Turning the North Sea Into a Lake: The Climate Change Stories We’re Reading

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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Seawalls can't cut it if we don't know how high the waters will rise, let alone how violently storms will rage: large waves caused by Storm Ciara as they hit the the seafront and wall in Newhaven, England.
Ciara she blows: Seawalls can't cut it if we don't know how high the waters will rise, let alone how violently storms will rageCredit: TOBY MELVILLE/ REUTERS
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Oops. Investment bank JP Morgan, the No. 1 financier of fossil fuel, now realizes that “the climate crisis threatens the survival of humanity” and that Earth is on an unsustainable trajectory, according to a leaked document shown to The Guardian by Extinction Rebellion. JP is the latest Wall Street titan to belatedly get a sweaty grip. Its paper, dated mid-January, notes that the trajectory isn’t for the mean global temperature to increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100 (which would be catastrophic); it’s on course for 3.5 degrees Celsius by 2100. Solution? JP suggests a global carbon tax, though it admits not seeing that to be feasible. The Guardian points out among other converts are Wall Street guru Jim Cramer, who, speaking this January, said he’s “done with fossil fuels. They’re done. They’re just done.”

The seawall and the snag

Sea levels are going to continue rising even if we stop emissions instantly because of lags between carbon dioxide levels and temperature change. In any case, we’re not about to stop and now two scientists propose building two mega-dams – one 475 kilometers (195 miles) long between Scotland and Norway, and a second 160 kilometers long between France and England. Estimated cost: a piffling 250 to 500 billion euros ($275 to $551 billion, though mega-engineering cost estimates are always way too low). The dams would turn the North Sea into a lake and have various other horrific results. Designing and proposing these “extreme dams” is, admit Sjoerd Groeskamp, oceanographer at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, and Joakim Kjellsson at GEOMAR, less a real proposition and more a warning that “reveals the immensity of the problem hanging over our heads.” No kidding.

So we shall ignore the feasibility aspects and merely point out that we don’t know how high the seas will rise, or by when. So building seawalls or dams that can effectively and reliably protect us from the rage of Neptune is a problem – as our forefathers discovered thousands of years ago, and as we discover every time there’s a hurricane, medicane or high wind on the sea.

Protecting certain coasts from sea level rise - by damming off the North Sea?Credit: NIOZ, Sjoerd Groeskamp
When seawalls don't quite cut it: Tyler Holland pushes his bike as Tropical Storm Barry push water from Lake Pontchartrain over the seawall in Mandeville, La., on July 13, 2019.Credit: David J. Phillip/AP

In the ocean deep, that isn’t a Meg, it’s coral!

One for the upside! Nix on megalodons, sorry, but coral forests have been discovered in deep sea canyons off Australia, as deep as 2,900 meters below sea level. Will this help us? If we are fish, sure. But deep-sea cnidarians can’t help their cousins in the shallows that are in trouble worldwide, hit by multiple ills: warming water (they don’t like it); ocean acidification (dissolves them); sedimentation (suffocates them); pollution; and even coral mining. Eilat’s coral in the Red Sea is oddly resistant to global warming, but it has other problems

Deep-sea coral Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute

Also: the deep-sea Australian coral has problems of its own. "We know from carbon isotope analyses of seawaters from the Perth Canyon collected in 2015, that anthropogenic carbon is now reaching depths of about 700 meters," Carlie Wiener told Haaretz. "So corals within that interval are under threat from ocean acidification... the coral ‘gardens’ found in those waters (<700m) will clearly be under threat."

How now cow, permafrost loss and fracking facts

A new analysis in Environmental Research Communications  concludes that methane emissions are growing, and if that persists, we can’t constrain warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. To do anything, we need to recognize its sources. They include increasing fracking; still-increasing coal mining, including in climate change-stricken Australia; fossil fuel production in the Middle East; growing garbage and sewage output from burgeoning populations and economic development in the Third World; and increasing cow farming in Latin America and Africa. And permafrost melting, which is releasing huge amounts of methane in a self-reinforcing cycle: the more methane thawing frozen ground releases, the warmer the average temperature gets, and so on, but we can’t do a thing about that.

Meanwhile in Bangladesh...

They didn’t need to read that analysis to know there’s a problem. This month, the country entered into a collaboration with the United Kingdom, whose prime minister, Boris Johnson, is another recent climate convert, even backing down from building another runway at Heathrow Airport because of the pesky pollution aspect. The collaboration seems to be based on the U.K. helping to finance work in Bangladesh, which hasn’t the luxury of living in denial but has to actually do things as the seas and temperatures rise – from which the UK could have much to learn

Glacier-quakes are spreading

When top-heavy icebergs are calved – a euphemism for “crack off and fall into the sea” – and then flip and pitch backward and crash into the mother glacier, they can send seismic waves radiating for thousands of kilometers. Now, signals of this sort have been detected for the first time on Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica, as reported in Geophysical Research Letters and disseminated by sea level rise prophet John Englander. The implication is that the glacier is degrading, and that is a problem because Thwaite helps hold back the West Antarctic Ice Sheet lest it flow into the sea. An upside? Learning about the seismic signals emitted by fracturing ice sheets can help predict calving. Can’t hurt.

Far-north communities are having to abandon their "ice cellars" - hole in the permafrost that would ketp their food frozen. Credit: Mike Brubaker/AP

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