This is it. Ice melt in the Himalayas has doubled just since the year 2000. We get the latest from Dr. Summer Rupper. While Europe swelters in unnatural heat, in the Arctic Greenland is melting a stunning 80% over previous estimates. It is all part of the biggest single impact of climate change on civilization: rising seas. Oceanographer and rising seas expert John Englander will be our feature interview.
The climate shift has come. The Washington Post reports “the extent of ice over the Arctic Ocean has never been this low in mid-June during the age of weather satellites. Greenland saw temperatures soar up to 40 degrees above normal Wednesday, while open water exists in places north of Alaska where it seldom, if ever, has in recent times.” Record heat is driving snow from the land, and ice from the glaciers, into the ocean.
The climate disruption predicted back in the 1990’s is definitely here. This is it: the long time of struggle, deaths, trying to adapt, and extreme weather has arrived. My listeners in the Mid-West states and New England know it. Last week a month’s worth of rain fell one night in New Jersey. That’s just part of the two months of repeating floods, colder weather, tornadoes and unsettling times over the Eastern U.S. The West has been baking, bracing for the next big fires.
In Europe, Accuweather says “Millions to swelter as heat wave builds from Madrid to Paris, London next week”. The whole of North Africa is over 40 degrees C, building to 50 in places. The same for the Middle East. There is a band of high heat from the Caspian to Northern China, with high temperatures in Siberia.
INDIA ENDURES A CLIMATE TURNING POINT
My personal turning point was the mega-heat wave that just hit the continent of India. The monsoon rains are finally arriving in southern India, almost two weeks late. The rains that literally feed India are becoming less dependable and weaker. The one in 2015 was a bust.
While waiting for this year’s Monsoon, the major city of Chennai, formerly known as Madras, went dry. The government had to truck in water non-stop for over 6 million residents. Millions of villagers in many parts of India had to leave their dry wells for help elsewhere. 35 major dams were bone dry. They left without food in deadly heat, hovering in the mid-40’s C, over 110 degrees Fahrenheit. At least 100 people died in the Eastern state of Bihar alone.
Here is how Radio Ecoshock guest David Wallace-Wells describes the situation in India (in New York Magazine, June 21, 2019):
“The phenomenon of cascading climate impacts may be even more striking in India — no surprise, since that nation is expected to be, by far, the hardest hit by climate change over the next century, with many of its biggest cities becoming so hot as to be unlivable, or close to it, as soon as 2050. In the meantime, they have this summer to deal with, and, as an extraordinary report in the Guardian last week shows, though it is only June, the climate punishments are already mounting, one on top of the other: heat wave, drought, extreme weather, all at once. Delhi reached its hottest temperature ever, over 118 degrees Fahrenheit, a week after the hottest place in the world was Churu, in Rajasthan, registering over 123 degrees. Outside of Mumbai, villages are suffering through a historic drought, which began in early December and has driven as much as 90 percent of the local population away in search of water. Villages that are home to 2,000 people now contain only 10 or 15 families.
“With 80% of districts in neighboring Karnataka and 72% in Maharashtra hit by drought and crop failure, the 8 million farmers in these two states are struggling to survive,” Sam Relph writes in the Guardian. “In Marathwada, by many estimates the Indian region most affected by drought, increasingly frequent droughts have led to more than 4,700 farmer suicides in the last five years, including 947 last year. That crisis has deepened. In the city of Beed, clean drinking water has run out and households do not have enough water to wash clothes, clean dishes or flush the toilet. Hospitals are filling up with people suffering from dehydration — and gastrointestinal disease from drinking contaminated water.” The country has suffered from widespread drought like this four of the last five years. Then, last Thursday, Cyclone Vayu forced the evacuation of 300,000 Indians on the country’s east coast. In 24 hours over the weekend, 49 people died from the heat in just the province of Bihar. The country’s sixth largest city, Chennai, is ‘almost entirely out of water.’ It is home to 5 million people.”
India will half recover, as the monsoon replenishes the reservoirs. But officials predict another dry season, hurting food production for 1.3 billion people. Millions of poor people have suffered in the heat, some will not return home. They are losing their faith not just in the monsoons, but in the future. There will be a lasting hurt from this one, and a growing weakness for the next great heat waves in coming years. People in other parts of the world don’t know this turning point happened.
That is just the start for India’s water woes. Al Jazeera reported June 20th:
“At least 21 cities in India, including capital New Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad, will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting around 100 million people.
India’s news network NDTV said 40 percent of India’s population will have no access to drinking water by 2030, according to a report by the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog) – the country’s principal planning organization.”
TIBET AND THE HIMALAYAS
The recent record heat wave did stretch into the Tibetan Plateau. Arctic blogger Sam Carana frightened me with this Tweet: “Temperature of 49.8°C or 121.6°F forecast for Lhasa (Chengguan) in Tibet on June 22, 2019, at 9:00 UTC“. But on June 22nd, the temperature in Lhasa was nothing like that. It was more a humble 26 degrees C., or 80 degrees Fahrenheit. I wonder if that is because the climatereanalyzer site Sam used cannot really focus at the city level. It uses models with a very big scale, without reference to local conditions? But Sam is more expert in that than I am. Be careful of predictions, and check if they come true in reality. But it WAS abnormally hot.
