It's great to be back at Harbor Branch. I've visited here a number of times over the years.
I last spoke here 23 years ago I think it was. So if you don't remember that I understand.
And one of the research submersibles that I got to go down and look at ancient shorelines
- I'll talk about that - was one of the submersibles from Harbor Branch years ago, the Clelia,
when it was over in the Bahamas, where I lived for about 25 years. But in the last 6 years
I've become a specialist about sea level. I stumbled into it in a way but have a deep
background in it, in a true way in that, in college, 45 years ago - I was a Marine Geology
major - I studied ancient sea levels because I thought it was really fascinating how they
went up-and-down with the Ice Ages and, as a diver, when I got to go diving in The Bahamas,
either scuba diving or in the research sub like the one from Harbor Branch I would look
for ancient shorelines evidence when sea level was down much lower and I'll talk about that
so my connections about that subject go back to my college studies and actually to one
of the research trips done with Harbor Branch's facility so a kind of an interesting connection.
I explain sea-level rise now not only all over the country but all over the world.
I was in San Francisco last week. They have a big issue there. I'll show you some images.
I did it to the government of Hong Kong about 2 months ago, the Miami Chamber of Commerce
a month ago, Newport, Rhode Island, National Trust for Historic Preservation, looking at
old buildings and what-do-we-have-to-do, federal agencies from Coast Guard to Homeland Security.
As you'll see I take a very diverse set of sciences then, as alluded to, and cut across
it, and look at a longer-term picture and I guarantee you some of the things you learn
tonight will be new.
They may displace other things you've heard about sea level. There'll be time for questions
at the end. I love questions. I've not been stumped yet in 2.5 years of doing this so
try it, it's fine. And I love talking to different audiences because people come at sea level
with different concerns. Here in Florida we tend to think we're at Ground Zero and there
certainly is a real vulnerability here but lots of places in the world are special in
terms of their vulnerability to sea-level rise, not just here.
The first misunderstanding that happens with looking at sea level is when we look at the
polar icecap, the ice around the North Pole, like these images, most people think that
that's why sea level's rising. I'm not going to embarrass anybody here tonight to find
out which side of that question you're on but let me make it easy. I would say that
90 percent of the people across audiences that I talk to assume that the melting polar
icecap is why sea level is rising. It's not. Like ice cubes in a glass, as they melt, they
don't affect the level of liquid.
It seems perhaps surprising but if you think about it, it's true, and you can run that
experiment at home with iced tea or gin-and-tonic, whatever you wish and you'll probably want
a gin-and-tonic by the time you're done listening to me tonight.
I try and inject a little humor because this is a really sobering subject. It can be scary
and that's just the facts. And some things in life are. I'm going to try and give it
you. There's no politics involved and really there's no agenda. It's to let you see a new
world that's different than what we tend to think about with storms and other events that
are in our experience and it's really hard to see ahead to sea-level rise but I'm going
to bring you there.
You're going to see what's going to happen later this century in a way that I'm sure
you've never looked at it before. Very few scientists have because most of us look at
specific things and this is going to be a very holistic view. The importance of the
disappearance of the polar icecap -- that is the ice around the North Pole, not Greenland
and not Antarctica, which we'll get to in a minute -- is 2 things. As we go from bright-white
ice, which reflects sunlight and heat to dark, polar ocean, which absorbs it, it's like having
a white roof and then painting it black. Your house is going to get warmer, right?
Your heating and your air conditioning will change. We know that. It's intuitive and I'm
going to explain science just that simply not that you need it dumbed down to that level
but I want to give you explanations that you can use on anybody. That's my goal. It's to
make the science so clear you really don't need to understand science.
The second importance besides the Arctic going from a reflecting surface to an absorbing
surface, which accelerates the warming as the planet absorbs more heat, as the ice melts,
even though it doesn't affect sea level. The real other significance of the melting Arctic,
the disappearing polar icecap around the North Pole, is that it proves warming. You know,
when I talk about sea-level rise or climate change, however you want to look at it, some
people say, "Oh, well this has happened before. It's a natural thing." The polar icecap's
been there for 3 million years.
It's going to be gone starting for a few weeks in September and then increasing in periods
of time in successive years in the next couple of decades. There are people already investing
hundreds of millions of dollars in shipping ports in the Arctic so that when ships, during
the ice-free months can go across the pole and save tremendous distances shipping that
there will be ports ready on the northern side of Canada and Russia. This isn't make-believe
stuff; this is real business and really happening. The Coast Guard for which I'm an advisor on
this subject is trying to get ready for when they'll need to do more work as the Coast
Guard and the Navy up in the Arctic when there's more shipping up there. But the fact that
pole has been frozen for 3 million years really should give us pause. This is not just another
The Arctic has not been ice-free in 3 million years. This isn't a matter of instruments
and accuracy and where the gauges are. Ice melts at 32 degrees whether you're a Republican
or Democrat. It doesn't care what you think, right? It's a visual thermometer.
If you warm the planet enough and let enough years go by the ice will melt, and when people
say it's happened before, they have no idea of timescale. You will know that by the end
of this evening. You will have the arguments about the Ice Ages to really pull the rug
out from underneath anybody who tries to tell you that, "Oh, well this is just a natural
cycle. It's happened before; it's going to happen again.", and so on. You'll see the
I have done this for 2.5 years since my book was published and people have tried to challenge
- wanted to challenge - facts and it hasn't happened. I have an impeccable record. I didn't
think this would happen. I really am sure that some deniers or some people with financial
interests contrary or political beliefs that just didn't want them to accept this would
find some argument that I have missed. It hasn't happened. Law firms have really done
searches and there is no refuting any fact in my book or point in my position or my presentations.
I've been on the FOX Business Channel put up against one of the big paid climate deniers,
Dr. Patrick Michaels. These arguments really up is the point. You can decide for yourself
but I can assure you that lots of people have tried to find holes in it and it really is
a very solid case. Well, let's start with the basics about sea level. We tend to take
it for granted but to help you visualize it, the bottom line and this simple image sea
level, think of it as low-tide, and we know that tides move up-and-down daily, right?
