Research surrounding rising sea levels in Orange County and the rest of the world was presented by the director of the John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center at the Titan Student Union on Thursday.
Director of the Cooper Center, Jere H. Lipps, Ph.D., professor emeritus at UC Berkeley, has taught paleontology and integrative biology for 22 years.
According to Lipps, the main cause of the rise in sea level is the “natural variations in distance relationships between the earth and the sun,” which causes the climate to fluctuate between warm and cool.
As the climate warms up, the world’s ice sheets will crumble and fall apart.
Thermal expansion of seawater is also a huge factor in rising sea levels.
When seawater is heated up, it is imminent that water in the oceans will expand, occupying more space and having to increase in height, said Lipps.
“Both have occurred naturally, but now the increase in carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere by humans burning fossil fuels is warming the climate,” said Lipps. “The rate of warming and of rise is accelerating as humans produce more and more carbon dioxide.”
With increased heat, ice sheets that are especially affected are those that cover Greenland and West Antarctica.
If Greenland’s ice disintegrates, it would raise sea levels by 27 feet—most scientists suggest this will probably happen after 2100, according to Lipps.
West Antarctica, on the other hand, is already experiencing ice collapses, and could potentially raise sea levels by 27 feet before 2100.
But there are no guarantees.
David Bowman, Ph.D., associate professor and chairman of the Geological Sciences Department, considered a 1.4 to 1.6 meter rise an “extremely conservative estimate.”
“That’s the minimum that we can expect. It will almost certainly be worse than that,” said Bowman. “We just don’t know how much worse.”
Sea levels vary throughout the world. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the results depend on a region’s geographical environment as well as the land’s changing elevations through subsidence—where the land is sinking, or uplift—where the land is rising.
“On the east coast, if you take a look at the coast, it very, very gently kind of slopes into the ocean,” said Adam Woods, Cal State Fullerton associate professor of geological sciences. “That means that a tiny change in sea level results in kind of a big shift in where the coast is.”
In California, a one-foot rise in sea level could affect 146,000 people. According to Lipps, sea levels could increase by three to four feet in 2050 and could impact roughly 224,000 to 308,000 people.
Orange County is no exception to the natural causes of sea levels.
Thousands of years ago, shorelines along Newport and other coastal regions were once river paths, according to Lipps. In 13,000 years, as sea levels increased, the river paths became flooded with seawater, developing into marshes and bays.
Prime examples of such environments that resulted from this phenomenon are the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and the Newport Upper Back Bay.
In Orange County alone, a 4.6 to 4.7 feet rise in sea level would impact 540 miles of roads. This is projected to cost $17 billion, according to a report conducted by the Pacific Institute.
Areas and cities along the coast would especially be flooded, such as Newport and Balboa Island. According to the Orange Coast Magazine in 2012, by 2050, Balboa Island could find itself under two feet of water after a storm.
Lipps suggested that some of the things people can do about this environment issue is to volunteer with local environmental organizations to help solve climate problems, study the problem and get the facts, spread awareness via social networking and cut one’s carbon footprint.
“This is a problem for younger people to be aware of so that they can begin to plan what to do with them,” said Lipps.