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Massive Sea Level Rise Might Have A Cooling Effect

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Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by NOAA's National Ocean Service on Flickr.

Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by NOAA’s National Ocean Service on Flickr.

A surprising side effect could result from a massive sea level rise, New Scientist reports. This is according to the unpublished work of climate scientist James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. According to the article, the average surface temperature of the earth could actually fall by a degree or two if Hansen’s projected high rise of sea levels occurs.

This is in contrast to several projections of global average temperature rise due to global warming. With temperature records being broken around the world, scientists are projecting a 2°C increase or more based on current levels of carbon emissions. Increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, impacts on biodiversity and habitats, and rising sea levels are only some of the consequences that could result from this increase. However, a cooling effect because of warming is an intriguing idea because of its seemingly paradoxical nature.

Hansen’s work attributes this cooling effect to the melting of icebergs. Hansen thinks that if the meltdown of these massive icebergs cools seas around Greenland and Antarctica enough, increases in global average temperatures might not be as high as projected. However, there is hardly any reason to rejoice as the temporary cooling effect would be misleading.

Technically, there is no such thing as coldness that can be compared to the measurable energy of heat. Something is cold simply because there is little heat in it, in contrast to its having a lot of coldness. Heat can be transferred but cold (technically) cannot. In Hansen’s projections, the heat energy will go into melting the ice sheets, so the heat from global warming will still stay in our planet but will be redirected from warming the air.

According to the NS article, there are two ways melting ice sheets can cool surface temperatures. First, melting ice absorbs heat energy without further raising water temperatures. Second, heat energy from the surface can be transferred to deeper waters by changing ocean ocean circulation patterns due to an injection of fresh water.

Hansen’s model assumed a 0.6 m sea level rise from 2010 levels by 2065 and suggests just a 1.5°C projected increase in average global surface temperature. If sea levels rise by 1.4 m by 2080, this would be further reduced to 0.9°C increase compared to pre-industrial temperature levels, markedly different from the 2°C or greater increases predicted.

This difference in projections is due to Hansen’s greater acceleration of ice loss. His model simulates a loss of ice sheets doubling every decade.

The projected high sea levels rise in Hansen’s model would affect many coastal cities around the world, putting populations, infrastructure, and even biodiversity  at risk from the rising seas. The iceberg cooling effect could also worsen extreme weather events due to temperature differences. Even then, global warming would not be halted by the cooling effect from melting ice sheets. Hansen gave New Scientist no additional details about his study but said that a full paper of his work is in the process of being prepared for publication.

Estel M.
About Estel M. (348 Posts)

Estel Grace Masangkay is a freelance creative writer who enjoys outdoor trips and activities in natural settings. She is passionate about animal welfare and environment conservation. Follow Me @Em23me.


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