City of Vancouver survey on rising sea levels could do more to raise the alarm

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      This morning while perusing the City of Vancouver website, I stumbled across a survey on rising sea levels.

      To their credit, municipal officials are using this approach to gather input and educate residents about this issue.

      "Sea level rise is caused by the ocean expanding as it heats up due to global warming and as major stores of ice from glaciers and ice sheets melt," the city states. "Around the world, sea level rise and flood-related events are causing billions of dollars in damage. Cities are responding with efforts to enhance their communities’ resilience to flooding. Vancouver is planning for this now, to prevent impacts of major catastrophes and to avoid major costs down the road."

      All of this is useful information. My concern, however, is around this sentence from the city: "Vancouver's sea levels are expected to rise 1 meter within the next 100 years."

      It can make local residents more complacent than they should be about this issue.

      The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that sea levels could rise 6.4 metres this century if climate change continues unabated.

      But according to NASA scientist Eric Ringot, even this doesn't take into account rapid melting that causes glaciers to fall into the oceans.

      The IPCC models also don't consider what might happen if there are unexpected large releases of methane caused by the melting of permafrost. Methane has 85 times the heat-trapping potential of the most common greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide.

      Right now, there's not much political will to seriously address climate change at the very top of the United States, British, Russian, Canadian, and Australian governments.

      Meanwhile, the U.S. National Snow & Ice Data Center has reported that the extent of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice reached record lows this year in November. They each tracked two standard deviations below the norm, which suggests the problem is worse than anticipated.

      Some of the most disturbing information about sea levels can be found on the ThinkProgress website, which is edited by Joseph Romm.

      "The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that Arctic sea ice last month saw 'the lowest February extent in the 38-year satellite record'," Romm recently wrote. "Meanwhile, the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS) at the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center reported the lowest February ice volume by far."

      He pointed out that shrinking ice amplifies global warming because as it recedes, it's replaced by earth that absorbs heat. Ice, on the other hand, reflects it back into the atmosphere.

      "This feedback loop is why the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet — and why we’ve been seeing so many monster heatwaves at the North Pole, temperatures 50°F (28°C) above normal," Romm noted.

      This heat is accelerating the melting of ice in Greenland just as Antarctica is losing record amounts of ice.

      What does all this have to do with Vancouver?

      Romm has been predicting for a while that coastal property values will crash as soon as lenders realize that demand for waterfront homes is inevitably going to decrease. 

      He has also maintained that this will happen long before the water rises high enough to flood mansions from Washington state to Florida.

      City of Vancouver

      The city survey asks respondents if they're concerned about the impact of rising sea levels on Vancouver's property market. That's a good start.

      But it doesn't do enough to raise the alarm about the seriousness and urgency of rising sea levels. For more on that, I recommend a recent article in Science called "The great Greenland meltdown".

      "Greenland holds the equivalent of more than 7 m of sea level rise in its thick mantle of ice," wrote Eli Kintisch in Science. "Glaciologists were already fully occupied trying to track and forecast the surge in glacial calving. Now, they are striving to understand the complex feedbacks that are speeding up surface melting."

      Recently, Vancouver billionaire Chip Wilson's waterfront home on Point Grey Road was assessed as the most valuable residence in B.C.

      Wilson has also been investing massive sums of money in local real estate through a company he named Low Tide Properties.

      But sooner or later, if the climate models are correct, even he could become a victim of high tides caused by rising greenhouse gases.

      That's because extreme weather events triggered by climate change don't play favourites on the basis of income.

      We've just seen this in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

      As Superstorm Sandy demonstrated in 2012 in the United States, these events often pack their biggest wallop right along coastlines.