Back in 2009, Chinese climatologists reported temperatures at 29 monitoring sites in Tibet showed an average increase of 1.5 degrees C even then. It’s hotter now, in both summer and winter. That is new, because previous warming in the Himalayas was recorded in winter only. The big warming shift is backed by new science showing a doubling in the rate of ice melting from Himalayan glaciers, and that is next.
“The impact of Himalayan glacial melting is significant because the region provides water to about 800 million people across Asia, who depend on seasonal run-off when the ice melts in the spring.”
– Leslie Hook, Irish Times June 20, 2019
SUMMER RUPPER – RAPID GLACIER MELT IN HIGH MOUNTAIN ASIA
New science reports ice loss from glaciers in the mighty Himalayas has doubled since the year 2000, due to global heating. That will affect a billion people downstream and add to rising seas around the world.
On June 19th, four scientists published their paper “Acceleration of ice loss across the Himalayas over the last 40 years“. Here to help us is co-author Dr. Summer Rupper, Associate Professor in the Geography Department at the University of Utah.
According to the 5th Assessment Report of the IPCC, more sea level rise is coming from mountain glaciers than from melting ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctica. Ice loss in High Mountain Asia will affect coast lines around the world.
This is from the Columbia University Press release for this paper:
“Currently harboring some 600 billion tons of ice, the Himalayas are sometimes called the earth’s “Third Pole.” Many other recent studies have suggested that the glaciers are wasting, including one this year projecting that up to two-thirds of the current ice cover could be gone by 2100. But up to now, observations have been somewhat fragmented, zeroing in on shorter time periods, or only individual glaciers or certain regions. These studies have produced sometimes contradictory results, both regarding the degree of ice loss and the causes. The new study synthesizes data from across the region, stretching from early satellite observations to the present. The synthesis indicates that the melting is consistent in time and space, and that rising temperatures are to blame. Temperatures vary from place to place, but from 2000 to 2016 they have averaged 1 degree Centigrade (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than those from 1975 to 2000.
Maurer and his colleagues analyzed repeat satellite images of some 650 glaciers spanning 2,000 kilometers from west to east. Many of the 20th-century observations came from recently declassified photographic images taken by U.S. spy satellites. The researchers created an automated system to turn these into 3D models that could show the changing elevations of glaciers over time. They then compared these images with post-2000 optical data from more sophisticated satellites, which more directly convey elevation changes.
They found that from 1975 to 2000, glaciers across the region lost an average of about 0.25 meters (10 inches) of ice each year in the face of slight warming. Following a more pronounced warming trend starting in the 1990s, starting in 2000 the loss accelerated to about half a meter (20 inches) annually. Recent yearly losses have averaged about 8 billion tons of water, or the equivalent 3.2 million Olympic-size swimming pools, says Maurer. Most individual glaciers are not wasting uniformly over their entire surfaces, he noted; melting has been concentrated mainly at lower elevations, where some ice surfaces are losing as much as 5 meters (16 feet) a year.”
Back in 2009, the Guardian passed on Chinese reports saying Tibet had warmed 1.5 degrees C even then, adding “The average rose in both summer and winter, which is unusual as most of mountain warming has previously been observed in the winter.”
EARLIER RELATED PAPER BY THE SAME AUTHORS
J. M. Maurer, S. B. Rupper, J. M. Schaefer, Quantifying ice loss in the eastern Himalayas since 1974 using declassified spy satellite imagery. Cryosphere 10, 2203–2215 (2016)
You can find an authoritative article about the new study here.
I’m sure you it. While the big ice on Greenland and Antarctica will redraw the coastlines all over the world, the first big storm surge waters and street flooding will come instead from land-based glaciers, from the Andes to the Rockies, Alps, and Himalayas. Studies show they are all disappearing fast, as sub-tropical lands heat up the smaller glaciers.
In a weird twist, sea levels near the shrinking ice sheets at the Poles may go DOWN, as gravitational mass is lost. The new waters will appear elsewhere, from the drowning Pacific Islands to flooding swamplands of Louisiana. It’s a topsy-turvy map that needs to be redrawn with every generation. The sea is not level. There is no sea level.
Now we will go in-depth: what to expect as the new hot ocean overflows into our ports, airports, cities, and fields.
JOHN ENGLANDER – RISING SEAS EXPERT
Several scientists on Radio Ecoshock warned us that heat and extreme weather are serious, but rising seas will be the force threatening society. Maps will change. Populations will be forced away from the current sea shore, including in major cities around the world.
I understood that more deeply watching a recent video presentation by John Englander. His audience was the legendary Royal Institution in London, the temple of science founded in 1799. Englander is an oceanographer who led big name ocean conservation groups like the Cousteau Society, and International Seakeepers. He schooled us all with his book “High Tide On Main Street: Rising Sea Level and the Coming Coastal Crisis“.
Sea Level Expert John Englander
We last talked in October 2016. Since then John has been touring, telling thousands of people about coastlines going underwater.
