One Day, We May All Have an Ocean View
By Greg O'Brien, Codfish Press
Tree huggers on Cape Cod and elsewhere are embracing a new Massachusetts Institute of Technology study that indicates the intensity of North American hurricanes has more than doubled in the last 30 years and that the force of western North Pacific cyclones has swelled by an alarming 75 percent since the mid-1970s. The glee is over speculation that the increase is the result of global warming from a buildup in the ozone layer of man-induced carbon dioxide, methane, various pollutants and other chlorine-based chemicals that have caused a depletion of the outer layer of our atmosphere, which shields us from dangerous radiations, like cancer-causing ultraviolet rays. Harmful radiation, seeping through the ozone layer, also causes genetic damage to plants and animals.
For years, critics—many of them corporate defenders fearing government regulations on chlorine-based fluids for refrigeration, plastic foam compounds and aerosol cans—have tried to poke holes in global warming presumptions, questioning their veracity and insisting global temperatures are directly related to sunspot activity.
But the environmentalists look like they might have it right this time. Now there is evidence, although disputed by some, that global warming intensifies hurricanes, cyclones and tropical storms. Warmer ocean temperatures, caused by rising air temperatures, as the theory goes, provide hurricanes with more fuel for energy. Warmer water temperatures also result in the release of more carbon dioxide, which holds heat and increases warming.
“When I look at these results at face value, they are rather alarming,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researcher Tom Knutson, commenting in the Associated Press, said of the MIT study that was conducted by climatologist Kerry Emanuel.
Equally disturbing is a recent report from two University of Maine scientists that two glaciers in Greenland are moving at a record pace, suggesting that global warming is melting the ice and causing it to slide at a faster rate, in one case at a rate of 8.7 miles a year, up from 3.5 miles a year in the 1990s. Such changes in conditions, experts say, usually take thousands of years.
Rising Sea Levels, Retreating Shoreline on Cape Cod
Closer to home, scientists are concerned about the affects (brought on by global warming) of rising sea levels on Cape Cod and the Islands, in Boston and along the entire New England coast, brought on by an accelerated melting of polar ice caps that is expected to cause a dramatic worldwide rise in sea levels. Scientists estimate that in the next 40 years the Cape’s shoreline will retreat more than 100 feet and by the year 2100 more than 1,200 feet of Cape shoreline will be inundated. The center of Provincetown (pictured right) may be flooded in tens of years, warns one erosion authority—a geologist and retired erosion expert with the United States Geological Survey office in Woods Hole.
Martha’s Vineyard will also be severely impacted, and Nantucket is expected to be under water in the next 800 years—a New York minute in geologic terms.
Adding to this problem is that while the sea level is rising, some coastal areas of the Cape and Islands, formed from silt sediments, are actually sinking—slowly compressing under their own weight.
Provincetown and Chatham aren’t the only areas of the Cape facing severe erosion. Others include Falmouth Heights, where the cliff is falling into Vineyard Sound and still undermining the coastal road above it; Sandwich and West Barnstable, where beaches like Sandy Neck can lose 10-to15 feet in a single storm; Mashpee, where the shoreline is eroding from Waquoit Bay to Popponesset Bay and exposing high-priced homes to the sea; Dennis on the bay side, where the popular Corporation and Cold Storage beaches are losing ground; and Orleans (most recently the Outer Beach which has experienced storm and tidal breaches into Pleasant Bay, creating a temporary island that in time may become permanent) Eastham, Wellfleet, and Truro on the bayside and ocean sides.
The same uncompromising forces are at play on Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and the neighboring Elizabeth Islands, all part of the same moraines and outwash plains that formed Cape Cod about 20,000 years ago. Time is running out for Nantucket: on the east, south and west shores, from Great Point to Siasconset to Madaket, beaches of this low-lying spit are losing an average of ten to 30 feet a year. That’s impressive when you consider the island is about three and a half miles wide and 14 miles long.
Over on the Vineyard, the menacing oboe you hear today has nothing to do with sharks. Martha’s Vineyard, which is losing shoreline a similar washout rate on its northeastern, eastern and southern shorelines, faces similar fate.
Some scientists predict global warming may raise temperatures a few degrees over the next 60 years. While that doesn’t sound like much, it will cause the release of more methane compounds, one of the contributors of this warming trend. Methane compounds, now chemically trapped in the ocean bottom and in marsh and swamp sediments, will be released in greater quantities as warmer water and its subsequent increased energy exert more pressure on those sediments.
Warmer ocean waters, caused by global warming, will also result in the release of more carbon dioxide, which also holds heat and increases warming, although to a lesser degree than methane. This increase in carbon dioxide trapped in the atmosphere by a bubble of gases—literally an invisible greenhouse—will cause plants to grow faster by speeding up food production, or photosynthesis. Plants, many of them indigenous to the Cape and Islands, that cannot adjust to a warmer world with more carbon dioxide will die off faster, and single-celled animals will feed on the decaying plant materials, releasing more heat absorbent carbon dioxide.
And on it goes…
So why the fuss about global warming? To disregard it or at least its potential, invites disastrous consequences. Evidence of human-induced global warning is fact, not fiction. The debate over what to do about it ought to be driven by science, not by conservative or liberal politics, as it is today. The science here sadly suggests that one day we may all have a water view.