Monday, December 15, 2014

We Have Not Inherited the Earth From Our Ancestors, We Are Stealing It From Our Children

Kate Sheppard writes at the Huff Post about the destruction of Shishmaref

Eight years ago the bunnies  read about how this Alaskan village on the shores of the Chukchi Sea is being devoured by climate change.  Indeed, in 2007 the AAAS even made a video about how it was the canary in the coal mine, a precursor to the fate of nations and this was featured at their annual meeting

As early as 2002, it was clear that the village was doomed and plans were drawn up to move to the mainland, but alas, the plans required money, and as Kate Sheppard writes, they required a site that was also not subject to climate change
Within a couple of years, however, the plan to move to Tin Creek fell apart. Subsequent feasibility studies revealed problems with the site. It too sits on permafrost -- which, in a melting Arctic, likely means that its days as a suitable location are also numbered. The town had to select a different location.
and the plan also required a couple of hundred million dollars, for a small village, with a small population, in the middle of nowhere.

So, Eli has a question.  How can our civilization adapt to climate change if we cannot even save a small village?


Fernando Leanme said...

That village was built in the wrong place. That example reminds me of Finafuti. Here's a brief history:

hishmaref is located on Sarichef Island, in the Chukchi Sea, just north of Bering Strait. It is five miles from the mainland, 126 miles north of Nome and 100 miles southwest of Kotzebue. Shishmaref is surrounded by the 2.6 million acre Bering Land Bridge National Reserve. It has been proposed to become part of the Beringian National Heritage Park, endorsed by Presidents Bush and Gorbachev in 1990. It lies at approximately 66° 15' N Latitude, 166° 04' W Longitude (Sec. 23, T010N, R035W, Kateel River Meridian). The community is located in the Cape Nome Recording District. The area encompasses 3 sq. miles of land and 5 sq. miles of water.

The original Eskimo name for the island is "Kigiktaq." In 1816, Lt. Otto Von Kotzebue named the inlet "Shishmarev," after a member of his crew. Excavations at "Keekiktuk" by archaeologists around 1821 provided evidence of Eskimo habitation from several centuries ago.

After 1900, when a supply center was established to serve gold mining activities on the Seward Peninsula, the village was renamed after the Inlet. A post office was established in 1901. During October 1997, a severe storm eroded over 30 feet of the north shore, threatening the loss of 14 homes, and destroying many winter food caches. The 14 homes were relocated way from the new bluff, however, the City will need a protective seawall to prevent additional damage.

Fernando Leanme said...

I forgot to leave you this link. Check page 5:

EliRabett said...

London was built in the wrong place, New York was built in the wrong place, and let the bunnies not speak about Amsterdam.

Fernando darling, people build cities and towns by the sea because they make a living from the sea not because some clown on the internet picks out the spot for them

Aaron said...

In the context of past melt-water pulses, the (capital intensive) plans to protect NYC are no better than what is being used for the villages in the Arctic.

Fernando Leanme said...

Read the link, Eli. That village is erzatz. Set up by the U.S. government in the early 1900's, ignoring the local know how. Buddy, coastal engineering happens to be something I know a little about. And as it turns out I was in Alaska for a while, so I'm familiar with this case. The debate about this village comes up in the Anchorage paper once in a while. And this is a lousy example to use. But the Huffington had to come up with this type of articlle, I suppose.

If you want a better example of what global warming and wave action are doing go to Yamal. Yamal has world class permafrost, solid ice lenses up to two meters thick, laying inside sand and gravel permafrost. And the Ob River empties to the west in the Kara sea. That whole mess is going to get reshaped in 50 years.

EliRabett said...

Let Eli see, early 1900s. Hmm that's what 100-110 years ago. Fernando, take thee to rent a clue.

Russell Seitz said...

Is Prudential Rabbet offering warren insurance on burrows in the Outer Banks ?

Always ask Uncle Wiggly to check the neighborhood glacial rebound ups and downs before investing in Alaska beachfront property

Marion Delgado said...

Eli, I am a rural Alaskan, as it so happens, and this is the question I was asking more than a decade ago.

Everett F Sargent said...

Eli you ignorant slut,

"Sarichef Island (on which Shishmaref is located) is part of a dynamic, 100 km-long barrier island chain that records human and environmental history spanning the past 2000 years; the oldest subaerial evidence for the formation of this system is about 1700 14c yr bp (see References, below). Erosion at Shishmaref is unique along the islands because of its fetch exposure and high tidal prism, relatively intense infrastructure development during the 20th century, and multiple shoreline defense structures built beginning in the 1970s."

Don't think London, New York or Amsterdam were were originally built on a barrier island.

You might try a list of population centers built historically on barrier islands NOT including the version of vacation homes built on barrier islands (commerce as opposed to tourism).

Galveston, TX is a good start.

I was a research coastal engineer.

I was NOT a research coastal SAND engineer. But I do know how to kick sand into some flatlander's face, figuratively speaking, of course.

Marion Delgado said...

