we were able to model the flow of ice and melting of Greenland and Antarctica. The IPCC report in 2018 was able to model them.

According to DTU (Technical University of Denmark) scientist Valentina Barletta

“We have calculated via two independent techniques that the Greenland ice sheet lost on average 255 ± 15 km3 of ice every year between 2003 and 2016.

That’s just a bit less than 1mm of sea level per year over the period where we have observations but we also see quite a lot of variability from one year to the next which we really need to understand, so it’s important to keep an eye on this”.

Three Decades of Greenland Ice Sheet Change

That’s about three times the mass loss from 1993 to 2003 of 83 ± 63 Gt per year

It is 0.72 mm per year, which is less than a third of the total of 3.1 mm / year of observed sea level rise from 1993 to 2017.

This new melt doesn’t change those estimates. However researchers are learning to model the Greenland ice sheet far better as a result of observations of the melt which will help future climate models. See

Three Decades of Greenland Ice Sheet Change

The paper itself is here

PREVIOUS SEASON NEWS REPORTS FOR GREENLAND

Here are previous news reports for the year for Greenland

The 2017/2018 season in the Arctic has been extraordinary. Several months with persisting high pressure over Scandinavia and a blocking of the westerlies resulted in the record warm and record dry summer 2018 over large parts of Europe. Over Greenland, however, the summer was cool and wet, which benefited the Ice Sheet. Glaciers have continued the development seen during the last six years in which they have more or less maintained their area. Sea ice, on the other hand, has been more vulnerable, with high sea temperatures and warm winds leading to a large area ice-free north of Greenland in February and again in August.

2018 Season Report

Autumn 2017 and winter 2017/2018 were snow-rich. They were followed by a cool summer with a weak melting season. As a consequence, the inland ice experienced a tiny increase. While the ice cap lost 268 gigatons (268 milliard tons) on average over the period 2000-2016, there was a small surplus of 44 Gt i 2017. However, this must be seen in comparison to the total mass that was lost over the last 15 years, which is about 3600 Gt.

The surface mass balance was positive and ended with a difference of 544 Gt between snow fall on one and melting and runoff into the sea on the other side. These numbers do not include mass loss from calving glaciers or icebergs.

2017 Season Report: Polar Portal

This is a tweet about the 2017 snowfall:

And news story about it

EFFECT OF GREENLAND ICE MELTING IS MUCH LESS IN NORTHERN EUROPE AND HIGH IN THE US

Note that if you live in northern Europe then the sea level rise from Greenland has less effect than for most. The reason is that all the ice in the icesheet has a significant gravitational effect. It causes the sea to bunch up around Greenland for thousands of kilometers in all directions. Of course mountains do this too, but mountains don’t melt. As the ice melts then if only the Greenland ice melted, the sea near to Greenland would actually drop rather than rise due to this effect.

There are several effects here

  • Parts of the Earth are still rising as a result of the ice sheets withdrawal at the end of the last ice age
  • With a warmer ocean, the distribution of water across the globe changes
  • The mass of ice in Greenland and Antarctica exerts a gravitational pull on the water closest to their coasts, raising the sea level there .As the ice melts then this gravitational pull is reduced, so the water previously piled up around Greenland and Antarctica gets redistributed over the globe.

The result of this is that places like Scotland and Scandinavia may see much less change in sea level from ice melting, because they are influenced by the mass loss from Greenland. They get almost no sea level rise from Greenland but instead - rather paradoxically until you understand the reason - are most affected by the ice melting in Antarctica.

Meanwhile the tropics are most affected because they are so far from both poles.

We can expect high sea level rises in the Western Pacific. There, many people live on low islands made up of coral, also the tidal range between high and low tide is sometimes very low, less than half a meter. They may need evacuating.

It also has severe impacts on some of the coastal regions of North and South America, the Caribbean, the West coast of Africa, Eastern Australia and some other places. In the Americas, the Bahamas are particularly affected as is Florida and many coastal cities.