And then when we get a storm - that's a storm, that's a storm surge and if the storm hits
at a high tide it's even higher, right? That all makes sense. As the different causes of
water rising stack up, the waves are going to go further inland, right? Obvious. What
we don't tend to think of is that because sea level is largely caused by the melting
of ice on land, which I'll talk about in a moment that you can't reverse the process
quickly so the timeframes are very different.
High tide - extreme high tide events - dissipate in hours. Storm surge, even from a Sandy-like
event, dissipates hours or days at most. Sea level cannot go down for over 1,000 years
no matter what we do. I'll show you why with the ice sheets in a moment but it's just to
put it in a framework that we tend to want to think that all flooding is the same or
all ocean rise is the same and they're not and you'll understand that shortly. As venerable
sources, National Geographic Magazine in September, 2013, put sea-level rise on its cover.
The point of their cover was that when all the ice melts that's how high sea level will
be on the Statue of Liberty, 212 feet above sea level. That's not an opinion. It's a pretty
simple calculation of the amount of ice that's on land. It's the opening sentence of my book,
too: When all the ice melts, sea level will be 212 feet higher. Now that's not going to
happen this century.
It won't happen next century. I'm not here to scare you. In fact quite the opposite:
I want you to understand reality and simple physics that anybody can understand and hype
and myth and so on. That's my goal this evening. The reason we're confused about sea level
is it hasn't changed much in 5,000 years as I'm going to illustrate to you.
The last time sea level got higher than today - and when I say sea level I mean the low
tide, if you will, the base level - was 120,000 years ago at which time it got 25 feet higher
than today. We tend not to think about that unless we study geology or climatology or
glaciology. So the most common question I get probably is, "Well, how high will it rise
in 30 years or 50 years or by the year 2100 or something?" I'm going to tell you up-front
we don't know. You're going to see lots of estimates and I'll give you some of the projections
that you will see to refresh your memory and then I'm going to make very clear to you we
don't know the answer to that question and, let's be honest about why we can't know the
answer to that question.
It's a little bit like asking, "How many people will the earth have by a given year?" There's
too many variables. Now with sea level it largely relates to melting the ice that's
on land, the glaciers and ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica, as we're going to go through
in some detail. Well, the amount of ice that melts, it depends on how warm the planet gets.
It makes sense, right? How warm the planet gets depends on how we make our energy and
how much of it we need in the next 85 years. Now if one of you can tell me exactly how
much energy we're going to use in the next 85 years and how we're going to produce it
and how many people there will be and how much energy-per-capita they get then you give
me all those figures, and I'll tell you how high sea level's going to be but of course
you can't possibly know those answers for 85 years. We don't know whether we're going
to be pure solar, whether we're going to use nuclear, tar sands or anything else, right?
It's all a matter of conjecture, of assumptions. Those things will determine how much sea level
rises and even if we knew those things, as I'm going to show you, there are some dynamics
in Greenland and Antarctica that, truthfully, we can't precisely calculate how the ice sheets
are going to collapse.
So unfortunately while people do estimates just like they do population estimates. I
mean the current estimate is the 7 billion people on the planet will peak at 9 or 10
billion by the year 2050. There used to projects it'll be 12 billion, okay? It doesn't mean
they're incompetent. It means that situations change and our models change.
This is the graph that's most commonly used in Florida about sea-level rise. It's done
by a group called the Southeast Florida Climate Change Compact. They came out with this about
3 years ago and it's a graph that shows from the present, here - well, 2010, close enough
- by 2030 or 2060 and if you can't read it just the grey or the orange arc peaks at the
year 2060 at 9-24 inches of sea-level rise. And what this is, it was a very good effort
by 4 counties from the Keys - Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County - to say, "Let's work
together", and at least have the same guidelines so that one county's not planning on 12 inches
and another one's planning on 16, you know for the same problem. And that made sense
and, in fact, they kinda set a national example of cooperation in trying to do this with some
consistency. Those figures will probably be raised because that's been the pattern of
sea-level rise projections, they do keep getting higher. But it's also based upon the same
uncertainties I just gave you. It's not absolute.
People tend to think, "Well, the worst that could happen is 24 inches by 2060." No, that's
the highest example based upon a series of assumptions in that model and the models do
keep getting higher, by and large. Now Florida we all know what it looks like. It's a pretty
distinctive shape. 20,000 years ago Florida was much larger. Sea level was 390 feet straight
Florida is essentially twice the size. That was when the ice sheets were at their maximum.
We'll look at that, the last Ice Age and glacial maximum, as scientists call it, but let's
call it the Ice Age. The other part of the Ice Age cycle when we were at the previous
warm spot, 120,000 years ago, sea level got 25 feet higher, as I mentioned and Florida
was half the size. This is in the geologic record.
This isn't a model. It's not a projection. This is actually very easy to find whether
you're looking for stratigraphic layers in the rock or shark's teeth or ancient beaches
underwater, this is geologic history. Now one of the other up-front parts here I would
like you to think about is we tend to think flooding is all the same. It's not and I want
- no matter where I travel I find that there's a tendency - to confuse storms, hurricanes
if you will, and the flooding that comes from that, extreme tides, which are more predictable,
and we'll talk about that in a moment. Sea-level rise, which gets wrapped in somehow with the
Subsidence. As land goes down it effectively makes sea level seem to rise higher if the
land is going down - if sea level's here and the land falls it's the same thing as if sea
level rises for your piece of property, right? Okay and then runoff from heavy rainfall or
downstream flooding from a river or stream and then the sixth one, in brackets, is erosion.
Erosion is a little bit different. It's typically scouring because of currents or perhaps storm
waves and it's not in the normal sense of inundation like these others but - and so
it's worth listing there, differently. Now those causes or those effects of flooding
or forms of flooding, I should say, have different things causing them, different predictability.
I can tell you when we're getting an extreme tide 5 years in advance. What time, what day
and what inlet. We know what extreme tide's going to happen because it's based upon the
planetary alignment, the tide tables. Fishermen and boaters know about the tide tables and
we know about peak tides, sometimes called king tides. I have no idea when the next storm's
going to be, right? And I have an idea about sea-level rise within parameters.