Also, while I studied physics undergrad, among the grad courses I took was one in mechanical engineering and I acquired a lifelong aversion to the engineering culture. Probable exception of EEs. The mentality above does speak for itself. If I can, I'd recommend to ANYONE interested in that that they read Peter Coates' "The Trans-AlaskanPipeline Controversy" which, despite its name, actually spends most of its time on that mentality and anticipated "The Firecracker Boys" which I would also recommend.

Marion Delgado said...

Shishmaref is indeed the canary: most of alaska's west coast is in trouble.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

Given that it seems all but certain that CO2 levels will reach 450 ppm by 2035 or so, and quite likely that they will reach 500 ppm by 2060, young people today might start thinking about where (or whether) they want to plant their families. Countries need to start thinking about which cities can be defended and which can't.

Fernando Leanme said...

Given the slow speed of sea level increase all they need is revised building codes. I would start by forbidding construction below current sea level.

The example discussed in that article just doesn't meet criteria for blaming anything on global warming. That village is just sited in a really crazy location. It's only suitable for periods when the sea is frozen. And that area has had open water part of the year for around 10-12 thousand years.

Rob said...

Fernando seems to completely miss the point Eli is making.

Look at how challenging and costly it is to move a tiny village. We're looking at 1-3 meters of sea level rise by the end of this century. What does 1-3 meters of sea level rise mean to eastern coastal cities? (Think: One's that are impacted by tropical cyclones.)

It means, we have a large number of cities in the US that are, to be quite frank, toast after mid-century. Add just a foot to SLR and layer on a Cat 5 hitting Miami. That's going to be complete and utter devastation.

Worse, tell me who is going to insure that? Even if you did rebuild Miami with insurance payouts, who is going to insure it again? And who is going to want to rebuild there when insurance companies are never going to sell a policy for any piece of property there?

bluegrue said...

Building codes do not work for aquifers, which are already suffering from saltwater intrusion in the Miami area.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

Miami, New Orleans, Galveston and similar cities are probably toast. Much of New York and London can be defended, at least for a couple of centuries. Federally subsidized flood insurance for low lying coastal properties probably has to go.

Everett F Sargent said...


A C5 has never hit Miami (at least not in the known historical record), not saying it can't happen.

The IPCC currently suggests ~0.9 meters as the upper limit (90% confidence interval) in 2100. The IPCC also largely discounts the semi-empirical methods for (IMHO) good reasons.

Tide range is ~2.5 ft, but let's go with 1 meter (3.3 ft or +/- 1.65 ft).

In terms of current SLR, Key West has the best tidal record in that area:

2.31 mm/yr (but if you cherry pick just right, I'm quite sure you could "justify" a higher number)

As to the historical storm surge record for Miami, see here:

"A 15-foot (4.6 m) storm surge inundated the area, causing massive property damage and some fatalities."

So how high do you want to go for a C5 storm surge? 20 ft or 30 ft or 50 ft or 100 ft or infinity.

Highest know historical storm surge CONUS is in the low 30' ft range (Katrina and you need a bathymetry/topogophry assistance to get to those kind of numbers).

You will also need to know the land based hypsometry (but for Miami not looking so good).

Because the higher the storm surge the smaller the impact of SLR is on the total final water level number.

SLR = 1 ft
Surge = 20 ft
Tide = 1.6 ft

WL = 1 + 1.6 + 20 = 22.6 ft (includes SLR)
WL = 1.6 + 20 = 21.6 ft (excludes SLR)

21.6/22.6 = 95.6% (SLR accounts for 4.4% of overall WL)

So, a C5 would be complete utter disaster for almost any CONUS location, a C5 + 1 ft SLR would also be complete utter disaster (just a little more so IMHO).

The USACE planners (meaning not designers) currently use 3 deterministic SLR curves (0.5m, 1.0m and 1.5m by 2100) :

Also, even though a design may use a 100-year return period, the economic lifetime (B/C ratio) is only 50 years. This makes it somewhat more difficult in approving coastal construction because SLR is (currently) highly back loaded (quadratic or exponential). In other words, there is no real economic benefit in the 1st 50 years as SLR will only be 0.25 of it's final value (quadratic assumption, exponential even less so).

But if you all want to go Boomer Doomers on me, then please, go right ahead.


It would be a very good idea to eliminate the coastal flood insurance program. I've always thought so going back to 1983 when I 1st started my coastal engineering career. That would at least eliminate the RichFatAlGoreRupertMurdoch's from the coastal landscape (or at least make them pay the full cost of being flatlanders and vacationing/living in the coastal zone).

However, even if that were to happen, there has never been a time when the POTUS has not declared a national disaster in the coastal zone due to storm damages, and that Congress has not subsequently magically found funding for said disaster relief.

Everett F Sargent said...


Also what did the USACE do after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans?

Rebuilt the broken levee structures to essentially the same C3 design that was in place before Hurricane Katrina. D'oh!

Rinse and repeat.

EliRabett said...

As to New York City and sea level, Eli will remind Manhattan centric bunnies that the Rockaways are a classic barrier island full of people, so for that matter is Coney Island, that Mill Basin, Canarsie, and most of south Brooklyn and Queens are pretty low and that JFK is a marsh, or at least was. So Shishmaref is not a strange exception for people building on marshland.

