Climate & Energy Commentary Ohio University Ohio University

Debatin Talks: Rising Sea Levels

By Bethany N. Bella

In a relatively recent National Geographic issue titled “Rising Seas,” the magazine speculates on the current rate of melted polar ice and the future of coastal-lying regions within the next few decades, should this rate continue to accelerate as in previous years.

Dr. Bernhard Debatin, professor at Ohio University, mentioned a point of view that’s not the typical gloom-and-doom of intense flooding and cities underwater scenario. Instead, he highlighted that the reduction in polar sea ice would open up ship routes that were previously “non-shippable.”

“The business community was actually quite happy about it,” Debatin said. “It shortens the paths between China and some parts of Canada, Russia, and the U.S. A lot of that traffic can [now] take North Pole routes, which shortens things dramatically.”

But for the roughly 70 percent of the global population that lives within coastal-dwelling regions, the increase in polar ice melting could mean drastic changes in infrastructure, climate, and most importantly the trade system of goods and services by ship.

“Today, as in past centuries, transportation of goods by ship is still number one,” Debatin continued, “and we overlook that very often. It’s sort of the invisible part of our economy.”

Not by air, not by land, but by sea is the most common method of transportation for our foreign products –– clothes, technological devices, and exotic produce –– to arrive in our storefronts.

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Professor Debatin teaching at Ohio University.

“Ships are incredibly important, but they are sort of not in our focus because they are an older technology, and we like to focus on the new and sexy technology (like airplanes). It also means that we are still very dependent on coastal regions, and people do live in coastal regions, preferentially.”

One caveat to these sun-sweltered, beachfront communities: “Many of those coastal regions are at the seal level, or even below.”

So when ocean tides come crashing in after a significant rise in volume from melted polar ice caps, coastal villages central to the shipping industry will find themselves in dire distress.

“If all the ice from Greenland were to melt,” Debatin said, “the oceans worldwide would go up about seven meters –– that’s a lot. That’s like two stories of a house.”

To put that in even more perspective, New York is essentially underwater. Unfortunately, those with the lowest economic income are the most likely to be affected by these rising sea level changes.

“People get sort of pushed back, and it often hits the poor ones because they are the ones that have the fewest resources, and often in those places that are risky,” Debatin explained.

Already on the fringes in terms of national economic and political influence, poorer communities are typically found in these low-lying coastal regions that are subject to volatile climate affects within the next thirty years.


Bethany Bella is a Scripps freshman majoring in Journalism News/Information, with hopes to obtain an Environmental Studies Specialization. Hailing from Columbus, OH, Bethany loves writing, posting travel and Divergent-inspired pins on Pinterest, and is just beginning to dabble in photography…

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