During the last century thermal expansion provided about half sea level rise. But in the coming 100 years, thermal expansion will be relatively minor compared to polar ice melt. John tells us there is 10 feet or 3 meters of sea level rise in just 6 glaciers in Antarctica.
Technically, there will eventually be 20 meters higher seas per degree C of warming (perhaps a thousand years later). That is about 35 feet per degree Fahrenheit of warming. In recent interviews, scientists and authors say we may warm another two degrees C average mean temperature by the year 2100. Following science that expects 20 meters higher seas for each increase of 1 degree, that would be 40 meters or 131 feet higher seas from that much warming – not this century, but eventually. The seas will continue to rise even after humans stop producing greenhouse gases (if we do).
He says we are in “the early stage of exponential growth” of sea level rise. It is now rising 5 millimeters a year. We went from 1.5 mm annual sea level rise to 3 mm and now 5 mm – that is doubling! He notes Albert Allen Bartlett on our inability to understand exponential growth.
These days there is an institute for practically everything. But apparently none is dedicated to the single largest threat we face from climate change: rising seas. So John just founded the International Sea Level Institute. We talk about what it needs to do.
Also: John tells us that sea level rise may be the least politically charged impact of climate change. People who don’t seem to care about heat or replacing fossil fuels pay attention to rising seas. Global average sea level has increased 8 inches since 1880. But remember some land is still uplifting, while other places are sinking – for example in Alaska and northern Scandinavia it looks like sea level is falling.
We are heading back to the Eemian levels, 120,000 years ago, with sea levels 65 meters higher. “We should be redesigning our coastal development” says Englander. After a huge storm on February 1st, 1953, the Thames and Rotterdam sea barriers were designed. In the 1970’s when those gates were built, they pictured only 30 mm of sea level. Currently both cities are planning new flood gates. In cities like Hamburg Germany, some new buildings have their electrical systems and furnaces on the second floor, rather than below ground, to survive storm flooding. In Asia, Singapore is one of the more advanced in planning for sea level rise, being a low island nation.
San Francisco is not sinking or rising. It shows what is really happening. Old piers are going under along with waterfront. Streets in Florida has “No Wake” signs for when King Tides flood the street. Those signs come down when they want to sell the property.
John tells audiences rising sea level could be the biggest economic driver of this century. That presumes we will rebuild or adapt rather than just lose ground, run away, and crash as an economy. But if we don’t fail, it’s possible that the obvious threat and experience of sea level rise could lead to a new building boom, as cities retreat from the sea and build sea wall defenses. Ports will need to be rebuilt. Many of the world’s leading airports are within a couple of meters sea level and may need to be replaced. Business leaders sit up and listen to that approach to sea level rise – but what would be the new carbon costs of those giant building projects?
Englander’s book “High Tide on Mainstream” sold a lot of copies. Now John is working on a new book. The sequel will be “Moving to Higher Ground” coming in 2020. Watch for that. John is a great communicator. Keep up with John Englander here at his web site. I like his blog.
You can watch John’s presentation “Sea Level Rise Can No Longer Be Stopped, What Next?” at The Royal Institution published May 29, 2019, but filmed at the RI on 11 February 2019.
The Q and A for that presentation is here.
For popular audiences to “get it” John recommends the movie “Ice Age Part 2“, which he’s seen 40 or 50 times. Englander says it is pretty scientific. Sea level rose about 400 feet in that film. “The truth of the matter now is that sea level rise is unstoppable.” It has happened before. If we knew that 5,000 years ago, we would have build our cities differently, he says.
WRAP UP FOR THIS SEASON OF RADIO ECOSHOCK
Yes the climate has tipped. In the past two years my own home and studio was threatened by wildfires. I hope that doesn’t happen this summer. Europe is absolutely sizzling this week, as heat that should have stayed in the Sahara Desert has been dragged north by a wavering Jet Stream. Anything can happen these days.
This concludes my run of 45 new Radio Ecoshock productions this season. It’s been a wild ride for sure. I feel a little guilty leaving my post for a couple of months, while the climate fire roars on all over the world. But I need the break to reground myself in my garden, to kayak down the river, to live as though I don’t know the future at all. Then I’ll be back with you first thing in September with more Radio Ecoshock.
In the meantime, this summer I am providing all stations and listeners a special selection of the best interviews from the past 13 seasons of the show. Keep in mind, some great science going back to 2006 is still need-to-know information. You will hear some classics, like Professor Tim Garrett saying civilization is a heat engine – which can only save itself by crashing. I’m thinking of Dr. Peter Ward’s work on rising seas and past catastrophes. We will feature biologists and all the great scientists and speakers. Feel free to charge up your IPOD or computer for deep summer listening. I hope Radio Ecoshock can help you understand the strange new present, and prepare for the unexpected future.
My thanks to supporters and listeners all over the world. We have listeners in every major city, on every continent. You are in Spain, in Singapore, in Baltimore, in Winnipeg, in Mumbai and London. Feel free to write me over the summer with your ideas and experiences on the ground. I’ll be keeping my eyes on the pulse of the planet, to leap back into the fray next September.
I’m Alex Smith. Thank you for listening, and caring about our world.