Newspaper article The Canadian Press

B.C. Scientist Says People Can Either 'Defend' or Retreat from Rising Seas: 'Defend' or Retreat from Rising Seas: Scientist

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

B.C. Scientist Says People Can Either 'Defend' or Retreat from Rising Seas: 'Defend' or Retreat from Rising Seas: Scientist

Article excerpt

VANCOUVER - Hundreds of millions of people who are living in low-lying coastal areas around the globe have two options when it comes to protecting themselves from rising sea levels, says a British Columbia-based scientist.

John Clague, a professor at Simon Fraser University, said Sunday that people can either "defend" their communities or "retreat" from the threat of sea levels that are expected to rise over the next century.

Clague was one of four researchers who addressed the issue during an annual gathering of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver.

So massive is the issue that Margaret Davidson, a director with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said as many as 500 million people could be affected worldwide, and the economic impacts have yet to be determined.

"It's a bit like the options open to the military during a war," said Clague. "We can defend or we can retreat. Both are not very palatable options."

While sea-level fluctuations are natural and have remained relatively constant during the past 5,000 years, the situation has begun to change over the last 200 years, he said.

During the last century, sea levels were rising by about two millimetres a year, but more recently they have increased to about three millimetres a year, he said.

"Why is that happening? Well, probably obvious to you, glaciers are melting and oceans are warming, and a warmer ocean occupies more space so the sea rises as a consequence of that," said Clague.

Three millimetres a year may not sound like much, Clague added, but it adds up, and over a century could mean a minimum 30-centimetre rise in sea levels -- although he thinks the jump will be more like one metre.

Combined with other environmental factors, like storm surges, high tides and erosion, an increase of just 30 centimetres can cause severe problems for low-lying communities, he said.

Meanwhile, Davidson said some aboriginal communities in Alaska have already been forced to move inland because of problems related to flooding and coastal erosion. …

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