San Francisco at sunset from the Alameda Oakland Ferry.
San Francisco at sunset from the San Francisco Bay Ferry.

On a beautiful summer day last week, we took the late afternoon ferry across the bay to hear oceanographer John Englander speak about sea level rise at the Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco. His talk, “Melting Ice, Rising Seas and Shifting Shorelines: The New Normal,” pointed to the sobering realities ahead. Rather than being stymied by the potentially overwhelming, unprecedented circumstances ahead of us though, Englander called us to rise to the occasion with innovative ways to adapt and embrace this new reality. With a mixture of humor and solid science, Englander also encouraged us to do everything possible to reduce CO2 levels and slow the global warming trend.

Englander relayed that within decades, not hundreds of years, we’ll be living with a new reality: the North Pole will be ice-free. This, however, will not raise sea levels much as its ice that’s already floating on water. The potential upside, Englander noted with a wry smile, was more direct global shipping routes.

Ten indicators of global warming: science shows we've got all ten happening right now. (NOAA)
Ten indicators of global warming: science shows we’ve got all ten happening right now. (NOAA)

The real concern he expressed was the melting of the glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland where ice is currently supported on landmasses. That ice will flow into the sea and inevitably raise sea levels around the globe. This excellent five-minute video, “Meltwater Pulse 2B,” from Yale Climate Forum explains what scientists are projecting about these glacier melt rates based on their research.

As we took the ferry back across the bay, our vantage point at nearly water level helped us look at the shorelines and areas we know so well with a new perspective. Englander’s presentation was a keen reminder that much work remains to create short and long term plans to adapt to higher sea levels, as individuals, cities and regions. The

The South Pole as seen from Appolo 17 in December 1974. (NASA)
The South Pole as seen from Apollo 17 in December 1974; there is less ice now. (NASA)

setting sun blazed behind the beautiful city and bridges, just as it will many years into the future. It’s up to us to take action now to create and secure a future where we can live with the circumstances we’ve created: the “New Normal” of higher sea levels.

You can catch the major points of Englander’s talk on this eleven minute TEDx Talk, “Sea Level Rise – Fact & Fiction.” Englander also has a compelling book available, “High Tide on Main Street,” as well as a good compilation of other resources on his website including books, other websites and climate change research.

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