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PEAK SEA LEVEL:
One of the major consequences of global warming is a long term increase in average sea level. However, it is the increase in local peak sea level that causes flood and storm damage. The local peak sea level has multiple components. There is the average sea level that is increased by melting of land borne ice. There is the daily tidal change that is caused by rotation of the Earth about its axis in the proximity of the moon. There is the daily tidal change caused by rotation of the Earth about its axis in the proximity of the sun. There is a nearly monthly tidal change caused by orbit of the Earth-Moon system about its common center of mass in the proximity of the sun. There are local sea level changes caused by changes in atmospheric pressure and wind. Finally there are sea level changes caused by sea floor geometries that convert horizontal liquid kinetic energy into vertical gravitational potential energy of position. Dangerous conditions and storm damage normally occur when these various effects combine to produce a temporary local sea level that is much higher than normal.
Global warming affects the average sea level via melting of land borne ice and affects the average atmospheric water vapor content via sea surface warming, which in turn affects both the local atmospheric pressure and the local wind via storms. Quantification of the increase in local peak sea level due to global warming triggered storm activity is beyond the scope of this analysis. The amount of damage caused by the sea at a particular location is determined by the coincidence of a very low atmospheric pressure due to a storm with a high on-shore wind and a very high tide due to an unfavourable Earth-Moon-Sun alignment.
In the tropical ocean, where the ocean surface temperature is greater than 4 degrees C, lower density warm water floats on top of higher density cool water. Addition of heat to the ocean surface increases this temperature stratification causing the ocean surface temperature to follow the average air temperature. Hence the net on-going heat absorption per unit area by the tropical ocean due to global warming is relatively small.
In the polar ocean, where the ocean surface temperature is less than 4 degrees C, lower density cold water floats on top of higher density warmer water. Addition of heat to the ocean surface increases the density of the surface water causing the surface water sink. Hence the polar ocean is relatively well mixed and the ocean surface temperature remains almost constant. This surface temperature is further fixed by the presence of floating ice, which absorbs heat at a constant temperature by melting. Thus the ocean surface temperature does not follow the air temperature. Hence the net on-going heat absorption per unit area by the polar ocean due to global warming is relatively large.
ARCTIC OCEAN'S NET HEAT ABSORPTION RATE:
From the section titled Radiation Physics, as long as the polar ocean surface temperature remains nearly constant, the net heat absorption rate Ht by the polar ocean in watts is given by:
Ht = Ap dHa (for Ta = constant)
= Ap [dTa / Ta] Ho (1 - Fr) (for Ha = 0)
Ap = surface area of the mixed polar ocean (Arctic Ocean area = 14.056 X 10^12 m^2)
dHa = average ocean heat absorption rate per unit area in watts / m^2
dTa = increase in temperature obtained from the Earth's infrared emission spectrum
Ta = average emission temperature
Ho = solar irradiance (1367 watts / m^2)
Fr = planetary albedo (.297)
Using temperature data from the Earth's November 1996 thermal emission curve, for a doubling of the atmospheric CO2 concentration:
dTa = 2.923 degrees K
Ta = 270 degrees K
Ht = 14.056 X 10^12 m^2 X (2.923 K / 270 K) X 1367 W / m^2 X .703
= .146 X 10^15 W
RATE OF RISE OF AVERAGE SEA LEVEL DUE TO MELTING OF LAND BORNE ICE:
The rate of rise of average sea level is dominated by the rate at which Greenland and Antarctica lose land borne ice. This rate in turn is limited by the rate at which net heat absorbed by the oceans melts floating ice that forms due to glacier bottom discharge from Greenland and Antarctica. This melting rate is given by:
Melting Rate = Ht / Hf
Hf = heat of fusion of water = 79.72 cal / gm
Then the corresponding rate of ice melting for the Arctic is given by:
Melting Rate = Ht / Hf
= (.146 X 10^15 watts) X (1 J / s-Watt) X (1 cal / 4.18 J) X (1 gm / 79.72 cal)
= .00043884 X 10^15 gm / s
= (.4388 X 10^12 gm / s) X (1 m^3 / 10^6 gm) X (3600 s / h) X (8766 h / year)
= 13.8487 X 10^12 m^3 / year
= 13,848.7 km^3 / year
The world wide ocean area is:
Ao = 361 X 10^12 m^2
so when the atmospheric CO2 concentration has doubled the anticipated average rate of sea level rise due to melting of Arctic ice (the Greenland icecap) is:
Ht / (Hf Ao) = [(13.8487 X 10^12 m^3) / (361 X 10^12 m^2 year)]
= .0384 m / year
In the absence of reliable data for melting of Antarctic floating ice we can assume that in the future the ice melting rate in the south polar region will be comparable to the ice melting rate in the north polar region. Hence the total future rate of increase in sea level may be as large as:
2 X .0384 m / year = .0768 m / year
If use of fossil fuels is ceased after the onset of this land borne ice melting process, the average sea level will continue rising until the excess atmospheric CO2 concentration decays. The exponential decay time constant To for excess CO2 in the atmosphere is about 36 years. The value of To is found both theoretically and experimentally in the section Carbon Dioxide. Hence the sea level rise after ceasing use of fossil fuels would be:
.0768 m / year X 36 years = 2.76 m
Note that if the use of fossil fuels is not stopped the sea level will keep on rising until the supply of land borne ice that can slip into the ocean is exhausted.
