Sea levels to continue to rise for 500 years? Long-term climate calculations suggest so

ScienceDaily (Oct. 17, 2011) — Rising sea levels in the coming centuries is perhaps one of the most catastrophic consequences of rising temperatures. Massive economic costs, social consequences and forced migrations could result from global warming. But how frightening of times are we facing? Researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute are part of a team that has calculated the long-term outlook for rising sea levels in relation to the emission of greenhouse gases and pollution of the atmosphere using climate models.
In the pessimistic scenario, emissions continue to increase. This will mean that sea levels will rise 1.1 meters by the year 2100 and will have risen 5.5 meters by the year 2500.
For the two more realistic scenarios, calculated based on the emissions and pollution stabilizing, the results show that there will be a sea level rise of about 75 cm by the year 2100 and that by the year 2500 the sea will have risen by 2 meters.
 it would be 2-400 years before we returned to the 20th century level of a 2 mm rise per year,
OK, so its another 'official' view that sea levels will continue to rise for a long time, and even if things 'stabilise' at the 20th century rate of 2 mm per year, its going to keep on keeping on.

Also check out:

Rising oceans: Too late to turn the tide?

ScienceDaily (2011-07-18) -- Melting ice sheets contributed much more to rising sea levels than thermal expansion of warming ocean waters during the Last Interglacial Period, scientists have found. The results further suggest that ocean levels continue to rise long after warming of the atmosphere levels off.
Keep building your arks and planting your spinach!!


How long do we have?

This post highlights the potential timeframes we have to deal with as far as any energy-intensive solution to impending climate change and sea level rise is concerned.

You will recall that with the global CO2 levels now passing through 390ppm, there is nothing standing in the way of an eventual melt-out of most of the global ice sheets, and consequent 70 to 80 metre sea level rise.

This chart is our view of the future of oil supply for small nations that are net importers of oil.

The chart uses two sources of data:- 
Declining production data from the IEA World Energy Outlook 2010's expected crude oil production from Existing fields plus part of the IEA's Fields yet to be developed and Fields yet to be found.  
Consumption data from the CIA World Fact Book:
The net-exporter's consumption is incremented by a modest 2.9% per year from 2010 levels.

The premise is that net exporting nations will continue to favour supplying their internal consumption over exporting their oil during the next 20 years.  These nations will thus become prime locations for global manufacturing as oil supplies to the net importing nations become more tenuous.  

At the same time their production capacity will be affected generally in the same way as the rest of the world, as depicted by the IEA's WEO2010.  

The suggested rate of increase of the internal consumption of the producing nations used in the chart above of only 2.9% per year is likely to be very 'conservative', but things get quite bad enough fast enough with that rate; people can make their own assessment of the more likely rate and the following implications.  (Saudi Arabia's internal consumption is rising at about 5.5% per year, for example.)

The largest oil importers (say the top ten importers including USA, China, Japan, Germany, South Korea and India etc) will make (have made) agreements with other exporters to assure supply of their import requirements over the same period - at any cost.  

This leaves 'what's left' of global oil exports for the other 140 net importing nations, including many nations with little or no internal oil production at all.

The 'what's left' for these 140 nations is depicted on this chart as what could be termed a 'Triangle of Hope' spanning on the y axis from about 68 to 80 million barrels per day giving them about 12 mmbl per day today, running out to zero available to them around 2016!  


And the internal demand of the net exporters reaches their present day production levels in 20 years time.  At which time there is nothing left to send to any of the importers.

At that stage, 20 years out from now, this chart suggests that the only oil that will be availably to any nation will be the oil it produces itself.  It appears that there will not be any nation with a surplus of supply over demand.  Its my guess that past that date any global oil movements will be by way of private treaty between parties with something to trade rather than within any open market.

I offer this perspective on the global oil supply situation as an incentive to viewers to hasten their personal and community preparations for the coming 'interesting times'.

For a fuller version of this post with background info refer to: 

Kind regards



How are we doing? Latest Global CO2 Level

Not doing that well!  No sign of any useful  levelling-off of CO2 levels, the upward trend appears to be continuing unabated.

and so the Earth's energy imbalance caused by increased greenhouse gas levels is increasing the required surface temperature and thus driving an ever-increasing forcing on ice melt and  the rate of sea level rise.

We COULD get onto a war footing to do what we can to stop the rot, while making prudent and straightforward provision for the perils of climate change and resource depletion (the perfect storm, isn't it!?!).

As so many other scientists and commentators  have observed. if we do nothing but persist with Business as Usual catastrophe is certain.

This catastrophe is way more certain than the likelihood of a fire burning down your house (an eventuality that most homeowners pay thousands of dollars a year to insure against), yet right now very few people are making any provision against the consequences of climate change and resource depletion.

The IMF and IEA are now both shouting that the time of plentiful energy supplies are behind us and we are entering a time of increased scarcity of oil supplies.  It would pay to listen.

But if instead we initiate a national mobilisation to produce our food locally and sustainably, and to reconfigure our entire society to a low-energy operation (which WILL entail turning away from our present economic and social paradigm) then we can give ourselves and our children the best chance that we can to make it through with some sort of dignity and a fair chance of living to a ripe old age.

We have to paint this truly grim picture plainly and honestly for all people to come to understand what is in front of us, and to thus provide the emotional and intellectual basis for mobilisation.  The short-term risks involved in doing this must be determined to be worth enduring if we are to avoid the worst impacts of what at the moment is a certain unravelling of life as we know it as the global economy and energy situation spirals downwards to oblivion.

We are in for a low-energy climate-affected future ANYWAY.  We will be better off if we accept that, and prepare for it for all we are worth, directing our remaining energy resources towards building our lifeboat, rather than wasting those precious resources on useless trivia such as new motorways or the manufacture of massive volumes of soon-to-be-useless consumer goods.