Well, these things tend to combine but they really need to be thought of separately because
- for the reasons you already understand - sea level's not going to recede so it raises the
base elevation. And on top of sea level, we have normal tides and extreme tides and storm
sides, right? So sea level keeps lifting everything up and somebody said it's kinda like in basketball
if you could keep raising the floor, the point scores would keep increasing, right? So you're
raising the base, which has a - can have a big impact. Now we've - storms allow us to
see the impact of sea-level rise. This was Fort Lauderdale Beach before the event and
this is the no-name storm a month after Sandy, actually, in Fort Lauderdale Beach. I don't
know if you saw it.
I actually went down there to witness this. Not only did it put the road underwater, it
actually eliminated I think 4 blocks of A1A down there in Fort Lauderdale. That's not
sea-level rise. That was a storm event. But it helps us to visualize what's going to happen
just as Sandy, on October 29, 2012, showed us what happens when a shoreline breaches
in a way we didn't expect. This I have to tell you - you may have seen it if you go
to my website or things like that or even I think on Amazon they talk about it.
This was a terrible event that was very fortunate for me in its timing. When Sandy happened
on October 29, 2012, my book came out a week before - October 22 - it was published and,
on Page 121, I describe a super storm hitting Atlantic City in New York so I got on British
television the next morning, you know? "So Mr. Englander, how did you write about this
a week before it happened?" Well, I wrote about it 4 years before. Of course it was
just lucky and I hate to call it lucky with such a tragic event but the point is it illustrated
that if you get the physics right and the geology, you know some of this stuff's pretty
I mean, you can give a forecast or a scenario and, at some point, it's going to happen.
The fact that it happened a week later was pretty bizarre but it helped me sell some
books so it was okay. I don't mean to be callous about that. It was a terrible event but it
should get us to start thinking about what is going to happen. Now we have another kind
of flooding event, these extreme tides, and we see that in neighborhoods all over the
US and, in fact, all over the world.
This could be in Seattle. This happens to be in Broward County, Fort Lauderdale but
it could be any one of a number of waterfront communities and storm drains were put in to
take excess rainfall and take it to the nearest waterway, right? You're all familiar with
that. Well, every 28 days this neighborhood has a problem. Saltwater backs up through
that system and comes onto the street.
That didn't happen when that community was designed or engineered 50 years ago. And we
haven't had real subsidence here, by the way, or not much. The land has not gone down. That's
not the cause of this problem. And this could be anywhere. San Francisco: The Embarcadero.
Many of you have probably been out there and seen The Embarcadero, the famous 7.5-mile
waterfront, in San Francisco.
Well, it's been there 140 years. It didn't do this as often, by a long shot. They're
now having to figure out how to redesign the waterfront because, every 28 days, water is
breaking over the seawall and it's not the ocean. Remember this is inside the Golden
Gate Bridge. This is inside San Francisco Bay.
Those crashing waves are really very small bay waves that are just high enough because
the ocean's higher, at peak tides, which is what they call king tides out there. San Francisco
is - from this aerial shot - just is here to point out something that you don't tend
to think of because we think Florida is the most vulnerable area. Of course some people
would say Bangladesh or Vietnam or The Maldives or various places in the world, Kiribas, there's
lots of place that are vulnerable to sea-level rise but we tend not to think of a place like
California but San Francisco Bay has huge vulnerability. Those areas in light blue are
areas that will go underwater with just a couple of feet of sea-level rise. They were
all fill land because the bay - they made land, basically, by filling in 10 or 12 feet
of water depth.
This was a cheap way to make real estate in a very valuable area and it was protected
from the ocean so they were safe. So they made it, eh, 2 feet above sea level. Well,
now not only have ports and airports, we have entire cities in the Bay Area - I was there
last week - that have been built on fill land that's 2 feet above sea level, as flat as
this table. And when sea level gets that high the whole city is going to flood. And it's
not just coastal cities. The other interesting thing about sea level, we tend to think it's
like a storm that's going to hit the beach. It's not. It's going to go to the low land
behind the beach and up tidal rivers.
Sacramento, California just as one example but this could be Hartford, Connecticut, it
could be Washington, DC, it could be London, England. Cities on tidal rivers are vulnerable
to sea-level rise, too, so that's another difference between storm surge, which hits
the coast with waves, and seal level, which finds the low land wherever it happens to
be. It has a much wider impact area. Not only that, Sacramento is not only on a tidal river,
the river basically has been formed, at this point in history, by over 1,000 miles of earth
and levies, similar to New Orleans. In fact analysis by various federal agencies says
that there's more vulnerability to sea-level rise, breaking the levies in Sacramento than
there is New Orleans. And it's not only the capital city of Sacramento, it's the rich,
valuable farmland beyond that, which is why the levies were put in there over the last
2 centuries. So sea level really needs to cause - or causes - us to think different.
We tend to think of it like a storm or like these extreme tide events but it's really
fundamentally different and we're not prepared for it because it hasn't happened in all of
human history. So what do we know about sea-level rise?
Well, over the last 100 years or so this is a graph showing since 1850 - so 165 years
- sea level has risen about 7 or 8 inches and sometimes people question why the blips
in the line? That's an interesting scientific question and there are some answers to it
but I think you just need to step back and look at the big picture. Pretend this was
an investment opportunity, right? You wouldn't care that it blipped up and down if it had
that kind of trend to it, would you? You can bet the trend even if it's not going where
You know 'the trend is your friend'? Because you can see where it's headed and you actually
can get ahead of a trend even if it's going in a direction you don't like. So sea-level
rise is not only increasing in a long-term but if you look at this chart very carefully
and in the upper-right, the little red line, the straight line, indicates that the rate
of increase is steepening or that sea level is rising at a faster and faster rate, decade-by-decade,
not year-to-year. It doesn't do that. Now that same 8-inch global average sea-level
rise over the last century or so, here is plotted against 13 cities. That same 8-inch
line is this little red, squiggly line down here. You can see that, right?
