Weekly Letter to the President
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INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
February 19, 2021
Mr. President: The coastal waters by Wilmington, Delaware, the president's home
base, have risen a record 3 mm in the past year. Worse, the rate of increase is itself
increasing portending a foot or more in the next century. It means a rebuilding of
docks plus barriers to prevent serious tidal flooding.
The Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS), affiliated with the College of William
and Mary, has been collecting data on sea levels for the past 52 years. It released its
latest annual report recently, noting sea level rising by historic amounts -- as in the
case of Wilmington -- as well as the accelerating rate of increase.
There are 32 tide gauges placed along the US coasts all the way to Alaska.
Maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), these
measure levels every six minutes. Researchers at VIMS take a monthly average to
avoid a skewed analysis due to unusual weather patterns like storms.
The Institute's report presents sea level changes, assesses future trends, and tries to
explain the increases or even decreases at particular localities. Sea level changes
are relative to the adjoining land. For example, the rates are actually falling in Alaska
but that is caused by shifting tectonic plates raising land and off-setting the sea level
Researchers describe the persistent sea level rise as a "slow emergency" -- not a
storm that will be hitting tomorrow but trouble ahead and the report cards can help
local authorities plan for the future.
Wetlands Watch works to preserve wetlands in Virginia's coastal areas. Rising sea
level is a particular concern because it is expected to affect most of the state's coastal
wetlands. Therefore in addition to policy advocacy, Wetlands Watch has developed
Sea Rising Solutions, which helps in mapping out where flooding is likely.
Spreading the word about sea level rise and its consequences engages the whole
community and motivates legislators and developers to adapt to the new norm and
prepare ahead for a changing environment.
There is another problem with coastal areas: a gradual darkening of the sea water. It
is serious for such a change in color and clarity poses a significant threat to marine
life. The Coastal Ocean Darkening Project at the University of Oldenburg in Germany
simulated the effects by filling huge metal vats with water and phytoplankton and
hanging lamps above them to simulate sunlight. They then darkened the water using
low, medium and high concentrations of a brown liquid extracted from peat to simulate
decaying organic matter. The phytoplankton were all negatively affected but
particularly in the vats with medium and high concentrations which blocked off more
light. Also some phytoplankton were affected more than others.
The adverse consequences to the elemental base of the ocean's food threatens
marine species up the chain, and especially those relying on the phytoplankton types
most affected. Moreover, reduced vision hinders those species, like fish, relying on
vision to hunt, while not affecting those that do not, like jellyfish.
Why is the water darkening? One hint might be that environmental regulation of
fertilizer use goes along with improvements in the Mediterranean, the North Sea and
parts of the North American coast.
And of course reducing global warming would decrease ice melt and subsequent sea