Time to write some letters to MPs, Councillors and newspapers, methinks!


The Road to Utopia

The Road to Utopia

Nigel Williams 

8 May 2011.

As citizens of this planet Earth, as mothers, fathers, as people with loved ones about whom you care deeply, I ask you to consider what is to be done to get us from the present economic and social condition to a new condition that offers a perpetual and sustainable way forwards for future generations.

Some folk are anxious about the likely depletion of some critical resources or energy supplies; others are worried more by the possible impacts of changing climate and more extreme day-by-day weather events.  These concerns are becoming heightened as the world and the people who inhabit it negotiate a new 'contract' on the availability and operation of the Earth's life-giving resources and functions.  

For some the concern may revolve around the continued viability of their businesses, while for many others it is the desire to be a good parent; to set a good example to our children and grandchildren that is prodding us into action.

It is difficult for us to imagine how it will be during the transition; every scenario presents so many options - so many ways it can play out - that we cannot plot a clear path through the hazards to a safe end point.  The more authors and commentators try and paint a singular picture, the more divergence we find in the probability of that view being true or not, that remedy for that disease being the right cure to apply or not.  So contemplation of the transition period itself is often unhelpful.

Instead we can step back and see where it is that we would like to be when its all settled down again.  I believe that we are entitled to paint a utopian view of how we would like it to be for our children and all after them; and with that distant view in mind we can then consider what it is that needs to be done to get us safely there; regardless of the many obstacles in our way.   This is my view:-

An encouraging indicator of our national thinking in relation to the balance between what we take and what our provider, the Earth, can give is embodied in the Act of Parliament passed in 1991; the Resource Management Act.  The purpose of this Act is stated as:


   5. Purpose---(1) The purpose of this Act is to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources.

   (2) In this Act, ``sustainable management'' means managing the use, development, and protection of natural and physical resources in a way,  or at a rate, which enables people and their communities to provide for their social, economic, and cultural wellbeing and for their health and safety while---
   (a) Sustaining the potential of natural and physical resources (excluding minerals) to meet the reasonably foreseeable needs of future generations; and
   (b) Safeguarding the life-supporting capacity of air, water, soil, and ecosystems; and
   (c) Avoiding, remedying, or mitigating any adverse effects of activities on the environment.

With the rider that 'minerals' including energy minerals should be included in the protective cover the Act sought to provide (and putting aside the actual outcomes of this well-intentioined legislation), this statement gives us a useful working platform for the function of our future Utopia.  

In 1964 Sir Fred Hoyle put our condition rather bluntly:-

'It has often been said that, if the human species fails to make a go of it here on the Earth, some other species will take over the running. In the sense of developing intelligence this is not correct. We have or soon will have, exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites so far as this planet is concerned. With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ores gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology. This is a one-shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is concerned. The same will be true of other planetary systems. On each of them there will be one chance, and one chance only.' 

In this statement Hoyle is perhaps mixing the concept of 'intelligence' with that of 'high-level technology'.  We are indeed hoping that we can continue to use this high intelligence on a planet that is in balance, albeit in a way that may be viewed as 'primitive'.  But in terms of reaching a level of high technological competence in the use of resources and all the goodies that implies we have seen where our 'intelligent' use of the Earth's physical prerequisites has got us to.  

We stand near the end of the Mineral Energy Era with virtually nothing to show for it in terms of the intelligent use we have made of all the resources we have consumed to date.  Compared with man of 300 years ago we are no smarter, no better, no happier as people and we have constructed no everlasting bits of fantastic equipment to take us forward on a higher plane into a new era.  The impact of this burst of resource consumption will last as long as it takes for a bolt to rust through or a bit of reinforcing steel to fail, or the battery to go flat, a dam to fail and it will all be gone.

I suggest that our intelligence can be used to take us to a perfectly satisfactory alternate destination that does not (indeed it cannot) entail continued depletion of the Earth's resources.  We must apply our intelligence to husband the remaining and renewable resources to make the best of our planetary system's 'one chance'.

Discussing our ability to somehow dodge the oncoming times of change, Australian writer Reg Morrison observed:- 

'Not only have our genes managed to conceal from us that we are entirely typical mammals and therefore vulnerable to all of evolution's customary checks and balances, but also they have contrived to lock us so securely into the plague cycle that they seem almost to have been crafted for that purpose. Gaia is running like a Swiss watch. '  (Morrison, 1999)

Putting it simply then; In our Utopia we have to be living within our means.  And 'our means' is determined by the natural rate of replacement of the resources we use to ensure that we are 'sustaining the potential of natural and physical resources to meet the reasonably foreseeable needs of future generations and safeguarding the life supporting capacity of air, water, soil and natural ecosystems' (from the Resource Management Act 1991).

Every aspect of our Utopian life must be governed by the rate at which energy arrives on the surface of the Earth day by day, and the bounty that energy yields in terms of the growth of plants, the movement of wind and water and the regeneration of soil and mineral resources.

If we are to survive long in our Utopia then one of the key provisions of the new system is the supply of food.  Food produced in perpetual balance with the daily and annual cycle of solar energy inputs.

When we look at 'modern' agriculture we find that is unable to operate within this limitation.   The use of fossil fuels for farm machinery and agri-chemicals is utterly incompatible with the constraints of our Utopia's energy and resource allocations, as is the maintenance of infrastructure like freezing works, vast dairy factories and the international transport of critical farm inputs such as phosphate and sulphur, and exports of surplus product.  

In terms of its ability to sustain higher animal life the natural New Zealand bush is close to a 'green desert'.  There are reports from early European explorers of tribal hunting parties almost starving to death when lost for a time in the bush, and the Europeans themselves, even with indigenous guides familiar with the area, found sustenance hard to find.  

