Washington Post story about impact of global warming on Greenland never mentions sea level rise

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"Washington Post story about impact of global warming on Greenland never mentions sea level rise"

And the winner of the worst climate story of the week is:

As Clinton works against global warming in Greenland, some there don’t mind it

NUUK, Greenland “” Few places on Earth have seen starker changes in weather than this icebound island straddling the Arctic Circle. With that in mind, America’s top diplomat arrived here this week intent on calling attention to the perils of climate change.

The problem was that Greenlanders aren’t exactly complaining….

Rather than questioning global warming, many of this island’s 60,000 inhabitants seem to be racing to cash in.

I know the Washington Post thinks it is doing some clever contrarian story on the Arctic Council meeting:  Ooh, look at how Clinton is fighting against global warming in a place that (supposedly) isn’t complaining about global warming.

But this story is not merely unoriginal, it completely misses a key point:  The biggest contribution that Greenland itself is going to make to climate change will devastate it.

The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, which advises the Council, concluded a major assessment last week:  “Global sea level is projected to rise by 0.9-1.6 meter by 2100.”³ Shouldn’t the Post story on the Council meeting in Nuuk and how Greelanders just love warming at least mention that report and the fact that “The average elevation of Nuuk, Greenland is 1 meters.”  Doh.

It is perfectly reasonable to point that many Greenlanders stand to benefit from warming in the short term — lots of people want to visit and see one of the places on the planet where the warming is occurring  the fastest.  And yes there are minerals and oil to be had.

Of course, this isn’t news in the least bit. Outside magazine did a major piece on this a couple of years ago, and the UK Independent, among others, wrote about it then, “It’s getting hot up here: Why Greenland sees global warming as a way to gain independence…and make money:  Could global warming have an upside? Greenlanders seem to think so: the ice that surrounds them is melting to reveal vast mineral resources. Now all they must do is gain independence, cash in… and cope with their guilt.”

Greenlanders did nothing to bring upon itself this climate change, so they are going to have to cope with whatever happens.  Why shouldn’t they try to take advantage of whatever short-term “opportunities” are being forced down their throats by the greed and myopia of the rest of the world?

What’s news is the recent research on accelerated Greenland ice sheet melt and the implications for sea level rise.

It is just lame for a story on the supposedly beneficial impact of warming on Greenland to never mention even once the fact that the loss of the Greenland ice sheet is projected by science to become essentially irreversible this century on our current emissions path — and the resulting sea level rise would be devastating to Greenland itself (and the rest of the world).  I reviewed the literature on this last year:

As John Cook of Skeptical Science has noted, the last time global temperatures were just 1 to 2°C higher than today (with polar temps ~3-5 °C warmer) was 125,000 years ago.  A December 2009 Nature study of that time, “Probabilistic assessment of sea level during the last interglacial stage” (subs. req’d), concluded:

We find a 95% probability that global sea level peaked at least 6.6 m higher than today during the last interglacial; it is likely (67% probability) to have exceeded 8.0 m but is unlikely (33% probability) to have exceeded 9.4 m”¦.  The results highlight the long-term vulnerability of ice sheets to even relatively low levels of sustained global warming.

That is, sea levels were probably more than 26 feet (!) higher when it was as warm as most models suggest it will be by mid-century if we stay near our current emissions path.

These 2009 studies are also worth noting

And let’s remember the March study from JPL bombshell saying we are on pace for 1 foot sea level rise by 2050:  “The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass at an accelerating pace, according to a new NASA-funded satellite study. The findings of the study “” the longest to date of changes in polar ice sheet mass “” suggest these ice sheets are overtaking ice loss from Earth’s mountain glaciers and ice caps to become the dominant contributor to global sea level rise, much sooner than model forecasts have predicted.”

By 2100, seas could be rising 1 foot a decade!  That’s clear form new AMAP estimate.  See also,  Sea levels may rise 3 times faster than IPCC estimated, could hit 6 feet by 2100.

So yes, while some in Greenland will no doubt work hard to benefit from the climate impacts they have no control over — who wouldn’t? — within a few decades at most they’re won’t be many stories about how Greenlanders aren’t “questioning” global warming.  Cursing global warming — and cursing the failures of our generation, including the media — will be pretty commonplace everywhere if we don’t listen to the US National Academy of Sciences and start reducing greenhouse gas emissions ASAP.

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19 Responses to Washington Post story about impact of global warming on Greenland never mentions sea level rise

  1. David F. says:

    Hey Joe,

    Good post. Just wondering though if Greenland’s coasts would be saved by post-glacial rebound. I’d imagine with the glaciers melting that the land mass itself would raise a bit in elevation.

