Climate Change Refugees

By Willis Eschenbach – Re-Blogged From WUWT

I keep reading over and over about the world’s “First Climate Change Refugees”. As near as I can keep count, we are already up to the Ninth First Climate Change Refugees, and we’ve seen … well … none. Links to my previous posts, each discussing one of the earlier winners of the Annual First Climate Change Refugees Prize are in the endnotes.

So I had to laugh when I saw the following story from the reliably climate alarmist BBC.

Let’s be clear about the violence that they are doing to both logic and the English language. They are declaring people as being “refugees” from a possible disaster foretold for the year 2054! That’s hilarious!

Are these the first climate refugees?, asks the headline … well, no.

I figure we need a new name for people like this, a special class of people who are current refugees from a predicted future disaster. I propose that they be called “prefugees”, to indicate their temporal displacement to a world where the effect precedes the cause … but I digress …

When I saw that, I vaguely remembered seeing something about that village, and a bit of research found the following from the GWPF:

So not only is this the Tenth First Climate Prefugee crisis, but thanks to it being recycled from four years ago by the BBC it’s also the Eleventh Tenth First Climate Prefugee crisis … but what is really happening there?

Let’s start with a bit of history.

Fairbourne was part of the historic county of Merioneth. The area was originally salt marshes and slightly higher grazing lands. Before development began in the mid 19th Century there were three farms on the land. The coastal area was originally known as Morfa Henddol, while the promontory outcrop now occupied by the Fairbourne Hotel was called Ynysfaig.

About 1865 Solomon Andrews, a Welsh entrepreneur, purchased the promontory. Over the next several years he built a seawall for tidal protection and several houses. To facilitate this he built a 2 ft (610 mm) gauge horse-drawn tramway from the main railway to the site in order to bring in building materials.

In 1916, the tramway was converted to a 15 in (381 mm) gauge steam railway. Sir Arthur McDougall (of flour making fame) had been looking for a country estate, but when he discovered this area, he soon conceived of it as a seaside resort. In July 1895 Arthur McDougall purchased a substantial acreage from land speculators, which he enlarged by additional lots the following year. He hired a builder in 1896 who began the development of a model seaside resort.

So it’s a relatively new village, a “model seaside resort”, built on a salt marsh … an inauspicious start. There’s a good description of how it developed with historical photos here. And with the history, let’s take a look at the physical layout of the area.

Figure 1. An overview of the Fairbourne area.

As you can see, it’s built on a slightly raised area in the outflow delta of a river. This is not a surprise. Building on an outflow delta is a common feature of several previous First Climate Change Refugees Prize winners. It’s kind of a double-plus ungood idea because, well, if the area hadn’t flooded in the past it wouldn’t be a river outflow delta, would it …

Plus the delta land is just a loose pile of easily-eroded river-borne silt, mud, and sand. Sketch. Very sketch.

The braided serpentine nature of the river in Figure 1 above as it traverses the delta shows how flat the land is and how easily the river cuts new channels.

Next, here’s a closeup of the village and the “promontory” mentioned above:

Figure 2. Fairbourne village.

The serpentine nature of the drainage channels in and around the village again shows how flat the land is there. Google Earth puts the whole area between seven and ten feet (2-3 m) above sea level.

So why are they said to be time-traveling climate refugees? It revolves around a UK Government fantasy forecast called the Shoreline Management Plan Two (SMP2). That document, written in 2011, claims that sea levels around the UK will rise by a metre (3.3 feet) over the next 100 years (of which 91 years remain), and may rise by two metres.

The SMP2 also says that by 2054 the sea level might rise by a foot and a half (450 mm) and the village will have to be abandoned. As you might imagine, this alarmist prediction has not been good for the local property values …

Now, bear in mind that for the last century and a half, the sea level has been going up at about 8″ (200 mm) to 12″ (300 mm) per century. So their claim is that despite the fact that we have no evidence of any significant acceleration in the rate of sea-level rise, it will accelerate like crazy over the next 91 years.

How much will sea level rise have to speed up to achieve those very large increases? Far more than you’d think. To get to one metre by 2111, at the end of that time it will be rising in 2110-2111 by 27.2 mm per year, nearly ten times the current rate. And to get to two metres by 2111, it will be rising in 2110-2111 by 72.4 mm per year, twenty-five times the current rate. Here’s what those projections look like:

Figure 3. Projected sea level rises in Fairbourne. Blue shows a linear projection of the current rate of rise. Yellow shows a rise of 1 metre by 2011, and red shows a rise of 2 metres by 2011. The dashed orange horizontal line is the 450 mm increase since 2011 that’s said to be where the village has to be abandoned.

Consider those huge annual rises by 2110-2111, 27 mm/yr and 72 mm/yr. By comparison, the fastest rate of sea-level rise in the last 100,000 years was during the time when we came out of the most recent Ice Age. During the period of the fastest melting of the land glaciers, called “Meltwater Pulse 1a”, the rate of sea-level rise is estimated at 47 ± 15 mm per year.

“Meltwater Pulse 1a” was from the rapid melting of the giant continent-wide glaciers of the time. But there are no such glaciers left, so I’m just not seeing the huge annual rates necessary to get to one or two metres of rise.

Is the sea level rise accelerating at all around Fairbourne? Unfortunately, we don’t have many nearby tide gauges that have even forty years of records. Below are the four nearest longer-duration tide gauge records.

I’ve used the method of analysis I described in my post entitled “Accelerating The Acceleration“. That is to use a CEEMD analysis to remove the tidal cycles, leaving just the underlying changes in the trend of the sea level. The next four figures show the nearby sea-level changes.