Recent research has found that within a couple of hundred years of their arriving the recent Polynesian migrants to the islands of New Zealand had burned off much of the land's pre-existing forest cover in an apparent effort to create better growing conditions for self-regenerating food crops such as fern roots (an important source of carbohydrate).  This effort created an environment that led to the loss of some animal life (the Moa and the Haast Eagle), but which better sustained the local human population.  Similar research has led to the appreciation that the forests of North America were heavily modified by the pre-European population to encourage the growth of fauna and flora to support human needs.  The turkeys found by the Europeans wandering 'wild' were in fact part of the local people's complex forest food gardens; not some random distribution of wild-fowl. 

Thus there is already a strong and ancient pattern of deliberate large-scale modification of our local plant and animal life as a means of sustaining human habitation, and this points a way to suggesting that again our national food production can be based around the broad productive capability of the entire sunlight-receiving surface of the country from the coast to the alpine bush-line.  

There are many recorded sites of formal gardens near places of pre-European habitation (some older than the recent Polynesian arrivals) and of course the continued operation of the kitchen garden as a source of much of the required food supply will persist.   

The Polynesian settlers were limited in the nature of plants they could introduce as they had a fairly limited pool of viable species to draw from, and transport and propagation of new plants was difficult.  We are now comparatively fortunate that in addition to those plants so carefully tended and understood by the pre-Europeans we have a wide range of useful 'exotic' perennial food plants from root vegetables, greens, berries, medicinals, fruit and nuts that can be planted in viable locations to grow 'wild' until they are needed.  This will allow us to re-establsh the national forest food garden as a 'common good' for the people of New Zealand to replace the resource-hungry mechanised factory-food-farming of today.

Beyond food of course our Utopia's gardening efforts will provide various fibres for clothing (harakeki, linen flax and cotton should be broadly re-propagated) and timber sustainably coppiced for energy, tapa cloth (as the climate warms) and building materials.

Thus our Utopia has its food and primary material needs addressed in a way that demonstrates our intelligent utilisation of the resources we will have available. 

Our Utopia will not have many of the employment opportunities of today; national electricity supply will collapse within a few weeks of the last tanker-load of crude oil arriving at Marsden Point, and with the loss of electricity will go most forms of commerce and employment.  Instead we will find work for idle hands in gently guiding the national forest food gardens (the 'commons') through its annual production cycles, caring for each other and maintaing the modest infrastructure of our new more intelligent civilisation. 

We will find time to be gentle with ourselves.  We will listen to our bodies and recognise for example that the majority of our population have blood types and genetic backgrounds that find ingestion of gluten (wheat) and dairy products compromises our immune systems.  This stress leads to many illnesses and disabilities that can be resolved by adherence to a simpler diet of fresh green vegetables, fruit and nuts and moderate protein intake for some.  

We will live quietly in balance with nature and with each other.  No raiding parties, no resource wars, no felling of our forests to provide spars for foreign warships.  We will sit in the sun a lot and exchange knowledge with our children and grandchildren, we will come to know the land again and our place within it.  

We will understand that no-one can take more than their share of the 'common' without prejudicing us all.   We have tried ignoring this natural rule, and this is where we are today.  Thus the intelligence and wisdom of Utopia will be passed on from parent to child, and our performance will be watched over and if need-be softly realigned by those who still remember the cost we paid - that is the cost we will pay in the next few decades. 

We will know that peace that transcends all understanding, the peace of surrender, of faith, and of true companionship with man and with nature.  Utopia.

But.  Are we ready for Utopia?  Can we simply drop tools, shut down the laptop, say goodbye to the nine-to-five job, step out of the queue at the job search agency, and catch a bus to become a model citizen of Utopia?  I think not.

In New Zealand we are blessed with a vast array of people with different geographic and social backgrounds.  Some of us are less than four generations distant from cannibals, while others are direct descendants of those arrogant economic imperialists who enslaved and devoured the souls and spirits of the uncomprehending populations of entire continents of the 'new world'.  When we push the pin into this heap of history, of layered cause and effect, we find that in the end no one's pot is really any blacker than the any one else's.   Its just not a pretty picture.  

We are not nobly defined by our land, by our government, by our flag, or by our behaviour as citizens.  We kill too many children, we murder too many friends, we disobey too many laws.  The fact that we have so many laws to disobey is a clear indication of the failure of our moral education at the most basic level.  We don't need laws relating to 'Careless use of a motor vehicle causing death' if everybody respects and obeys the basic principle that no one should kill anybody else.  We don't need laws relating to 'Converting to his own use ...' if everybody respects and obeys the basic principle that no one should take what doesn't belong to them.

We give our power to elected representatives knowing that those exercising the power only represent the views of a minority, and then grumble at the outcome of government.  We surrender our most basic needs as human beings into the hands of 'the system' and then rial at our sense of powerlessness and cry out "Why doesn't the government do something...!"

Why do we fear loosing our jobs, dropping off the dole, standing up for ourselves when to do so will mean we cannot buy food for our families, we cannot pay the water supply, electricity and sewerage utilities? Because we have given the power of life and death over our families to the supermarket supply chain, the council, the energy company!  

If you grow your own food - they have no power over you!  if you collect your own rain water - they have no power over you!  If you convert human waste to humanure to fertilise your garden - they have no power over you! If you use a solar cooker and a small solar electricity unit - they have no power over you!  

Yet how many of us are so independent of 'the system' that we no longer need to care if it exists or not?  Very few.  Yet therein lies our rite of passage to Utopia.  

