May 2009 Archives

From United's Hemisphere Magazine

With sea levels rising, conservationists are working to prevent this trendy tropical getaway from becoming paradise lost.

Less than four decades ago, the Maldives, or Dhivehi Raajje (Dhivehi for "Island Kingdom"), was a sleepy, all-but-untouched chain of 26 pristine coral atolls--natural breakwaters that protect some 1,200 shape-shifting sandy islands from the Indian Ocean--hundreds of miles from anywhere. A conservative Sunni Muslim country, it boasted a fishing fleet of traditional dhonis, graceful, sail-driven wooden boats, without a single motor among them. The only way of contacting the mainland was by ham radio or morse code. Until 1972, when an Italian tour operator was persuaded to take a charter flight 400 miles southwest from Sri Lanka to see the islands' legendary beauty for himself, the area "was the same as it had been since the 17th century," notes Adrian Neville, a photojournalist and the author of Dhivehi Raajje: A Portrait of Maldives.

Today, it's a rather different story.

The tiny country, whose populace once sustained itself fishing for tuna in the rich local waters, now welcomes some 600,000 tourists a year. In 2006, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes spent their honeymoon yachting among the Maldives' hundreds of uninhabited islands, completely inaccessible to the paparazzi. At Huvafen Fushi, guests are apt to spot Indian steel billionaire Lakshmi Mittal's imposing mega-yacht moored in the distance. Supermodel Kate Moss, tennis star Roger Federer, and actors Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher have all been guests, lured by the promise of the ultimate jet-set escape.

But while the rarefied resorts of the Maldives are regularly lavished with praise in international travel magazines, last fall the remote country made headlines for a different reason.

Shortly after Mohamed Nasheed, a charismatic 41-year-old, became the Maldives' first democratically elected president, he declared that the country, which rises barely three feet above sea level in most places, would soon disappear beneath the waves. His plan, Nasheed said, was to divert profits from the billion-dollar-a-year tourism industry into a "sovereign wealth fund" with which to purchase a new homeland--possibly in Sri Lanka, India or farther afield, in Australia--for his 380,000 fellow citizens. "We can do nothing to stop climate change on our own and so we have to buy land elsewhere," he told The Guardian, dubbing his scheme "an insurance policy for the worst possible outcome." Indeed, though the islands are responsible for an infinitesimal fraction of the world's carbon emissions, experts consider them among the most vulnerable spots on earth to the effects of global warming. If a September 2008 study published in the journal Science is to be believed, sea levels could rise by anywhere from two point six to six and a half feet by the year 2100-- essentially erasing the Maldives from the map altogether."

Many of us have some information from the scientific community about the changes caused by global warming. Growing up in North Carolina, one can see the changes of sea level rise over a 10-20 year period quite easily. North Carolina is home to some of the most unique and fragile land formations in the coastal area, the Outerbanks.

About the study:

After being identified as one of the three states most vulnerable to sea-level rise by NOAA, the state of North Carolina has been allocated $5,000,000 in funding to perform a risk assessment and mitigation strategy demonstration on the potential of sea level rise and the impacts directly linked to climate changes.

In this study, a scenario of potential sea level rise will be developed using the demographic conditions of North Carolina; this will take into consideration four different time slices (near term (2025), medium term (2050), long term (2075)). The flooding aspects to be evaluated are linked to sea level rise and its increasing frequency and/or the intensity of coastal flooding and erosion.

This study will stretch from 2009 to the end of 2011, with a study scope concentrating on three aspects: Sources (climate or weather events), Pathways (flood control structures, coastal landforms) and Receptors. Specific receptor systems to be assessed are Aquaculture and fisheries, Environment and Ecology, Agriculture, Coastal Structures, Transportation infrastructure and Societal systems.

This work is a collaboration of key stakeholders, i.e. state and federal agencies, universities, research institutes, contractors and so on. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been advised to use the results of this study to assess the implications of climate change and to disseminate the findings to other states.

Full study found at: NC Sea Level Rise
(Summary by Veronique Carola of Dr. Rolph Poyet's website)

Carribean Islands to wash away?

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Trinidad and Tobago Express
Troubling concern

Prof Bhawan Singh agreed with much of what Chu had to say but thought his comments of the Caribbean islands being washed away "somewhat strong".

But he pointed to a troubling finding:

Sea-level rise in the Gulf of Paria appeared to be happening faster than the global average, which indicated that the land was sinking.

Of Chu's summit statement, Singh said:

"The latest (2007) IPCC Report does substantiate his claim of a two-to-four-degree-Celsius rise of global, near-surface temperatures by the end of this century, depending on which forcing of the climate system is used, namely, based on the rate of increase of greenhouse gases globally.

"The link between climate change/global warming and sea-level rise resides in the thermal expansion of oceanic water, the melting of sub-polar ice fields in mountainous areas such as the Andes and the Himalayas and the melting of the polar ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica.

"As an indication of the potential contributions of the polar ice caps to sea-level rise, if the Antarctic ice cap were to melt completely, it would have the potential to raise sea levels by over 60 metres while the Greenland ice cap would have the potential to raise sea levels by close to seven metres.


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