  2. John McCormick says:

    Where does the Post find people like him?

    John McCormick

  3. Roddy Campbell says:

    Another post I don’t understand!

    So Greenlanders will benefit from many aspects of global warming, that seems clear from your piece, but will be challenged by sea-level rises, since Nuuk, the capital, as a fishing village/town, is naturally on the coast, with much of it just above sea-level (as is New York, say).

    15,000 people live in Nuuk, out of under 60,000 in the whole of Greenland.

    So if ‘the ice that surrounds them is melting to reveal vast mineral resources.’ they should be able to afford adaptation?

    I would have thought there are plenty of places in the world where humans are more challenged by warming than Greenland, and that they aren’t exactly complaining seems unsurprising, even if they factor in sea-level rises of a meter this century.

    [JR: I don’t understand what you don’t understand. This is a media critique. The Post never discussed SLR. Also, how precisely do you adapt to sea levels rising 1 foot or more a decade for centuries?]

  4. Colorado Bob says:

    Wikileaks cables show race to carve up Arctic

    Since the 1970s, Professor Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University has made repeated trips under the North Pole in Royal Navy nuclear submarines to measure the thickness of the ice.

    He told Newsnight the graph “has gone off a cliff” because the ice sheet has thinned as well as shrunk.

    The Pan-Arctic Ice-Ocean Modelling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS) which measures ice volume shows that last September there was only a quarter of the ice in the Arctic that there had been in 1979.

    Prof Wadhams says in summer “it could easily happen that we’ll have an ice-free North Pole within a year or two”.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/9483790.stm

  5. The sea level rise is certainly a major concern, but isn’t the expectation actually for some modest sea level decline – or at least a much more modest initial rise – near Greenland and Antarctica? Due to gravitational effects as the ice sheets melt?

    C.f. here or here.

    Yes, it’s somewhat beside the larger point, but just saying and asking… Agree with the main point though..

  6. PurpleOzone says:

    How many people in Greenland were surveyed to determine their opinions on global warming?

    Humans don’t always adapt well to climate change. Look at the Vikings in Greenland: they starved while the native people survived.

    Adaptation is always stressful. I can’t really see droves of tourists rushing to Greenland to see climate changing when there’ll be so many other places they can go.

  7. catman306 says:

    “Post-glacial rebound (sometimes called continental rebound, glacial isostatic adjustment) is the rise of land masses that were depressed by the huge weight of ice sheets during the last glacial period, through a process known as isostasy.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isostatic_rebound

    So static rebound from the melting glaciers in Greenland will be a multi-millennium event. It will take thousands of years for the Earth’s crust to rebound to its pre-glacier level.

    Don’t expect much help from isostasy in alleviating sea level rise in the short term.

  8. Jenny says:

    Greenlanders far beyond Nuuk who are still living a relatively traditional way of life, subsisting primarily by hunting ice-dependent marine mammals for food as their ancestors did for thousands of years before them, are not among those who are pleased by the effects of climate change. They are undergoing a profound struggle to adapt from virtually every perspective — practical, cultural, psychological. So far things aren’t going very well for them.

    See, for example:
    http://www.arirang.co.kr/TV2/sports_interview.asp?F_Key=90&sys_lang=Eng&Page=3 (Ignore the fact that the link says “sports interview” — it’s a TV program about climate change issues in Greenland, produced by Arirang TV.)

    By the way, during filming of this program, my Inuit companions and I got dangerously trapped in thin ice, hundreds of miles from assistance, for a short time. Thankfully things didn’t end badly in that instance. But for me it was a vivid example of the significant challenges the people there are facing on a daily basis due to climate change.

  9. Mike Roddy says:

    One’s first reaction to the Post story is- here we go again, these guys just don’t get it.

    Then again, maybe they do. Oil companies and banks couldn’t care less about a flooded national capital. They want money now.

  10. OregonStream says:

    The operative word, if most aren’t at least a bit reticent about cashing in on this relatively nascent trend, would be “short-sighted”. The greater instability coming with accelerated climate change probably won’t be all roses for them, let alone the rest of the world they’ll be dealing with. But then, I doubt things would be different if it was the U.S. covered with a massive holocene ice sheet and most people could see the short-term benefit of stoking the carbon cycle, but not the longer-term, non-linear, and global consequences.