By taking these and many other powers back to ourselves we can begin to assume the responsibilities we as adults pretend to our children that we have, but know we don't have.  It is for us to determine how much food we eat, and to never fear 'the price of milk', the price of water, the price of energy.  But until we are in that position we will always demand that 'they' do something to make it right.   We will always be a mouse, rather than a man. 

Yet in our hearts this is not where we want to be is it?  In each of us resides the Noble Savage; the Provider and Protector.  The Father or Mother figure proud of its brood of well-manered fledglings.  

So now we have a destination; somewhere to aim for.  With this knowledge we can define our new direction; we now know in which direction lies peril, and in which direction we will find Utopia.  How do we move from where we are today? As usual; we take one step at a time in the right direction.

Nigel Williams


Christchurch and The Emperor's Clothes - Some Harsh Realities

Christchurch and The Emperor's Clothes - Some Harsh Realities

Nigel Williams 
Updated March 5, 2011.

This paper gathers together information that is relevant to the condition of Christchurch, New Zealand.  It raises some `home truths' that will be unpalatable to many, particularly at a time so close to the recent series of tragic events.
But as a Christchurch-born boy I feel I have a duty to drag these harsh realities into the open; to discuss The Emperor's Clothes.  So, before you shoot the messenger, please listen to what he has to say.
As the dust begins to settle on another devastating earthquake in my dear hometown, the clamour to resume business as usual and rebuild something new and `iconic' on the rubble of the old is gaining momentum.
Our government is struggling to find the money to help restore the city to its former glory, especially with the multiple hits of the earthquakes on top of the generally depressed economic conditions nationally and globally.
Deep down I'm sure the decision-makers know that they are going to have to be very careful with every penny that is spent on Christchurch.
The city is proud of its heritage.  The combined European and Polynesian presence has left its mark on place and history stretching back atleast 800 years.  If we are to build a new and more resilient city then we must look for a place and manner of community function that has a genuine potential to provide a future at least as long as the city's noble past.
We must use the knowledge we have of the state of the world today to must ensure that what we re-build today will be of service to our children, and to their children for many generations; to  ensure that our efforts will reap the same rewards that we enjoy today from the efforts of our forefathers many centuries ago.
Among the mud, dust and rubble of this trembling town there are many spirits stirring.  Some will urge us to take swift and decisive action with the risk of repeating many of the errors of the past; others, three in particular, will demand of us the utmost strength to think deeply of them, and to find the courage to make very hard choices based on what these spirits tell us.
These three sleeping spirits stand on each other's shoulders; each reinforces the effect of the ones beneath as time passes. 
The first spirit will awake and open its eyes in a time frame of years, perhaps months.  Its name is FIRE.
The second spirit raises its head in a time frame of decades, perhaps years. Its name is FOOD.
The third spirit bares its teeth in timeframes of centuries, perhaps decades. Its name is FLOOD.
To support in just a few years the building of a third of a city that has taken 150 years to build before will require a significant amount of energy.  That first build and work to date was enabled by the fire of cheap readily available high-density energy; first coal, then oil.
In one of its many increasingly blunt statements about the global energy predicament the International Energy Agency stated in 2009 that "…global oil supply is expected to decline at about 6.7% per year from its peak in 2008."
This means that by 2020 the theoretical oil supply for NZ will be only 55% of the 1990 level.  That's the IEA, and they should (and do) know.
The recent Parliamentary Research Paper The next oil shock? restates warnings by other agencies that: "…another supply crunch is likely to occur soon after 2012 due to rising demand and insufficient production capacity…"
The report Peak Oil Vulnerability Assessment for Dunedin (Dr Susan Krumdieck et al.; 2010) notes that: "The peak and decline in world oil supply will be a driver for long-term fuel consumption reduction to around 50% of current levels by 2050.  The possibility of fuel shocks will be ever-present."
Comment: These are not idle threats to our way of life; these are plain realities that we ignore at our peril.  Sometime soon we will have another oil price spike and within the next 10 to 40 years (2020 to 2050; that long, if we are so lucky) global supplies of conventional oil (the stuff we use to rebuild cities with and to take Johnny to school with) will be down to 50% or less of today's level.
This will impact not only on the choice of urban form for a rebuilt city but also on our ability to move food supplies long distances, and to obtain materials for the production of essential manufactured goods and agricultural efforts.
The FIRE is flickering now, and it will surely die.
Christchurch's new town will continue to rely on the production of its rural hinterland as the cornerstone of its economic wealth and reason for being.  How viable is that production?  Remember that by 2050 for sure we will be fortunate to have perhaps half the oil for transport, agricultural chemicals and production that we do today.  We will `eat local', or we will not eat at all.  What else can go wrong with our ability to feed ourselves in Christchurch?
Refer to the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry:  The EcoClimate Report - Climate change and agricultural production. http://www.maf.govt.nz
The EcoClimate report presents projected changes based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) third and fourth assessment reports.
Figure 7: `Projected changes to the frequency of droughts' shows the projected driest annual conditions in the 2080s under (a) low medium and (b) medium high scenarios for conditions that currently occur on average once every 20 years.
This Figure shows Canterbury experiencing once every 20-year drought conditions every 5 to 10 years under the low medium scenario and every 2.5 to 5 years under the medium high scenario.
Comment: So, bearing in mind the necessarily conservative approach adopted by the IPCC, it is virtually certain that Canterbury will be experiencing once-in-20-year drought conditions every 5 to 10 years by 2080, possibly as frequently as once ever 2.5 years.
The eastern areas of New Zealand have already had samples of these conditions, and the Ministry's report confirms that these dry conditions will continue to arrive with increasing frequency.  Agriculture (particularly with low energy inputs) will be hard to sustain as  Plains dry out. 2080.