Well, here's 13 cities from New Orleans on the left at 46 inches to Norfolk, Virginia,
at 30. New York's 14, Miami is 12 and Los Angeles is 4. So why would a global increase
of 8 inches of sea-level rise manifest as 46 inches one place, 30, 12, 4? Because of
the land subsiding or uplifting. New Orleans is compacting because it's silt and we take
oil and water out of the ground and the land is compacting severely. Virginia Beach is
a different phenomenon. It's a plate that's tilting. It's a tectonic effect.
Los Angeles is being lifted because the Pacific Plate, you've probably seen pictures that,
in the Pacific, the ocean plate is going underneath California, which is why they get all the
earthquakes out there and that's lifted Los Angeles by 4 inches. So a global sea-level
rise at 8 inches looks like 4 inches if you're measuring it from Los Angeles, makes sense?
Well, and things you wouldn't think of quickly and the discrepancy of 4 inches to 46 inches
does create grounds for confusion or misinformation. This is to step back to almost a million years.
I don't know why this graph was cut off at 900,000 but to show you that sea level in
the 900,000-year pattern at the top goes up-and-down. There's a fairly regular pattern.
I'm going to talk about that but I want you to see the big picture before we zero in.
And the last Ice Age cycle is blown up there at the bottom for some detail. But let's focus
on the last - since the last Ice Age. Again about 20,000 years ago was the peak of the
last Ice Age. At that point as I've already told you sea level was 390 feet lower. There
are 2 or 3 interesting facts from this chart. One is that sea level got to pretty much the
present level about 5,000 or 6,000 years ago.
That happens to be about when we started keeping written records. By most peoples' arguments
it was pretty much about our human civilization. Some people might go back 6,000 or 8,000 or
so on, depending, but we don't go back much more than that. Organized farming started
about 8,000 years ago. There're some cave paintings going back 40,000 years ago but
I think a case can be made that civilization as we know it is 5,000 years, more or less,
okay? So if sea level hasn't changed much in that 5,000 years no matter we don't think
it's going to change much.
14,000 years ago that bump and let's see if I can do it here. There's 2 bumps actually.
Scientists call that melt-water pulse 1A, regardless. Sea level rose quickly. About
65 feet in 400 years, by nature, no impact demand. That's in the geologic record. Go
to any geology book, online, this isn't a controversial statement. Sea level changes
by nature. There was an actual cycle. We just kind of were ignorant of it.
The truth is we didn't understand a lot of this until the last century or so when had
the ability to kind of put together a more sophisticated case. So that's - now that happened
- because of the Ice Ages. You know, if you have kids or grandkids that are the right
age, you probably saw the 4-part science series, "Ice Age". This was Part 2, "The Meltdown".
My daughter was 6 at the time.
I've watched this 30 or 40 times and I pretty much have it memorized. But besides being
a good cartoon movie, it's actually pretty close to the big picture of what happened
with the ice ages, and I show it both to make people laugh because I've pretty much depressed
them by this point and I don't want them to reach for the valium and other things that
would take their edge off but it's really just to make a point that that 2 miles of
ice that's behind the animals, behind Manny, Sid, Diego, Scat, okay? I do know their names.
Behind the animals that 2 miles of ice - call it 10,000 feet. You know, 5,280 is a mile
so just round figures. I keep everything round figures, easy-to-remember. 10,000 feet of
ice, as it melted, turned into 400 feet of sea-level rise.
Makes sense, right? That's about all the science you need to know to understand this stuff.
It really doesn't have to be complicated. We don't need to use fancy, complicating terms.
Not only for yourselves, some of you are more sophisticated in scientific understanding
but when we teach it to others, this is the level to teach it at.
I've done this to all sorts of groups all over the world. People walk out of the room
understanding it. All the pieces hold together. Another way to visualize it that I like is
to say that if - pretend that we're at the 30th floor of a building, with the present-day
sea level and that the elevator is sea level. Just 20,000 years ago it was at the ground
It rose 30 floors, 390 feet to get to the present and it got here about 5,000 years
ago. When all the remaining ice on the planet melts, we don't know when but when it does
the sea level will be at the 2 floor of that building, another 17 floors or 212 feet up.
I know I'm being repetitious but I'm trying to help you remember a couple of numbers.
You don't have to write it down. Now as I started out we tend to first think about the
polar region, which I mean the North Pole, not the Antarctic region, which I'll talk
about when we think about the warming of the planet, the melting of the ice, the plight
of the polar bear and most people assume why sea level's rising. You now understand not.
I'm not going to get into the biologic or ecological issues today but certainly the
polar bear's got a problem. But, as I prefer to say, you know the planet's changed, species
have come and gone and I certainly hope the polar bear survives but we really have a much
bigger issue in what's at stake here than the polar bear: Us. Now I'm not talking about
imminent extinction or anything like that but the profoundness of what's at stake here
is - can't be - overstated. And I think we need to find ways to kind of get through the
clutter and the politics and the emotions and - well, it's emotional, certainly, but
to really talk about this in a factual way that people get and that's what I have made
it my mission to do. Now nonetheless the images of the melting ice is stunning. It's both
a - well, of course this isn't the North Pole. This is Antarctica.
Most of you know that penguins are not in the Arctic. Polar bears are at North Pole.
Penguins are South Pole. There are some of these great images about the ice melting are
beautiful, poignant if you will. They tell their own story. Now that's happened before
probably but it's happening a lot faster now.
As the polar ice melts you've already heard that we go from bright-white to dark-ocean.
That's really profound. We're changing the planet's heat reflectance, which is speeding
up the warming, in its own positive feedback loop as we tend to call it sometimes. The
problem as I've mentioned is the ice on land. Greenland has enough ice presently that if
it were all to - no, when it all - melts, whenever it all melts, sea level will be 24
Antarctica 7 times that: 186 feet. It's not going to happen this century. It won't happen
next century or the century thereafter. It really won't. I mean little bits may.
We'll talk about that. I am not here to scare anybody.
[Laughs] You think that's funny. No, I'm really not. I'm here to tell you and I like to - I
use the metaphor in my book but it's really true but - pretend I'm your doctor. There's
some bad news, okay? Let's deal with it, okay?