This paper is from 2016 and is rather low resolution but gives an idea of the uneven sea level rises for two of the scenarios over the next century, RCP 4.5 is approximately the scenario we are on:

Sea level rises for 2030, 2060 and 2090 for the scenarios RCP4.5 (middle range) and RCP8.5 ("business as usual"). The black lines are contours for the middle of the range sea level rise so mark the boundaries of areas of the sea that rise less than normal and areas that rise more than normal.

Discussion of this here: Ice Melt Means Uneven Sea Level Rise Around the World

PROJECTED SEA LEVEL RISES - WIDE RANGE FROM ONE FOOT TO OVER A METER BY 2100, EVEN 2.5 METERS FOR “BUSINESS AS USUAL” (WHICH WE ARE NOT ON)

In the IPCC’s​ Fifth Assessment Report in 2013, there wasn’t enough research to properly asses the motion of glaciers in Greenland and West Antarctica. It is just hard to model. However they didn’t ignore the problem. They stated it clearly, saying the science wasn’t there yet to evaluate it and warning policy makers to allow for higher levels than their estimates for this reason.

In the 2018 IPCC report, however, chapter 3.3.9, they say that there has been significant progress since the IPCC AR5 report in 2013. There are now many papers that do detailed sea level modeling also taking account of glaciers. So they were able to summarize these.

They were not able to come to a conclusion of the exact amount, as there was little consensus between the studies but there were studies to review, and they could give a range of the values for future sea level rise in the now extensive literature on sea level rise modeling, as well as other ways to estimate it.

At 2°C then they report that it is likely to be between 0.24 and 1.17 meters at 17 - 84% confidence, and between 0.24 and 1.17 meters at 5 - 95% confidence.

That’s a huge range. Anything between less than a quarter of a meter rise by 2100 and over 1 meter. However - that is what the literature says and their job is simply to summarize what it says.

You can read what they say in Chapter 3 of the report, section 3.3.9 Sea Level, page 206. This is what they said:

“There is little consensus between the reported ranges of GMSL rise (Table 3.1). Projections vary in the range 0.26–0.77 m and 0.35–0.93 m for 1.5°C and 2°C respectively for the 17–84% confidence interval (0.20–0.99 m and 0.24–1.17 m for the 5–95% confidence interval).

So we now have values from the IPCC for sea level rise for 1.5°C and 2°C.

However in this report, they do not cover a 3°C rise. We will have to wait for the next IPCC report for that which will be finalized in 2022.

The NOAA report published in 2017 gives us an idea, it’s new “Extreme level” is 2.5 meters, however that’s not for 3 C, it is for “business as usual” or RCP 8.5. In that case their lower end of the range number is 0.3 meters. For a 2°C rise they have a range of 0.2 to 0.5 meters, a bit lower than the 2018 IPCC report.

At sea level rise of 2 meters an estimated 187 million are affected by this 2011 report, but that's at "business as usual" and assuming no mitigation (such as sea walls).

MITIGATION WITH SEA WALLS - NO WE DO NOT HAVE TO “GIVE UP THE NETHERLANDS”!

The wealthier countries can mitigate sea level rises with sea walls, especially around cities, so only a few of those 187 million are affected by this.

When you hear people say

"We will have to give up the Netherlands"

Nonsense!

To see this, consider the 300 meter high Nurek dam. It is an earth fill embankment just like the Netherlands

Nurek Dam Vakhsh River

Nurek Dam - Wikipedia

We are not going to get a sea level rise so high it can’t be solved by embankments in wealthy countries, if they choose to invest the resources needed to build them.

The Zuidplaspolder in Moordrecht is 6.76 meters below sea level Zuidplaspolder - Wikipedia

Some parts of Rotterdam are six meters below sea level or more, see topographical map here.

THE FAMOUS DUTCH WINDMILLS TO PUMP WATER

That’s the reason for the numerous famous Dutch windmills, to pump the water out to keep the land dry at well below sea level. The thing is that the water that flows through these areas is below sea level, so something has to bring the water up to sea level to drain into the sea.

