Red alert for sea level rise in Wellington

Red alert for sea level rise in Wellington

Sea rise: Eastbourne is one of the vulnerable areas in Wellington. (PHOTO: Ellen O'Dwyer-Cunliffe)

Lower Hutt, Petone and Eastbourne could face a flooded future as the sea rises.

Victoria University’s Antarctic Research Centre director Tim Naish, says sea level rise caused by global warming is usually wrongly cast as a doomsday scenario that will play out far into the future.

He said if big changes did not happen quickly, by the end of the century, houses in these vulnerable areas ran the risk of being flooded by the ocean.

“If Antarctic ice melt has been underestimated for the next 100 years, and we do not achieve the Paris climate agreement emission reductions, it will get very scary. The sea level can rise between 50cm and two metres until 2100. We are already half-way there and it is very unlikely we will be able to stop the world warming in two degrees.”

Victoria University’s Antarctic Research Centre Director Tim Naish

Increased global temperatures lead to rising sea levels because warmer waters take up more space and increased meltwater and ice from glaciers and polar ice sheets enter the ocean.

“Sea-level rise will be different depending on where you are. Because we live in area of earthquake, the Wellington land is shrinking four millimetres per year and globally the sea level is growing 3.5 mm per year. Wellington could have twice the sea level of another place that is not shrinking. It is dangerous.”

The waterfront in the CBD did not present such a risk. “The waterfront is quite heavily engineered around the city and is possible to protect there with sea walls.”

Over the next five years, Naish and experts working under the NZ SeaRise Programme will try to create accurate estimates of the magnitude and rate of sea level rise for NZ coastal regions to the end of the century and beyond.

Naish believes it is possible slow up climate change but everybody needs to do their part.

“If the world is successful in limiting global warming to the Paris target of 2C above pre-industrial levels then we have a chance of preventing widespread Antarctic melt-down. The councils and government are very aware of this and they are committed to do something. However, we are not well prepared in NZ.”

He believes the big challenge for the country to achieve these levels is the large release of methane gas from cows and sheep.

He estimates they  account for almost half of the country`s greenhouse gas emission.

“It is possible reduce the use of fossil fuel, plant a lot of trees, do a process in the grass that reduces the liberation of the methane gas. However,it  is not magic. Probably we will need to have less cows and sheep. I know that is complicated because the dairy and meat industry is huge. But the government will need to make a big decision about that and need to be soon.”

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Article by Luisa Girao

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Article by Luisa Girao

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