OPINION: Yucatan at high risk if sea levels keep rising

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Heading rapidly into 2017, climate change continues to be something of a political hot potato – especially since Donald Trump’s victory in the recent US elections, with many observers around the world fearing a Trump presidency could put a significant dent in global ecological efforts over the coming years.

 

Indeed, Trump has already publicly stated a number of aims for pulling back on green funding and boosting polluting industries on American soil, including a highly publicised desire to pull America out of the Paris agreement on climate change, as well as limiting the power of the Environmental Protection Agency, and breaking up much of the solid foundation work laid out in recent years by the Obama administration’s development of the Clean Power Plan.

 

Whenever climate change is raised as an issue, we’re quite used to hearing about sea level change as being one of the major issues we’ll have to deal with if the planet continues to warm at the current rate. But what might the impact of rising sea levels actually look like in real terms if it continues unabated? What effect will it have on the shape of our coastlines in 200, 400 or 1000 years?

 

Well, a set of interactive infographics based on projected data compiled via Geology.com might give us some idea, and unsurprisingly, it makes for pretty uncomfortable viewing. The graphics deal chiefly with large US coastal cities, for which there has long been plenty of detailed statistical analysis available – but there are plenty of other global hotspots which would find themselves equally at risk if sea levels did indeed continue to rise in line with these alarming projections.

 

Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, along with much of the Gulf of Mexico, is one such zone that could be particularly vulnerable. In fact, a recent article at Forbes.com singled out areas around Progreso, Holbox and Cancun as potentially up there with the most at-risk locales in the world. This is due in part to its unique coastal geography, which is more typically characterised by a number of low-lying barrier islands than craggy oceanside cliff-top communities, as well as a host of combined meteorological phenomena such as El Niño, storm surges from hurricanes and the ongoing rapid shedding of the vast Greenland ice sheet.

 

One potential issue with trying to formulate any accurate prediction of sea level change lies in the fact that, much like temperature change, sea-level changes are not globally uniform – certain regions can be affected much more in any given year, and less in others. This is particularly true for Mexico’s coastlines, where the sorts of shifting annual weather patterns we just mentioned can play havoc with gathered data and the reliability of forward projections.

sea-levels

 

However, disturbing evidence has already been emerging to suggest that considering the Yucatan and Gulf coasts as ‘high risk’ moving forward is probably sensible: as the Gulf of Mexico Foundation states, patterns already show that “relative sea level rise along most of the Gulf coast has been substantially higher than the global average, due to local land subsidence combined with the increasing volume of water in the sea”.

 

Still, one small reason to remain optimistic, even as we head towards the Trump era, was pointed out by French environment minister Ségolène Royale in the days following the US election. As she reminded any Trump supporters keen to ditch the Paris agreement as soon as possible, the terms of the agreement “prohibit any exit for a period of three years, plus a year-long notice period…so there will be four stable years.”

 

The time to act, it seems, is now – while we still can.

 

Article and infographic sent by Ashley Fleming for The Yucatan Times

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