The windmills are no longer functional, are tourist attractions:

Credit: Henk Monster, CC BY 3.0. Dutch windmills used to pump dry swampy areas.

But in the nineteenth century they were the key to keeping the polders dry.

During World War II when the country ran out of fuel the historical windmills were the key to keeping Alblasserwaard from flooding.

This shows how all the windmills are part of a system to keep the water out.

Most polders are in the wealthier part of the country. So the inhabitants can afford the investment to keep the system functioning as sea level rises.

Those images and that summary is from this FAO article from 2010.

This video gives an account of how the Dutch were able to reclaim the sea bed and turn it into good agricultural land with more and more ambitious polders, and how they gained the experience to do this:

Click to watch on YouTube

WHAT DO THEY DO WITH A ONE METER EXTRA RISE THOUGH?

But what can they do if the sea level rises another meter? Eventually it might need a big sea dike to keep out the sea - but then what about the big rivers of the Rhine and the Maas?

Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt delta - Wikipedia

The water flows through the Netherlands are complicated - it has tributaries such as the Rhine and the Maas- but it also has distributaries, the country is basically a big delta fed by multiple rivers that then merge and split again into more rivers that flow into the sea, with the whole thing managed by vast works of hydraulic engineering dating back centuries.

It’s one thing pumping out the polders, but it’s an altogether bigger project to pump an entire river up one meter?

Well the thing is that the highest sea levels are only during storm surges and very high tides. So - what you need to do is to stop the sea coming in during a big surge - and also have ways to back up the water from the river until they go out again.

The cities could be evacuated of course, but protection costs much less than evacuating. The idea engineers are looking at is giving the water space. Rotterdam has giant flood gates to keep out the sea at the highest tides:

Then as the tides drop the water is let out and boats can go in and out as normal:

This is one of the engineering marvels of Europe, designed by the architect Wim Quist. It’s the size of two Eiffel towers toppled over and has ball joints at each side that are 9 m (30 feet) in diameter and weigh 680 tns

It is already high enough for extreme sea level rises, but they are going to add an extra two feet to it.

The computers monitor sea level rises and open it and close it.

A new idea is the “room for water”. When the gates are closed then

“lakes, gardens, basketball courts, open-air theatres, parks and plazas could also double as enormous reservoirs for when the seas and rivers spill over.”

The Dutch solution to rising seas

See also video at the end of that page and interview here Living on Earth: Dikes, Floods and Adaptation

See also

Click to watch on YouTube

APPLYING THE INGENIOUS DUTCH IDEAS TO THE US AND AROUND THE WORLD

There are many other ingenious Dutch ideas which they are exporting to the US and other places. With their experience of living with the sea higher than their country for centuries they already know how to deal with conditions that other cities are beginning to face for the first time. This is what is likely to be needed for New York, a new project under construction that uses some of their ideas such as a variety of barriers, and storage for the water:

Project to ring lower Manhattan with 16 kilometers of protection from storms - with various barriers as well as floodwater runoff and storage areas. Credit: BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group. Dutch Masters: The Netherlands exports flood-control expertise

EXAMPLE OF BANGLADESH

The system of dikes and the engineering of the Netherlands is expensive to build. Bangladesh is another country that has large areas consisting of the vast Ganges delta. Fertile land but very low, vulnerable to sea level rise

Ganges delta - Wikipedia

The poorer countries are more likely to solve it by internal migration. An estimate for Bangladesh finds that 0.9 million people of its population could be displaced by direct inundation by 2050 and 2.1 million by 2100, almost all of this in the southern half of the country.

As well as sea level rise - about half of those in the urban slums were displaced by river bank erosion and river flooding. This is because of the way rainfall increases and becomes more erratic with climate change, and also the melting Himalayan glaciers affecting river flows. They also are affected by stronger cyclones in a warming world which damages infrastructure.