EliRabett said...

Homestead is close enough to Miami in hurricanes

EliRabett said...


Galveston has already been toasted once.


Russell Seitz said...

If Peter Minuit were still running New Amsterdam, the coneys would have Coney Island to themselves.

We can but hope that Turtle Bay will be the first neighborhood to be resorbed into the East River

Fernando Leanme said...

Rob, that tiny village was built on a sand barrier island in the Arctic due to federal government inducements which ignored local traditions and lifestyles. "Moving the village" is utter nonsense. The same applies to rebuilding Eastern New Orleans and other abominable urban areas.

I assume you realize Arctic construction on permafrost in remote areas is incredibly expensive? The only outfit which dares even consider such a move is the USA Feds. They play with our tax dollars as if mony grew on trees.

This is a poor example. I can see discussing the impact of rising sea level on Galveston, Long Island, or Pensacola really need better examples. I can shoot holes through that articles with my eyes closed.

BBD said...

Everett F Sargent

The IPCC currently suggests ~0.9 meters as the upper limit (90% confidence interval) in 2100. The IPCC also largely discounts the semi-empirical methods for (IMHO) good reasons.

Expert opinion differs sharply on this point.

BBD said...

Also, even though a design may use a 100-year return period, the economic lifetime (B/C ratio) is only 50 years. This makes it somewhat more difficult in approving coastal construction because SLR is (currently) highly back loaded (quadratic or exponential). In other words, there is no real economic benefit in the 1st 50 years as SLR will only be 0.25 of it's final value (quadratic assumption, exponential even less so).

Fair point.

Everett F Sargent said...


So, I'm not really a proponent of blog "science" per se, but, you know, people do write stuff.

As to the Three Mouseketeers (Jevrejeva-Grinsted-Moore), yes I've read several of their papers, and I'll even read one more:

Upper limit for sea level projections by 2100

Just for you.

However, I will not hang around and discuss this endlessly, as you have a propensity to do so.

But as a bonus, any other peer reviewed literature on SLR pre/post AR5, I will also read, given that you provide link(s) to said papers (I've never been refused a copy when requested (i. e. behind a paywall)). Though, it would be best if you confined citations to post AR5 papers (I'm pretty sure I have copies of all pre AR5 SLR papers).

Also, any paper with Stephan Lewandowsky' name on it (in any way, shape, manner or form will not be read (meaning I won't read his "climate science" SLR dreck, though I'm just fine with his psychology papers (especially the retracted one)).


BBD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BBD said...

Everett F Sargent

[I deleted my final paragraph because I hadn't read your comment properly and responded to my version of what you said, not yours.]

* * *

I seem to have pissed you off, which wasn't my intention at all. So my apologies.

So, I'm not really a proponent of blog "science" per se, but, you know, people do write stuff.

I agree, but Grinstead isn't exactly the lunatic fringe.

But as a bonus, any other peer reviewed literature on SLR pre/post AR5, I will also read

I suspect this is the wrong question. Do you know of any recent studies into the ice sheet dynamics of the GrIS and WAIS that don't point to greater instability than previously supposed?

Everett F Sargent said...


I do have some "issues" with (some of) Grinstead, et. al. works. The two papers on CONUS storm surge wherein they up front dismiss POTS (peaks over threshold) using just six long term tide gages comes immediately to mind.

There has been a lot of work on POTS over here, as we find the "high frequency tail wags the low frequency dog" with all a priori assumptions in the more classical hydrology treatments (which was their approach, classical hydrology treatment). You can find many distributions to fit the high frequency tail, but these fail miserably when the low frequency tail is looked at in isolation.

We are much more interested in getting the low frequency tail "correct" then in the "goodness of fit" of the high frequency tail.

There is a lot more I could say on those two papers, but I digress.

Also, I'm about 2 years behind the current SLR literature, so I'm just now updating my knowledge via Google Scholar.

As to GIS/WAIS, I hope these studies are nothing like James Hansen's approach to "5m SLR by 2100" nonsense.

Seriously, taking ~10 years worth of GIS data, fitting a quadratic/exponential curve through that data set, then extrapolating like ~10X, with absolutely no error bars of statistical confidence (at least AFAIK in the 1st rendition of that paper), certainly qualifies as Eli's Stark Raving Black approach to informing the public on climate change.

Call that one (and similar scare tactics), Operation Backfire (global warming as told to you by Boomer Doomers).

That is all.

BBD said...

As to GIS/WAIS, I hope these studies are nothing like James Hansen's approach to "5m SLR by 2100" nonsense.

I was thinking of Rignot et al. (2014) Widespread, rapid grounding line retreat of Pine Island, Thwaites, Smith, and Kohler glaciers, West Antarctica, from 1992 to 2011 and Morlighem et al. (2014) Deeply incised submarine glacial valleys beneath the Greenland ice sheet.

Fingers crossed.

Everett F Sargent said...


"From the extreme to the mean: Acceleration and tipping points of coastal inundation from sea level rise"

The rest of the distribution (absent TD-C5-nor'easter storm surges?)