Let's find out what the options are, what's fact, what's fiction, you know? And that's
way I want to talk to you because I decided as I was - it took me 4 years to research
and write my book and my daughter was growing up and I really was struck by "How do I convey
information that isn't just depressing as hell and that people will listen to you?"
And it really took me a while to find the voice and I'm pretty comfortable with it now.
It's really as if I was your doctor telling you something and I think you can understand
that and it's what you - it's what I - would want, and I just assume that's what most people
want. You know, just give me the facts. Don't depress me.
Don't sugarcoat it. Tell me what the options are, and that's what I try to do. Now so there's
210 feet if you add up those 2 numbers so I gave you 212 and that's give-or-take a foot
or 2. We don't know exactly but it's pretty good estimates. When all the glaciers in the
world melt from Alaska to The Alps to South America, to Africa, that will be another 2
or 3 feet of sea-level rise and I have to tell you when I came across that bit of research,
I was surprised it was that small. That all the glaciers in the world were 2 or 3 feet
and yet Greenland but then when you look at these photos of the size of Greenland and
Antarctica, it sort of makes sense because you can even get a hint of some of the glaciers
in Alaska up there and other places, you know?
Volume-wise it's tiny. The other thing that causes sea level to rise is kind of elusive
but you need to understand it. So we have ice on land, which I'm going to go through
in a second but the other factor that just to be clear, up-front, is what they call thermal
expansion of seawater. It sounds like a mouth but it's really not. Most substances, as you
warm them, they change size. You know parts don't fit in the wintertime and if you've
been up north when it gets colder or warmer, we've all been through that, right, where
different things change dimensions very slightly.
Well, the oceans are on average 12,000 feet deep, a little over 2 miles on average, of
course much deeper at the extremes. But that 12,000 feet of ocean, in the last century,
has turned into about 4 inches of sea-level rise just from warming the ocean. It's expanded
that much. So about - I told you there were 7 or 8 inches of sea-level rise in the last
century or so. About half's come from the expansion of sea water, which has no lag time
and about half from the glaciers and Greenland melting, which does have a lag time, once
you apply heat. It doesn't melt instantly, okay? But now let me take you on a quick tour
of Greenland and then Antarctica so to help you differentiate where the problems are.
We've just seen icebergs. Think of them as giant ice cubes.
They calve off at the face of a glacier. Here this is one in Greenland. It's an image in
2007 of Eqi Glacier. There's about 100 such glaciers in Greenland and they calve off into
icebergs and if you go up the glacier on this helicopter tour, I hope you visually remember
that a glacier is a bending river of ice, just as it looks. So we have icebergs, now
we have glaciers, and then there's 2 ice sheets in the world, major ice sheets. At the top
of Greenland as you saw before there's basically an ice sheet covering the island.
It's 2 miles thick or so. It's essentially flat and it drains to the ocean through the
100 or so glaciers and breaks off into icebergs and meltwater. The problem is - well, there're
several problems but one problem is - looking at the Greenland Ice Sheet here, in 2012,
that first it looks dark. That's not the natural color of snow. That's mostly soot and other
forms of carbon, not carbon dioxide but call it pollution if you will but carbon that settles
in the Arctic and again, like a white-roof/black-roof imagery, which you all would understand - the
black roof absorbs more heat - the problem is, is soot lays down in the Arctic, it accelerates
There's also some pooling water - they call them lakes - up here and so on, and that pooling
water is a problem because that darker blue actually also intensifies the heat. And as
you can see here, very plainly over a wide area of the ice sheet on top of Greenland
there's fissures. This isn't a flat sheet that's just melting from a flat tabletop surface.
There's fissures going down vertically, very easy to see and that has a dramatic effect
because as the ice sheet fissures, the heat and the melting is happening down through
the ice sheet, not at the top. These things are not fully in the models yet because they're
acting in ways we can't quite predict. So the dynamics are changing. Now when the meltwater
collects in Greenland and this has been on the cover of National Geographic at least
once but in 2 articles and it's you've probably seen images.
Again at the top of Greenland, there's no mountains in Greenland but there are in Antarctica,
which I'll show you in a minute. But this meltwater that's gathered here and going into
this stream and down the shoot is not coming from some mountain stream. This is the water
that's aggregating from just the surface melting on the top of Greenland that needs to find
a path and so it finds a crack and it goes down and it works its way through the crack
and it makes it bigger but it becomes what they call moulin, a French word, okay? Think
of it like chimney. It's vertical shaft. When I was there in 2007 we did our helicopter
survey out into the ice sheet, the pilots and scientists who were there for the whole
season estimated there were about 100 of these moulins.
They could just count 'em and they do a survey technique, in fact and map out so many square
miles and extrapolate it with some statistical validation. There are about 100 of them in
in 2007. Can I keep my - I round off numbers to make them easy, not because I'm faking
them but just to make them really easy to remember and they're very close. They're all
within 10 percent. We went from 100 moulins in 2007, in 2012, 5 years later, 1,000.
That's not a matter of instruments or somebody's prejudice on how much water is melting. That's
counting these bright, dark - actually dark - blue spots. I mean you can't miss 'em from
the helicopter, okay? You can imagine seeing this. It's a dark shaft with kind of fringing
It went from about 100 to 1,000, a 10-fold increase in 5 years. That is astounding. Now
2012 was peak-warm year, it was actually probably worse than most but still to get a 10-fold
increase of something physical like that that there's no opportunity to misinterpret what
the needle said or the accuracy of the gauge or anything like that is pretty good proof
that something dramatic is happening. And when the water gets down to the base of the
ice sheet, as shown in the far right, it not only works its way to the ocean, at which
point it does add to sea-level rise but by lubricating the ice sheet and lifting the
ice sheet off the bedrock, the glaciers are speeding up double, triple and - in some cases
- quadruple their traditional speed so the formation of icebergs calving off and breaking
off those giant ice cubes is happening a lot faster. So the system - this is not pieces
of a puzzle. Well it is but they're fitting together very well. How many of you have heard
of the IPCC?
Okay well about 20 percent okay. That's the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
It's the UN group, 2,000 scientists that work together largely as volunteers from countries
all over the world to try and come up with the Encyclopedia of Climate every 5 or 6 years.
