Saturday, January 05, 2008

Carbon footprints in the sand

As far as I know, the Bahamas had only one representative at the recent climate change conference in Bali, the Minister of Works and Transportation. The nation's interests were also represented by CARICOM, a multinational Caribbean alliance. No one from this warm neck of the world was particularly pleased with the results. They wanted more and quicker action.

The Bahamas is one of those nations that barely rises out of the sea. Of the 23 largest islands, only one -- Cat Island -- reaches 200 feet in elevation. Three islands have a ridge over 150 feet in height. Thirteen have 100 foot elevations. And five islands rise above fifty feet. The narrow ridges consist of barely consolidated sand dunes from Ice Age times when the sea was lower and winds blew across the Bahamas Bank. Most of the nation lies only a few feet above the waves.

Even a modest rise in sea level would leave the islands even more perilously exposed to hurricanes. And it is generally feared that global warming will result in more frequent and powerful storms.

The irony is that some of the most vulnerable nations contribute least to carbon dioxide emissions and can least afford to respond to changes to sea level and weather patterns.

The islands of the Bahamas generally tend northwest/southeast, and consist entirely of weakly consolidated sand. Typically, as in Exuma, there is a backbone ridge dating from the Ice Ages, and a lower modern ridge along the shore. When Hurricane Noel hit this fall it dumped a huge amount of rain which filled the natural wetlands between the ridges -- which also happens to be where the island's one major road lies. Large parts of the island were isolated by car-deep flooding.

Will the worst-case global warming prognostications come to pass? I will leave it to my climatologist daughter to make the predictions. And to my great-grandchildren to cope with the sea lapping at our terrace.