On the Rise: Tide Lines and Threats to the Communities Near Them
If drastic cuts aren’t made in greenhouse gas emissions, the watery New York landscape that followed Hurricane Sandy could be the new normal in less than a century—and that same soggy future goes for Boston, Miami, Norfolk, and hundreds of other U.S. cities and towns. For some, the destiny is already certain.
“Even if we could just stop global emissions tomorrow on a dime, Fort Lauderdale, Miami Gardens, Hoboken, New Jersey will be under sea level,” Climate Central researcher Benjamin Strauss told the Guardian.
Strauss outlined his projections in a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences late last month. He used another recent PNAS study to determine when cities would be “locked-in” to future higher tide lines that could threaten a given percentage of the population. The base study, authored by Anders Levermann and other scientists, found that average global sea levels will eventually rise 4.2 feet for every one-degree Fahrenheit jump in temperature.
That means, at today’s emission rates, 25 percent of the current populations of more than 1,700 cities and towns would live under a future high-tide level rise by 2100, according to the Guardian. Even changing that amount to 50 percent only drops the number of cities threatened to 1,400 (an interactive map on the Climate Central Web site allows users to dial the ominousness up or down based on factors such as pollution, lock-in year, and population percentage threatened).
“Hundreds of American cities are already locked into watery futures and we are growing that group very rapidly,” Strauss told the Guardian. “We are locking in hundreds more as we continue to emit carbon into the atmosphere.”
If the cities are to be saved, Strauss writes in a Climate Central article, it will take “a halt to global emissions growth by 2020, followed by rapid global emissions reductions, and a massive program to remove carbon from the atmosphere, resulting in net negative emissions — atmospheric clean-up — by late in the century.”
Far from net negative emissions, the American Meteorological Society’s annual State of the Climate report, released Tuesday, indicates global CO2 emissions were at an all-time high in 2012. Other greenhouse gases were also on the rise, according to the report.
For some, the inclination might be to view Strauss’s projections as far away and likely to be addressed in the long run. But for many coastal communities, the encroaching ocean is an ever-present problem.
From deteriorating beaches in New York to disappearing wetlands in Louisiana, climate change—along with poor land stewardship—has come home to roost. Communities are facing more frequent and extreme storms, and have fewer natural bulwarks to protect them.
By some estimates, at least half the coastal properties between Maine and Texas have lost significant amounts of marshlands and barrier islands. Louisiana, for instance has thought to have lost nearly 2,000 square miles in the past 80 years.
“Louisiana is in many ways, one of the best examples of starting to see some of the near-term implications of climate change,” environmental policy expert Jordan Fischbach, told USA Today. "In some ways, I feel like it is the canary in the coal mine because they are seeing effects that change people's day-to-day lives."
If that’s true, then the view from Louisiana State Highway 1, should be a good indicator of what the future of Strauss’s report might look like.
"All the open water you are seeing was once wetlands," Hilary Collis of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, told USA Today. "Just a few millimeters at a time it sank, and now it's gone."
The Tokyo Electric Power Company is again adrift in a river of woes after being unable to stanch the flow of contaminated water at its Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Experts Wednesday estimated the facility is leaking 300 tons (about 75,000 gallons) of radioactive water into the ocean per day.
News of the leakage—which is overflowing tanks and pits meant to contain groundwater that washes into the plant and becomes contaminated—follows the Tepco’s July admission that earlier leaks threatened the Pacific. The Company had long denied there was a risk, even after Japan’s nuclear safety chief stated the plant had probably been seeping radioactive water since it was damaged in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, according to the New York Times. (See this National Geographic piece for an excellent round up of the ongoing argument regarding ocean contamination.)
The recent overflow is the result of water breaching a chemically created wall of hardened ground surrounding containment efforts. In order to stop the breach, Tepco must pump and somehow store about 100 tons of contaminated water each day, according to Reuters. Pumping equipment won’t be available until the end of the month and Tepco is currently at 85 percent of its storage capacity, Reuters stated.
The Japanese government—which has previously taken a largely hands-off approach—said it will step in to assist Tepco in finding a solution. The change in posture indicates that Japan has had enough of Tepco’s inability to manage cleanup efforts, which have been plagued with technical problems and failures to communicate risk, experts say.
“This is an admission by the government that Tepco has mismanaged the cleanup and misinformed the public,” Eiji Yamaguchi, a professor of science and technology policy at Doshisha University in Kyoto, told the New York Times. “The government has no choice but to end two years of Tepco obfuscating the actual condition of the plant.”
Government involvement could, however, free up public funds to be used toward an ambitious $400 million project that would create a wall of frozen ground around the reactor buildings a mile long and 100-feet deep, according to the Times. If successful, the wall would keep groundwater from entering the buildings’ basements and becoming contaminated, eliminating the need to pump and store it. It’s unclear, however, if the technology, which is currently used in building subways, will be effective at such a scale.
Regardless of what efforts are employed to stop leaks, it appears Tepco will no longer have free reign in decision making.
