A frustrating news article

I read this article, “Where seas are rising at alarming speed”, with rising exasperation. Look: the Gulf Coast is slowly drowning at a rate that is now obvious.

It’s great at explaining how the consequences of climate change are harming people right now, and they’re only getting worse, but…WHY is the Gulf Coast in particular experiencing this rapid rise? The article doesn’t say. So I had to look elsewhere, like NASA.

Although the average acceleration of global sea level rise has also increased over the decades, it was mainly due to melting ice in regions like Greenland. For the Gulf Coast, the team used tide-gauge readings and satellite data from NASA missions like GRACE to rule out a few potential causes.

“We checked vertical land motion, for instance, and could relatively quickly say no,” he said. “We looked into the ice-melt component but it couldn’t explain the magnitude of the change that we have seen in that particular area.”

This left them with one other possibility: sterodynamic sea level, or the combination of ocean-water expansion in response to warming, saltiness, and ocean circulation. The team found that beyond Cape Hatteras, this acceleration extended into the North Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea.

But what is the source of this shifting circulation? According to Dangendorf, climate models reveal two factors at play.

“Approximately 40% of the acceleration that we have seen since 2010 can be attributed to man-made climate change, but there’s a residual 60% that we couldn’t explain with climate models,” said Dangendorf.

The remaining percentage was caused by natural wind-driven ocean circulation unique to the Southeast and Gulf Coast, the researchers found.

“It’s a region bounded by the western boundary current, or the Gulf Stream, so that makes it very prone to fluctuations and therefore we can see these massive changes on decadal time-scales,” said Dangendorf.

OK, now I can read the WaPo article without looking for a causal explanation, and truly appreciate how screwed the citizens on our southern coast are. It’s not just that the seas are creeping into their streets and basements, but that there are no practical solutions available — they talk about exorbitantly expensive pumps, but where are they pumping the water to?

Do I need to point out the irony of all those oil refineries on the Gulf Coast that are not being shut down, while proposing to build water pumps (that would probably be driven by coal and oil fired power plants)? That’s not to diminish the tragedy and struggle of all the people who have to deal with these consequences, but to point out that we need to stop thinking about stopgap solutions in the short term.


  1. numerobis says

    On the plus side it’s going to make building off-shore wind turbines way cheaper if you can build them on the coast and just wait for the coast to recede.

  2. numerobis says

    As for what’s going to power the pumps: largely natural gas, wind, solar, and nuclear. Coal is fading fast as a power source and basically nobody uses oil.

    Since you can stop pumping for a bit when power is expensive — just let the water seep in for an hour or two at peak times — it’s mostly going to avoid fossil-heavy power because that stuff is expensive.

  3. Robbo says

    whats the problem? it looks like the sea level rise is about 1/2 foot. People are like 5 1/2 feet tall. there is still 5 feet left!

    are we sure Lex Luthor didn’t buy all the land around the gulf of mexico, and is now building massive hotels two miles inland, that will soon become valuable ocean front?

  4. says

    All we’ve learned over the ages about how the continents are dynamic things that don’t give a shit about what’s put on top of them, yet we’re still too stupid to realize that the coasts are a terrible place to build ANYthing other than a floating marina.

    See also: 1m+ population cities in the middle of a fucking desert.

  5. says

    Hey! Don’t you live near the coast?

    I grew up far enough away from the coast that we didn’t have to worry about tidal flooding. On the other hand, we did live in a valley that was also a massive runway for any lahars gushing out of any eruption of Mt Rainier.

  6. StevoR says

    That rate?
    Will likely accelerate.

    They ask if the science is wrong. Itr’s likely too conservative and wrong in the direction of being worse than they say.

    Mind you8, better todo what we can as fast as we can than not.

    Becoz y’know difference between hitting the wallina car driving 100 mph versus hiting same wall at 80 vs hitting it at 120 ..

  7. StevoR says

    In short, the more we do and the faster we do it the better and the opposite, well opposite applies.

    Less we do, slower we do less the worse it is.

    So far, we ‘re somehow choosing todo the latter?!

    Fer fucks sake!

    Seriously, diarrheaously, Humanity?

    Fucking hell.

  8. davex says

    Huh — I knew the dz/dt was higher in the gulf coast (due to groundwater extraction) and around VA/NC (due to the ice-age glacial rebound), but I hadn’t seen this article on acceleration varying as well. The article headlines are sloppy about the difference between rates of change and of accelerations. Some of the places where sea levels are rising at alarming speeds alos have alarming increases in that speed.

    There’s an excellent NOAA paper on east coast water levels running about a foot high for a month in 2009 due to a temporary slowdown of the Florida current/gulf stream–with Coriolis effects, changes in circulation change water levels.

  9. StevoR says

    Can Mar -e-fucking-Lago be hit by massive storms and floods that literally knock it’s doors in ASAP like this – Video shows massive wave crashing into US Army Base in Marshall Islands, ripping doors from hinges by ABC 7 Chicago
    (If ever there was metaphor made solid and liquidly powerful..) 1min 37 secs.

    Might be the only thing that wakes Trump up aside from his own loud and stinky farts as he sits in court facing criminal charges before he becoems POTUS again and finishes America’s sad excuse for “democracy” off once and for all.. And fucks up the rest of our spaceship Earth as a consequence.

  10. davex says

    #3 — In terms of a 30-year mortgage (the longest time horizon that people commonly plan for) sea level rise of a half foot can make the mortgaged property worthless.

  11. stuffin says

    Read that article this morning an posted this comment

    Officials are planning to install several huge pump stations in coming years, largely funded through federal grants.

