Parvati Magazine, Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary, MAPS Science, Rising Sea Level

Protecting Coastlines Around the World Starts in the Arctic Ocean

An estimated 250 million people currently live less than one metre above high tide linesโ€”tides that could rise 0.5 metres this century. Coastal cities and low-lying islands are most affected by rising sea levels; many are already taking action in attempts to protect people from rising seas and storm surges. Coastal cities employ risk mitigation such as building sea barriers and protecting coastal wetlands and mangroves, but these options are not available to everyone. Some of the nations most affected by rising seas are small islands that lack resources to mitigate these challenges. The predicted outcome? Millions of people who call islands home may soon have no choice but to abandon their communities and relocate to higher ground, putting lives at risk and costing countries billions of dollars.

Tragically, those most threatened by changes in ocean temperatures and rising sea levels are nations with small carbon footprintsโ€”the ones least responsible for the ecological and humanitarian crises confronting them today. This highlights the need for immediate action on an international scale. We can work together to make the necessary changes to combat sea level rise and help those affected by coastal flooding.

Protecting the Arctic Ocean is a crucial and immediate step to respond to this global emergency. How does the Arctic Ocean affect at-risk island nations thousands of kilometers away? Arctic sea ice acts as an air conditioner for our planet due to the albedo effect. White ice will reflect the sunโ€™s heat, while a dark open sea absorbs it. However, 95 percent of the oldest, thickest, white Arctic ice has melted since 1985. This creates a positive feedback loop that leads to higher and warmer oceans.

Rising Temperatures and Rising Sea Levels

Warmer temperatures cause the melting of large glaciers, which dumps millions of litres of freshwater into the ocean. Rising global temperatures also cause overall ocean temperatures to rise, increasing the volume of the water. These factors compound to increase sea levels at a faster rate than ever before. Warming seas and rising temperatures in the Arctic also have significant effects on weather patterns around the globe due to disruptions to the jet stream and ocean circulation. These can lead to more intense extreme weather events such as hurricanes and storm surges, which can be devastating to communities already at risk of disappearing into the sea. In 2018, 17.2 million people were displaced by natural disasters and this number will likely be even higher for 2019.

MAPS Can Make a Difference

Through strategic acts of conservation, we have the opportunity to help prevent coastal flooding globally. The Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary (MAPS) will protect the health of the vulnerable Arctic Ocean ecosystem and its sea ice, so that it can continue to keep our planet cool. At the same time, it catalyzes a global shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. If we act now, we can help to avoid flooding and the potential impacts on coastal cities and their inhabitants around the globe, while also protecting the environment for the good of all.

Julia Howland is an environmental biologist and science writer based in Ottawa, Canada. With a passion for conservation, her mission is to make science accessible for all audiences.

Learn more from the Science of MAPS column archive here.