Rising Seas Could Menace Millions Beyond Shorelines, Study Finds ~ NYT

As climate change raises sea levels, storm surges and high tides will push farther inland, a team of researchers says.

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Credit…Munir Uz Zaman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

 

As global warming pushes up ocean levels around the world, scientists have long warned that many low-lying coastal areas will become permanently submerged.

But a new study published Thursday finds that much of the economic harm from sea-level rise this century is likely to come from an additional threat that will arrive even faster: As oceans rise, powerful coastal storms, crashing waves and extreme high tides will be able to reach farther inland, putting tens of millions more people and trillions of dollars in assets worldwide at risk of periodic flooding.

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, calculated that up to 171 million people living today face at least some risk of coastal flooding from extreme high tides or storm surges, created when strong winds from hurricanes or other storms pile up ocean water and push it onshore. While many people are currently protected by sea walls or other defenses, such as those in the Netherlands, not everyone is.

If the world’s nations keep emitting greenhouse gases, and sea levels rise just 1 to 2 more feet, the amount of coastal land at risk of flooding would increase by roughly one-third, the research said. In 2050, up to 204 million people currently living along the coasts would face flooding risks. By 2100, that rises to as many as 253 million people under a moderate emissions scenario known as RCP4.5. (The actual number of people at risk may vary, since the researchers did not try to predict future coastal population changes.)

“Even though average sea levels rise relatively slowly, we found that these other flooding risks like high tides, storm surge and breaking waves will become much more frequent and more intense,” said Ebru Kirezci, a doctoral candidate at the University of Melbourne in Australia and lead author of the study. “Those are important to consider.”

Areas at particular risk include North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland in the United States, northern France and northern Germany, the southeastern coast of China, Bangladesh, and the Indian states of West Bengal and Gujarat.

This flooding could cause serious economic damage. The study found that people currently living in areas at risk from a 3-foot rise in sea levels owned $14 trillion in assets in 2011, an amount equal to 20 percent of global G.D.P. that year.

The authors acknowledge that theirs is a highly imperfect estimate of the potential costs of sea-level rise. For one, they don’t factor in the likelihood that communities will take action to protect themselves, such as elevating their homes, building sea walls or retreating inland.

The study also did not account for any valuable infrastructure, such as roads or factories, that sits in harm’s way. A fuller economic accounting would require further research, Ms. Kireczi said.

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Jorge Gardner’s old shoes

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was digging through the Rhino Pit the other day and found Jorge’s old shoes he used in the Tetons that he passed on to me so long ago … and with a little help from the Goo in the right places they’ve become my stylish footwear on the river.  Thanks Jorge, I think of you every time I pull on those shoes to go fishing…  salud  ……

rŌbert

 

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What’s Going on Inside the Fearsome Thunderstorms of Córdoba Province? ~ NYT

Screen Shot 2020-07-26 at 8.08.11 AM.pngSeveral storms merge into a ‘‘mesoscale convective system’’ over the resort town of Villa Carlos Paz, Argentina, December 2018. Mitch Dobrowner for The New York Times

 

Scientists are studying the extreme weather in northern Argentina to see how it works — and what it can tell us about the monster storms in our future.

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When he thought back to the late-December morning when Berrotarán was entombed in hail, it was the memory of fog that brought Matias Lenardon the greatest dread. He remembered that it had drifted into the scattered farming settlement in north-central Argentina sometime after dawn. Soon it had grown thicker than almost any fog the young farmer had seen before. It cloaked the corn and soybean fields ringing the town and obscured the restaurants and carnicerias that line the main thoroughfare. He remembered that the fog bore with it the cool mountain air of the nearby Sierras de Córdoba, a mountain range whose tallest peaks rise abruptly from the plains just to the town’s northwest. Like any lone feature in flat country, the sierras had long served as lodestar to the local agricultural community, who kept a close watch on them for signs of approaching weather. But if Lenardon or anyone else in Berrotarán thought much of the fog that morning in 2015, it was only that it obscured their usual view of the peaks.

