A climate change expert says people in Prince Edward Island “gasped” when they saw how much land rising ocean levels would claim from their province in years to come.
“The gasps were so loud,” said Dr. Adam Fenech, director of the University of Prince Edward Island’s Climate Research Lab. The Toronto Star reported that Fenech, at a 2013 meeting with island residents, used visual aids to simulate what water levels would be like in thirty to ninety years.
“The change we documented was surprising for them,” he said. “I had grown men crying as they watched their investments being swamped by water.”
Now, nearly two years later, Fenech thinks he actually may have underestimated the swiftness of the damage. His team of researchers measures erosion at 100 sites throughout PEI, and they found that last winter took its toll on the island’s soft sandstone foundation. Across the island, 46 centimetres of shoreline was lost, compared to their estimate of just 28 centimetres.
“I did not expect this amount of coastal erosion across P.E.I. during this past winter,” said Fenech.
PEI, of course, is not alone is facing the consequences of rising sea levels. A study published in the October 12 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences called “Carbon choices determine US cities committed to futures below sea level,” says millions of Americans will be affected by the phenomenon it claims is caused by an excess of carbon emissions. The study’s lead author, Benjamin Strauss of Climate Central, says some low-lying areas are already practically a goner and that 400 cities are past the point of no return.
“Even in a best-case carbon emissions scenario, 98 percent of populated land in New Orleans would be below the future sea level,” Strauss told The Huffington Post. “So it’s really just a question of building suitable defenses or eventually abandoning the city.”
While the study says that that unabated carbon emissions until the year 2100 would cause a global sea-level rise of between 4.3 and 9.9 metres, the researchers also say it isn’t too late to make changes that could save major urban areas,
“The most interesting thing to me is there are a great deal of cities where our carbon choices make a huge difference,” says Strauss. “For example, if you look at Philadelphia, under business as usual, land that accounts for more than 100,000 people could be submerged. But you divide that total by 10 with an extreme carbon cut. The very biggest difference of all is for New York City, where you can avoid submergence of land where one and a half million people live.”
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But Strauss, who will attend the Paris climate conference later this month, says the responsibility for solving the problem he believes will ultimately affect as many as 760-million people does not fall with any particular city, but with the world community.
“CO2 emissions must be reduced and the global community must be helped to achieve this,” he says. “Building flood defences might be a complementary solution, but it is difficult to imagine that they will be sufficient in the long term.”
While the rate at which Prince Edward Island shoreline is being lost may be a shock to some, all Islanders have known that their precious “Garden of the Gulf” has been slowly dwindling away. Between 1968 and 2010, it is estimated that Prince Edward Island lost more than 20 square kilometres of shoreline.