Aquarium Hosts Live Webcast on Rising Sea Levels in Conjunction with New Photography Exhibit


Photo by Asia Morris of guest curator Frances Anderton speaking during the Aquarium of the Pacific's live webcast on Monday.

“The planet is warming. Really, there’s no turning back,” said Dr. Dan Cayan, research meteorologist with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, during the Aquarium of the Pacific’s live webcast marking the opening day of the local marine institution's new photography exhibition called Sink or Swim: Designing for a Sea Change.

“We’re loading the atmosphere with greenhouse gases and we’re embarking toward a new climate future,” Cayan said. “Sea level has been rising, historically in the last couple of decades it has risen at a greater rate and we think very confidently that it will accelerate in the next several decades.”

On Monday the aquarium opened the exhibit organized by the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, which includes images from renowned photographers around the world that examine the wide variety of ways different people from different cultures are responding to the rising sea level.

seachangeFrances Anderton, guest curator of the exhibition, architecture writer and host of KCRW’s DnA: Design and Architecture program, suggested that an inquisitive look into housing and infrastructure responses to areas affected by coastal flooding and powerful storms tied to global climate change is an effective way to combat the issue and involve the public.

“[...] climate change on the one hand is the most pressing issue of all time and on the other hand it’s one that the media grapples with because they know it’s a bit of a downer as a topic," she said. "So how do you tell that story where you’re making people feel engaged?”

Anderton said the most "edifying kind of reactions" generated by Sink or Swim were that people left inspired. "[...] and to be inspired in the face of an issue that many people feel is too big to get their arms around, I was really, really filled by that reaction," she said. 

Anderton said she hopes the show will be a catalyst for viewers and scientific experts alike to begin thinking about local solutions to this global issue. Cayan said although there is plenty of uncertainty, it is rather a matter of “when” than “if” our seas are rising.

“The city is committed to this, we’re doing a Climate Action Plan and I think that’s something the local citizens should pay attention to and get involved with,” Long Beach City Manager Pat West said.

According to West, Mayor Robert Garcia has asked Dr. Jerry Schubel, Aquarium of the Pacific president and National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) science advisor, as well as the Aquarium of the Pacific, to identify aspects of climate change to which the city is most vulnerable. The findings will be translated into actionable strategies by this summer and incorporated into a Climate Action Plan, which is set to be completed by the end of 2015.

During the webcast, Schubel asserted that in this day and age, even the smallest ideas will count toward the global population—as well as Long Beach—being able to adapt to the effects of rising seas.

“We live in an age when many ideas are considered to be dangerous and the strategy is kill them as quickly as possible,” he said. “If ever there were a time when we need to leave all options on the table, keep ideas alive, keep banging them around and seeing what merits they have... that's the only way we're going to solve these problems."

seachange2The Netherlands was mentioned several times during the webcast as a leading example of a society that has taken impressive measures to become more resilient to sea changes, using complex systems and innovative designs for sea walls, dikes and homes. 

Schubel said while there are no "silver bullet" solutions to the drought or the issue of climate change, if society formulates ideas properly, it can manage these looming complications.

Aquarium visitors can learn about the latest sea level rise predictions and its impact on Long Beach and the world by attending a three-part mini lecture series. The lectures will be presented in conjunction with the photography exhibit. The first discussion will take place on June 24 with climate scientist Cayan to discuss rising sea levels and its impacts between now and the year 2100.

The second lecture will take place on June 25 with John Gillis, professor emeritus of history at Rutgers University, who will discuss how as human populations have increased along coastlines, shores have become more vulnerable. The third and last will take place on July 1 with Reinhard Flick, a scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, will discuss King tides, the highest tides of the year and how they relate to sea level rise. Flick will paying focus especially on their impact on Southern California.

For more information on the exhibit and how to attend the lectures, click here.

Image on the left by Iwan baan of Watervilla de Omval, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. 

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