At the time, Lenardon was at the local radio station, where he moonlighted as the town’s weather forecaster. It was a role the 22-year-old had inherited, in some sense, from his grandfather Eduardo Malpassi, who began recording daily weather observations in a family almanac almost 50 years before. Like many farmers in Córdoba Province, Lenardon had learned from older generations how to read the day’s advancing weather according to a complex taxonomy of winds and clouds that migrated across the pampas — the vast pale grasslands that blanket much of the country’s interior. If the winds turned cool as the day wore on, Lenardon knew it meant rain, brought north from Patagonia. More troubling were the winds that blew in wet and hot from the northwest — off the sierras.

As forecaster, Lenardon’s chief concern was identifying weather patterns that might breed a thunderstorm, which on the pampas are notoriously swift and violent. Few official records are kept in Córdoba and the surrounding regions, but over the previous two years alone, newspapers reported that hail, flooding and tornadoes had damaged or razed thousands of acres of cropland, displaced more than five thousand people and killed about a dozen. Locals described barbed hailstones, shaped like medieval flails, destroying buildings and burying cars up to the hoods. Lenardon’s own family had lost their entire harvest to flooding three of the last five years, forcing them at one point onto state assistance. People in Berrotarán spent much of their summer bracing for the atmosphere to explode; the fire department had recently taken to standing at the ready with rescue equipment and heavy machinery, in hopes of getting a jump on digging people out of debris. Even so, Lenardon didn’t think much of the fog when he first saw it. The cool, moist air didn’t indicate anything, as far as he knew, except a welcome relief from the heat.

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A supercell thunderstorm forming over ranchland near La Carlota, Argentina. Mitch Dobrowner for The New York Times

 

As Lenardon prepared to leave the station, he pulled up the feed from the region’s lone radar dish in the nearby city of Córdoba, more out of habit than anything else. When the radar completed its 15-minute sweep, a massive red splotch flashed on the screen — a powerful storm appeared to be bearing down on them. Convinced it was a glitch, Lenardon raced outside to check the sky — forgetting in his panic that it was shrouded by fog. While the fog had little meteorological effect on the storm, it had nonetheless ensured that it would be maximally destructive. “No one could feel the wind,” he said. “No one could see the sierras.” Though he rushed to go live on the radio, it was already 9 a.m. by the time he issued a severe storm warning for 9:15.

The storm descended quickly. It engulfed the western side of Berrotarán, where winds began gusting at over 80 m.p.h. Soon, hail poured down, caving in the roof of a machine shop and shattering windshields. In 20 minutes, so much ice had begun to accumulate that it stood in the street in mounds, like snowdrifts. As the hail and rain continued to intensify, they gradually mixed into a thick white slurry, encasing cars, icing over fields and freezing the town’s main canal. With the drainage ditches filled in and frozen, parts of the town flooded, transforming the dirt roads into surging muddy rivers. Residents watched as their homes filled with icy water.

At home, Lenardon went back over his forecast, searching for what he had missed. “When you don’t have a sophisticated forecast system,” he said, “everyone is afraid of future storms.”

 

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‘Stay away.’ ‘Biggest petri dish in the world.’ The view from Canada, of us, isn’t so nice. ~ Seattle Times

Like, say, after America had invaded the wrong country. People here, especially liberal Seattle people, would vow: “That’s it, I’m moving to Canada.”

Well it turns out we need a new joke. Because Canada isn’t having it anymore. They don’t want us there — at all, no laughing matter.

“We regard the United States right now as the biggest petri dish in the world,” reports George Creek, from Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Creek has been leading a group of volunteer watchdogs to monitor marine traffic, looking for Washington state boaters who have sneaked across the border into Canadian waters. They then report them to Canadian officials to try to keep them from docking and coming ashore. No hard feelings, he told me cheerily by phone this past week. But every American is seen as a loaded vector of disease.

“You need to get the pandemic under control. You need a rational person to take the helm of your country. Until then, all we’re saying to Americans is: Stay away. When you come against our wishes, pardon the expression, it pisses us off.”

Ouch. You know you’re becoming a pariah country when the Canadians go all “pardon the expression” on you.

Earlier this month, three local members of Congress — Democrat Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor and Republicans Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane and Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside — joined some of their colleagues in sending a seemingly benign letter to the Canadian government. It suggested we talk about reopening our shared 5,500-mile-long border, which remains closed to most travel due to COVID-19.

The letter was fluffed with flowery, binational niceties — such as a call to “restore the social bond that unites our two nations.” But hoo boy, not since the 1859 “pig incident,” when we nearly went to war in the San Juan Islands over one slaughtered hog, have our friends to the north gotten quite so prickly.

