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CLIMATE CHANGE 101

Sea Level Rise

Climate change refers to the observed phenomena of any significant or lasting change in the earth’s weather patterns, temperature rise and extreme climate fluctuation. Climate change is caused largely by the release of carbon dioxide (C02), methane and other gases. When we burn fossil fuels (like coal, natural gas and oil) to make electricity, drive cars, heat and cool our homes, this strengthens the natural phenomenon called the greenhouse effect, which has probable dire consequences. The greenhouse effect is what keeps our planet warm. The amount of C02, methane and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere has increased exponentially in a relatively short amount of time. Before the Industrial Revolution there were 280 parts per million (ppm) of C02 in the atmosphere, and recently, we have reached 400 ppm (Source: NOAA, 2013). This increased strength of the greenhouse effect will warm the surface of the Earth by radiating more thermal energy down from above. Or, equivalently,

will absorb more of the outgoing radiation from the surface (not directly from the sun), and warm the entire system. The Earth’s temperature has now risen almost 1 degree Fahrenheit, and although that doesn’t seem like a lot, for the Earth it is substantial. One degree can alter the lifecycles of millions of different organisms and humans too. It’s predicted that due to global warming by 2080 almost three billion people may not have access to water and nearly 30% of all species on the planet may face extinction, Why? Because the temperature of the Earth is connected to weather patterns like rain, sun or snow that affect our food supply, our living conditions and our overall quality of life.

2012 was the hottest year on record It was also the year where the world witnessed an unprecedented melting of Arctic sea ice. Sea ice melting does not raise sea level. However, it does turn a very reflective area (ice) into a very dark and absorbing area (ocean) This is known as the ice albedo feedback, and is the real worry in climate science Sea ice melting does nothing to raise sea level, but it does change the color (and therefore the solar absorption) of the polar oceans.

Sea level rise will impact 56% of the global population, all of whom live in regions vulnerable to sea level rise and increased flooding. For example, Superstorm Sandy that hit New York City, New Jersey and other U.S. Eastern States in 2012, disrupted major metropolitan areas where millions of people live and led to:

The effects of climate change are now widespread and are becoming evident with the increase in severe storms and irregular weather. Some impacts include:

• Transportation systems (road, rail, ports) were destroyed or disrupted due to extreme flooding • Wastewater and stormwater systems were overwhelmed by the unprecedented extreme floods • Electricity & power infrastructures that have not been upgraded to withstand increased flooding and sea level rise were also compromised and many people lost power

• Extreme weather events (increased flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, heatwaves and droughts) • Displacement and migration of both human and animal species when regions become uninhabitable from climate change

Global warming = Overall warming of the planet, based on average temperature over the entire surface

• Species extinction from intolerable living conditions

Climate change = Changes in regional climate characteristics, including temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind and severe weather events.

• Reduced food supplies as a result of floods and droughts

It is understood that both of these are happening simultaneously and that with extreme weather events that there can be colder weather happening regionally as well, which can be confusing to understand how the earth is warming. Climate change can be natural or caused by changes people have made to the land or atmosphere.

• Decline in drinking water quantity and quality • Higher risk of infectious disease

Climate change 101

Approximately half of the observed sea level rise is believed to be attributable to the slight warming of the ocean. Additionally, the melting of continental ice (ice currently covering land) and its subsequent runoff into the oceans that raises sea level. Warmer water is also less dense and therefore the same mass of ocean takes up more volume (raising the average level ) - this is called the ‘steric effect’.

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Climate change 101

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