The Ministry for the Environment doesn’t leave local government bodies without advice about sea level rise as a consequence of climate change. I’ve been looking at their guide for local government Preparing for Coastal Change, published last month. It’s backed by a much longer website document Coastal Hazards and Climate Change rewritten last year by NIWA scientists Doug Ramsay and Rob Bell. The guide is thorough. It points out the impacts of climate change on other physical drivers which would exacerbate the problem of rising sea level. Storms, storm surge and storm tides, tidal range and high tide frequency, special estuary effects, waves, and the supply of sediment to the coast all add to the likely effects of sea level rise.
The Emissions Trading Scheme Review committee has released the first batch of submissions it has received — those made by organisations and individuals who have already made their presentations to the committee. There are some heavy hitters in there: from New Zealand’s science and policy community there’s the Climate Change Centre (a joint venture between the University of Canterbury and Victoria University of Wellington, plus all the Crown Research Institutes – from NIWA to AgResearch), VUW’s Climate Change Research Institute, and GNS Science, and from the world of commerce, we have the Business Roundtable‘s “evidence”. Why the quote marks? Because the Roundtable’s submission is a fact-free farrago of nonsense.
It appears that my wish is someone’s command. Last month, blogging on the continuing break-up of the Wilkins ice shelf, I noted a reference to “seal hats” as data gathering devices and expressed a wish to see them. And here they are! Little devices glued to the heads of elephant seals that gather data as the seals as they go about their daily business. A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science explains:
Here, we show that southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) equipped with oceanographic sensors can measure ocean structure and water mass changes in regions and seasons rarely observed with traditional oceanographic platforms. In particular, seals provided a 30-fold increase in hydrographic proï¬les from the sea-ice zone, allowing the major fronts to be mapped south of 60Â°S and sea-ice formation rates to be inferred from changes in upper ocean salinity. […] By measuring the high-latitude ocean during winter, elephant seals ï¬ll a â€˜â€˜blind spotâ€™â€™ in our sampling coverage, enabling the establishment of a truly global ocean-observing system.
The Arctic summer sea ice cover could be reduced by 2013 to “a few outcrops on islands near Greenland and Canada between mid-July and mid-September”, according to new research reported in The Observer [UK] today. The paper also suggests that this year could still see a new record minimum. Wieslaw Maslowski, the US Navy researcher who suggested in 2007 that the Arctic could be ice free by 2013, told Observer science editor Robin McKie:
‘It does not really matter whether 2007 or 2008 is the worst year on record for Arctic ice,’ Maslowski said. ‘The crucial point is that ice is clearly not building up enough over winter to restore cover and that when you combine current estimates of ice thickness with the extent of the ice cap, you get a very clear indication that the Arctic is going to be ice-free in summer in five years. And when that happens, there will be consequences.’
This is the first story I’ve found in a mainstream newspaper that has picked up on what those “consequences” might be, albeit in only the most general terms:
This startling loss of Arctic sea ice has major meteorological, environmental and ecological implications. The region acts like a giant refrigerator that has a strong effect on the northern hemisphere’s meteorology. Without its cooling influence, weather patterns will be badly disrupted, including storms set to sweep over Britain.
Or a run of warm wet summers.
The paper also talked to Mark Serreze from the NSIDC about the speed up in melt over the last week:
‘[…]Beaufort Sea storms triggered steep ice losses and it now looks as if it will be a very close call indeed whether 2007 or 2008 is the worst year on record for ice cover over the Arctic. We will only find out when the cover reaches its minimum in mid-September.’
The fat lady may just have got back into the limo and returned to her hotel for a snack.
[Update 12/8: The NSIDC has updated (11/8) its Arctic news page, commenting on the effect of storms on the ice, and noting that Amundsen’s long version of the NW Passage will be open soon.]
So what’s happening to the Emissions Trading Scheme legislation? It seems to be stuck in the parliamentary back rooms, presumably because the government is struggling to put together enough votes to get the bill (or a version of it) passed before the election. No Right Turn has been keeping tabs on progress, and is of the opinion that time is rapidly running out.
My own totally unwarranted speculation is that the government has calculated it needs NZ First to get the bill through, and that certain well-publicised problems faced by that party’s leader are holding things up. Labour could probably do a deal with the Greens and Maori Party, but that would mean a tougher scheme and lead to loud squeals from the big emitters. It would give National another stick to beat them with… So Winston it is. Or perhaps isn’t. Whatever, negotiations probably involve a lot of pompous blustering…
I usually try to steer clear of party politics on Hot Topic, and I went to some lengths to make the book as non-partisan as possible. I don’t care who my readers vote for, but I do care that our political parties have sound climate-related policy. I would hope to encourage people to take that into account when voting. When we have an election date, I plan to put together a handy guide…
Anyway, please use this post for all pre-election political commentary.