    And This:

    Tax dollars would be better off served feeding people and building housing instead of being spent on projects that will only postpone the inevitable.

  12. Reginald Selkirk says

    Are water levels rising in Crystal Lake and the Pomme de Terre river?

  13. Matt G says

    There was a recent article about the plight of condo owners in Florida. Insurance rates, resale value, etc. Miami is ground zero for sea level rise. We’ve been warning them for decades, so it’s getting harder and harder to feel sympathy.

  14. ardipithecus says

    Southern Floridians are too stuck in the sunk cost fallacy to pay much heed to the sunk cost reality.

  15. petesh says

    It’s not just the Gulf Coast. I live in Santa Cruz, California, where the scenic West Cliff Drive overlooking the ocean is not entirely overlooking anymore, since several substantial chunks of it are now IN the ocean. Just down the coast in Capitola, the wharf is, um, not entirely connected to itself and has been closed pending repair for months. Between the two, alas, the concrete ship is not dealing with entropy very well.

  16. magistramarla says

    Hi petesh,
    I’m just south of you, in Monterey. Highway 1 just keeps falling into the sea near Big Sur. Folks who live in the communities south of the damage are stuck there for now, and businesses that cater to tourists are suffering.
    When we bought our home here in which to retire, we paid attention to sea rise predictions and which neighborhoods were in tsunami danger areas. We also avoided forested and steep properties.
    We bought a house close enough to see part of the bay, but far enough up a hill to be safe. Someday in the far future, our property may be an oceanfront property, but we’ll no longer care, as we’ll both be residing in the Ft. Ord Veterans’ cemetery.

  17. robro says

    pettish@ #18 & magistramarla @ #19 — Is sea level rise causing Highway 1 to fall into the Pacific more often? I’ve lived in San Francisco for 50 years and road closures on Highway 1 due to sections falling into the ocean or rock slides have been a common occurrence, particularly where the road skirts the cliffs. That’s one reason they built the “Devils Slide Bypass Tunnel” between Pacifica and Moss Beach.

  18. stuffin says

    @13 StevoR

    Thanks for the lesson. Great anecdote, but wish god wasn’t involved.

  19. Hemidactylus says

    Per the barrier islands I don’t live in a flood zone for hurricane surge and I think I checked a modeling site for sea level rise which didn’t put me in harm’s way, but there is also the St. John’s basin. My issue is a smallish neighborhood pond that overflows every 20-30 years due to tropical systems. St. John’s is too far away for that to be an issue. At some point I could have coveted beachfront property or walk to the beach as the barrier islands become distant sand bars. The rising ocean could clear away the poop water sediment maybe. And the rich folks who built along the beach who keep whining for renourishment projects which seem to amount to barging inland ancient sea dunes back into the ocean after the subsequent bad hurricane season won’t be worrying about that any more.

    Oh who cares about global warming in the long term for Florida when this coming La Nina may set historic records for tropical storm activity. Micheal and Ian made pancakes out of parts of the Gulf Coast. Dress rehearsal?

  20. wsierichs says

    Louisiana is doubly screwed as much of the Mississippi delta is mud deposited over thousands of years. For a combination of reasons, this mud is sinking, so the sea level rise is making a good bit of southeast La. coastal area prime territory for expansion of the Gulf of Mexico. Entire villages/towns are disappearing into the water. The voters wobble between electing people who respect the science and Republicans, like the new governor, who want to go full speed ahead on oil and gas production while damning the EPA and environmentalists.

    The Baton Rouge newspaper printed a column nearly a decade ago by an oil industry exec who, among other things, mocked people worried that the ocean would rise a fraction of an inch in a century. It took me several minutes to figure out that he was talking about thermal warming/expansion of water. He said nothing about the enormous amount of ice melting in Greenland and Antarctica, which will raise ocean levels by at least multiple inches, probably multiple feet.

    I was a low-level editor for the paper for almost 20 years. If I had been there, I could at least have alerted the upper editors about the problem. Not sure that anything would have been done, but at least they would have known about it. I have somewhat more of a science background than most journalists.

    The good news, for me, is that my house in Baton Rouge is on the original, high ground of the older part of the city. If I live long enough, my house might have a great view of the Gulf, or at least be within a few miles of beach! At my age, it’s unlikely that that will happen in my lifetime, but if one of the reallllly big glaciers in Antarctica slide into the ocean soon, as might happen to some of them, I will enjoy the last few years of my life as a beachcomber.

  21. Hemidactylus says

    Funny thing is I got my house reroofed a few months ago. Looking at the looming armageddon in the fall I might be visiting it a few streets over in someone else’s yard. 2004 was a nightmare. 2024 said “Hold my beer!”. Fuck!

  22. numerobis says

    I used to live somewhere that the expected sea level rise from glacial melt is nil. We were close enough to Greenland that the mass of the ice was gravitationally attracting the sea and lifting it up, so as it melted, the sea would rise because of ice melt but recede because the ice was no longer pulling the sea northwards. That was an interesting tidbit.

    Now I’m back down South where there’s no such effect. I’m a few meters above the river, and the river is about 10m above sea level. We draw water from a few meters further upstream. So I should generally be OK, I should just see property values rise as Aquaman buys up all the coastal properties and those people move inland.

  23. says

    One of the things that annoys me about people talking about space colonies is that they don’t seem to understand we need the ecological technology to create a contained biosphere. Essentially, I want them to build and test a functioning bio-dome on Earth to prove humanity can camp in our planet’s back yard before entertaining the notion of a space colony as anything other than far future science fiction.

    Stories like this just reinforce my perception that we can’t even keep our house in order, much less survive in a tent in the back yard.

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