Every day 1000 to 2000 people migrate to Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka - and almost all of them when asked say they migrated because of the changing environment.

However Bangladesh is also spending considerable amounts on climate mitigation and adaptation. It spends $1 billion per year on climate change adaptation - a lot for a poorer country. That is 6 to 7 percent of its annual budget.

Three quarters of that money comes directly from the government, only a quarter from international donors.

The average European emits as much carbon in 11 days as a Bangladeshi in a year. Yet it is the average Bangladeshi who is footing a lot of the bill for our carbon dioxide. For poorer Bangladeshis, the climate change bill per year often reaches as high as double their annual income, and poorer communities there are picking up crippling debts. So the costs of climate change are already hitting Bangladesh hard

Bangladesh would need about $3 billion a year by 2030 for climate adaptation, and $2 billion to mitigate against effects of climate change. So far the average domestic and external investment combined is $1.3 billion leaving a $1.7 billion funding gap. However Bangladesh is seen as an example of a country that is doing a lot to combat climate change.

The higher income countries agreed to mobilize $100 billion a year worldwide in climate finance by 2020 to help support low and middle income countries become climate resilient and transform to clean energy. So far though the amount of finance available is far below this. Oxfam estimate $16-21 billion

These funds of course benefit everyone by helping us remain within a world with lower emissions worldwide and as well as creating a world with resilient countries which can contribute to the world rather than need assistance in emergency support as the climate impacts hit them later on.

It is hard for Bangladesh to reduce its emissions since its per capita emissions are already very low, 0.46 metric tons per capita per year, and it is industrializing and it’s low income. However it’s INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) has:

  • an unconditional contribution to reduce GHG emission by 5% from business as usual [BAU] levels by 2030 in the power, transport and industry sectors
  • a conditional 15% reduction in GHG emissions from BAU levels by 2030 in the power, transport and industry sectors;”
  • a number of further mitigation actions in other sectors which it intends to achieve subject to the provision of additional international resources (conditional).

Because of their similar situation, Bangladesh has support from the Netherlands in several projects, notably the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 (BDP 2100) by knowledge transfer, and support of the institutions responsible for delta planning.

It will be financed internally up to a level of 2.5 per cent of GDP per annum by 2030 of which, 2.0 per cent of GDP would be from public funding and 0.5 per cent would be from the private sector.

Rebecca Eldon, who researched into Bangladesh’s NDC for her thesis, puts it like this:

Since my first visit to Bangladesh, the country has stood out to me as one of the most unique places in the world. There is incredible beauty, seen both in the population’s love for art and culture, and in the deeply rooted kindness and hospitality people show to one another. At the same time there is heart-breaking poverty, which is exacerbated as Bangladeshis experience some of the most severe impacts of climate change in the world.

Researching Bangladesh’s Nationally Determined Contribution | International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD)

EXAMPLE OF FLORIDA

Florida is especially hard hit by sea level rise because it is built on foundations of limestone, a porous rock. There is nothing they can do to keep out the highest "King tides" and storm surges, except build up. In a warmer world if we get as far as a 1.8 meter sea level rise, then according to one study, there would likely be 2.5 million Florida residents migrate away under a 1.8 meter sea level rise, most from Miami. 250,000 would likely leave San Francisco and nearby areas. Meanwhile Texas could see an additional 1.5 million immigrants, just because of the sea level rise.

'We're moving to higher ground': America's era of climate mass migration is here

According to Climate Central who specialize in detailed sea level rise modeling a twelve foot rise would look like this:

It is an interactive graphic, this is half of each

And original:

It is built on limestone so you can’t keep out the sea with a sea wall. However the sea is tidal of course. This is only for the very highest tides. Either storm surges or a King tide.

