Angry Oceans. How Sea Level Rise is Impacting the World, including Atlantic Canada. (Story & Audio Podcast)

by Larry Powell

NEEPAWA, MB: Even tho I live in a little landlocked town on the Canadian prairies, I’ve long been fascinated with the role our oceans play in the evolution of manmade climate change. And, as a science writer, I also do lots of research, trying to keep on top of the issue. 

So, when I learned that “The Science Media Centre of Canada,” was sponsoring a “webinar” on climate change and sea level rise, I jumped at the chance to take part. (A webinar is a live, online event, a bit like a modern day teleconference.) So I tuned in and listened eagerly as four leading experts, three Canadians and an American, laid out in ways that were at once matter-of-fact and alarming, how the phenomenon of rising ocean levels is impacting our planet. 

Please read on, listen to the podcast below, or both!

Predictions surrounding rising sea levels around the world and the threat they pose to millions of coastal dwellers are sounding more and more ominous. This was evident as panel members told their stories. The moderator was Brigitte Nyan (sp? - r.) 

“Sea levels are on the rise. But they will not rise at equal levels around the world. As the climate changes and the planet warms, rising sea levels are now becoming one of the greatest threats to the world’s populations. The latest research published just 2 weeks ago shows rises in sea levels will double the frequency of severe coastal flooding in most of the world, with dire consequences for major cities that sit on coastlines, including those in Canada. The social and political fallout of displaced populations can prove to be one of the greatest challenges for future generations.

“According to a recent study in “Nature,” more than 13 million Americans will lose their homes to sea level rise by the end of this century. And Canada could face a similar fate. 

“When you hear about the global impacts from one of our panelists, 13 million might sadly begin to sound like a few drops in the ocean when it comes to how many will be affected. 
The repercussions of rising sea levels will challenge the way countries make planning decisions about climate change.”

Dr. Adam Fenech (l.), director of the Climate Lab at the University of Prince Edward Island, warns that some of the higher sea level rises anywhere are expected for much of the eastern seaboard of North America. And that includes his home, PEI and Atlantic Canada. He adds, many experts now fear they could rise by between 2 and 2.6m there by century's end. That's way more than  
the IPCC itself had been predicting just four years ago.

In a visual presentation, Dr. Fenech told the webinar,“How important is it to PEI? Well this yellow arrow was pointing to Emmett McKenna’s property back in 1959 he purchased 3 acre from his Uncle for $55/acre & now it’s completely underwater. So almost during my lifetime, people on PEI have had waterfront property that’s now completely under water, both from a combination of sea level rise as well as coastal erosion. 

“We conducted a study a few years ago that looked at the coastline we looked at every single metre of PEI from the year 1968 to 2010 &, when you took that thin strip of land and added them all up, you could see that, overall there was 35 k2 of land that was eroded or lost. There was almost 15 k2 that were gained, & overall there was a net loss of 20 k2. That’s about 5,000 acres. That’s about half the size of Charlottetown. So the island’s not going anywhere fast. Under those rates of erosion, it’s going to take 10 thousand years for Prince Edward Island to completely disappear. But it is the most important part of PEI. Everybody loves to be close to the shoreline. There’s a lot of infrastructure that’s close to the shoreline. So when we look at all those metre changes that I talked about  between 1968 & 2010, and we looked at the average change that happened, we multiply that by 30, 60 & 90 yrs just to get a sense of what kind of infrastructure is going to be vulnerable. 

"Now we all think that the rates of erosion are going to increase because sea levels are increasing, the land itself is falling little bit. We’re getting more storms in terms of frequency in terms of magnitude, but just under current rates of erosion, things that we’ve seen over the last 40 yrs or so, there’s at least a thousand homes & cottages that are threatened or vulnerable. We have 17 lighthouses one of them is actually half in the water already. We even have wind turbines, ones that we’ve put in in the last 10 yrs or so, are vulnerable to coastal erosion. I think the big message here is, let’s not build so darn close to the shore.” 

Dr. Fenech adds, a waste water treatment plant, even the First Nations Community of Lennox Island, just off PEI, are in the path of the rising waters, too.

More about "The Science Media Centre of Canada."

While the Centre has been around for nine years, I’d only heard about it recently. It is a non-profit, charitable organization “that helps journalists report on science issues.” I was delighted with my discovery. For years, I’ve been frustrated at the dearth of material readily available from Canadian sources. 

I especially remember an excellent article in an American publication recently. It warned of the growing seriousness of Lyme disease. Manmade climate change was resulting in an ever-expanding range for the tick which spreads it. The story documented the worsening situation in the U.S. and at least two places overseas. A map it displayed showed the vector spreading in the “lower 48,” then ending, magically, at the Canadian border! Nothing north of it. Nothing! Just a blank. The fact is, a very similar situation exists here in Canada, too. That article drove home to me, the pressing need for more and better access to scientific research in Canada - the kind now being provided by the Centre.

Oceans and Emotions. 
It’s tempting to ascribe human traits to our oceans, as you’ll see as you read on. If I appear to be doing that, I assure you, it’s only my feeble attempt at underlining the gravity of the crisis faced by both terrestrial and marine life in our modern age; not because of any “inner mystic” in me.

One might say, for example, that our oceans have actually been heroes, “saving our bacon,” as it were, and paying a terrible price in the process. 

How so? 

They’ve probably been absorbing more than 90% of the heat created by our profligate appetite for carbon fuels, sparing us from a home that might more closely resemble Venus, than Earth! Warmer water is not only disrupting many marine life-forms who depend on colder water to survive, it is causing the oceans to expand, worsening the scourge of sea-level rise.

As if that weren’t enough, it’s believed oceans are absorbing almost a third of the carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, which human activity is producing. This is making oceans more acidic, threatening many marine life forms upon which we humans, and other sea-life, depend for survival.

So, are the oceans now "getting even" with us - biting back against the human population for treating them so shoddily? Of course not! The truth (which is often stranger than fiction) is this. Human behaviour is at the root of the profoundly disturbing state our earthly home is now in. And only we hold the key to the solution.



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