Figures 4 – 7. Analysis of the changes in the sea level at the four nearest long-term tide stations around Fairbourne, Wales

As you can see, all four of these analyses show the same pattern, the same “s” shaped yellow line showing the underlying sea-level variations. In each case, the sea level is “porpoising” above and below the red trend line. They all cross the red trend line about 1977-79. From the early part of the record to about 1985-1990 they are running more toward level or even downwards. Then they all rise for about 20 years until peaking about 2005-2010. Since then they are all decelerating and dropping again.

The tides are known to have cycles of up to fifty years and more. These cycles in Figures 4-7 are more on the order of forty years. The common nature between the four records shows that at all stations we’re looking at a slow constant sea-level rise overlaid with a slow ~ forty-year tidal oscillation.

More to the point, there is no apparent acceleration in those records, and certainly no sign of the large amount of acceleration that would be necessary to result in a one- or two-metre rise in a hundred years.

So … given all of the above, what would I recommend for the good citizens of Fairbourne?

First, the claims of the SMP2 of a one-metre or a two-metre sea level rise by 2111 are … well … let me call them very unlikely and leave it at that. As that great scientist Freeman Dyson said:

As a scientist I do not have much faith in predictions. Science is organized unpredictability. The best scientists like to arrange things in an experiment to be as unpredictable as possible, and then they do the experiment to see what will happen. You might say that if something is predictable then it is not science. When I make predictions, I am not speaking as a scientist. I am speaking as a story-teller, and my predictions are science-fiction rather than science. The predictions of science-fiction writers are notoriously inaccurate. Their purpose is to imagine what might happen rather than to describe what will happen.

Second, in that regard, until the rate of sea-level rise actually begins to accelerate, I wouldn’t be concerned. I’d just continue to watch it. If there’s no acceleration you won’t get a 1.5 foot (450 mm) rise until the year 2200 … , and currently there’s no sign of said acceleration.

Third, if Google is correct that most of the town is between seven and ten feet above sea level, I’m not seeing that a foot-and-a-half (450 mm) sea-level rise is necessarily catastrophic as the SMP2 claims.

Fourth, I’d look hard at the river side of town. The faster that you can empty out the water from that side the better you are. I’d consider channelizing in some manner the area where the river meets the ocean. In particular, keeping the river out of the big bend right above the village is important. Erosion happens at the outside of river bends, you don’t want that. It looks like you might be able to divert it to the north side of the delta with some encouragement upriver at the fork. See below for a discussion of methods.

Fifth, I’d put in my own tide measuring station. You need ongoing accurate local information. Probably best to see if the Government can assist with this one. To determine the true local sea-level rise, including the generally small but steady subsidence of river delta lands, you need to have a nearby tidal station.

Sixth, when and if the sea level comes to be a problem, we humanoids know how to deal with sea-level rise. The Dutch have been playing this game for some centuries now.

In addition, there are companies like Holmberg Technologies that specialize in working with the ocean rather than against the ocean to extend beaches and to erosion-proof shorelines. Here’s one of Holmberg’s jobs.

Holmberg uses a very simple and inexpensive system. They lay tubes of reinforced geotextile fabric at right angles to the shore, from above high tide out into the deep. Then they pump concrete into the tubes. That’s it. Here’s the inventor, Dick Holmberg, with a single tube (red arrow).

They lay two tubes side by side and pump in the concrete. These set up as two ovals side by side. After they set hard, a third tube is laid on top between the two and pumped full. Repeat at intervals along the beach you want to protect.

What Holmberg realized was that when the water slows down, suspended solids drop out. So he didn’t have to fight the ocean. He didn’t have to stop the ocean.

He just needed to stub the ocean’s toe a little, to slow the ocean down near the bottom. When it slows down, the sand and suspended solids drop out, and slowly, over time the beach extends further out from shore and the tubes will end up being nearly buried.

And it’s an almost irreducibly cheap way to slow the bottom circulation. No forms or excavations are necessary. Nothing but geotextile tubes and concrete. How could it be cheaper? I think they’ve achieved the ultimate basement low-cost for the purpose. They call it the “Undercurrent Stabilizer”. True. It does stabilize the undercurrent.

Here’s a project Holmberg did in Saudi Arabia. A seawall was failing. They ripped out the seawall. They put the geotextile tubes from the shore outwards and pumped them full of concrete as Undercurrent Stabilizers. They walked away. Here’s the result.

Finally, it’s extensible. Over time the area between the groups of three geotextile tubes extending into the ocean at intervals along the beach fill in and will bury the tubes. Of course, the beach won’t extend further out at that point, because there’s nothing to slow the ocean down.

So you lay a fourth tube on top of the existing triangle of concrete tubes and pump it full … this adds a new stumbling block to slow the ocean a bit. As a result, the beach starts extending further out, and the beat goes on.

Now, contrast that to the usual solution, a sea wall. As the name suggests, rather than making the ocean stub its toe and slow a bit, a seawall looks to stop the ocean … in my experience as a long time seaman, I wouldn’t advise that …

And thus concludeth the tale of the time-traveling Eleventh Tenth First Climate Prefugees—not with a bang but with a whimper … and as usual, with nary a climate refugee in sight.

My final conclusion?

Well me, I’m a ridge runner, not a man to buy land in a river delta. However, if I already owned land in Fairbourne, I’d hold on to it. Seaside land is always valuable … and I’d watch the sea level, and if it started to ramp up I’d contact Holmborg. Heck, might do that in any case, get an opinion and a price.

My best regards, best wishes, and best of luck to all those fortunate or unfortunate enough to own land in Fairbourne. It looks like a beautiful location with a stunning ocean.


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