They just came out with the 5th report last year and it made the news as well it should.
It's the best consensus document and what did they say about sea-level rise? Well in
this last projection - and I cover this in my book for those who have read it or want
to understand more about it but as I headline here, I'll give you the answer.
They say we're going to get 10-32 inches of sea-level rise. Now you might read that and
think that they've said we're going to 10-32 inches of sea-level rise for some reason,
right? Not. The problem is that if you read it carefully their protocol says -- which
they've been bound to from their formation in 1988 -- that they'll only consider evidence
in peer-reviewed literature. By a cut-off date, it's got to be quantifiable by the year
2100 and to a very high confidence, 2 or 3 sigma, like, 90-percent certainty. That's
kinda the rules to get in there so that it's fair and even.
The problem is that allows them to count the things they can quantify to that standard
of certainty. There are some unknowns and I've suggested some but I'm going to show
them in some explicit now. I mean one of them is methane, which I'm not going to get into
much but methane is escaping out of the seabed, the permafrost and lakes in Siberia because
there's slushy methane deep under the - well not deep under the - ocean, actually shallow
under the deep ocean and in various cold climates that's been trapped. It's also essentially
natural gas and so when we do fraccing, which is becoming more and more popular as a cheap
energy source in America, the what they call fugitive gas or that escapes during drilling
or even transferring it into trucks or whatever, that methane - or the natural gas is essentially
methane - and methane is a powerful warming agent, really powerful. Dozens of times - maybe
80 times more powerful than CO2 and we haven't really quantified it but the recent studies
indicate that there's a lot more methane escaping than we thought so it's something to be concerned
about. But the one I wanted to talk to you about specifically because I can be visual
about it is Antarctica.
They also say we really can't quantify Antarctica very well and we know, in particular, the
areas to be concerned about. Just to help you visualize Antarctica, it's much more mountainous
- it is mountainous - where Greenland's not, really. It's much bigger, of course. Everybody
can see that. The ice sheet's thicker so there's about 7 times the amount of ice on it or frozen
water. And if we look at this image of Antarctica, which has been colorized to show where the
warming's happening most significantly and where the ice is showing signs of moving the
thing we're really concerned about is at the 8 o'clock position. I'm going to show you
a little more detail in a moment but those glaciers -- we're going to refer to that group
with the red - is at the 8 o'clock position as the Pine Island Glaciers.
You also may hear the Thwaites Glacier, and we need to start paying attention to that
because that is the place that could trigger big sea-level rise. We know exactly where
it is. We're spending tens of millions of dollars doing better and better research.
We've now got probes that go down through it. Well actually let me - this is a better
view of that same area from an aerial view, in effect, a graphic that shows those same
6 glaciers - Thwaites, Pine Island, Smith, et cetera - and those 6 glaciers have been
studied for over 35 years as the potential source of let's call it catastrophic sea-level
What's catastrophic? Well, I think many of us would probably agree that 10 feet of sea-level
rise in a century is catastrophic and, in this case, it could be in decade or 2. Now
again it's not going to happen this decade. It can't happen next decade. There's some
physical reasons why it really can't but the question of when these 6 glaciers will loosen
and slide into the ocean and just these 6 glaciers cause 10 feet of sea-level rise means
of course a really important question and the evidence is not good.
We now can put ROV's, remote operated vehicles, cameras, underneath the glaciers and they've
been melted underneath, going back 25 miles, into Antarctica. They go underwater so they're
actually being eaten away quicker underwater than they are on the surface and we couldn't
see that before. And the physical structure of these glaciers is such that at some point
in the future - and it could be this century or next - they will slide into the ocean.
Now the slide isn't like overnight. It's not instant. It may take a decade or two.
We really don't know. We've never been able to witness something on this scale. Yeah,
we do models and stuff like that but they're just models. Nobody wants to scare anybody
and, in science, actually we tend to be cautious and not say something we can't prove. Inadvertently
that has caused us to -- if anything -- minimize the projections for sea-level rise. We've
got to find a happy balance and that's what I try to do. Keep your eye on the Pine Island
Glaciers or the Thwaites Glacier if you read about Antarctic changes because it has been
in the news in the last 2 years. In fact if you want there's a great little YouTube video
called "Meltwater Pulse 2B" but you don't have to remember that.
My website, which I'll list here at the end, is johnenglander.net. Go to it and I think
just 2 blog posts ago that I have links to - some awesome videos. Really is a fine freebie
and you don't even have to give me your email address and it'll take you to a video showing
what's happening in Antarctica and one about Greenland, and you may want to see it because
it'll give you some real-time imagery from NASA that - it's a little - it's a little
scary or it gets your attention. And again it's not going to happen in the next 2 decades
but it puts a whole different level of what could happen into perspective so I'm going
to kinda wrap up here before I take questions. You've been a very attentive audience and
I want to give you an opportunity to ask questions but I'm going to show you one - a couple,
two - more graphs I think it is. Well, this one is the start.
This is 400,000 years of sea level, up-and-down with the Ice Age cycles and, on top of that,
from left-to-right and so the present is at the right, at the top of that graph I'm going
to lay on a red line for temperature, global average temperature and one for greenhouse
gas, carbon dioxide. So we have green, greenhouse gas, red for heat and blue for ocean, easy
to remember, right? I submit that this is probably the best single image - not just
because I created it because, in truth, is I did it with a lot of help form a very famous
climatologist, Dr. James Hansen, former NASA scientist, chief scientist, and I give him
credit on the far right there and if you want to write me you can borrow this. You can have
this slide. It's even downloadable on the website.
I think that this image tells a better story about climate than everything else we can
say so let me talk you though it, it'll take me about 3 minutes. You know what the 3 lines
are now: Greenhouse Gas, Average Global Temperature and Sea Level. I'm going to tell you where
the data comes from in a minute because that's the next question. How could you possibly
know 400,000 years of data. But let's start with Temperature, in the middle, the red.
So the planet goes through these temperature cycles.
We think of them as Ice Ages. It's a natural cycle. We've had nothing to do with the past
ones, okay? We're at the warm spot of the normal cycle. You can see that, right, where
line's at the high point.
