Climate change is the most obvious threat to the future of surfing.
The CSIRO's 'Climate Change in Australia' Report released last week covers facets of climate change that will no doubt change the face of surfing as we know it: Severe weather patterns, a dramatic rise in sea level and ocean temperatures are what we can expect.
Below is a very brief summary of some of the points that will impact on our lifestyle directly.
Sea level rise
An increase in mean sea level and changes in sea level extremes wil mainly affect the terrestrial landscape, increasing the risk of inundation of low-lying coastal terrain. However, increases in coastal inundation can impact upon marine ecosystems through changes to coastal wetlands and tidal plains that provide breeding grounds for marine life.
Mean sea level rise
Global sea level rise is projected by the IPCC to be 18-59 cm by 2100, with a possible additional contribution from ice sheets of 10 to 20 cm. However, further ice sheet contributions that cannot be quantified at this time may increase the upper limit of sea level rise substantially. Global climate models indicate that mean sea level rise on the east coast of Australia may be greater than the global mean sea level rise.
Mean sea level rise occurs as a result of two main processes - the melting of land-based ice, which increases the height of the ocean, and a decrease in ocean density, which increases the volume and hence the height of the ocean.
Increases in ocean density in most parts of the world, including Australia, occur largely due to increases in the heat content of the ocean rather than reductions in salinity and so the density change component is often referred to as thermal expansion. The amount of thermal expansion is non-uniform due to the influence of ocean currents and spatial variations in ocean warming.
From 1961-2003, the rate of sea level rise was 1.8 mm per year, with a rise of 3 mm per year from 1993-2003. This rate of increase is an order of magnitude faster than the average rate of rise over the previous several thousand years. Around Australia the rate of sea level rise was about 1.2 mm per year during the 20th century (Church et al. 2006).
This rise in sea level has mainly been attributed to thermal expansion of the upper ocean. Overlying this global sea level rise is a large regional variability.
The oceans surrounding Australia are particularly influenced by two dominant climate variations: the El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Southern Annular Mode (SAM). These two climate variations overlay the global mean sea level rise, resulting in significant regional variability in the magnitude and trend of sea level rise in the oceans surrounding Australia.
For example, ENSO results in sea level variability in the western Indian Ocean and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, while the SAM is a major driver of sea level variability in the Southern and mid-latitude Indian and Pacific Oceans.
The impact of ENSO and SAM results in a regionally complex pattern of sea level rise and variability in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Throughout the 21st century and beyond, sea levels across the world’s oceans are expected to continue rising due to thermal expansion of sea water, melting of land-based glaciers and ice caps and contributions from the icesheets of Antarctica and Greenland.
Relative to the 1990 level, global average mean sea level is projected to increase by 18 to 59 centimetres by 2100. If ice flow rates from Greenland and Antarctica during 1993-2003 were to continue to grow linearly with global warming, then the
upper ranges of sea level rise would increase by a further 10 to 20 cm (IPCC 2007a). There is a risk that the contribution of ice sheets to sea level rise this century will be substantially higher than this (IPCC 2007a; Hansen 2007).
For the full section of the report on rising sea levels and changing weather patterns go to Climate Change In Australia: Chapter 5.7
Tuvalu: Front Line in Climate Change
For the small Pacific nation of Tuvalu, the threat of climate change looms large. This island nation of 10,000 people is composed of atolls and reefs with an average elevation of about two metres. This places the nation in danger of being swallowed by the ocean if sea levels continue to rise as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Given this grim future, the country has called on the global community to do more to combat climate change and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. In his address at the UN Climate Change meeting in New York on 29 September, Deputy Prime Minister Tavau Teii said, “Rather than relying on aid money [to help Tuvalu adapt to climate change impacts] we believe that the major greenhouse polluters should pay for the impacts they are causing.”
In addition to rising tides, Tuvalu’s reefs are threatened by increasing sea temperatures and the increasing acidity of the ocean. These changes will lead to coral die-off, which will in turn cause declines in reef fish. This threatens the island’s fisheries, which is the main source of protein for islanders. Mr. Teii said that New Zealand has already agreed to accept refugees from Tuvalu when the time comes, but Australia has been non-committal.
SOURCES: Reuters UK, Daily Times
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