MELTING OF FLOATING POLAR ICE:
In 2007 the Alfred-Wegener-Institute for Polar and Marine Research expedition to the North Polar Sea found that large areas of the Arctic sea-ice were only 1 m thick, half the thickness found in 2001. The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that in 2000 the minimum Arctic sea ice area was 6.74 X 10^6 km^2 and that in 2007 the corresponding minimum Arctic sea ice area was 4.13 X 10^6 km^2. Hence the average melting rate of Arctic sea ice over the period 2000 to 2007 is given by:
[(6.74 X 10^6 km^2 X .002 km) - (4.13 X 10^6 km^2 X .001 km)] / 7 years
= [13.48 X 10^3 km^3 - 4.13 X 10^3 km^3] / 7 years
= 1336 km^3 / year.
Satelite radar and gravity measurements of the Greenland glacier melting rate conducted during the period 2002 to 2005 indicate that this glacier's melting rate was about 230 km^3 / year.
Hence the total Arctic ice melting rate in during the period 2002 to 2005 was about:
1336 km^3 / year + 230 km^3 / year = 1566 km^3 / year.
The corresponding increase in average sea level is given by:
(1566 km^3 / year) / Ao = (1566 km^3) / (361 X 10^12 m^2-year) X (10^9 m^3 / km^3)
= .004338 m/year = 4.3 mm/year
which is comparable to the experimentally measured increase in average sea level.
AVERAGE OCEAN SURFACE TEMPERATURE:
Over thousands of years prior to the industrial revolution the ocean acquired its present temperature profile. The average surface temperature is similar to the average surface temperature for an ideal rotating sphere modified by the Greenhouse Effect. It is shown in Surface Temperature of an Ideal Rotating Body that the average surface temperature Tea of an ideal Earth is:
Tea = 278.636 degrees K.
It is shown in the section titled Temperature Data that the historical Greenhouse Effect produces a warming of 8.36 degrees K.
Hence the calculated average ocean surface temperature Taa is given by:
Taa = 278.636 K + 8.36 K
= 286.996 degrees K
= 286.996 - 273.15
= 13.846 degrees C
In the tropics ocean water stratifies, so the surface temperature is not representative of the bulk ocean temperature. Ocean water is most dense at about 4 degrees C. Most of the bulk ocean below the surface layer is in the temperature range -2 to 5 degrees C. Since at 4 degrees C the temperature coefficient of expansion is zero, the net change in sea level caused by global warming induced thermal expansion is uncertain.
OCEAN RESPONSE TIME PERIOD:
In the section titled Radiation Physics it was assumed that the time intervals involved were much smaller than the time required for the ocean to come to steady state. To justify this assumption the response time Tv of the mixed ocean is found below.
Assume that over sufficient time ocean currents will distribute heat from the mixed ocean, where the heat is captured, to the stratified ocean where there is little ongoing heat capture.