Because, by 2080, the Earth's atmosphere and temperature will not yet be in balance with the climate-altering forcings we have imposed, these conditions in Canterbury will continue to get worse for some considerable time beyond 2080.
The absence of readily available or affordable oil for transport, agri-chemicals, fertiliser, and energy for irrigation will make it very difficult for Canterbury to sustain a form of agriculture that will provide local food to a population of four to five hundred thousand people.
Agricultural production will be in dire straights, as will one of Christchurch's main reasons for being.  In Christchurch by 2080 the combination of the energy situation and the increasing frequency of drought conditions will mean that FOOD will be hard to find.
If we are looking at local food supplies, then the most productive land (before much of it was filled over for housing – Bad move!) was on the coastal soils including Marshland and in the rich soils of the valleys of the Port Hills (Watch that rock-fall!).  In common with all coastal cities, Christchurch has to consider the impact of sea level rise on its plans for investment in the development of the repaired town.   
Hansen recently suggested that a 10-year doubling time in the rate of ice sheet melting was plausible; pointing out that such a doubling time from the current observed base of 1 mm per year ice sheet contribution to sea level in the decade 2005-2015 will lead to a cumulative 5 metre sea level rise by about 2095.  Hansen has found that actual data points to a shorter doubling time of around 8 years.
Comment: The steps into Christchurch's Cathedral are at 6.197m above mean sea level, or less than 5 metres above high tide.
So by the Year of Our Lord 2100, high tide will see ocean fish nibbling the Cathedral's altar cloth and the coastal strip containing the premium market gardening soils will be awash.  By 2200 AD with at least 10 m of sea level rise Captain Cook will be right, its 'Banks Island' not 'Banks Peninsula'; Lyttelton Port becomes inaccessible from The Mainland and two-thirds of present-day Christchurch City is reclaimed by the sea.  200 years is barely the duration of European association with the Cathedral City.  Not long. Certainly not long enough.
With the absence of cheap oil that will be evident by late in the century our ability to transport food and commodities long distances will be compromised, and drought conditions will make it difficult to produce sufficient food to meet the local demand of a large city.  Rising seas will by 2100 have inundated prime coastal market gardening areas further exacerbating the food supply situation, as well as taking over a third of the existing urban area including most of the parts of Christchurch which have suffered the worst effects of liquefaction in the recent earthquakes.
The sea will rise faster and faster over a number of centuries until the amount of grounded ice left to melt begins to decline significantly.
As James Hansen declared in his 2008 testimony to Congress: "No stable shoreline would be re-established in any time frame that humanity can conceive."
Sea levels will eventually stabilise when all the ice that there is to melt is melted, and the seas have risen about 75 metres, plus a bit for thermal expansion.  Rangiora and Rolleston will be gone, and Dunsandel and Ashburton will be seaside towns perched on the 15 metre high eroding sea cliffs of the shrinking and desolate Canterbury Plains.
By late in the century the lack of oil-powered transport and construction equipment will mean that it is impractical to consider building any sort of barrier to the rising sea (after all it would have to be built by hand), and the inevitability of continued sea level rise for centuries makes any development or reconstruction within the long reach of the rising ocean a temporary arrangement at best, and a criminal waste of the effort, money and resources used in its construction at worst.
By 2100 the sea's inroads will confirm that the continued habitation of what is currently Christchurch City is unwise, and indeed pointless.
In time FLOOD will wipe clean the slate that was Christchurch.
We have lit the fire and consumed the oil, the burning of the fire has changed the climate, the changed climate is bringing the heat and drought, and the heat is melting the ice that is filling the oceans.
Within the next couple of years the all-sustaining fire of cheap energy is going to flicker, and oil (and all it means for us) will be beyond our economic reach within 10 to 40 years.  In particular the city’s ability to source staple food supplies from long distances away will be compromised; the principal source of food will have to be that grown locally.  Two years to perhaps 40 years, if we're lucky.
Over the next 60 to 70 years progressively worsening drought conditions on the Canterbury Plains will become so extreme that, in combination with the lack of oil supplies to support drought-tolerant agricultural production, the overall viability of large-scale commercial food production will be suspect. 60 to 70 years, and it will not get better.
Within the next 50 to 100 years the progressive and inexorable rise in sea levels will become evident as coastal areas are inundated.  By 2100 the surf could be running through Cathedral Square.  The sea will continue to rise and "...No stable shoreline would be re-established in any time frame that humanity can conceive".
These are the realities that a local view of the much-discussed impacts of resource depletion, climate change and the inevitable and progressive rise in sea levels will have on the existing city of Christchurch.
Over our lifetimes and the lives of our children and grandchildren these impacts are – as far as we are concerned – inevitable and unavoidable.
So Where and How for Christchurch?
The changed climate is expected to give rise to more floods in the rivers over the plains. Perhaps a modest new city in the foothills at the top of the plains watered by gravity fed canals from the great rivers may be a possibility.
The hills above Timaru will eventually be the best harbour on the edge of the plains, and the downs there may become a safe haven if water supply can be assured.
But whatever the solution we have a marvellous opportunity to take part in a consciously joyful process to re-establish a meaningful and viable city that can look forward to a future at least as long as its past.  To achieve that we must bring the talents of the entire community to bear on the realities that confront us.
We must ask:  “Where is the best place to apply the effort and money we are planning to spend rebuilding Christchurch?”  Sadly, one place is sure; NOT Christchurch.
We have no time and no money to loose.  The informed community must debate the final answer to that question before any more money is wasted. 
With the right outcome from this debate we can look forward to the best and most meaningful times of our lives.
Update 13 June 2011.
Article in Christchurch Press re Hansen referring to The 100 Metre Line:

Commented in:


80m Sea Rise Maps - Scandinavia, Western Russia, Caspian and Black Sea

Using Google Maps and the Sea Level Rise applet, the following maps show 80 metres of sea level rise.