These images are for the new “Extreme” level of sea level rise added by NOAA to its projections in 2017, corresponding to the unlikely but now increasingly plausible possibility that some parts of the Antarctic ice sheet may begin to collapse much sooner than scientists previously thought. It would mean a faster sea level rise, by 8 feet by 2100 or a bit over an inch a year. Currently it is rising at about a tenth of an inch a year. But this is for "Business as usual" and we are well below that. More details here

However it has knock on effects. Florida has an extensive drainage system of canals that eventually ends up in the sea, and the water is kept artificially higher than sea level to keep it flowing into the sea. If the sea level rises an extra six inches, a plausible rise within decades, then about half of South Florida’s flood control capacity would be crippled. It’s already risen eight inches in the twentieth century.

Then to make it worse, the worst hurricanes are expected to get worse in a warming world which leads to more flooding, and if that’s associated with a high sea level, then the water can’t drain so the flooding is worse.

Even if we stop emissions right away then the ice will continue to melt, though not so fast, and Florida will have to adapt to higher sea levels.

These levels are nothing like the ones during the last ice age though, when the sea level was probably 6 to 9 meters higher. This is what Florida looked back then - you can actually trace out the past sea level from various fossil shell beds and other evidence.

Florida's Geological History The red line shows the location of Cody Scarp, an indicator of the past sea level during the ice ages.

Cody Scarp which was the ancient shoreline. credit Suwannee River Hydrologic Observatory, Santa Fe Maps Florida's Geological History -- Figure 9. The position of the Cody Scarp

We aren’t going to get that far by 2100, but in a warmer world if we get as far as a 1.8 meter sea level rise, then according to one study, there would likely be 2.5 million Florida residents migrate away, most from Miami. 250,000 would likely leave San Francisco and nearby areas. Meanwhile Texas could see an additional 1.5 million immigrants, just because of the sea level ri se.' We're moving to higher ground': America's era of climate mass migration is here

The e Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact was formed to look into ways to mitigate this in 2010.

By 2100 then residents of South Florida may end up living on stilts much like the inhabitants of Venice. That’s for a 1.5 meters rise.

The Compact predicts the sea will rise 31 to 61 inches by 2100. If the sea rises 61 inches, much of South Florida will be under water. People will be living in buildings on stilts and using water-based transportation. With decades to adapt, some people may find living atop water a viable lifestyle.

Here are some of the possible effects:

  • Coastal inundation of inland areas
  • Increased frequency of flooding in vulnerable coastal areas
  • Increased flooding in interior areas because the region’s stormwater infrastructure – gravity drainage systems and the region’s canals — will become less effective
  • Saltwater intrusion into the aquifer and local water supply wells
  • Contamination of the land and ocean with pollutants and debris and hazardous materials released by flooding
  • People will move away
  • Decrease in property values and tax base
  • Higher insurance costs
  • Loss of services and impaired access to infrastructure

Interview about it here with two scientists, the first is d Susy Torriente, chief resilience officer and assistant city manager for the city of Miami Beach talking about what they are doing in Miami.

They are doing sea walls as flood barriers, a pump based system, and raising roads.

Their main point is that we still have time to find solutions. A huge challenge but one they need to move through as a nation.

See also

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, by the 2016 Water Resources Development Act have to study 10,000 miles of coastline along the south Atlantic and Gulf Coast

“to identify the risks and vulnerabilities of those areas to increased hurricane and storm damage as a result of sea level rise.”
Read more here: here

A key part of all this is the multibillion dollar Everglades Restoration project. this will help keep the Everglades ecosystem, by increasing the flow of the water, but as they say in the 2015 report, this will allow nature to respond in a more gradual fashion, rather than the salt rapidly moving into the slough features of the Everglades, the increased flow will give the freshwater head to allow nature to retreat back from the rising sea and make new organic soil as it does so.

Regional Impacts of Climate Change and Issues for Stormwater Management - South East Florida (2015)

It costs $10.5 billion with a 35+ year timeline and is the key to Florida’s successful climate adaptation.

Click to watch on YouTube

Here are some recent stories in the Miami Herald about some of the challenges and how they are meeting them.


See also my

This article originated on my Doomsday Debunked Quora blog:


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