[Wired] Last March, a paper by a geoscientist named Rob DeConto came out in Nature. And as far as geology papers go, it was a big deal: It outlined a new paradigm for how Antarctic ice sheets are impacted by climate change. As the oceans and atmosphere warm, they don’t just melt the ice from below; they create honking cracks in glaciers that make it easier for large chunks of ice to break off, slip into the ocean, and disappear. The effects on sea level rise? They could be almost twice what scientists had predicted for the end of the century.
News of that paper soon landed on the desk of Jerry Brown, governor of California and fired-up proponent of climate change science.
Now, he has convened a group of seven scientists, including DeConto, to
sift through that study and other recent research to calculate new
projections for sea level rise—and, importantly, think about what it
could mean for California’s coast. Over the next three months, the team
will read, discuss, and synthesize. Eventually, they’ll arrive at
numbers. And those numbers will have huge implications for the Golden
State’s infrastructure, planning, and the budgets that support them.
In part, Brown formed this committee because an earlier report on sea level rise,
just five years old, might already be out of date. The governors of
California, Oregon, and Washington commissioned that report in 2010 to
describe how sea level rise would affect the west coast in 2030, 2050,
and 2100. Since it was released in 2012, California agencies from
Caltrans to the state energy commission have used it to make decisions
about huge coastal investments and infrastructure, says Gary Griggs, an oceanographer at UC Santa Cruz who was involved with the report. He’s now leading the current committee.
The stakes are high, says David Behar, the climate program director for
San Francisco’s public utilities commission. A few feet of sea level
rise make a huge difference for shoreline mapping, say, to figure out
what areas need to be protected from flooding. Planners not only need to
consider the likely level of sea level rise in 2100 (the 2012 report
put it around three feet) but also the 5.5 foot rise in the worst-case
scenario, plus the 42 inches added by rare but massive storms.
(Infrastructure planning isn’t the most optimistic of endeavors.) With
prominent, heavily-trafficked locations like San Francisco’s Embarcadero
and Oakland Airport just a few feet away from sea level, the cost of a
few extra feet of ocean could be billions of dollars. Read More