Areas shaded red are those areas inundated.

Scandinavia and Western Russia 

Caspian and Black Sea Area

I strongly recommend you check with your local maps to review the location of the 80 metre contour in your area of interest.


The Promise of Doubling

In seeking to understand the implications of this latest paper from Hansen et al (see my earlier posts), a useful place to start is with Hansen’s observation that:

“…Hansen (2007) suggested that a 10-year doubling time was plausible pointing out that such a doubling time from a base of 1 mm per year ice sheet contribution to sea level in the decade 2005-2015 would lead to a cumulative 5 m sea level rise by 2095. ”

While we know that in fact the 2005-2015 base to start the doubling from is probably somewhat higher than that.

As with any compounding calculation the final result is very dependent on the starting conditions. Hansen notes in the paper that recent data suggests a 6 to 8 year doubling rather than the 10 year he uses in Figure 7. So his sea level rise in 2100 is very ‘conservative’.

For instance:
"Since the beginning of the 20th century, the seas have continued to rise at an average rate of 1.7 ± 0.5 mm per year, according to the IPCC (Bindoff et al., 2007). This increase, however, has not happened at a constant rate. The first noted increase was over the period of 1961 to 2003, when the average rate of sea level rise was 1.8 ± 0.5 mm per year (Church et al, 2001; Church and White, 2006; Bindoff et al., 2007). Global mean sea level measurements have become even larger since 1993. According to the IPCC, “For the period 1993 to 2003, the rate of sea level rise is estimated from observations with satellite altimetry as 3.1 ± 0.7 mm yr–1, significantly higher than the average rate.”

So starting at 3.1mm/yr and using that rate doubling in say every 8 years gives over 75 metres rise before 2100, i.e. all grounded ice in the world melted. Most coastal cities (including most of London, Washington, Tokyo, Berlin and Beijing, for example) gone.
Not a good look!

Alternatively, if we use Hansen’s 1.0 mm rise contribution from ice sheets C2010, then we find (as Hansen’s figure 7 shows) we get to 5 metres sea level rise by 2095 with 10-year doubling in the rate of ice sheet loss, by year 2080 with 8-year doubling, and by 2065 with 6-year doubling; and of course the curves just keep on getting steeper after those dates; such is the nature of exponential growth. That is, the melt rate will continue to increase until the volume of ice left to melt starts to diminish, and then the melt will continue until all the ice is gone.  

Neither of these approaches yield pleasant outcomes for humanity.



Hansen 5 metres by 2100...

From Hansen today in addition to my previous post:

Its worth reading the paper in full, please:


Hansen says:

Fig. 7. Five-meter sea level change in 21st century under assumption of linear change (Alley, 2010) and exponential change (Hansen, 2007), the latter with a 10-year doubling time. 

...These projections are typically a factor of 3-4 larger than the IPCC (2007) estimates, and thus they altered perceptions about the potential magnitude of human-caused sea level change. 

   Alley (2010) reviewed projections of sea level rise by 2100, showing several clustered around 1 m and one outlier at 5 m, all of which he approximated as linear. The 5 m estimate is what Hansen (2007) suggested was possible, given the assumption of a typical IPCC's BAU climate forcing scenario. Alley's graph is comforting, making the suggestion of a possible 5 m sea level rise seem to be an improbable outlier, because, in addition to disagreeing with all other projections, a half-meter sea level rise in the next 10 years is preposterous. 
   However, the fundamental issue is linearity versus non-linearity. Hansen (2005, 2007) argues that amplifying feedbacks make ice sheet disintegration necessarily highly non-linear. In a non-linear problem, the most relevant number for projecting sea level rise is the doubling time for the rate of mass loss. Hansen (2007) suggested that a 10-year doubling time was plausible pointing out that such a doubling time from a base of 1 mm per year ice sheet contribution to sea level in the decade 2005-2015 would lead to a cumulative 5 m sea level rise by 2095.  


By mid-century most of Greenland would be experiencing summer melting in a longer melt season. Also some Greenland ice stream outlets are in valleys with bedrock below sea level. As the terminus of an ice stream retreats inland, glacier sidewalls can collapse, creating a wider pathway for disgorging ice. 
   PIG and neighboring glaciers in the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica, which are also accelerating, contain enough ice to contribute 1-2 m to sea level. Most of West Antarctica, with at least 5 m of sea level, and about a third of East Antarctica, with another 15-20 m of sea level, are grounded below sea level. This more vulnerable ice may have been the source of the 25 ± 10 m sea level rise of the Pliocene (Dowsett et al., 1990, 1994). If human-made global warming reaches Pliocene levels this century, as expected under BAU scenarios, these greater volumes of ice will surely begin to contribute to sea level change. Indeed, satellite gravity and radar interferometry data reveal that the Totten Glacier of East Antarctica, which fronts a large ice mass grounded below sea level, is already beginning to lose mass (Rignot et al., 2008). 
   These data records are too short to provide a reliable evaluation of the doubling time, but, such as they are, they yield a best fit doubling time for annual mass loss of 5-6 years for both Greenland and Antarctica., consistent with the approximate doubling of annual mass loss in the period 2003-2008. There is substantial variation among alternative analyses of the gravity field data (Sorensen and Forsberg, 2010), but all analyses have an increasing mass loss with time, providing at least a tentative indication that long-term ice loss mass will be non-linear. 
   We conclude that available data for the ice sheet mass change are consistent with our expectation of a non-linear response, but the data record is too short and uncertain to allow quantitative assessment. The opportunity for assessment will rapidly improve in coming years if high-precision gravity measurements are continued. 
   Finally, we note the existence of a strong negative feedback described by Hansen (2009) that comes into play when the rate of sea level rise approaches the order of a meter per decade. Such an iceberg discharge rate temporarily overwhelms greenhouse warming, cooling high latitude atmosphere and ocean mixed layer below current levels. Ice sheet mass loss may slow in response to this cooling, but, as described qualitatively by Hansen (2009), it will be no consolation to humans. Stronger storms driven by increased latitudinal temperature gradients, combined with multi-meter sea level rise, will produce global havoc. 

