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Friday, November 20, 2009

U.S. group sees worsening coastal flooding threat at Norfolk, Virginia

U.S. group sees worsening coastal flooding threat

U.S. Group Sees Worsening Coastal Flooding Threat Photo: Carlos Barria
Residents walk home at a flooded street after Hurricane Ike hit in Galveston, Texas September 14, 2008.  Photo: Carlos Barria

by Richard Cowen, Reuters, November 20, 2009

WASHINGTON -- Fast-melting ice from Greenland and Antarctica will lead to a much sharper rise in sea levels than previously estimated, touching off flooding that will radically alter U.S. East Coast cities from Miami to Baltimore, according to a new study.

Climate change will cause a rise of at least 1 meter (39 inches) in sea levels by the end of this century, according to a review of scientific data by Clean Air-Cool Planet, an environmental group that calls itself nonpartisan.

The projection is in sharp contrast to a 2007 study by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said world sea levels could increase 18-59 cm (7-23 inches) by 2100.

"We are on our way to radically changing what the coasts look like," said Jim White, a professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder, who worked on the study. "Norfolk could replace New Orleans as the poster child" for coastal flooding, he told reporters on Thursday.

Norfolk, Virginia, situated near the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean, is home to the world's largest naval base.

The group said it based its conclusions on a study of ice melting by Utrecht University in the Netherlands.
The 2007 U.N. study linked most of its projected sea level rise to a natural expansion of water as it warms. But newer scientific data has focused more on the added impact of ice sheets sliding into oceans.

Gordon Hamilton, an associate professor at the University of Maine, said satellite data shows that Greenland is shedding ice at an accelerated rate, pushing more and more of it into the ocean.

"Icebergs are being calved off the ice sheet at a rate three times faster now than just a few years ago," he said.
Clean Air-Cool Planet wants aggressive action by governments around the world to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

To bolster those efforts, the group is traveling along the U.S. East Coast with maps showing flooding possibilities in various cities.

Urban planners attending some of the presentations say they already are factoring in flooding concerns to long-term studies on infrastructure upgrades, according to Hamilton and White.

Officials of more than 190 countries are set to meet December 7-18, 2009, in Copenhagen to discuss steps for reducing carbon emissions. But leaders of those countries acknowledge that a deal will not be wrapped up in the Danish capital and that six months to a year of additional negotiating might be needed.

(Editing by Xavier Briand)


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