New Video: Sea Level, Bad News, and, Fragile Hope

March 26, 2018

You can think of the new Yale Climate Connections video as your Executive Briefing on current observations and projections for Global Sea Level, one of Climate Change’s most critical impacts.

I caught up with Jeff Goodell a few months ago, after his book “The Waters will Come” hit the bestseller list.  Jeff was a key member of the original Dark Snow Project team on our first trip to Greenland in 2013 – and flew with the team along the wall of Illulissat Glacier – the world’s fastest moving ice stream. He recalls it vividly in the book.


Not long after, I was at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, and managed to sit down with a number of key researchers, some new to me – who helped fill in the details. Among them, Jonathan Bamber, Eric Rignot,  and Rob DeConto. I added some great detail from Dark Snow Project chief Scientist Jason Box, something I’ve been trying to get out for some time.

Finally, I scored an extremely useful Skype interview with Steven Nerem of the University of Colorado, whose recent paper on the acceleration in the rate of sea level rise has become a key touchstone in the discussion.

One of the key moments here is Eric Rignot filling in some detail on observations of West Antarctic ice sheet retreat. Famously, in 2014, Dr Rignot left a lot of folks peeling their jaws off the floor with the announcement that “…the fuse is already blown” as far as the retreat of giant glaciers like Pine Island and Thwaites – meaning meter level ocean rise is already baked into the climate change cake.
But that does not mean humans are powerless.

The rate of ice loss will still be governed to a large degree by how fast humans add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere – in other words, losing West Antarctica in say, 200 years, is quite different from losing it in 7, or 900 years.  Time to adapt, and perhaps deploy geoengineering fixes.

On the more speculative side, Rignot told me this time that, if humanity can draw down greenhouse gases, and back away from the 2 degree or so warming that is expected in coming decades, mechanisms exist that could slow, or stop the losses.  It’s a very heavy lift – but wrong to say that humans are powerless, or that there is no path forward.

Below – Bill Maher’s interview with Paul Hawken, author of a new book which proposes exactly that path, drawing down the level of greenhouse gases over time.


21 Responses to “New Video: Sea Level, Bad News, and, Fragile Hope”

  1. neilrieck Says:

    I feel sorry any people who that think this problem (rising ocean-levels) can be fixed anytime soon (Venice Italy first springs to mind but so do American cities including: New York, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle to only mention the obvious candidates). Why? Ocean levels were lowest during the previous ice age (Asians were able to walk to Alaska over the Bering land bridge) which formally ended ~ 12,000 years ago. As the North-Am ice sheets retracted, oceans continued to rise. The overall rate of warming, melting and ocean level rise, accelerated with the industrial revolution which added humanity’s warming to natural warming.

    comment: “Terror” premiered last night on AMC. This is the story of two British ships (HMS Terror and HMS Erebus) which were lost in 1848 in Canada after being trapped in permanent ice for two years. I was surprised when ministers of the “climate-change denying” government of Stephen Harper went north for photo-ops after these ships were discovered by Parks Canada. There was no ice ever seen in those photos.

  2. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Here comes my standard rant:

    ALL SEA LEVEL IS LOCAL. Global Mean Sea Level Rise makes a nice overall metric of total warming of the planet, but the variability across all shorelines is so great that people shouldn’t make decisions based on it.

    The collapse of the Gulf Stream, for instance, would add centimeters along the Atlantic seaboard of the US, while loss of the entire Greenland ice mass would *retard* SLR in nearby Iceland. The delta country of Bangladesh subsides on its own, but would subside even more quickly as it’s inundated. Damming of Texas rivers, by capturing sediment, has accelerated the natural subsidence along the gulf coast, while oil and water extraction has further lowered the land around Houston. Miami is on limestone rock which doesn’t subside like sediment-based shorelines, but it can’t protect itself with levees due to its porous base. Scandinavia has been rising due to isostatic rebound since the last Ice Age, while parts of the Adriatic shoreline of Italy geologically “bounce” up and down due to a varied volume magma chamber.

    I’m just trying to get ahead of the denialists.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      always prudent – thanks.

      standard tactic is find a tidal gauge somewhere that the land is rising —
      voila, no SLR!!

      • Variation on the theme in denier book. On sea level rise, his example was subsidence at the local tide gauge providing an incorrect reading. Did not mention that sl was still rising. at that gauge, despite the correction. Book had a lot of such real sounding innuendos.

  3. pendantry Says:

    if humanity can draw down greenhouse gases, and back away from the 2 degree or so warming that is expected in coming decades

    Excuse my French, but that’s a fucking enormous ‘if’.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Yep, and that “enormous fucking IF” is the hiding place of the bright-siders and the wishful thinkers. The real scientists are trying to tell us what’s coming without doing a “McPherson” and scaring everyone.

      Read Goodell’s book and Extreme Cities by Dawson and have your eyes opened. It does not look good (and Hawken is kidding himself with a “drawdown”).

      • greenman3610 Says:

        indeed – a very big if, but it’s not optional at this point, we have to begin implementing the ag and forestry and other practices that will draw down carbon in any kind of livable future. Since my children will be living in that future, I intend to talk about and advocate those practices.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Agreed, but it’s too bad that the “we” who have to begin “implementing” and drawing down carbon are showing no signs of doing so on any realistic time frame. Rational analysis of the facts tends to push one towards fatalism, and that’s where Goodell, Rignot, Box, and all the other scientists are if one reads between the lines of their work and their comments.

          But there IS a way out! Check out this list of 50 terrific ways to save the planet that WE can do right now (it’s 15+ years old and a bit dated, but does demonstrate a certain way of wishful thinking that mostly leads nowhere).