   However, we must expect ice sheet mass balance changes will occur simultaneously in both hemispheres. Why? Because ice sheets in both hemispheres were in near-equilibrium with Holocene temperatures. That is probably why both Greenland and Antarctica began to shed ice in the past decade or so, because global temperature is just rising above the Holocene level. 
   Ice sheet disintegration in Antarctica depends on melting the underside of ice shelves as the ocean warms, a process well underway at the Pine Island glacier (Scott et al., 2009). The glacier's grounding line has retreated inland by tens of kilometers (Jenkins et al., 2010) and thinning of the ice sheet has spread inland hundreds of kilometers (Wingham et al., 2009). 

d. Scenarios and predictions 
   Predictions of future sea level change are inherently difficult because, we assert, ice sheet disintegration is fundamentally a non-linear process. However, in addition, the climate forcing scenario is uncertain. When predictions are made, or statements that can be construed as predictions, it is important to be clear what climate forcing scenario is being considered. 
   IPCC BAU (business-as-usual) scenarios assume that greenhouse gas emissions will continue to increase, with the nations of the world burning most of the fossil fuels including unconventional fossil fuels such as tar sands. 
   An alternative extreme, one that places a substantial rising price on carbon emissions, would have CO2 emissions beginning to decrease within less than a decade, as the world moves on energy systems beyond fossil fuels, leaving most of the remaining coal and unconventional fossil fuels in the ground. In this extreme scenario, let's call it fossil fuel phase-out (FFPO), CO2 would rise above 400 ppm but begin a long decline by mid-century (Hansen et al., 2008). 
   The European Union 2°C scenario, call it EU2C, falls in between these two extremes. 
   BAU scenarios result in global warming of the order of 3-6°C. It is this scenario for which we assert that multi-meter sea level rise on the century time scale are not only possible, but almost dead certain. Such a huge rapidly increasing climate forcing dwarfs anything in the peleoclimate record. Antarctic ice shelves would disappear and the lower reaches of the Antarctic ice sheets would experience summer melt comparable to that on Greenland today. 
   The other extreme scenario, FFPO, does not eliminate the possibility of multi-meter sea level rise, but it leaves the time scale for ice sheet disintegration very uncertain, possibly very long. If the time scale is several centuries, then it may be possible to avoid large sea level rise by decreasing emissions fast enough to cause atmospheric greenhouse gases to decline in amount. 
   What about the intermediate scenario, EU2C? We have presented evidence in this paper that prior interglacial periods were less than 1°C warmer than the Holocene maximum. If we are correct in that conclusion, the EU2C scenario implies a sea level rise of many meters. It is difficult to predict a time scale for the sea level rise, but it would be dangerous and foolish to take such a global warming scenario as a goal. 


And from me in 2009, taking an empirical view...

Nigel Williams' estimate of sea level rise.  Note the exponential curve through 5 metres rise at 2100, 

As noted in earlier postings, once ice sheet disintegration gets under way, unless there is some drastic (and currently not anticipated) reversal in climate forcings the process will simply continue until the bulk of the ice sheets are gone.

We're on our way to a very wet and wild time!

Hansen: "...implying the possibility of multi-meter sea level rise this century."

A draft of a paper by Hansen et al just out today..

Paleoclimate Implications for Human-Made Climate Change 
James E. Hansen and Makiko Sato, January 2011


"... Deglaciation, disintegration of ice sheets, is nonlinear, spurred by amplifying feedbacks. If warming reaches a level that forces deglaciation, the rate of sea level rise will depend on the doubling time for ice sheet mass loss. Gravity satellite data, although too brief to be conclusive, are consistent with a doubling time of 10 years or less, implying the possibility of multi-meter sea level rise this century. "

As I was saying...!


It is a moral issue.

In response to a post in Hot-topic.co.nz I suggested that the solution to the present issues confronting us can best be addressed by moral force:-

"Erentz; I most respectfully but strongly disagree with your contention that government is a necessary element in the process of advancing the change required.

I see the issue as a moral issue, not one that 'government' can or even needs to get involved in.

We are told repeatedly by 'government' that the market can lead to change in the products and systems we have to use; carbon-free transport for example. If that is the case, (and it has been for a while) then we-the-market can choose to force those changes.

For example I suggested at a City Council hearing that the most effective thing our city could do to reduce food miles and non-recyclable packaging would be to include a dozen sheets of small stickers which read "I didn't buy this product today because it came from too far away!"  and "I didn't buy this product today because the packaging is not sustainably produced or recyclable!".  Include these with every notice to householders for a year for them to take with them shopping and the change would be remarkable.  They saw the threat to their commercial rates-base however, and demurred.

The moral issue here is well known to most of us:-

It is wrong to keep on doing what we are doing to the Earth.  It is wrong because it is having an impact on all of us today, and the impacts on our children and future generations are certain to be worse than we can imagine.  Therefore the moral issue relates to the choice between business-as-usual and some other thing.

We do not need government to make these choices, and we do not need government to make these choices known to the market or to any powers-that-be who may have any useful interest in our choices.

The greatest issues of our times have not been solved by government cooperation or action, but by moral action declared by conscious non-violent actions as evidence of the moral stand.  The two great examples of the use of moral force are South Africa's abandonment of apartheid and India's freedom from the British.  Neither of these remarkable events required the 'cooperation' of governments, but rather the governments fell beneath the force of the moral onslaught.

