Extreme Pacific sea level events to double in future

Sep 29, 2015

Widlansky, et al. (2015)

By University of Hawaii at Manoa

Many tropical Pacific island nations are struggling to adapt to gradual sea level rise stemming from warming oceans and melting ice caps. Now they may also see much more frequent extreme interannual sea level swings. The culprit is a projected behavioral change of the El Niño phenomenon and its characteristic Pacific wind response, according to recent computer modeling experiments and tide-gauge analysis by scientists Matthew Widlansky and Axel Timmermann at the International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, and their colleague Wenju Cai at CSIRO in Australia.

During El Niño, warm water and high sea levels shift eastward, leaving in their wake low sea levels in the western Pacific. Scientists have already shown that this east-west seesaw is often followed six months to a year later by a similar north-south sea level seesaw with water levels dropping by up to one foot (30 cm) in the Southern Hemisphere. Such sea level drops expose shallow marine ecosystems in South Pacific Islands, causing massive coral die-offs with a foul smelling tide called taimasa (pronounced [kai’ ma’sa]) by Samoans.

The team of scientists recently asked, how will future greenhouse warming affect the El Niño sea level seesaws? The scientist used state-of-the-art climate models, which accounted for increasing greenhouse gas concentrations, together with simulations of the observed climate and tide-gauge records to verify the model results. They determined that projected climate change will enhance El Niño-related sea level extremes. By the end of this century the experiments show that the intensified wind impacts of strong El Niño and La Niña events are likely to double the frequency of extreme sea level occurrences, especially in the tropical southwestern Pacific.

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4 comments on “Extreme Pacific sea level events to double in future

  • The science is there for those with eyes to see and those with functioning brains to think about!

    Warnings are not only coming from scientists – the financial sector is also starting to take an interest!


    The Bank of England governor has given a stark warning that climate change poses a huge risk to global stability.

    At a gathering of leading insurers at Lloyd’s of London, Mark Carney pointed out the rapid increase in weather-related catastrophes and the jump in both the physical and financial costs.

    He said this generation had little incentive to avert future problems.

    Insurers are among those with the biggest interest in climate change as the syndicates operating at Lloyd’s, the world’s oldest insurance market, are the most exposed to disasters such as hurricanes and floods.

    Mr Carney said the after-effects of such disasters were likely to grow worse: “The challenges currently posed by climate change pale in significance compared with what might come.

    “The far-sighted amongst you are anticipating broader global impacts on property, migration and political stability, as well as food and water security.”

    But he said because the cost would fall on future generations there was little impetus on the current one to fix it: “In other words, once climate change becomes a defining issue for financial stability, it may already be too late.

    Meanwhile the blinkered political denialists sit chanting “Do nothing!! Low carbon preparations to mitigate changes will ruin the economy”!

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  • It seems the CO2 reductions will get some benefit from an unexpected source and a third-world example which could be copied elsewhere in the tropics!

    Zimbabwe is to ban the use of electric water heaters and require all newly built properties to use solar power, as it tries to tackle big power shortages.

    Energy officials say existing electric heaters – or geysers – will be phased out over the next five years.

    They hope to save up to 400 megawatts of electricity – equivalent to the output of an electrical power plant.

    Blackouts have dogged Zimbabwe, despite the fact that 60% of the population have no access to electricity.

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  • Meanwhile the tradition of brain-addled governors in Alaska continues with a new more perverse form of climate change denial!

    Having finally recognised the devastating costs and potential costs of ignoring CO2 pollution, there is an even more mad than usual suggestion as a solution!!!


    Expanding the search for oil is necessary to pay for the damage caused by climate change, the Governor of Alaska has told the BBC.

    The state is suffering significant climate impacts from rising seas forcing the relocation of remote villages.

    Governor Bill Walker says that coping with these changes is hugely expensive.

    He wants to “urgently” drill in the protected lands of the Arctic National Wilderness Refuge to fund them.

    While Alaska’s income from the oil continues to fall, expenditure on climate related activities is likely to go up. Coastal erosion is threatening a number of native communities in remote areas such as Kivalina.

    This isolated community of 400 sits on a narrow spit of land that is constantly under threat from the sea, despite huge expenditure on defences. Just last week a surging sea removed a 3m stretch of beach near the airport.

    Evacuation seems like the long term solution but it will likely cost $100m.

    To deal with situations like this, the governor told the BBC, more oil was needed.

    “We are in a significant fiscal challenge. We have villages that are washing away because of changes in the climate,” Governor Walker said.

    “I don’t see anyone putting together contribution funds to help move Kivalina; that is our obligation, we stand by that – we need to figure out how to do that. But those are very expensive – we have about 12 villages in that situation.

    Earlier this year President Obama moved to increase protection for the Refuge, but his attempts have stalled in Congress.

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  • I see there are still plenty of misleading headlines from the carbon industries!


    Paris climate summit: Major oil producers back ‘effective’ deal (allegedly)

    The leaders of 10 of the world’s biggest oil companies have offered their qualified support for a new global treaty on climate change.

    The producers of 20% of the world’s oil and gas say they share the ambition to limit warming to 2C.

    They promise to work to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of the global energy mix.

    But green groups were dismissive, saying that “arsonists don’t make good firefighters”.

    The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative represents major producers including BP, Shell, Saudi Aramco and Total among others.

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