Let Tao = average bulk ocean temperature
Let Tas = average ocean surface temperature
Assume that to restore steady state condions:
dTao = dTas = dTa
Conservation of energy gives:
Cp Mo dTao = Ht X Tv
Tv = (Cp Mo dTao) / (Ht) where:
Cp = the heat capacity of water = 1 cal / gm-deg C
Mo = mass of oceans
Ht = rate of heat capture
On this web page it was previously found that for a mixed ocean of area Ap the total heat flux Ht captured is:
Ht = Ap (dTa / Ta) Ho (1 - Fr)
Tv = Cp Mo dTao / [Ap (dTa / Ta) Ho (1 - Fr)]
= Cp Mo Ta / [ Ap Ho (1 - Fr)]
Let Do = average depth of oceans = 3790 m
Let Ro = average density of oceans ~ 1 gm / cm^3
Ao = area of oceans,
Mo = Ao Do Ro
Tv = Cp Ao Do Ro Ta / (Ap Ho (1 - Fr))
= [Cp Do Ro Ta / (Ho (1 - Fr))] [Ao / Ap]
= [(1 cal / gm-deg K)(3790 m)(1 gm / cm^3)(270 deg K)(10^6 cm^3 / m^3)(4.18 J / cal)(1 W-s /J)]
/ [(1367 W / m^2) (1 - .297)][Ao / Ap]
= [3790 X 270 X 10^6 X 4.18 s] / [1367 X .703][Ao / Ap]
= 4451 X 10^6 s [Ao / Ap]
= (4451 X 10^6 s) [Ao / Ap] X (1h / 3600 s) X (1 year / 8766 h)
= 141.04 years [Ao / Ap]
Thus the response time Tv of the ocean to a step change in Ft is about:
Tv = 141.04 years [Ao / Ap]
Recall that Ap is the area of mixed ocean which has a surface temperature less than 4 degrees C. To a first approximation we can take Ap as the area of the Arctic Ocean, which gives a value of the bulk ocean time constant of:
Tv = 141.04 years X [(361 X 10^12 m^2) / (14.056 X 10^12 m^2)]
= 3622 years
Note that due to the uncertainty in the actual value of Ap, there could be as much as a 1000 year error in this calculated result. However, Tv is long enough that it may be significant in determination of interglacial periods.
THE SEA LEVEL CRUNCH:
One of the serious consequences of an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is an increase in sea level. Many of the world's human population concentrations are located at sea ports and on river deltas. These population concentrations are seriously threatened by an increase in sea level of only a few metres.
1. Historical data over the period 1910 to 1990 indicates an average sea level increase over that period of about 1.9 mm / year. During the period 1990 to 2009 this rate of sea level increase approximately doubled.
2. The sedimentary record shows that during an interglacial period about 125,000 years ago for a short time the average sea level reached 4 m to 6 m higher than its present level.
3. The volume of ice on Greenland, if it all melted, would increase the average sea level by 7.2 m.
4. The volume of ice on Antarctica, if it all melted, would increase the average sea level by 61.1 m.
5. The volume of ice in the grounded interior reservoir of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, if it all melted, would raise the average sea level by 5 to 6 m.
6. If there is little floating ice in the sea except around Greenland and Antactica, where the floating sea ice is maintained by glacier bottom discharge, and if there is sufficient natural ocean circulation that average sea level rise is determined by ocean net heat absorption causing melting of this floating sea ice, then the projected average sea level rise rate when the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration reaches twice its historic value, is about .0384 m / year.
7. The average sea level will continue rising until the excess atmospheric CO2 concentration decays, or until the ocean temperature responds or until the ice caps melt. Once the ice cap shrinking process starts, even if the source of fossil CO2 is cut off, the melting process will continue due to the excess atmospheric CO2 concentration exponential decay time constant To, which is about 36 years.
8. When the above conditions are considered together with the ice core record of atmospheric CO2 concentration, it appears that an eventual rise in average sea level of at least:
1.38 m to 2.76 m
will occur. To the extent that there is a delay in controlling the rate of release of fossil CO2 to the atmosphere this rise in average sea level will increase. The initiating factor will be loss of perimeter floating ice around Greenland and Antarctica, allowing high pressure fluid under the land borne ice caps to flow into the surrounding ocean.
Thus, a 2 m increase in average sea level could easily occur by the year 2100. Present Canadian government plans do not contemplate serious CO2 emission reductions before the year 2050, and the value of the excess CO2 exponential decay time constant To, relating to the decay of excess atmospheric CO2, would then extend the excess CO2 heating out to past the year 2100. It will take a major change in government priorities to significantly alter this course of events.
The regions under threat by rising sea level are indicated on the following Map which shows the effect of a sea level rise of 0 to 60 m on each region of the world.
This web page last updated December 25,2019.
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