    • J4Zonian Says:

      There’s not much of an if about whether we can, only whether we will.But the solutions that would allow us to do it at this point are barely even in the conversation among climate activists, let alone corporate media, or policy makers.

      As good as the Drawdown project is, it ain’t hardly comprehensive. To be comprehensive we have to include as “war measures”: getting money out of politics; universal health care; putting enough money and attention into K through PhD education to have a science- and humanities-aware public with educated enough leaders to combat the Standard American Anti-Intellectualism; and many similar tasks.

      To draw down GHGs with forestry and agriculture we have to change the SAD, Standard American Meat Addiction; nationalize and shut down the agro-chemical corporations; and enlist people and communities across the country to produce, to start with, the same 40% of vegetables in gardens that were produced in the US and UK during WWII. It should be more like 75%, with a similar but slightly longer-term goal for fruit. We need to switch the world back to organic production, which with all the tools available (permaculture, full employment, elimination of food waste, fair distribution (aka elimination of villainaires) lower meat consumption and incorporation of meat production into plant-centered permaculture production (food forests, eg)

      We need to nationalize and shut down the fossil fuel industry as fast as it can be replaced with clean safe renewable energy infrastructure. We need to mobilize in a thousand ways, as the US did in WWII, and the first step should be to read the extensive literature available at theclimatemobilization site, which is much more comprehensive than Drawdown’s.

      And everybody should read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s No Ordinary Time, a great read about the US WWII home front, about brilliant leaders who inspired the best out of so many and increased democracy, and racial and gender fairness in the process.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Well said. Doris Kearns Goodwin is still alive and kicking, but nearly all of the Greatest Generation she wrote of (and all of its “brilliant leaders”) are long gone from this planet, and have been replaced by people like Trump and his mindless followers, who more resemble Hitler and Nazis than FDR.

        And you want people to READ? LOL—-it will take an awful lot of tweets to get the ideas across in this society.

        • Lionel Smith Says:

          And you want people to READ? LOL—-it will take an awful lot of tweets to get the ideas across in this society.

          Shame that in the UK libraries are being depleted of books on technical-science-mathematics and other interesting stuff like geology and environmental sciences so this item on that 02 Guardian list:

          Join a library instead of buying books. (12)

          isn’t so helpful for myself at least. I don’t like Kindle etc.


          Start a compost heap to reduce the waste you send to landfill sites. (2)

          Is a good idea but having started one what the heck am I going to do about all the teabags that have gone in there given that plastic is used in their construction. Only discovered this very recently. Trying to get SWMBO to move to lose tea is an uphill task, Sisyphus ain’t in it.

          Just moved to LED bulbs in yet another room, (CF bulbs are not the best choice these days — cue somebody telling me different I can stand that) in one room reducing power use from 160 W to 16 W (wall lights 2 x 1 and 1 x 2 on dimmer), or if overheads are in use too, rarely, from 280 W to 40 W.

          Don’t use film much now, but did go for 36 exp cans anyway (48).

  4. dumboldguy Says:

    A nice piece on the glaciers of South America, something we seldom talk about—-has some great visuals. Rignot contributes.

  5. Sir Charles Says:

    You better stop smoking AFTER you realised you got lung cancer. To quit smoking BEFORE wouldn’t tell you whether you really got that damned fucking cancer… Have I got anything wrong here? Anyhow, negative emissions, geo-engineering etc. is nothing but science fiction.

    • otter17 Says:

      In my estimation, you have nothing wrong in the lung cancer analogy, for sure.
      In many respects, it appears the opposition to AGW action has won as bigly as the opposition to the tobacco and lung cancer link. Maybe they effectively continue to “win” with a continued rise in the release of greenhouse gases into the next decade or two, completely breaking our carbon budget for a scenario without negative emissions as a necessity.

      Negative emissions is a possible science fiction that we must with every effort make reality, though. There have been other human endeavors that a majority had thought impossible or science fiction in the past, flight, space travel, computing, etc. We made the mess, and now it comes to the task of putting the byproducts back in some way, probably with those that have been railing against the scientific warnings paying as much of the R&D/deployment cost as possible. Justice ought to be served in some way, in addition to the monetary bill.

      Current geo engineering proposals on their own are indeed desperate and morally wrong since they essentially all allow ocean acidification to continue. Then we have the potential weather and crop yield side effects. The risk of something interrupting the geo eng process is a globally catastrophic risk as well.

      • Sir Charles Says:

        How much energy would it take to perform “negative emissions”? Sorry. We’re talking about a pipe dream here.

        • otter17 Says:

          Sorry, been away a couple weeks.

          Some emissions sequestration scenarios don’t require much energy inputs, some like direct air capture do to make the chemical process work. The biologically based options are essentially solar powered by and large, and the chemical processes for direct air capture do require some energy from renewable sources in order to be overall carbon negative. I don’t know much about the “enhanced weathering” class of options, but they apparently just require the energy to disperse ground limestone or some other alkaline on the ocean or inject process CO2 into certain types rock strata like basalt, possible side effects, though.

          Are some of those long shots at large scale? Sure, but there is serious engineering research being done many of these. We also don’t have the option anymore to rely on just emissions reductions alone if we want to be below 2C. It amounts to either making a breakthrough on negative emissions or living with some serious consequences.

          Emissions reductions will have to be substantial at the same time, though, because we don’t want to force future generations to sequester 10Gigatonne/yr as Dr. Hunt in the video suggests (a ridiculously large amount). So, increasing fossil fuel emissions as long as possible and relying on negative emissions to cancel it all out is indeed very likely a fantasy. Some RCP scenarios show a more reasonable 1Gt/yr sequestration rate, though, and that is a worthy goal.

    • otter17 Says:

      The video with interviews is quite good, too. Thanks for sharing it.

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