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Sea level rise already a reality in portions of Alaska


One of the more impactful documentaries screened at the 3rd Annual Bonita Springs International Film Festival was Before the FloodDirected by Fisher Stevens, the climate change documentary follows Academy Award-winning actor and U.N. Messenger of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio on a three-year journey during which he interviews individuals from every facet of society in both developing and developed nations to discover what must be done today and in the future to prevent catastrophic disruption of life on our planet. One of the topics discussed in the film is the threat of sea level rise as a consequence of rising temperatures resulting from greenhouse gas emissions.

The world is already witnessing the inexorable loss of land and habitat to sea level rise. In April of 2016, the world learned that five tiny islands in the Soloman Archipelago have disappeared amid rising seas and erosion. A month later, UNESCO warned that projected sea level rise threatens more than a dozen World Heritage sites including Venice, Italy, the Sydney Opera House, the Galapagos Islands, Stonehenge, Easter Island and the Statue of Liberty. But as the documentary underscores, because of a disinformation campaign being waged by special interests including the oil industry, the Koch brothers and the coal industry, many Americans believe that the hype about climate change is either fabricated, hyperbolic or just too futuristic to worry about.

But try telling that to residents of Barrow, Alaska, where the thinning and loss of artic ice is wreaking havoc on the indigenous people who have made their living whaling for time out of memory.

In Barrow, the sea is already moving inland to the consternation of the town’s mayor, Robert C. Harcharek, who has stated publicly that if he could, he would move the entire town about a mile inland from its current location in order to compensate for losses the town has experienced as a result of rising tides and sea levels. But that’s not likely to occur any time soon given that Barrow has invested more than $1 Billion in infrastructure – in the form of roads, public buildings, schools and the like – which cannot be easily replaced. But if temperatures and sea level continue to rise at the pace they have over just the past ten years, the residents of Barrow may soon find themselves in the country’s first wave of climate refugees.

Lest you think Barrow’s problems too remote to warrant your concern, scientists warn that there’s new evidence coming in that links the rapid warming taking place in the Arctic to extreme weather events in highly populated latitudes far south such as the flash floods in West Virginia, record highs in the southwest, wildfires in California and hurricanes on the order of Harvey in Texas and Irma in Florida.

“The Arctic as a whole has gotten warmer and wetter since the start of the 21st century, a change attributed to sea-ice reduction,” Yereth Rosen wrote in 2016 in the Alaska Dispatch News. “Other forces like reduced snow cover — which this year hit a near-record June low in the Northern Hemisphere – and cloud formation amplify the warming.”

Scientists with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and United States Geological Survey (USGS) are also concerned with the loss of Alaska’s glaciers. While the Greenland ice sheet and Antarctica dwarf Alaska’s glaciers, the latter are disproportionately contributing to sea level rise, scientists say. For example, Shad O’Neel of the USGS points out that while mountain glaciers hold only 1 percent of the world’s glacial ice, they are contributing 30 percent of the water that is currently increasing sea levels worldwide. In all, Alaska’s glaciers are losing 75 billion tons of ice a year, and almost all of that comes from the glaciers on land rather than those spilling into tidewater.

And glacial melt affects more than sea levels. The increasing amount of fresh water pouring off them changes marine salinity and currents and, ultimately, circulation in the Arctic Ocean, O’Neel said.

This, and more, was covered in detail in Before the Flood, which is one of the reasons the film was perhaps the most timely documentary included in this year’s edition of the Bonita Springs International Film Festival.

January 26, 2018.






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