Amazing Grace and the Conveyor Belt

Is there a way to stem the tide of sea level rise due to climate change? I mean, if we can’t build a seawall around the coast of every continent and island, what other option is there other than an eventual mass human migration inland? Well, NASA thinks there very well may be a solution.

The Earth may be saving herself. Climate change researchers have been collecting data from NASA satellites to determine where all this extra liquid water from melted ice sheets and glaciers is ending up. It seems the Earth has absorbed over three trillion tons of water (that’s about the equivalent of what’s in Lake Huron) that are replenishing depleted lakes and underground aquifers. Now, this is great news but not a permanent fix. Researchers estimate this temporary band-aid will slow sea level rise by about twenty percent. Earth is buying us Earthlings some more time to get our you-know-what together and fix this mess we have created.

So, how does this “band-aid” work? The Earth’s regular water budget is provided by annual amounts of water evaporated from the oceans. This becomes precipitation that returns to the Earth through rainfall or snow. It then recycles back into the oceans as runoff or through rivers. As mankind’s use of groundwater has dramatically increased, the Earth has become quite thirsty as reservoirs are depleted. It has become a sponge, compensating for this unprecedented loss by absorbing what is melting from ice sheets and glaciers. This has served to curb rising sea levels despite the fact that glaciers and ice sheets continue to melt.

Now scientists are scrambling to recalculate future models and adjust previous projections of sea level rise as a result of the Earth’s warming oceans. So, although sea levels are still expected to rise, Earthlings have a little bit more time to solve the problems that will cause. But, once the Earth has slated her thirst, all that meltwater will then become a problem.

NASA is using a twin satellite system, GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment), to measure how much water is being stored within the Earth. Since scuba divers can’t delve into these underground reservoirs, just what kind of digital dipstick is being used? The satellites use gravity to measure liquid. The gringa scratches her head and says, “Um, what? A gravity yardstick? How does that work?”

As the twin satellites orbit the Earth, they measure the distance between themselves. Their measurements are so accurate and precise, they can get as close as a strand of human hair. Amazing! But, I digress. GRACE then transmits the data to Earthling researchers who use the information to measure any gravitational change in the Earth that is the result of any change Earth’s water distribution.

By using this method, scientists have measured how much water has been stored within Earth’s continents as a result of ice sheet and glacier melt. This is the first study of its kind. And, according to NASA’s mission to use technology to safeguard the future of Earth and the lives of Earthlings, the agency has shared this knowledge with other scientific communities around the world.

And GRACE is proving her mettle in other areas of climate change data as well. The satellites are tracking circulation and current patterns within the Atlantic Ocean. The typical current pattern of the Gulf Stream carries warm, tropical water northward to Greenland. By the time it arrives at its northern destination, the water has cooled significantly. Colder water is denser so the water that originated from the tropics, and was riding at the surface. has sunk as deep as two miles within the ocean by the time it gets to Greenland. The colder, heavier, bottom water is then dragged back South.

In this way the waters of the Atlantic Ocean are consistently agitated, cooled, oxygenated and nutritionally refreshed. Oceanographers call this pattern the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). However, the gringa prefers the common name, the “Conveyor Belt” of the Atlantic.

The Atlantic’s “Conveyor Belt” effect is like an air conditioner for the world’s oceans. It is critical to modulating the temperature of the Earth. Data collected from GRACE has revealed that the “Conveyor Belt” is slowing down. Researchers are uncertain if this is directly caused by climate change or if other factors are at play.

GRACE is going to help answer these questions. One way is by measuring gravity data from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Changes in the ocean’s currents will result in pressure changes that GRACE can detect with gravitational measurements.

And GRACE is also contributing to the development of practical solutions that can be implemented right now, helping the people of Brazil. 2015 was the worst year in over three decades for drought in Brazil.

Hydrologists were able to use data collected from GRACE to calculate that in a three year period Brazil lost about fifteen trillion gallons of water each year. Water levels of aquifers and rivers were also analyzed.

Brazil is heavily dependent on the country’s rivers to provide water for their people, electricity production and for critical agriculture. The data provided by GRACE enables the Brazilian government to create models that will simulate future expected droughts. This makes it possible for the nation to plan effectively, monitor their water resources responsibly and continue to provide for the water needs of over 200 million Brazilians.

And those are just some of the facts about “Amazing GRACE”.



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Rub A Dub, Dub, Nelson Needs A Tub

It’s pretty common for researchers and common man to first think about the coastal dwellers who will be displaced by rising ocean levels due to climate change. Thoughts also quickly turn to coastal species of plants and animals that may fare even worse, having nowhere to turn, and thus possibly becoming extinct.

One thing that is rarely considered are national treasures that sit seaside or within a harbor. What will happen to the likes of the Statue of Liberty or Nelson’s Column? What of the Doe and Stag columns that welcome sailors into safe harbor at the island of Rhodes? How many wonderful works of art will possibly be swallowed up by the seas and lost to landlubbers because of climate change?


Statue of Liberty, USA, image source:

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The Doe and Stag, Rhodes, image source:


Unconditional Surrender, San Diego, CA, USA, image source:


Annie Moore (first registered Ellis Island immigrant), Cobh, County Cork, Ireland, image source:


The Little Mermaid, Copenhagen, Denmark, image source:

And these are only a few that the gringa was able to search for and find. There are very few land-locked nations. Every country with a coastline has something to lose. We all have some artistic skin in the game. Beautiful, historic works of art are destined for watery graves, sooner or later, because of climate change. There may be a few heads bobbing above the waves but most of them will be forgotten by future generations except for adventurous scuba divers on photo safari.

Experts indicate that fossil fuel pollution accelerated climate change will continue to affect our planet even if we switched tomorrow to alternatives. We have passed the tipping point. It’s possible we have caused enough damage to affect significant change for the next 100,000 years. Over that period of time, as global temperatures continue to rise, sea levels will, too. Possibly as much as fifty meters (150 feet).

That means that timeless works of art that look out upon the seas and oceans of this world will definitely be inundated to oblivion. But to understand the true scope of the course our lifestyles have plotted for our planet, consider Nelson’s Column which is located well inland, at Trafalgar Square in London. Models of climate change predict that by the time this cycle has run its course, only half of the column will be visible above the water line.


Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square, London, UK, image source:

Before these dramatic events reach their fulfillment, mankind will have undergone dramatic migrational upheavals. As much as one fifth of the world’s population is expected to be affected. Rough estimates put current world population at about seven billion. That means that about one billion and four hundred million (1,400,000,000) people are going to have to move.

Dear readers, consider the strain Europe is undergoing right now with a Syrian refugee migration.  The United Nations reports that over nine million Syrians have fled their homes since the civil war began years ago. Estimates put the numbers spilling into Europe at about one million, but those numbers are questionable. Imagine if the refugee numbers Europe had absorbed had been one thousand fold. That’s the kind of numbers scientists are talking about where climate change migration is concerned.

There is no technology available to build any seawall adequate to protect the populations of coastal cities. They will have to relocate. Eventually. Period. There is no going back. The best we can hope for is that if we start tomorrow with zero carbon emissions we might be able to spare future generations from a worst case scenario (as if).

And, since that’s not going to happen, the gringa says invest in some scuba gear, sturdy suitcases, and quality maps of inland locales if you are a coastal dweller. If you live on secure high ground, perhaps you should build a guest house or two, or three, or maybe even forty. It may be the humble beginnings of a future hotel and housing empire for your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren.




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