by Robert M. Cook, October 30, 2009
HAMPTON BEACH — Two research scientists foretold of a flooded future for New Hampshire's 18-mile coastline Thursday morning.
The changes, they say, will be caused by global warming and continued ice melt.
By the year 2100, ice melt brought on by warmer ocean temperatures will increase sea level by 3.3 feet and force the relocation of thousands of homes, businesses and resort cottages in Hampton Beach, Seabrook, Rye, and many other coastal communities, according to Dr. Mark Fahnestock, a professor at the Institute for the Study of Oceans and Space at the University of New Hampshire in Durham and Dr. Gordon Hamilton, a research professor at the University of Maine's Climate Change Institute.
The two men told a group of concerned residents and state and local officials they have spent several years studying the continued melting of glaciers in Greenland using satellites in space and physical markers on the ground.
Fahnestock said as ocean temperatures continue to rise, he has seen greater amounts of ice melt along the Greenland coastline into the sea.
He said one glacier has dropped 600 feet in size over the last several years.
As a result, "the thinning is changing the way this glacier behaves over time," Fahnestock said.
Hamilton said research shows the glaciers in Greenland and the Arctic Circle can respond very rapidly to changing conditions whether they are trigged by natural or man-made actions such as global warming which scientists say is caused by excessive carbon dioxide emissions produced by fossil fuel burning plants.
Hamilton said the sea level could rise anywhere from 18 to 59 cm by 2029.
As more ice melts off glaciers, they create icebergs which swell the sea level, Hamilton explained. He compared it to a typical drink with ice cubes.
"When ice goes into a cocktail, a drink gets bigger," he said.
Hamilton said scientists have also measured the amount of glacial melt that has taken place in Greenland the last few years and found in one instance it has increased its speed from 5 miles to 8 miles per year and in another case increased from 3 miles to 9 miles per year.
The forum at the Ashworth by the Sea hotel on Hampton Beach was organized by Clean Air-Cool Planet of Portsmouth, a group dedicated to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, as part of its "Hip-Boot Tour" of East Coast communities.
Across Ocean Boulevard, the Atlantic Ocean's waves pounded the surf during high tide as the scientists and members of the environmental group discussed how the projected higher sea level could forever change the New Hampshire coastline.
Roger Stephenson, the group's executive director, said they provided a large-scale map showing the sea-level could rise as much as 6.6 feet by 2100 based on the data scientists have collected. Areas on the map shaded in blue indicate all of Hampton Beach, North Beach, Seabrook Beach and large swaths of land that extend all the way to Interstate 95 could be underwater by then.
Sections of Route 101, Route 1A, Route 1 and thousands of acres of salt marsh would also be affected by the higher sea level.
Steve Miller, coastal training coordinator for the Great Bay National Estuarine Center in Stratham, said more people want to understand what is happening and also understand what action they can take to mitigate the potential loss of coastline, beaches, residences and businesses.
Rafe Pomerance, president of Clean Air-Cool Planet, described the scientists' findings as "game-changing data" he hopes will create the political will necessary in Washington to get the U.S. Senate to pass legislation to create a national cap and trade policy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Under a cap and trade system that some states like New Hampshire and Maine have approved, businesses that burn fossil fuels have to pay states money for every ton of CO2 they burn, which encourages companies to incorporate more renewable energy.
Thomas Burack, commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services in Concord, said there is much at stake for the state and the region if more is not done to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Burack said the state has already seen evidence as to how global warming and climate change are playing out in New Hampshire. He cited the recent floods in 2006, 2007 and 2008, excessive precipitation, and warmer temperatures in the summer and winter.
Burack said doing nothing will lead to food shortages, a loss of ocean fisheries and an increase in mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile virus. He said some scientists have said climate change will cause New Hampshire to become more like South Carolina.
Burack said many communities should start planning now to adapt to the higher predicted sea level. He said the state joined nine other Northeast states to create the Regional Greenhouse Gasses Initiative and the state also put together a state climate control plan to help communities deal with this issue.
Under the plan, Burack said New Hampshire wants its fossil fuel plants to reduce CO2 emissions 20% by 2025 and then 80% by the year 2050.
"We're going to unfortunately feel the impact of climate change for sometime to come," Burack said.
During the question and answer period that followed the panel discussion, Pomerance acknowledged that even if the international community and the U.S. agreed at the global climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December to greatly reduce future greenhouse gases, it would not reverse the ice melt happening in and around the Arctic and Antarctic circles.
He said the best thing the world can do is to reduce future CO2 emissions to avoid what could be catastrophic climate change. Pomerance said the U.S. must play a key leadership role to get the rest of the world to reduce greenhouse gases.
"Unless we give the signal to the world to get busy, the world will not get busy and it will slow down," he said.
Cook/Democrat photo Dr. Mark Fahnestock of the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, discusses Thursday how global warming has caused a greater acceleration of glacier melt in Greenland and how that will cause the sea-level to rise by as much as 3.3 feet along the New Hampshire coastline by the year 2100.