These shining lights contrast markedly with every other 'solution' that has been tried; with perhaps the notable exception of the elimination of CFCs in relation to the ozone layer depletion - which was achieved cooperatively because (again) the problem and solution were clear and morally it was the morally right thing to do.

There is no other practical way forwards for us;
*We must resolve and declare the nature of the moral issue in terms that the poorest most uneducated and disadvantaged members of our society can grasp, see the rightness of and act on;
*We must apply our individual moral force  to the issue by 'becoming the change you want to see in the World' (MKG).  If this change is seen as good, then it will encourage others to the rightness of the need for change.
*We must, if need-be, apply non-violent means, including civil non-cooperation against established institutions which are obstacles to the required change to achieve the morally correct end.

That is the only way to take this matter beyond individuals and get the movement that is necessary."




Another perspective - Arctic Ice Gone for Good by 2040?

This from October 2010 -  a rather more scientific approach than mine earlier.

by GARETH on OCTOBER 18, 2010
A few days ago I used a combination of Arctic sea ice volume data from the University of Washington’s PIOMAS model and NSIDC sea ice extent numbers to project that the Arctic Ocean would be effectively ice-free in late summer within ten years. The key to that exercise was the rate at which the volume of sea ice has been declining ...
As I was saying...  

Greenland - a turning point by around 2040.


Berlingske Tidende
Friday 7 January 2011, 03:53
'Even if we turned off all power stations and threw the keys to our car away, we would probably be unable to put a stop to it.
'No matter how much we turn down the CO2-burner, Greenland will still reach a significantturning point by around 2040, writes Berlingske Tidende.
'Subsequently, the melting of the island's enormous quantities of ice will continue and continue and in principle not stop until most of the ice is gone.
"It is a very troubling result, because it shows that the melting can go much stronger than we usually imagine," says one of the article's authors, Jens Hesselberg Christensen,Berlingske Tidende.
'...A total meltdown of the ice cap will have the world's oceans to rise with six to seven meters.

2040.  Say no more!


Running Hot and Cold

The recent extreme cold events in Europe have understandably given some folk cause to mutter about the supposed direction of climate change and global temperatures.
But we can be assured that we are on track to our ultimate destination; plus more degrees C than normal civilised life can sustain.
Hansen sums it up thus:
"...Sea ice insulates the atmosphere from ocean water warmth, allowing surface air to achieve temperatures much lower than that of the ocean. It is for this reason that some of the largest positive temperature anomalies on the planet occur in the Arctic Ocean as sea ice area has decreased in recent years. 
The cold anomaly in Northern Europe in November has continued and strengthened in the first half of December. Combined with the unusual cold winter of 2009-2010 in Northern Hemisphere mid-latitudes, this regional cold spell has caused widespread commentary that global warming has ended. That is hardly the case. On the contrary, globally November 2010 is the warmest November in the GISS record...."  (Hansen et al 20101211)
Other recent research has attributed the same sea ice effect on the location of the jet streams, and this is found to be a primary cause of the European winter chills.
"It is nevertheless no contradiction between a global warming and cold winters in regions like Europe. Rather, recent analysis suggest that the global mean temperature is marching towards higher values (see figure below), and Petoukhov and Semenov argue that the cold winter should be an expected consequence of a global warming..." (Rasmus Benestad 20101214)


Both commentaries note the potential importance of Arctic sea ice cover.
Running totals of sea ice cover are found at:
in particular  the long term record:

From the time series there is evidence of a steady (and increasingly rapid) decline in seasonal ice cover.   The Cryosphere charts show that the minimum ice area has fallen from typical historic lows of about 5 million square kilometres to around three million.   

But that is only part of the story.  The surface of your glass of freshly made lemonade can be covered in ice if that ice is only a thin veneer or if it extends all the way to be bottom to be mashed and swizzled with your straw.

The volume of the sea ice is the key indicator of how things are going.   The volume of Arctic sea ice  figure is calculated every few weeks by the University of Washington's Polar Science Centre.
But while this shows the anomaly (the variance from a running trend) it does not give us a real clue about how much ice volume remains.
The site comments:
"Monthly average Arctic Ice Volume for Sept 2010 was 4,000 km^3, the lowest over the 1979-2010 period, 78% below the 1979 maximum and 9,400 km^3 or 70% below its mean for the 1979-2009 period. "

From the text and chart on the Washington U Ice Volume site I have extracted a few salient points which as far as I can tell give a true indication of how much ice is left in the Arctic glass.
From this we can see that the summer minimum ice volume has diminished from the 1979 September minimum of 19,000 cubic kilometres to the 2010 September minimum of 4000 cubic kilometres.

I have not joined the dots with a curve, as its non-linear, and the site does not give me enough data to confidently make those interpolations.  But the points for 1979, 2009 and 2010 provide sufficient evidence for us to see that, while sea ice cover is still remaining fairly high, the actual volume of ice beneath that cover is declining drastically.  The ice on your glass is getting very thin indeed.  A layman could be forgiven for drawing the conclusion that an ice-free arctic is not many seasons away.

With that ice goes an enormous heat sink and stabilising influence on the rate of global temperature rise, which will further hasten the rate of loss of grounded ice, and the consequent rate of sea level rise.

If we think back now to the present anomalous state of Europe's recent summer and winter weather with a very modest loss of Arctic sea ice cover, we can only begin to appreciate what may be in store when that last fragile 4000 cubic kilometres of Arctic ice turns to mush not many summers from now, and the lid comes off the Arctic Ocean Weather Machine.

Keep thinking.  Keep acting.  
Kind regards