Warming Climate Brings Sea Level Rise, Land Loss and Marine Migrations to Europe’s Seas

Sea level rise in EuropeEurope’s seas are changing at an unprecedented rate, much faster than climate scientists anticipated.
Seawater temperatures have been rising around 10-times faster than average over the past 25 years, while wind speeds have also been increasing. The combination of rising sea levels and stronger winds has resulted in the loss of 15% of Europe’s coasts.

European sea surface temperature increases were three to six-times higher than the global average from 1986-2006, a research team found, as Arctic sea ice has melted, according to the Climate Change and European Marine Ecosystem Project Report (CLAMER).

“Change has been clearly visible and is much more rapid than we thought was possible,” Carlo Heip, chair of the CLAMER project and lead author of the report, told Reuters last Tuesday.

Melting ice sheets and glaciers add more uncertainty regarding how fast sea levels will rise, which threatens populations in all low-lying areas of Europe. Current estimates for 2100 suggest European sea levels could rise 60 centimeters and up to 1.9 meters along some parts of the U.K. coast.

“Scenario simulations suggest that by the end of the 21st century, the temperature of the Baltic Sea may have increased by 2 to 4 degrees centigrade, the North Sea by 1.7 degrees, and the Bay of Biscay by 1.5 to 5 degrees,” the researchers found.

These aren’t the only large-scale change taking place, offshore or on-shore, as a result of relatively abrupt changes in climate, they noted.

Ocean warming and the melting of sea ice across the Arctic Ocean off Russia’s northern coast is bringing about changes in the marine food chain as marine life migrates to the Atlantic from the Pacific. Some species may wind up being able to thrive in their new environments, but the migrations are bound to have significant impacts on fish populations, as well as commercial fisheries and the human populations that depend on them, according to the report.

The CLAMER research team also found that some strains of bacteria were becoming more prevalent, potentially becoming threats to human health. Strains of cholera have increased in the North Sea over the past 50 years, they noted, perhaps due to changing seawater temperatures.

The research team urged European Union officials “to keep its finger on the pulse” of marine climate change, urging, among, among other recommendations, greater study of sea level changes due to the break-up of ice sheets and melting, coastal erosion, temperature changes, ocean acidification, marine ecosystems and ocean circulation changes.

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Andrew Burger
Andrew Burger
A product of the New York City public school system, Andrew Burger went on to study geology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, work in the wholesale money and capital markets for a major Japanese bank and earn an MBA in finance.

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  1. While the Earth has always endured natural climate change variability, we are
    now facing the possibility of irreversible climate change in the near future1.
    The increase of greenhouse gases in the Earth?s atmosphere from industrial
    processes has enhanced the natural greenhouse effect. This in turn has
    accentuated the greenhouse ?trap? effect, causing greenhouse gases to form a
    blanket around the Earth, inhibiting the sun?s heat from leaving the outer
    atmosphere. This increase of greenhouse gases is causing an additional warming of the Earth?s surface and atmosphere. A direct consequence of this is sea-level rise expansion, which is primarily due to the thermal expansion of oceans (water expands when heated), inducing the melting of ice sheets as global surface temperature increases.

    Forecasts for climate change by the 2,000 scientists on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) project a rise in the global average surface temperature by 1.4 to 5.8°C from 1990 to 2100. This will result in a global mean sea level rise by an average of 5 mm per year over the next 100 years. Consequently, human-induced climate change will have ?deleterious effects? on ecosystems, socio-economic systems and human welfare.

    At the moment, especially high risks associated with the rise of the oceans are having a particular impact on the two archipelagic states of Western Polynesia: Tuvalu and Kiribati. According to UN forecasts, they may be completely inundated by the rising waters of the Pacific by 2050.

    According to the vast majority of scientific investigations, warming waters and the melting of polar and high-elevation ice worldwide will steadily raise sea levels. This will likely drive people off islands first by spoiling the fresh groundwater, which will kill most land plants and leave no potable water for humans and their livestock. Low-lying island states like Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and the Maldives are the most prominent nations threatened in this way.

    “The biggest challenge is to preserve their nationality without a territory,” said Bogumil Terminski from the University of Geneva. Rosemary Rayfuse from the University of New South Wales argued that “a solution to the ‘disappearing state’ dilemma is suggested through adoption of a positive rule freezing baselines and through recognition of the category of ‘deterritorialised state’. It is concluded that the articulation of new rules of international law may be needed to provide stability, certainty and a future to disappearing states”.


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