(When) Will your state be underwater?

26 States will be significantly under water if Global Warming continues.  There’s a great interactive quiz here to see how your state would be affected. Some eastern states will see the coastline retreat 100 miles.  What is not fully explained there is why: “Even if the world’s nations manage to limit warming to near 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels … seas will continue to rise by 80 feet over 10,000 years…”

We’ll do a longer discourse on this in a subsequent post, but here’s the shorthand.  CO2 stays in the atmosphere, keeping us warm, until it:

  1. is absorbed by growing plants,
  2. dissolves in the ocean, raising acidity (which is not good, and is happening, and is why we’re losing coral), or
  3. breaks up on its own in sunlight. 

The timeframe for CO2 just plain breaking up is a half-life curve of about 500 years.  However, plants and the oceans absorb some every year – but decaying plants put some back in the air, and humans contribute lots more by burning wood and fossil fuels – it goes both ways.  In recent decades, humans have burned annually 40 times the C02 the earth would normally, naturally absorb – which is why the ocean is getting more acidic and the CO2 levels keep rising. Something’s gotta give and plants have only so much land and can only grow so fast.  So, we’re talking a net increase every year of 39 years of CO2.  And this has been going on to some degree since humans starting burning, agriculture, and livestock domestication.  Things really picked up in the early 1800’s in Great Britain. So what?

Well, it means excess CO2 and temperature are not going away any time soon.

As a crude estimate, humans have about 300 years of industrial use of coal, but starting from a much lower level of burning than today.  Let’s guess that those 300 years total only 100 years at today’s rate of burning, and let’s assume half of that is already absorbed.  So, that’s 50 years accumulation of adding 39 years of CO2 every year, which decays naturally over 500 years.  But of course, the oceans would absorb a lot of excess CO2 and turn into an acid soup rather than wait for the CO2 to break down in sunlight.  Some models show that absorption by all factors would be 2.5% annually, which (coincidentally) is a half-life of 39 years.  Worst case, we could be talking over 1 million years of high temps.  Best case, if we completely STOPPED polluting: over 1,000 years of temperatures high enough to keep melting every glacier and ice cap.  The 10,000 year estimate in the article is well within bounds.

Note that this is a “Hot Take”, meaning rough estimate.  We’ll do a better “Half-baked Idea” in a couple of weeks.  But the news will still be terrible.

Have a nice day.  And tell your kids not to buy ocean-front real estate.

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