“This is not an issue we can let Tepco take complete responsibility of,” the Times cites Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as saying at a recent cabinet meeting. “We must deal with this at the national level.”
Blowout: On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 people and spilling hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The three companies involved—BP, Halliburton, and TransOcean—were named as codefendants in a federal lawsuit in September 2010.
The three have long pointed fingers at each other as being culpable for the explosion. In particular, BP blamed Halliburton for using shoddy concrete to seal the well in to place. In an internal report that is no longer available on the Internet, BP took full credit for only one of eight factors it determined caused the blowout. Both TransOcean and Halliburton responded indignantly to BP’s claims of their wrongdoing.
In November 2012, BP pleaded guilty to 14 criminal charges and will pay $4.5 billion in penalties. Earlier this year, TransOcean also pleaded guilty and agreed to pay more than $400 million.
Blowup: Although BP report obviously attempted to shift blame to its codefendants, it seems that they weren’t alone. On July 25, Halliburton pleaded guilty to one count of destroying evidence and agreed to pay the maximum penalty, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The evidence destroyed was related to Halliburton’s claim that BP significantly weakened the drilling structure by using only six centralizers to hold the drill pipe in the center of the well instead of the 21 Halliburton had suggested, according to the Washington Post. Later internal simulations by Halliburton that refuted that claim were destroyed while Halliburton continued to use the contention to cast dispersion on BP.
Blowback: Although the Justice Department has agreed not to file further criminal charges against the company in exchange for the plea, legal experts postulate that the admission will work against Halliburton in civil cases still to be decided, according to the New York Times.
“This could impact how the civil litigation is resolved, potentially imposing more liability on Halliburton than we originally thought,” Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, told the Times.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana has created a Web siteto help those interested follow the more than 200 cases related to the spill.
The Natural Hazards Center is happy to welcome Susan Moran to our team beginning with DR612. Moran, who is an accomplished Boulder-based freelance journalist, will provide editing for DR on an interim basis while we continue the search for key staff members. We’re excited to have her aboard and have access to her wealth of expertise covering energy development, climate science, environmental health, agriculture, business, and other issues.
Currently, in addition to print freelancing, Moran co-hosts and produces a science show on KGNU community radio, called "How On Earth." Her articles appear in The New York Times, The Economist, Discover, Popular Science, Nature and other publications. She also sometimes helps teach science communication workshops for early-career scientists and graduate students.
For several years she taught journalism at CU Boulder as an adjunct instructor. Moran was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT; a Marine Biological Laboratory fellow at Palmer Station, Antarctica; and a Ted Scripps Environmental Journalism Fellow at CU Boulder.
Call for Comments
Energy Industry Scenarios
National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence
Deadline: August 12, 2013
The National Cybersecurity Center for Excellence is seeking feedback on two energy industry scenarios to be used to help centralize access to energy structures and systems and to reduce security blind spots. Industry, government, and academic experts are invited to provide input on the scenarios. To learn more about the scenarios’ applications and read the scenario drafts, visit the National Cybersecurity Center’s project page.
Call for Applications
Continuing Training Grants
Homeland Security National Training Program
Deadline: August 16, 2013
The Department of Homeland Security National Training Program is accepting applications for grants supporting the development and delivery of training programs related to emergency management leadership, cybersecurity, mass casualty victim care, medical readiness, hazardous materials, and weapons of mass destruction. For full explanations of training categories and to apply, visit the grant posting on the Grants.gov Web site.
Call for Applications
Climate Leadership Awards
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Deadline: September 13, 2013
The Center for Corporate Climate Leadership at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is accepting applications for its second annual Climate Leadership Awards Competition. The award recognizes individuals and organizations that show leadership in managing and reducing greenhouse gases. For more information on award categories, eligibility, and how to apply, visit the Center for Corporate Climate Leadership Web site.
Hurricane Sandy After Action Report
This recently released report by the Federal Emergency Management Agency examines agency response to the superstorm that struck the East Coast in October 2012. The report outlines both strengths and weaknesses in four theme areas, including unity of effort, being survivor-centric, whole of community, and developing a professional emergency management workforce. “Ultimately,” the report states, “the Sandy experience demonstrated significant progress achieved in recent years, but also confirmed that larger-scale incidents will stress the Agency’s capacity for effective response and recovery.”
Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies Video
The title of this 11-minute video might be a little dry, but break out the popcorn anyway because it will be time well spent. The short, which is based on a National Research Council Report of the same name, looks at how drilling, fracking, and other underground energy production can be linked to manmade earthquakes. Ways to limit the risks are also discussed, so watch it today and wow the crowd at your next dinner party.
Energy Infrastructure Disruption Map
If you’ve ever wanted to know what type of havoc might be wrought in the energy infrastructure by a particular storm, all you need to do is check this interactive map built by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The map allows users to factor in storm tracks, types of storm, and forecasts in relation to a variety of infrastructures such as petroleum processing facilities, power plants, and pipelines. Historical data makes it easy to view past storms, as well.
