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Complacency! - An Illogical Response to Sea-Level Rise 

It is truly remarkable how many residents of Thames in particular have a adopted a sanguine, if not complacent outlook in the face of the facts that have been presented on sea-level rise over recent years. The overpowering response to repeated warnings that have appeared, primarily on Denis Tegg's blog, and here has been one of indifference, or "not in my lifetime." On the other hand, to accept climate change, but deny imminent, and significant sea-level rise is the height of wishful thinking, I would suggest. 

Such a response should, and must be 'put to bed' with the pubication of the findings of Professor Naish (abbreviated), and as highlighted in Denis's latest post:

"Prof Tim Naish is one of New Zealand’s foremost climate scientists.  He and Richard Levy of GNS Science co-lead a $7 million research program called NZSeaRise.  They visited Thames recently to assess sea level rise projections for the township.  Prof Naish confirmed that when land subsidence on the foreshore is added, parts of Thames have a very high local sea level rise rate of 14mm per year.  The NZSeaRise research will, therefore, focus on Thames (and the Hauraki Plains) because of the acute risks these areas face from rising seas.

Prof Naish sent this tweet after his visit to Thames confirming that the relative or local sea level rise rate for parts of the Thames foreshore is around 14 mm a year.  This is made up of approximately 8- 10 mm of land subsidence a year.  These are some of the highest rates of subsidence in New Zealand as measured by survey, GPS and InSar (satellite). The other component is sea level rise of around 4mm per year.

Do the maths – 1 decade at 14mm = 0.14 m, 2 decades = 0.28 m, 3 decades = 0.42m.  This is without projected future sea level rise.

In this interview in the Otago Daily Times Prof Naish confirmed that around 20 – 30 cm of future sea level rise is built into the system by about 2060, regardless of efforts made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

He also points out there are large uncertainties as to how fast the polar ice sheets will melt.  Some ice sheet models suggest that the potential contribution of polar ice sheets may have been underestimated by as much as 80 cm in the current IPCC report. 

Even with a modest sea level rise added to the very high rate of subsidence on the Thames/Plains foreshore, we are looking down the barrel of half a metre of local sea level rise within just a few decades.

Both Thames and the Hauraki Plains are very similar to Dunedin, (which is another focus of the NZSeaRise study) because sea level rise will likely accelerate groundwater inundation and flooding from overtopping of walls.  There is, therefore, the real threat that surface flooding in Thames township due to seawater intrusion into groundwater beneath sea walls and overtopping of sea walls will occur in short order and ever more frequently on high/spring tides.  Thames already has “sunny day flooding” in some streets, and scores of houses and businesses were flooded from the sea on Jan 5 2018.

As Tim Naish says in his tweet — what are the adaptation options for Thames?  With an annual 14mm of relative sea level rise already happening in some parts of the Thames foreshore and much more global sea level rise to come, there are some tough decisions to make. 

This an emergency.  We need to treat it as such.   For a start, the Mayor and District Council must stop pretending that they lead the way on climate change when they are dragging the chain.  They must end the farce of refusing to say whether humans cause climate change as a smokescreen for outright climate science denial. They need to be honest with the people of Thames about the multiple hazard threats the town faces.  And they must urgently commit more resources in tandem with NZSeaRise and the Regional Council into research and adaptation options."

Our Mayor and council simply cannot be allowed to get away with their 'denial' smokescreen, and utterly ridiculous cliams of "Leading the way on climate change!" Using cycle tracks, and charging stations as the evidence of their assiduous attention to the matter.  Who on earth do they think they are kidding?

For the Mayor to also claim that the employment of an engineer/scientist to devise coastal defences in response to inundation threats as an asequate response is bordering on irresponsible when we recall the manner in which her Council needed to be cajoled into providing $2.5m for strengthening coastal defences during the deliberations of the Long Trerm Plan.In any case, he appears to have fallen into the Mayoral dictate to ignore the West Coast tidal inundation in favour of dealing with the East Coast need for erosion prevention.

It points to just how blind our antediluvian bench of councillors are in recognising the scale of the problem facing this town and district as a whole - thankfully, excluding our Thames members. 

But we can't stand back and simply blame people who appear totally 'out of their depth' on this subject. First and foremost, it is up to responsible rate-payers to recognise the scale and urgency of response demanded, and ensure that people more attuned to the scale of the potential disaster are elected in their place in the October elections.

If such people cannot be persuaded to stand and mount a strong campaign, we are fated to suffer another three years of denial, and inaction. Repeated, and incrementally greater incidents of the nature of that experienced on 5 January 2018 may be needed to really provide the 'wake-up' call.

Who is prepared to take up the challenge?



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