Scientists Say New Observations in The Arctic Make Higher Sea-Level Rise a More Urgent Concern for Wilmington Area

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One of the world’s leading experts on melting polar ice came to Wilmington today to tell what he’s seen at the ends of the earth, and to demonstrate the implications for our region.

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The impacts of a meter of sea-level rise for Wilmington's physical and economic infrastructure would be very dire

Dr. Robert Bindschadler, NASA chief scientist, brought with him the most detailed maps and made-for-TV video animations yet of exactly what could go underwater this century in this area.

According to Bindschadler, the old estimates for rising seas due to global warming were overly optimistic. Fresh data from the poles now indicates a minimum of three feet of rise by the year 2100 or sooner, which will have much more of an impact on Wilmington and the nation, he said.

The scientist and others present also provided a graphic demonstration of how high the water could get in just a few decades.

The event was sponsored by Clean Air-Cool Planet, a nonprofit headquartered in Portsmouth, N.H. Dr. Bindschadler was joined by Brooks Yeager, the group’s vice president for policy, who donned a pair of hip boots to demonstrate the effect.

Mr. Yeager, a former Clinton administration official, raised a Hula Hoop to near his knees, representing the previous estimate by the Nobel prize-winning scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that sea levels would rise approximately 17.3 inches this century. Slowly, as he spoke, he moved the hoop to his waist, and then his chest, representing the new range of the rising seas now expected.

“The impacts of a meter of sea-level rise for Wilmington's physical and economic infrastructure would be very dire,” said Mr. Yeager, with most of the city's transportation facilities needing protection that would cost billions of dollars, or risk regularly going underwater.

“This area would be devastated by that much change. Many of the ocean beaches, as well as low-lying areas across the Cape Fear region, will be swamped with water if we don’t take action now to avert this disaster.”

The speakers recommended a three-pronged approach to addressing climate change:

  • First, they advocate doing what we can to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases to lessen future global warming, with personal actions at home to reduce energy use and by supporting society’s conversion to clean energy and ultra-efficient homes, vehicles, appliances, and factories.
  • Second, they support both federal legislation to cap carbon dioxide emissions and reduce them through a cap-and-trade mechanism, and U.S. involvement in international efforts in Copenhagen this December to control black carbon from diesel, methane, and tropospheric ozone emissions that scientists believe are accelerating Arctic warming and melting.
  • Finally, they said, we need to begin planning for the infrastructure changes needed to mitigate or minimize the impact on our cities and adapt as much as possible to the climate change from the greenhouse gas emissions already in the atmosphere, such as by respecting a “new flood plain” and preparing to move back from the rising ocean and building sea walls.

The event was part of the “Hip Boot Tour,” which is visiting coastal cities from Miami, Fla., to Portland, Maine to inform and educate Americans about the direct impact they will face from melting ice caused by global warming. The tour brings leading scientists from their research stations in the Arctic through the cities before culminating with events in New York City and Washington, D.C.

The stop in Wilmington was cosponsored by UNCW and Audubon North Carolina.

Dr. Bindschadler has been an active Antarctic field researcher for the past 25 years. He has led field expeditions to Antarctica and has participated in many other expeditions to glaciers and ice caps around the world and currently sits on the US and International Planning Groups for the International Polar Year. He maintains active research into the dynamics of glaciers and ice sheets, investigating how remote sensing can improve understanding of the role of ice in the Earth's climate.

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Ron Zucker

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