Climatology: Did You Know?: Background information when reading The Water Will Come

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The Water Will Come

Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World

by Jeff Goodell

The Water Will Come by Jeff Goodell X
The Water Will Come by Jeff Goodell
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2017, 352 pages
    Aug 2018, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Chris Fredrick
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About this Book

Climatology: Did You Know?

This article relates to The Water Will Come

Print Review

In The Water Will Come, journalist Jeff Goodell shares climatology concepts and active research. Here are some notable concepts introduced in the book:

  • The Keeling Curve, a famous graph named after scientist Charles David Keeling, measures the increase in carbon dioxide concentration in the air since 1958; it is considered the bedrock of global warming science because it is generally believed that there is a direct correlation between increasing levels of carbon dioxide and global warming.
  • Much of the carbon dioxide emitted today will stay in the atmosphere for thousands of years.
  • As recently as a few decades ago, most scientists believed that the ice sheets were "so big and so indomitable" that humans' burning of fossil fuels would not have much effect on them. Goodell says, "Now they know better." Sea levels are rising at more than twice the rate they did over the last century.
  • We can mitigate how high sea levels will rise by significantly reducing the burning of fossil fuels. According to Goodell, "If we can hold the warming to about three degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial temperatures, we might only face two feet of sea level rise this century." He goes on to illustrate why the question of "how high?" matters quite a lot: the difference between three feet and six feet "is the difference between a manageable coastal crisis and a decades-long refugee disaster."
  • The glacial melt in Greenland and Antarctica – at the two poles – will have the greatest climate impact in terms of rising sea levels. Unfortunately, those glaciers are melting and collapsing much faster than climatologists anticipated.
  • The 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, which was used as the scientific basis for the 2015 climate treaty negotiated in Paris, estimated 3'2" of sea-rise. However, new events and an exponential increase in ice sheet melting quickly challenged that prediction. NASA's James Hansen (whom Goodell describes as "the godfather of climate science") published a 2015 paper, which incidentally was not peer reviewed, predicting as much as nine feet of sea-level rise by 2100.
  • A 2017 report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the top U.S. climate science agency, says global sea-rise could range from about one foot to more than eight feet by 2100, and many scientists believe that the high-end projections are likely to increase as they get a better understanding of ice dynamics.
  • Several additional factors could be increasing the rate of glacial melt at the poles. Some of these are a wobbling jet stream, changing ocean currents and temperatures, the existence of meltwater on glacier surfaces, and soot and algae on snow.
  • What is the "wobbling" jet stream? Scientist have hypothesized that changes in the Earth's temperature are affecting the jet stream. While the jet stream used to move quickly from west to east in a relatively straight path, it has now slowed. Its path dips up and down, or "wobbles." This change to the jet stream may be caused by warming Arctic temperatures. Specifically the difference in temperature between the frigid North and the warmer South is shrinking.
  • Climatologist Jason Box is investigating how soot may play a role in increasing the rate of glacial melt. He theorizes that increased wildfires in the American West have resulted in more soot transported by the jet stream. The soot – which is significantly darker than snow or ice – absorbs more of the sun's heat and therefore contributes to faster melting. This is just one example of how the interplay of climate variables gets complicated, quickly. Goodell likens it to chaos theory, saying, "Small changes in the climate can amplify each other in unpredictable ways."

To see an incredible 4-minute excerpt from Chasing Ice showing the calving of Greenland's Jakobshavn Glacier, click on the video below:

Article by Chris Fredrick

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Water Will Come. It originally ran in January 2018 and has been updated for the August 2018 paperback edition.

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