Superstorm Research Lab
Why just do research when you can use research to change the world? The Superstorm Research Lab is a collective of scholars working to cross boundaries between traditional academic publishing and information sharing for the common good—all within the scope of social and environmental issues surrounding Hurricane Sandy. The group’s open online resource site hosts a wealth of information including qualitative interviews, data sets, maps, and documents from a variety of sources. Whether you’re in the market to find or share, this site is a treasure trove of Sandy info.
Dictionary of Numbers
The world of hazards comes with lots of numbers, but what exactly does it mean to lose two tons of arctic ice or cause $5 billion in damage? The Dictionary of Numbers is a Google extension that gives context to the numbers we deal with every day. Just add it to your Chrome browser and the numbers on your screen will display parenthetical equivalents to help you put it all in perspective. It’s a handy tool for translating numbers into something you recognize…just remember to turn it off before you look at your credit card bill.
[Below are some recent announcements received by the Natural Hazards Center. For a comprehensive list of upcoming hazards-related meetings, visit our Web site at www.colorado.edu/hazards/resources/conferences.html.]
August 26-27, 2013
Engaging Family Private Forest Owners on Issues Related to Climate Change
U.S. Forest Service and National Institute for Food and Agriculture
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled
This public workshop will look at strategies to engage private and community forest owners in conversations about climate change and ways to improve communication. Topics will include climate-related and human threats to forests, objectives and values of forest owners, and forest management in the face of climate change.
September 4-6, 2013
Water and Society 2013
Wessex Institute of Technology
New Forest, United Kingdom
Cost and Registration: $1,300, open until filled
This conference will discuss the many issues facing water resource management on local and global scales. Using a multidisciplinary approach, conference sessions will address the financial, social, and industrial impacts of water scarcity. Topics include water as a human right, climate change and water management, contamination, transnational water rights, irrigation and desertification, and adaptation strategies for future demand shortages.
September 16-20, 2013
36th Conference on Radar Meteorology
American Meteorological Society
Cost and Registration: $595 before September 13, open until filled
This conference will introduce attendees to National Science Foundation observational research platforms and how they can be used to promote field campaigns and education. Conference topics include emerging technology, precipitation and hydrology, airborne and spaceborne radar, radar for numerical weather prediction models, and advances in microphysics estimation.
October 21-24, 2013
International Smoke Symposium
International Association of Wildland Fire
Cost and Registration: $470 before September 21, open until filled
This conference will examine issues related to smoke from wildland fires and the threat smoke poses to human health, ecosystems, and the environment. Management strategies, knowledge gaps, and smoke science research will also be discussed. Topics include public health challenges, wildfire personnel exposure, climate change, transportation safety, agricultural fire smoke, and mitigation strategies for fire behavior and management.
November 20-22, 2013
FLASH Annual Conference
Federal Alliance for Safe Homes
Buena Vista, Florida
Cost and Registration: $265 before September 20, open until filled
This conference will explore best practices and lessons learned in building mitigation techniques. A $20,000 academic competition to find ways to address catastrophic wind events will also be held. Topics include design and construction innovation, stopping the cycle of cascading disasters, mitigation-friendly building codes, and building better homes.
Hazard Mitigation Assistance Specialist, GS12
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Salary: $73,420 to $95,444
Closing Date: August 16, 2013
This position provides technical assistance to states and sub-grantees, monitors grants, maintains a hazard mitigation database, and documents best practices and avoided losses. Hazard mitigation knowledge, project management experience, and one year of experience equivalent to GS-12 are required.
UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction
Salary: Not Posted
Closing Date: August 29, 2013
This position develops and implements disaster risk reduction projects and campaigns; assists in policy development; plans, facilitates and gives DRR presentations; prepares background papers, news releases, and monthly bulletins; collaborates with European Union representatives; and reviews and analyzes disaster risk trend and events. Five years of program management experience, deep understanding of disaster risk reduction, and an advanced degree in a related field are required.
National Resource Allocation Manager
New Zealand Fire Service
Wellington, New Zealand
Salary: Not Posted
Closing Date: September 1, 2013
This position will review and develop the current risk-based allocation model, analyze fire call and demand forecasting, perform capacity planning and benefit analysis, and improve service performance and resource management. Project and workforce management experience, business and data analytics skill, and experience in a similar roll are required.
Public Information Officer
Association of State Floodplain Managers
Salary: Not Posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will provide write and produce ASPFM newsletters, develop social media strategy, copy edit publications, and increase Association visibility and membership communication. Two years experience in journalism or technical writing, web and new media writing skills, and a bachelor’s degree in a related field are required. Knowledge of or certification in floodplain management is preferred.
Southern California Edison
Salary: Not Posted
Closing Date: August 22, 2013
This position works to develop and implement company emergency management, business continuity, and resilience plans. Duties include collecting data, writing plans, validating results, and developing company level strategies for resilience. Five or more years experience implanting plans and processes, operational planning abilities, and a bachelor’s degree in business or a related field are required.
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