Venice without the beach

jc-mg-200-names.jpgJon Christensen writes: New reports of ice sheets melting more rapidly than expected in Antarctica have renewed interest in what is likely to happen here as things melt down there.

Take a look at Venice Beach--without the beach that is. This photorealistic image was created by artist Nickolay Lamm for Climate Central, an independent organization of scientists and journalists who publish and report on climate change. The image shows the Venice Beach Boardwalk under 12 feet of sea level rise, which Climate Central says is "right in the middle of the range now predicted due to the collapse of key Antarctic glaciers under way."

Venice photo 1.jpg

Scientists studying the West Antarctic Ice Sheet recently predicted that the melting is unstoppable because of the continent's topography, Climate Central reported. Nothing stands between the glaciers and the sea except for a steady downward slope, increasingly lubricated by meltwater.

There is an important detail, however, missing from many reports on the findings. Although the glaciers are slowly melting, the major meltdown, which will dump ice into the sea and raise the level of oceans globally, is not expected until somewhere between 200 and 1,000 years from now.

Here's a map that was drawn nearly 150 years ago showing the Ballona Wetlands--currently home to Venice and Marina del Rey--and the beaches south to what is now Dockweiler State Beach:

Venice map 1.jpg

And here's a Climate Central map of the same area with a 10-foot rise in sea level:

Venice map 2.jpg

It is said that history doesn't repeat, but it does rhyme sometimes. And there is something ironic about the way that the new water level seems to take back much of the area taken from the Ballona Wetlands in the last century.

Now here's an image of what this area looked like about 100 years ago down toward Playa del Rey:

Venice photo 2.jpg

There is an eerie direct line between the oil derricks of the last century and sea level rise in the coming centuries, of course. And, needless to say, Venice Beach has been witness to all kinds of weirdness in the intervening years--some of which left traces, some of which vanished without a trace.

The photorealistic image of what Venice Beach Boardwalk might look like in 200 to 1,000 years has a nice shock value--and Climate Central's web site shows other cities similarly underwater. But the image misses something really important. The present does not look like the past. And the future is not going to look like the present.

If all we do is imagine Venice Beach--or anywhere else for that matter--as just the same but under 12 feet of water, or just the same but hotter, then what we've got here is a failure of imagination.

The shock is important. If we don't change our world, parts of it will be underwater in the future. And a lot worse things will happen to other places than Venice Beach. But the world will change. How is the question.

Note: I'm collaborating with Climate Central, Stamen Design, and New America Media on a new version of Climate Central's Surging Seas map, which visualizes the impact of rising sea levels along America's coastline.

Image credits: Photo illustration of Venice Beach Boardwalk by Nickolay Lamm with data from Climate Central. U.S. Coast Survey from West Beach to Vicinity of Santa Monica, 1876. Surging Seas sea level rise analysis and map by Climate Central. Oil derricks along Playa del Rey, USC Libraries - California Historical Society Collection.

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