  11. Pennsylvania Bob says:

    There is a website somewhere that shows the impact of rising sea levels around the world. As I recall, it won’t take a whole lot for Washington, DC, to find itself in trouble. Too bad the reporter missed the obvious local connection to what is happening way up north.

  12. Nicolas Huillard says:

    #12 Pennsylvania Bob: I bookmarked it ;-)
    http://geology.com/sea-level-rise/

  13. The WaPo author of this P.O.S:

    “» Reporter, National | Joby Warrick writes about the intelligence community for The Post’s National desk. He previously spent eight years as a member of the investigative unit, specializing in coverage of WMD proliferation and weapons trafficking.”

    He apparently also had some “environmental” experience writing about hog farms in N.C.
    http://projects.washingtonpost.com/staff/articles/joby+warrick/

  14. FWIW, the linked bio has a feedback section.

  15. Greenland’s capital is far from the only one which is vulnerable to sea level rise (from the National Weather Service):

    THIS HAZARDOUS WEATHER OUTLOOK IS FOR THE MARYLAND PORTION OF THE
    CHESAPEAKE BAY…TIDAL POTOMAC RIVER…AND ADJACENT COUNTIES IN
    CENTRAL MARYLAND AND NORTHERN VIRGINIA AS WELL AS THE DISTRICT OF
    COLUMBIA.

    .DAY ONE…TONIGHT

    A COASTAL FLOOD WARNING IN EFFECT FOR ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY FROM
    MIDNIGHT TO 6 AM SATURDAY MORNING. OTHERWISE…A COASTAL FLOOD
    ADVISORY IS IN EFFECT FOR THE WESTERN SHORE OF THE CHESAPEAKE BAY
    AND TIDAL POTOMAC RIVER NOW THROUGH TONIGHT.

    .DAYS TWO THROUGH SEVEN…SATURDAY THROUGH THURSDAY

    PERSISTENT ONSHORE FLOW WILL CONTINUE THE POSSIBILITY OF MINOR
    COASTAL FLOODING NEAR TIME OF HIGH TIDE THROUGH EARLY NEXT WEEK.
    A COASTAL FLOOD ADVISORY CONTINUES THROUGH SATURDAY. THE ONSHORE
    FLOW WILL STRENGTHEN THIS WEEKEND AND MAY LEAD TO A PERIOD OF
    MODERATE COASTAL FLOODING IN SENSITIVE LOCATIONS SUCH AS
    ANNAPOLIS.

  16. Bob K says:

    Just a minor correction, as pointed out by rustneversleeps above:

    The initial sea level response to a melting ice sheet, in the vicinity of a melting ice sheet, is a sea level fall — even as global average sea level rises. This is primarily because ice sheets are big masses; if you take a big, relatively concentrated mass and distribute it over the ocean, you alter the shape of Earth’s gravitational field. Water that would effectively have been “pulled” toward the ice sheet “sloshes” away from it. Over thousands of years, the mantle flows in to replace the missing ice sheet mass, something known as isostatic compensation; so over thousands of years, there will be a sloshing back.

    But initially, local sea level as far away as Scotland will fall in response to a melting Greenland ice sheet.

    In addition to the interview with Jerry Mitrovica rustneversleeps cited, see our paper at http://www.bobkopp.net/papers/Kopp2010_postprint-sealevel.pdf

  17. JCH says:

    David F – from what I’ve read Greenland’s rebound will play out over a very long timescale, and it has already started. A lot of the rebound of it will happen quickly, and then the remainder will continue to happen over a very long period of time. There was a very interesting article last year about the gravitational pulls of the large ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica, and the way they will determine where sea level will either rise and fall as they disappear. From memory, Greenland will eventually realize a significant sea level drop, but between then and now I would think it could be exposed to periods of SLR. Washington DC, for instance, will see an outsized SLR: well above the global average. Some might say well deserved.

  18. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    These days Western MSM operatives are all Rightwing ideologues. It’s what the uniformly Rightwing owners of the MSM demand. It’s what the uniformly Rightwing advertising clients of the MSM demand. And being a former hack specialising in the field of ‘WMD proliferation’, which field has been replete for years with the most egregious lying, misrepresentation and disinformation designed to serve the ends of the US-led Western global hegemony, rounds out a familiar story. This report could have been written from Washington, perhaps from some cosy ‘conference room’ at the Heritage Asylum, of The American Enterprise Infirmary or the Cato-pillar ‘Institute’ or some other bedlam of nonsense and manipulation. Written in the dark, from memory, or by a computer program primed to select certain propaganda memes from out of an inexhaustible pit of bulldust.