Modelling sea level rise and the aftermath of Sandy

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Michael Levi at The Council on Foreign Relations addresses the question of whether there’s anything we can really do to impact sea level rise in the next 50 years (everyone is weighing in right now on whether climate change contributed to Hurricane Sandy. And that’s a big, complicated question. What I like about Levi’s post is that he’s focused on what we can do now.)

Levi notes that a recent paper in Science showed that cutting methane and black carbon emissions will have a more immediate impact on halting warming of the atmosphere, than will reducing carbon dioxide (methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas, which is why it must be flared from places like wastewater treatment plants.)

But the premise of what Levi is discussing surrounds the reality that it’s easier to impact the temperature of the atmosphere than the temperature of the ocean (warmer oceans fuel hurricanes, which is why hurricanes form in the Caribbean and other warm water places). And in Levi’s models, cutting methane emissions lowers atmospheric temperatures by 0.3 Celcius and does it fully by 2050. Not bad.

But the impact on sea level rise is different in his model. It cuts 4 cm of sea level rise and takes all the way to 2100 to work. A bit disappointing, also when hurricanes threaten coastal living.

All climate models involve immense variables but it’s helpful to at least be having the conversation about where greenhouse gas emission cuts can make a difference.