Saturday, February 24, 2007

Britain Losing The War - With The Sea

Dick Cheney might think the jury is still out on global warming, but the UK knows what is going on, up close and personal. The British government is now having to decide which parts of the coastline it will fight to keep and which parts it will cede to the sea.
``Basically, whatever we do to reduce greenhouse emissions we're going to face about one meter (3.3 feet) sea level rise on the east coast of England in the next 100 years,'' Clive Bates, a top official at the British government's Environment Agency, told The Associated Press.

``Either we won't be able to defend part of the coast, or it will be too expensive to do it. One of the most troubling issues for us is to decide where we can no longer sustain coastal defense, where we basically need to warn people to retreat,'' he said.

Happisburgh, on the East Anglia coast, has always been vulnerable, and accounts of houses, lighthouses or farmland collapsing into the sea date back to the early 19th century.

``But the rate of erosion there now is phenomenal, in excess of 10 meters (33 feet) a year, because of sea level rise, the collapse of its offshore barrier and the fact that southeastern England is sinking,'' Dr. David Viner, a senior scientist at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, said in an interview.

Viner said sea levels are now rising about 3 millimeters a year in that area, increasing to as much as 10 millimeters a year because of global warming. A millimeter is about the thickness of a paper clip.

``These areas were previously defended, but the government is now making it clear for the first time that while it will not let economically important areas such as London flood, it will no longer defend relatively low-value areas such as Happisburgh village, where the rate of erosion will continue to increase,'' he said.
And it's not just Britain. Other European nations are getting ready to change tactics too.
``Whatever the climate change predictions of the future, the number of residential areas that already are suffering from the impact of more erosion, higher sea levels, storm surges and increased risk of flooding are being broken every year,'' said Paul Van Hofwegen of the World Water Council, a think tank based in Marseille, France.

Britain is already taking steps such as strengthening a barrier that prevents the River Thames from flooding riverside landmarks such as the Houses of Parliament.

Meanwhile, Venice is sinking while the Adriatic Sea is rising, sometimes flooding St. Mark's Square, the most visited spot in the fabled city.

In 2003 authorities approved a $5.5 billion project dubbed Moses, after the biblical figure who parted the Red Sea, to plant hinged barriers in the seabed just off Venice which can be raised when tides get too high.

Low-lying Holland has waged a battle against the ocean for centuries, building a massive network of dikes and windmill-driven pumps. After a devastating 1953 flood killed 1,835 people, it launched the Delta Project, one of the world's largest engineering projects, consisting of storm surge barriers, giant sluices and dams.

Now, just as the 50-year project has reached completion, fear of climate change has shifted the theory of disaster control away from blocking floodwaters to managing them. It involves selectively breaching the dikes at key pressure points to ease the destructive force and allow the water to flood unpopulated areas.
The Dutch are the World's experts on floods and controlling them. If they are changing their tactics to account for global warming, it's definitely time to take the hint.

There are a lot of heavily populated areas in the US which are very low-lying or which will be subject to increased erosion by rising sea levels. Yet US policy seems haphazard, short-term and localized when it exists at all. Yet another area where, like in Iraq, all the policy planning the Bush administration seems capable of is to wish upon a star.

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