It may be hardest of all to care about something unseen. A single glass of seawater drawn from the surf in Newport or Brookings might look clear but in fact would roil with at least 75 million organisms called phytoplankton.
And we vitally depend upon such creatures. Out in the ocean, infinite numbers of them produce half the world’s oxygen and form the base of the marine food chain. For what it’s worth, phytoplankton eat crazy amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.
But their numbers are down 40 percent worldwide since the 1950s and may be headed down further. The culprit appears to be rising ocean temperatures associated with climate change. The sea’s warming top layer of water, where phytoplankton do their job, increasingly lacks life-sustaining nutrients from the cold deep.
Note: eleveation of Newport Rhode Island:: 30 FT (9 M) so with a 6.3 meter rise… and of course that 9M figure is an average: much of Newport county is at sea level:
“Newport county has a total area of 314 square miles (812 km²), of which, 104 square miles (269 km²) of it is land and 210 square miles (543 km²) of it (66.83%) is water.
This county consists of Aquidneck Island, Conanicut Island, Prudence Island, and the eastmost portion of the state on the mainland. The highest point in this county is at Pocasset Hill, 320 feet (98 m) above sea level, located in Tiverton. The lowest elevation is at sea level.”
If you simply spread the resulting increase in sea level evenly around the world, it would amount to about 5 meters’ worth. But the ice sheet’s gravity is currently keeping sea level artificially low in the Northern Hemisphere, so if it disappeared, the actual increase along the U.S. mid-Atlantic coast would be more like 6.3 meters. In other words, as the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melts and loses mass, its pull on the surrounding ocean will lessen. Seas will drop around Antarctica and parts of the Southern Hemisphere, and that water will be displaced to more northerly areas, such as the east coast of the U.S.
Now that the gorilla has made its presence known, Stouffer is working with Mitrovica to understand its effects in greater detail. A joint paper, due out in a few months, will look into the gravitationally driven sea-level changes a melting Greenland could trigger.
“The signal [i.e. the pull of gravity from the ice sheet]] is so large,” says Stouffer, “that if you own beachfront property in Iceland, and all of the ice on Greenland melts and adds seven meters to average sea level, you end up with more beach. But in Hawaii, you get your seven meters of sea-level rise plus an extra two or three on top of that. It’s phenomenal to me that it matters that much.”