As the planet changes temperature in a 100,000-year cycle that we call the Ice Ages and it's roughly
100,000 years - really between 95 and 125,000 years but let's call it a 100,000-year Ice
Age Cycle. The ice melts slowly but surely and the sea level rises so that's why temperature
and sea level always go together more or less. And carbon dioxide was proven to be a greenhouse
gas, and by greenhouse we mean that it's transparent, you can't see carbon dioxide no matter what
the quantity unless it's frozen but it does trap heat to an amazing power, not proven
recently by Al Gore or anyone else. It was proven in 1826 by a French genius, Joseph
Fourier, mathematician, who was able to prove that carbon dioxide was a greenhouse gas without
even using electricity. It's that basic in terms of physics. So carbon dioxide traps
heat just like glass in a greenhouse, raising temperature.
Now some sceptics or doubters or professional disinformation people, whatever you want to
call it, propagandists I guess would be the right term, try and confuse things saying,
"Well, sometimes temperature rose first before CO2 - and it's true. If you took a straight
edge to this you'd see that certain cycles, that sometimes CO2 causes temperature to rise,
as I just described, but the other is true, too, and it, at first, may sound contrary
but it's not. There are some relationships in physics where either one can drive and
both go the same direction, and I'll give you the proof of this. Again, you don't need
any technical training to understand this. If you take 2 soda bottles, carbonated beverage,
and uncap them and warm one, it will go flat faster.
Warmer liquids give up gas faster so where the ocean has warmed because of volcano, undersea
volcanoes or meteors or asteroids or whatever in earth's history, where the ocean has warmed
it has given up CO2 and raised the CO2 level. Where more CO2 has been put into the atmosphere
by whatever source it has trapped heat and warmed the ocean so they always go together.
And, with warmth, goes change in the ice sheet over decades or centuries and with change
in temperature goes sea-level rise. So you can see why the 3 lines happen to line up.
It's not a coincidence. The 3 lines, the 4 peaks, with the Ice Ages all line up. Now
sea level - and each one has a normal bound and, by the way, this graph could be extended
to the left 4 million years and wouldn't change much.
The pattern's been in place for 3 or 4 million years. A couple of other things that are worthwhile
noting because this is such a great picture of climate - that the 100,000-year cycle,
as you can see, isn't even, it doesn't go down 50 and up 50. It just goes down about
80 and up 20 and Ice Age - the Ice Age - peaked 20,000 years ago. We were at the turning point.
The reason it looked like sea level wasn't changing was because we were at the turning
point. I didn't see that 'til I wrote the book and researched it, frankly. I was always
confused why sea level had been so stable for 5,000 years. It was just like going to
the inlet here, out back: The high tide comes in; the water goes up, 20, 30 minutes. It
just swirls around and doesn't seem to change, right? Slack tide: We've all seen that, right,
at any inlet, before it goes out.
Well, our 5,000 years of earth history happened to be slack tide. We got fooled. I guess it
was kind of a Mother Nature's gotcha joke sort of, I guess, fooling us into building
on the shoreline as if it was permanent. We didn't know any better. We really didn't understand
this until 100, 150 years ago. And the other notable thing out of this is that the last
peak 120,000 years ago as I've suggested but here you'll see it graphically is about 25
feet higher than present. We're going to go past that.
There's no question - even if we all stop burning fossil fuels tomorrow, today, if we
emit no more carbon dioxide or methane in the atmosphere, sea level's going to rise.
It has to. The ocean's already been warmed a degree and a half. It's like an outdoor
swimming pool that's been heated and then it gets cold outside. The heat stays in the
pool for a while, right? Heat stays in water much better than air because of the density,
You've all seen the outdoor-swimming-pool affect, right, that it takes a while to warm
a pool as temperature rises, when it gets warmer, and once the pool is warmed, when
it gets colder outside, the pool retains its heat, right? So that's the reason because
90 percent of the excess heat we're trapping is being stored in the ocean. So even if we
stopped the greenhouse gasses today and they're already 40 percent higher than in 10 million
years, sea level's still going to rise, which is not what most people think or are being
lead to believe. I'm going to bring this all home to you in a just a minute and I know
you're getting tired. It's the evening and - but - this'll come clear in a picture. I'm
going to try and give you a positive way to look at this even though it seems like probably
the worst news you've ever heard. But so the last time sea level was higher was about 25
feet high or 120,000 years ago. We know that data from ice cores.
From Greenland in Antarctica we drilled down and different nations do it, different teams
of scientists and they all come up with pretty consistent answers. It's a great technology.
It's only been around for about 20 years. It's similar to, like, taking a tree core,
you know, and getting tree rings. This is done down so it's horizontal instead of vertical
but pretty much the same concept that you can go back or go in and pick your year by
counting and, amazingly, you can get 800,000 years of data here from Antarctica and date
these slices of the cores that you get outta the shafts here, a slice dated to within 3
years. 800,000 years old, really great technology.
I used to say cool technology but it elicited too much of a groan.
The air bubbles that are there were the air spaces that were trapped between the snow
crystals and as it compacted and became ice and then, under weight, became pressurized
ice the bubbles shrank so now they're pressurized. So every one of those bright dots between
that person's fingers in the lower right is an air sample. And we have the technology
just like in medical technology through the microanalysis today and we can get the percentage
of carbon dioxide that was in existence. And temperature of course is the temperature of
ice so we don't know. That doesn't tell us anything but there's gasses in there and there's
2 isotopes of oxygen - 16 and 18 - and their proportions vary with temperature because
of their molecular weight so there's a really simple relative marker of temperature change
and it's statistically been validated again by teams of scientists from different countries,
different universities, different institutions so it really holds up and we have 800,000
years now of CO2 and temperature record from the ice cores. We didn't have that 20 years
ago. Some people say, "Oh, they couldn't have data going back more than 100 years."
No, we have really good data. Frozen data samples. And then we find ancient sea levels,
as I described to you up-front, you can find ancient shorelines under water. I did that
back in college and have done it since. So that's how we get carbon dioxide, temperature
and sea level from different research groups around the world, creating a pretty consistent
composite picture that you saw there in that 3-part chart. And from that, we know that
if you take the last section, the most recent, 50 years or so, and see the trends that we
can project quite safely what's going to happen within bounds, as shown here in shaded areas.
