Soggy runways


in Science, The environment, Travel

While they only represent a relatively small fraction of total emissions now, greenhouse gasses from air travel are growing rapidly. That said, one largely unanticipated check against their long-term rise may exist, if the potential sea rise effects of the disintegration of the Greenland or West Antarctic ice sheets become manifest.

This clever Google Maps mashup will show you what I mean:

Adding 7m to global sea levels (consistent with the melting of all of Greenland, all of West Antarctica, or half of each) would definitely drown a lot of runways. The Tokyo and London airports seem likely to be high and dry, though the cities themselves would be far from it.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Litty October 16, 2007 at 11:32 am

Presumably, they will just build dikes around the terminals and runways.

R.K. October 16, 2007 at 6:39 pm

Of all the things the world might lose, I think airports might be the least missed.

. October 17, 2007 at 4:26 pm

Climate change: What’s in the rising tide?

The nitrogen cycle rarely features in the grim litany of things at risk from global warming. Nick Lane reports on research that might change this — with grave consequences for ocean chemistry.

Extending its briny fingers through much of Rhode Island, Narragansett Bay has long juxtaposed man and nature, pollution and purity. Industrialization in the nineteenth century led to the rapid growth of cities such as Providence, a port at the bay’s north end. The area now supports about a million people, all flushing their waste into the pastoral watershed. Reactive nitrogen compounds from treated sewage, industrial waste and fertilizers have poured in for decades, but remained at a relatively constant level for the past 25 years. Nevertheless, set against this steady background, a silent microbial and biochemical transformation has occurred in the bay that could have devastating ecological effects. The cause is pollution, but of an indirect sort — the changes seem to be down to global warming.

For the past three decades, the bottom sediments of the bay have mopped up much of the reactive nitrogen that humans have dumped into it. Although the fraction sequestered had been falling, this valuable natural sink has been protecting the bay and the coastal oceans from the effects of nitrate runoff. But last year the sediments abruptly stopped performing this service. Worse than that, they went into reverse. In a single summer, the bay switched from being a net sink to a net source of nitrates1.

Robinson “Wally” Fulweiler, an oceanographer at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, and her colleagues at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, were among the first to notice the turning environmental tide. If Narragansett is typical of other bays, they argue, it could be the harbinger of a new threat. Shifting the effect of anthropogenic nitrogen loading beyond the immediate coastal zone could destabilize ocean ecosystems by acidifying the waters, exacerbating harmful algal blooms, killing fish and shellfish, or perhaps even powering a vicious new cycle of global warming. The studies are currently hard to interpret and some say the system is poised to rebalance itself. But if they are wrong, global warming may do more to the oceans than make them rise.

Milan October 21, 2007 at 4:48 pm

21 “mega-cities” in danger from rising seas

By Cory Doctorow

The nonprofit Worldwatch Institute has released a list of 21 “mega-cities” of 8 million people or more that are in direct danger as a result of global warming and rising seas:

They include Dhaka, Bangladesh; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Shanghai and Tianjin in China; Alexandria and Cairo in Egypt; Mumbai and Kolkata in India; Jakarta, Indonesia; Tokyo and Osaka-Kobe in Japan; Lagos, Nigeria; Karachi, Pakistan; Bangkok, Thailand, and New York and Los Angeles in the United States, according to studies by the United Nations and others.

More than one-tenth of the world’s population, or 643 million people, live in low-lying areas at risk from climate change, say U.S. and European experts. Most imperiled, in descending order, are China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, Egypt, the U.S., Thailand and the Philippines.

. November 13, 2007 at 2:21 pm
. November 15, 2007 at 11:42 am
Milan January 3, 2008 at 4:39 pm

See also:

U.S. miscalculates threat of global warming
Sea-level rise at our doorstep; puts nation at risk

. April 8, 2008 at 12:14 pm
. April 15, 2008 at 2:01 pm

Forecast for big sea level rise
By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website, Vienna

Sea levels could rise by up to one-and-a-half metres by the end of this century, according to a new scientific analysis.

. February 14, 2009 at 6:22 pm

Sea Level Rise Maps and GIS Data

Digital animation of what various sea-level rise scenarios might look like for up to six metres is at

. April 17, 2012 at 11:42 pm

The effects of the climate crisis could cripple transportation in New York:
“By mid-century, global warming-related sea level rise is expected to render these levees ineffective against even relatively weak storms, according to a 2011climate assessment and supported by Climate Central’s report on coastal flooding. And the predicament facing La Guardia is far from unique. All three of the city’s major airports are situated along the ocean and face similar sea level rise-related risks.”
“But it’s not just the city’s airports at risk. As 106 million passengers per year funnel through the terminals, collecting their luggage, they’ll head into New York via taxis, trains, cars and buses – another network of transportation that is at considerable risk of flooding from the combination of sea level rise and storm surges.”

. April 17, 2012 at 11:42 pm
. July 25, 2017 at 2:50 pm

Climate change could have a dramatic impact on aviation across the world, according to a recently released paper by a team from Columbia University and Logistics Management Institute, a consulting firm. The researchers predict that as early as the middle of the century, some 30% of flights departing during the most blistering parts of the day will not be able to take off at their maximum weight because the hotter, less dense air will not provide enough lift.

Of the 19 airports examined, Dubai and LaGuardia in New York are expected to see some of the worst effects. During the harshest hours, some of their aeroplanes could be grounded at their full weight around half the time, according to the paper. On average, airlines may have to cut as much as 4% of passengers or cargo to get their flights into the air at the hottest parts of the day. If carriers are forced to fly emptier planes, expect customers to pick up the tab through higher prices.

The data paint a rather bleak picture, but airlines are not helpless. By taking measures such as improving engine performance, lengthening runways so aircraft can gain additional speed to get into the air and scheduling flights for cooler parts of the day, they will be able to mitigate some of the effects, says Radley Horton, one of the report’s authors. Even so, the paper is only the latest to suggest that climate change will start to become a bigger problem for airlines. Other studies have pointed to a myriad of other issues, including more air turbulence, increased flight times because of changes to certain jet streams, and airport flooding caused by rising sea levels.

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