A sea level rise of two metres would render the current Thames Flood Barrier obsolete and would require consideration of alternative ways to protect the capitalby Bill McGuire / August 26, 2020 / Leave a comment
As human activities continue to roast the planet, so its once stable climate is being knocked seriously out of kilter. Unprecedented changes are taking place at great speed, not least in those parts of the world covered with ice. Colossal changes are often described using big numbers. The trouble is that these very large numbers are impossible for the mind to grasp. So, the standard response to the recent news that our world has lost a mind-blowing 28 trillion tonnes of ice since 1994 is a shrug and perhaps a muttered “so what.”
This is a problem, because at a time when we all need to be fully engaged in the battle to stop further climate breakdown, there remains an unhelpful tendency to turn away from facts that seem either meaningless or unpalatable, or both.
Let’s look at things another way. Consider the amount of water held in seven average-sized public swimming pools. Then imagine that amount of water pouring off the Greenland ice sheet and into the North Atlantic—for every single second of 2019.
This is just one snapshot of what is happening to the world’s ice, from the glaciers of the Alps and the Himalayas, to the ice caps of Svalbard and Iceland, and the prodigious ice sheets that bury Greenland and Antarctica. The Earth’s cryosphere—our world’s stock of frozen water—is vanishing at a rate not seen since the end of the last Ice Age around 10,000 years ago.
For those whose livelihoods depend upon the winter sports industry, this sounds a death knell. For those in Asia, who rely for energy and irrigation upon the great rivers that drain the Himalayan glaciers, it means dwindling power supplies and plunging crop yields as the century progresses. And for all those who live anywhere near a coastline, it promises ever-growing flood risk and eventual inundation.
For wherever ice melts on our world it will, ultimately, find its way to the ocean. Where the sea touches the land really is climate breakdown’s front line, and it is a front line that is only moving one way—inland. During the 20th century, global sea levels rose by around 20cm, but over the…