Veteran environmental journalist Daniel Grossman has gone deep – and dusty and dirty – in his first ebook that throws some personality into the dry and divisive scientific debate over how much sea levels will rise from human-caused global warming.
Deep Water: As Polar Ice Melts, Scientists Debate How High Our Oceans Will Rise is an ebook published by TED conferences.
The short book, the first I’ve read on my iPhone, has got some excellent explanations, including one that involves a waterbed. The scientific debate over sea level rise is not new, but Grossman tells it with compelling characters and a bumpy journey across Australia.
GREEN BLOG: In your book, you focus on rocks - even calling one geologist a "rock whisperer". What made you choose to focus on rocks to tell the story of sea level rise?
DAN GROSSMAN: Scientists forecast how much global warming will melt the polar ice sheets, leading to sea level rise, with several methods. All of them have shortcomings. In my book I follow the work of Maureen Raymo who has decided to attack the problem by looking for beaches left behind when the sea subsided as Earth began slowly cooling down and ice sheets expanded several million years ago. She anticipates that as Earth warms, it will grow to the temperature during that past epoch, known as the Pliocene; and ice sheets will eventually return to the smaller Pliocene-size. I was intrigued with the idea of studying the behavior of ice sheets by sampling rocks in the Australian Outback, thousands of miles away from Earth's poles.
GB: Your book gets at the scientific debate of how fast sea levels will rise. What should an average person be prepared for in the next 50 years and why?
DG: There is a range of predictions for how high sea level might go in the future. Generally scientists talk about what we might see by the end of the century. Most of the researchers I've consulted say that the ocean will rise by several feet. I doubt that it could be much less than that. At least one highly-regarded researcher, the NASA climate scientist James Hansen, says it could be more than ten feet. Many factors contribute to the uncertainty. Most importantly, scientists don't know if future warming could cause streams of solid ice in the ice sheets to speed up dramatically, channelling the interior much faster to the sea.
3GB: What is the lesson you'd like people to walk away with after reading Deep Water?
DG: I hope that I've communicated that we humans are literally on thin ice. It is hard to imagine--given how big the Earth is--but billions of people burning fossil fuels for transportation, heat, light and the like have altered the very physics and chemistry of the planet. And not for the better. Beyond that point, I hope my readers get a more nuanced sense of how scientists go about their business.
GB: What was the most grueling part of the 4,000 mile Australian journey?
DG:I didn't have many complaints. I didn't do any driving. Going across the bottom of the continent we went for hundreds and hundreds of miles between the smallest outposts, so we had to make do with some rustic meals. But that was part of the fun.
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