This weekend’s eruption of Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano is one of those teachable moments.
The Bardarbunga volcano is a subglacial volcano beneath the Vantnajokull Glacier. Vatnajökull, according to Wikipedia, “is also known as the Vatna Glacier and is the largest and most voluminous Icelandic glacier and one of the largest in area in Europe. It is located in the south-east of the island, covering more than 8 percent of the country.”
Most of the attention on this event is on the potential impact to air traffic if the heat from the eruption melts through the 330 – 1,300 feet thick ice above the volcano. If that happens, coal and ash spewed into the atmosphere will be a danger to planes.
However, the real teachable moment for me is not what might happen in the air but what is going on out of sight. The eruption of this volcano is producing lava that is melting the ice above it. This melting of land ice results in downstream flooding and eventually adding more water to the ocean.
We focus most of our attention on the primary cause of sea level rise being climate change, the warming of the earth’s atmosphere and melting of land glaciers. This is where all the political fighting comes in. Climate change is real versus not real. We humans are responsible for climate change versus no we are not.
Set all that aside and focus on one thing. If more water is added to the oceans, regardless of how it gets there, there must then be a rise in the sea level. You don’t have to believe in science to agree with that statement.
The eruption of the Bardarbunga volcano in Iceland is unquestionably adding more water to the ocean. Probably not much, we hope, but it is and it has nothing to do with climate change. However, this is just one recent, observable event. There have been countless other slowly developing events that have been adding more water to the oceans that haven’t gotten so much press attention.
From 2004 to 2007 Greenland has lost glacial ice to the ocean equivalent to 14 states (including New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio) if they were covered with 3 feet of ice. And the rate of Greenland’s ice melting has doubled since the late 2000s. These are observable events that simply take more time to occur than an erupting volcano which focuses our fleeting attention.
All these events and all those that are happening today and will happen tomorrow will result in the sea level rising regardless of the underlying cause. The question is will we adapt or not.
Mayor Billy Keyserling of Beaufort, SC, is willing to have this discussion, look at what his coastal city might face in years to come from rising seas and possibly begin a community planning process to make Beaufort more resilient.
Mayor Keyserling holds a meeting for residents and small business owners today to discuss this issue.
This is the beginning of an important community conversation that I hope other municipalities along the South Carolina coast as well as on every shoreline of our nation will soon have.
Thank you Mayor Keyserling for your leadership.