Sunday, May 09, 2010

Rising Sea Levels Threaten Taiwan

Lots of portentous stuff out there. The Arctic, warming faster than the rest of the planet as humans use the atmosphere as a waste dump, experienced rain in April, something never seen before. This April's snow cover in North America was the smallest ever recorded (won't see that in our scientifically hopeless media, but if a flake falls on Washington DC...). And rising sea levels -- much faster than IPCC predictions -- are threatening Taiwan, as AFP observes in an excellent piece of reporting:
When worshippers built a temple for the goddess Matsu in south Taiwan 300 years ago, they chose a spot they thought would be at a safe remove from the ocean. They did not count on global warming.

Now, as the island faces rising sea levels, the Tungshih township is forced to set up a new temple nearby, elevated by three metres (10 feet) compared with the original site.

"Right now, the temple is flooded pretty much every year," said Tsai Chu-wu, the temple's chief secretary, explaining why the 63-million-dollar project is necessary.

"Once the new temple is completed, we should be able to avoid floods and the threat of the rising sea, at least for many, many years," he said.

The temple of Matsu, ironically often described as the Goddess of the Sea, is only one example of how global warming is slowly, almost imperceptibly piling pressure on Taiwan.

Mountains cover two thirds of Taiwan, but the heart of the island's economy is concentrated in the remaining third, which stretches down the west coast and consists mostly of flat land near sea level.

This part of Taiwan is home to a string of populous cities, several industry zones, three nuclear power plants -- and a petrochemical complex, built in the 1990s by Formosa Plastics Group for over 20 billion US dollars.

And unlike the temple, none of these crucial economic establishments can possibly be lifted, leaving them exposed to the elements.

"If the sea levels keep rising, part of Taiwan's low-lying western part could be submerged," said Wang Chung-ho, an earth scientist at Taiwan's top academic body Academia Sinica.

An influential Taiwan documentary released earlier this year argued the risk to the petrochemical complex was very real. However, a Formosa Plastics official told AFP stringent construction measures meant there was no danger.

Still, environmentalists consider the risk too high to ignore, and they point out that it is compounded by the overpumping of groundwater both for traditional agriculture and for fish farming.

This has caused the groundwater level to fall and land to subside below sea level in some coastal areas, experts warn.

The greatest extent of seawater encroachment has been estimated to be as far as 8.5 kilometres inland with an affected area of about 104 square kilometres (40 square miles) in southern Taiwan's Pingtung county, according to a study co-written by Wang.

Once low-lying areas are routinely invaded by sea water, it is very hard to turn back the tide, analysts warned.

"They may not be restored and become wastelands within 100 years," warned Hsu Tai-wen, the head of the Hydraulic and Ocean Engineering Department of the National Cheng Kung University in Tainan city in the south of Taiwan.


The authorities have started drafting the island's first climate change whitepaper, which aims to come up with comprehensive measures to prevent natural disasters caused by rising temperatures.

Apart from rising sea levels, scientists at Academia Sinica warned late last year that global warming would cause the amount of heavy rain dumped on Taiwan to triple over the next 20 years.

Businessweek reports that Taiwan is increasing its coal purchases on rising demand for power. The massive coal plant for the industrial complex in Mailiao is one of the largest single sources of atmospheric poisons in the world. When Taiwan drowns, it will be a case of suicide.
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StefanMuc said...

It's a shame really - Taiwan seems to have all the opportunities to develop wind, geothermal and solar. All the money spend on oil and coal leaves the country so that's not ideal for the national economy either.

Anonymous said...

I checked with the "rising sea levels" website, and I don't see the problem. A meter or two rise wouldn't do much more than give Taipei a navigable river.