We know that there's enough heat in the ocean again that even if we do all the right things,
environmentally and being green and solar and all those really important things, if
we don't do them, this is going to get out of control quicker. But that sea level's still
going to rise and that's just an unfortunate truth. There are some things we can do if
we start paying attention and get rid of the politics and the emotions and the nonsense
and the disinformation and the propaganda. This is an example from The Netherlands, a
town where they weren't worried about sea-level rise but they've had big storm problems from
the North Sea and river flooding and, as you know, and their country is - most of it's
- underwater, was 30 percent below sea level anyway so they've been reclaiming land from
the sea for 1,000 years so they're kind of experts in that. And this is a town that's
been built, called Vlissingen.
It's down by the Belgian border and just to give you an example of what can be done with
really bold thinking and futuristic planning. This relatively modern town, you can't quite
see the water at the far-right at the beach there but if you walk yourself leftward, the
black area's really the - well, I guess it's pavement of some sort or macadam that getting
them up to the height of the levy - and you can count the steps so it's about 6 or 8 feet.
And then the roadway's another several steps up and then the building height's another
5 feet and the ground floor of the building in this town, by code, has to be a wash-through.
If a storm wave goes through the ground floor, it can do no damage, no electrical equipment.
And so it's a good example of planning. They bought 25 or 30 feet of a combination of storm
surge, extreme tides and sea-level rise. Now here in South Florida where it's porous limestone,
we don't quite have that luxury that we have to really build up because they're able to
protect lowland inland. If you've flown through Amsterdam Airport, Schiphol Airport, it's
11 feet below sea level.
It's one of the many polders as they call them in The Netherlands, which means low area
protected by a levy outside. There they have enough clay in the soil so that they can keep
water out. If we did that here, it would just percolate into lowland behind so we have to
lift everything we want to protect in Florida and The Bahamas and The Maldives and most
coral-based islands. In closing let me just bring this back to when we look at the beaches
and help you put this in perspective and then I'll take questions. We tend to forget when
we look at the beach, which seems to have a 10-foot rise in it.
You'd think that you'd understand intuitively, as sea level rose, how the shoreline would
move inland. We don't. Because the beach rises steeply and as soon as you think about it
you realize that if sea level were 3 feet higher, the beach is still fine actually in
places like this but it's the lowland behind out towards the Everglades or the Intracoastal
Waterway - Anyplace that's low, that's what's going to flood. So that's another example
of how a storm surge is totally different from sea-level rise. I know this has been
sobering and I'm going to conclude here, take questions, certainly. I do this with audiences
from senior scientists to military leaders to community leaders not just in the United
States. What your experience now of feeling "wow" or a little bummed or scared is perfectly
understandable. But I hope you see that this really isn't an opinion.
I've just connected some dots by looking farther and putting it in the context of the Ice Ages.
I don't really care a whole lot about the models because the models aren't perfect.
And I can tell you that having done this for 2.5 years that - and been in some pretty hostile
audiences - there's no rebuttal. I welcome it. It just hasn't happened. It's a lot to
Again my website's free, books are cheap. They're $20.00 or $9.00 for eBooks. I'd be
glad to take questions. I hope I've helped you piece together a picture. If you can use
any of these materials and teach others I hope you do. The glass-half-full that I like
to leave people with is this:
Obviously the glass-half-empty is the bad news. Here's the 3 things I want you to think
about to hopefully give you a little bit of a positivism after this perhaps disconcerting
hour. Most problems that we think about and fear like tornados, Category 4 earthquake,
hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, give us little - if any - warning, right? We really
don't know when and we might know a hurricane a few days in advance now but the rest of
this stuff? None. And even with a few days of warning of a major hurricane, you know
there's limits of what you can do. But we're always doing cleanup and catchup afterwards.
This problem isn't an if-it-will-happen, it will happen. We just don't know how soon.
We don't know whether we're going to get 3 feet of sea-level rise by 2100 or 2060 but
it's going to happen. It's going to happen to all coastal areas. It's not a matter of
where it happens. Now I don't know about you but I'll take this problem any day over tsunamis,
earthquakes, tornados that you're kind of building in case it happens and you don't
really know what you're building to what level.
We can start planning for the first 3 feet of sea-level rise, the first 3 feet. I say
3 feet. Why do I pick that number? Well, it's a meter if you're metric and international
but it really forces us to think higher if you're an architect or engineer or building
the new dock on your house or figuring out the new floor elevation or the new design
height for your water system in your community or sewage system. We don't know when we're
going to get the first 3 feet. The soonest is 2060. I would say the latest is 2120 but
with the certainty that it's going to happen, that actually is liberating: We have time
to plan, but we have no time to waste.
We've really got to get with this and we're idiots if we don't. We gotta stop playing
around with it. The second is to put that in a positive frame. When we tackle big problems
whether it be man-on-the-moon, cellphones, AIDS, you know, anything, we do great stuff.
But we're not focused on this problem yet because we're either playing disinformation
and politics or playing about the energy side of this equation and confusing ourselves.
We've gotta get over that. So I think time's on our side to a degree.
It's slow. It's inevitable. We've gotta stop confusing this with reducing greenhouse gas
and all the other great, green, environmental, sustainable things we should be doing so that
it doesn't go catastrophic on us. Because if that area in Antarctic warms quicker, it's
going to get catastrophic. We still have the possibility of keeping it from getting catastrophic.
We should do that.
We also need to begin adapting to rising sea level for the first time in human civilization.
And the third perspective is that, well, you may say, "What can I do about it?" Well, you
can help inform others. I mean, there's nothing I've explained tonight that you could not
explain to your neighbor, your family members, your business partners. Whether you use my
book, use my website, if there's some of these slides you want, send me an email. You can
find my stuff on the web. This is worth sharing and it's not about my message. I've just put
it together in a way that seems to cut through a lot of other stuff and I hope you join me
in sharing this insight into the future of this planet.