“Hard pass on opening the border — we’re a healthy nation with big plans, and you’re a failed society,” one Canadian replied to the congressional letter on Twitter.

“That border stays CLOSED,” wrote another. “Canadians may be polite but we aren’t CRAZY!”

And another: “There’s no reason to believe Americans will care about the health of Canadians, given that relatively few seem to care about the health of other Americans.”

Ouch again. On it went like this, with more than 6,000 tweeted responses to the members of Congress, in what was the social media equivalent of being battered by the wings of a flock of angry Canada geese.

Also this month, in response to news that U.S. boaters were flouting the border closure, the B.C. premier, John Horgan, joined in the stay away chorus.

“Our government fought hard to get the border closed, and it needs to remain closed until the US gets a handle on this pandemic,” he tweeted on July 15. “This is not the time for Americans to be here on vacation & anyone abusing the rules should be penalized accordingly.”

A recent poll of Canadians showed 89% want to keep the border with the U.S. closed through 2020, with the pollster saying they regard America’s mishandling of the virus as “a cautionary tale.”

Remember that election we had, in 2016, when the winner talked about closing our borders to the world? The world ended up closing its borders to us.

It isn’t just the virus. On Wednesday, a Canadian court ruled that a 16-year-old agreement with the U.S. governing refugees and asylum is invalid because the U.S. no longer qualifies as a “safe” place for refugees. The way we treat them is a human rights violation, the court said.

Canada, he said, is averaging fewer than 500 new COVID-19 cases and five deaths per day, in the entire country — yet is scrambling to tamp that down with contact tracing, calling it a “surge.”

“You had 71,000 new cases and more than a thousand deaths today,” he said. “American tourists are normally the most welcome, but we look at all this and we just shake our heads.”

A Monk’s Life in Turmoil in Tibet ~ The New Yorker

Dongtuk’s home town was known for self-immolations. How would he choose to live?

Tibetan monks buy food from a shop inside a monastery.
The Kirti monastery, in the town of Ngaba, has become an epicenter of Tibetan self-immolations in protest of Chinese rule. Photograph by Benjamin Haas / AFP / Getty

From a quick glance, you might have been unsure if the boy standing in the crowd of onlookers was Chinese or Tibetan. You saw plenty of both in Ngaba, a small town on the edge of the Tibetan plateau. He wore tinted glasses and had a big puff of hair in a garish red hue, which must have come from a cheap drugstore dye. His face was obscured by a nubby black-and-white scarf tugged over his nose. The boy knew he looked peculiar, but he didn’t care. He had disguised himself so that people in town wouldn’t recognize him; until recently, he had been a Buddhist monk. The Chinese police considered monks to be troublemakers, so it was better to be mistaken for a punk rocker.

After 40 years, researchers finally see Earth’s climate destiny more clearly ~ Science

 

ca_0724NID_Earth_online.jpgClouds aren’t expected to dampen global warming—one reason why the planet is likely to respond sharply to carbon emissions.

ISS EXPEDITION 7 CREW/EOL/NASA

 

It seems like such a simple question: How hot is Earth going to get? Yet for 40 years, climate scientists have repeated the same unsatisfying answer: If humans double atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) from preindustrial levels, the planet will eventually warm between 1.5°C and 4.5°C—a temperature range that encompasses everything from a merely troubling rise to a catastrophic one.

Now, in a landmark effort, a team of 25 scientists has significantly narrowed the bounds on this critical factor, known as climate sensitivity. The assessment, conducted under the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and publishing this week in Reviews of Geophysics, relies on three strands of evidence: trends indicated by contemporary warming, the latest understanding of the feedback effects that can slow or accelerate climate change, and lessons from ancient climates. They support a likely warming range of between 2.6°C and 3.9°C, says Steven Sherwood, one of the study’s lead authors and a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales. “This is the number that really controls how bad global warming is going to be.”

The new study is the payoff of decades of advances in climate science, says James Hansen, the famed retired NASA climate scientist who helped craft the first sensitivity range in 1979. “It is an impressive, comprehensive study, and I am not just saying that because I agree with the result. Whoever shepherded this deserves our gratitude.”

Paul Voosen

Paul Voosen is a staff writer who covers Earth and planetary science.