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Sea level rise already forcing changes in Caribbean, other island nations

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 9th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Sea level rise is one of the most blatant and intrusive indicators of global warming. On the Caribbean island of Grenada, the ocean is already starting to nibble away at fishing villages, rising higher and forcing residents to raise their homes. Grenada is just one place where sea level rise is a threat to the local economy.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Violent weather, storm surges, and a slowly rising sea level have all contributed to the threat coastal communities must face. On Grenada, fisherman Desmond Augustin told the Associated Press, "The sea will take this whole place down. There's not a lot we can do except move higher up." Moving higher up means relocating to apartments on a hillside, depriving fishermen and their families of their traditional beachfront living quarters.

This may not seem very important to many outsiders, however it represents a necessary and disruptive change to a traditional way of life for the fishing families of Granada.

In the Caribbean, 70 percent of the population lives in coastal settlements and could be displaced.

Inland, farmers say that tidal surges, once virtually unheard of, are now inundating and threatening their crops as salty seawater floods their fields, another incontrovertible sign of the rising sea level.

Sea levels are rising for two reasons. One is thermal expansion. As water warms, it expands. The second is the loss of polar ice from both the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Northern ice is melting into the sea, especially during the summer, while Antarctic ice is thinning and freezing around the edges of the continent and growing the diameter ice sheet there, before finally melting away.

Both phenomena contribute significantly to sea level rise, which scientists say has gone up by 7.7 inches from 1870. Critics are quick to suggest that standardized measurements of sea-level and temperature didn't exist in the 1870s, however neither temperature scales, nor scales of measurement have changed since then. Measurements have become more precise with new instruments, and they all agree that the ocean is rising. Certainly, coastal regions with long histories are experiencing changes.

Short-term measures are being taken. The restoration of natural barriers, and the construction of sea walls and other developments, help, but these only buy time. Eventually, entire population centers will have to relocate.

In the Indian Ocean, the entire nation of the Maldives is facing destruction as sea level rise threatens to wipe out the islands. In the South Pacific, the island nation of Tuvalu is widely regarded as the poster child state for sea level rise. On those islands, seawater bubbles up through the surface and is inundating locations that were not previously touched by seawater just a  decade ago.

Authorities predict the islands will be uninhabitable within the next 100 years.

The global warming debate remains contentious, as decision makers try to figure out what is best. While most involved in the debate agree that something is happening, its causes and solutions remain far from decided.

For now, people who live in threatened areas simply have to relocate. There appears to be no other reasonable solution. Climate is dynamic, even without human influences, so the best we may be able to do is learn to cope with the capricious moods of Mother Nature and spend more time trying to figure out why the climate is really changing and if we can ever do anything about it.

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