September 21, 2013
Suppose Sea Levels Rise Substantially

Cities could be threatened by rising sea levels if lots of ice melts.

At the risk of stating the obvious: Make like the Netherlands. Did you know that 26% of the Netherlands lies below sea level? The Dutch know how to hold back water.

Another idea: a wealthy city could build a very thick dike out of long-lasting materials out into a bay. Then it could dump all its compostable trash into the walled off area. As the trash turned into soil the city would build up a new section that could even be higher than the existing city. Some of its soil could be removed and spread in city park areas to raise their altitude. The soil could also be used as surface material before putting to down new road surfaces as a way to raise up the surface of the city.

Does it make sense for really expensive cities (think Manhattan or Tokyo or Hong Kong) to expand their surface areas into adjacent bays?

If you are an upper class person living in an upper class city with very high real estate prices you shouldn't have to worry. The cost of raising up the ground a few feet or meters ought to be affordable. Whether some area is worth saving depends on the price of real estate and the cost of protecting the real estate.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 September 21 05:54 PM 

Ronald Brak said at September 21, 2013 7:31 PM:

Being directly swamped by sea water is a real risk, but coastal cities generally have rivers running through them that can become corridors of flooding and every millimeter increase in sea level increases the risk of a river bursting its banks. Engineering works to stop river flooding can be extremely expensive. Japan has massive amounts of flood control engineering along its rivers, but even that gets overwhelmed at times. The cost of engineering away floods in the Australian city of Brisbane is apprently impossibly expensive so people are faced with either abandonning the most flood prone areas or spending huge amounts of money on making homes flood resistant. This is the traditional method of making a house resistant to floods:

But it doesn't always work and homes can be lifted off their stumps or pushed over. This one ended up in the street:

And others ended up in the river.

Building up the ground level beneath a house can protect it but can make a flood worse by blocking the flow of water, so it's not an ideal solution.

James Bowery said at September 21, 2013 8:13 PM:

The maritime construction skills will go toward another project.

I previously asserted the low baseload AVE elex cost would drive civilization to the equatorial oceans before its driven off-world by the advantages of free space.

At $3/W capitalization -- and that's for the initial units -- no variable and insignificant fixed operating costs, you're looking at initial elex cost of 3 cents/kWh. No pollution. Environmental impact: continuous, hence reliable, fresh water rain from the resulting pillar cloud.

At this point it already beats initial projections for LFTR -- the next best option. Both AVE and LFTR offer total energy resource orders of magnitude larger than total world energy consumption at present.

With industrial learning curve, the AVE capex is likely to fall well below $1/W.

While LFTR has inherent load following characteristics, which reduces its total system cost, it can't come close to competing at the baseload level. That advantage of the AVE can be invested in peaking systems based on water displacement and still come out way ahead of LFTR.

Equatorial oceanic location, in addition to providing the copious power -- gives everyone ocean-front property. Aquaculture off-loads both terrestrial ecosystems and oceanic fisheries.

Once the AVE's principle is demonstrated -- and that is in the works -- it becomes a no-brainer to rewild the biosphere.

Ronald Brak said at September 21, 2013 10:20 PM:

James, 3 cents a kilowatt-hour electricity isn't enough to convince people to move. If it was the city I am in wouldn't exist as for most of its existence neighboring states had much lower electricty costs of about 4 cents a kilowatt-hour compared to South Australia's roughly 7.5 cents. However, people have still found it worthwhile to live here. (The difference in electricity prices was due to the lack of easily exploitable coal in South Australia, but thanks to wind and solar capacity South Australia's wholesale electricity prices are now similar to other states.)

James Bowery said at September 21, 2013 11:58 PM:

My point is that at 3 cents/kWh, the relocation will start -- not wholesale relocation but enough to get the industrial learning curve going. Once you're at 5 mil/kWh so you can have ocean-front property and no pollution, its pretty much a done deal.

Sam said at September 22, 2013 6:56 AM:

...and propelling hot air into the upper parts of the atmosphere in the tropics will do "?" to the rest of the Earths atmosphere?

Anthony said at September 22, 2013 8:28 AM:

Yes, the Rich cities Can build land out into the sea. And poor Coastal areas will continue to lose lands to the sea. The rich get richer and the Poor can drowned!

James Bowery said at September 22, 2013 12:17 PM:

Getting the heat above the bulk of the troposphere will cause it to radiate into the space.

Black Death said at September 22, 2013 2:39 PM:

Al Gore bought a seaside villa. I wouldn't worry too much yet.

Ronald Brak said at September 22, 2013 7:00 PM:

Black, personally I pay more attention to things like my home town being flooded than anything Gore Vidal does. The flood was attention getting because nothing like it has happened in the 150 years the town has existed. Here's a youtube of our minicars getting swept away:

Of course this is minor compared to the massive floods that have occurred in Brisbane and other places in Australia in recent years. We've had a lot of record breaking torrential rain which is obviously not a good thing to combine with a higher sea level.

Randall Parker said at September 22, 2013 8:57 PM:


If my cost of electricity doubled I wouldn't move. If I could pay a quarter of what I now pay for electricity I would not move. We already have about a factor of 3 or so range of electric power cost within the United States. You do not see people moving from Hawaii to escape their high electric power cost. Ditto even more expensive Alaska.

What would move for cheap electricity: the aluminum industry. Ditto plastics. Spme data centers would move as long as serving latency didn't get too high.

James Bowery said at September 22, 2013 11:46 PM:

Randall, we're talking about a much large decrease than you're used to here. When I talk about an industrial learning curve reaching 50 cents/W installed with negligible operating costs as the basis for the cost of high grade energy (electricity qualifies as the highest) drops, its a qualitative shift in economics. That's plausible by the following arithmetic:

Unit size: 200MW
First unit: $3/W
World population: 10e9 (at learning curve end)

US percapita energy usage: 334e6btu/year/person
Learning curve rate: 10% per doubling of units produced (conservative)
Ultimate power demand: 334e6btu/year/person;10e9person?W
([{3.34E8 * Btu} / year] / person) * (1E10 * person) ? watt
= 1.1174215E14 W

Units needed: 1.1174215E14 W/(200MW/unit)?unit
(1.1174215E14 * watt) / ([200 * {mega*watt}] / unit) ? unit
= 558710.75 unit

Doublings: log(558710.75)/log(2)
(log(558710.75)) / log(2)
= 19.091742

Cost per W installed at end of capacity:=
(100%-10%)^19 = 0.13508517 * $3/W = $0.40525551/W installed

Depreciate that over 10 years to get the cost / kWh.

Ronald Brak said at September 23, 2013 1:58 AM:

Okay, let's say for the sake of the arguement that vortex electricity is free. That would save the average Australian household about $230 a year and that's not enough to get the population of Melbourne to pack up and move. The tax break for living in remote Australia is worth more and yet people still don't want to live there. Sure free electricity would get some people to move to work in aluminium smelters and and provide services to people working in aluminium smelters, but that's probably not that many. And 3 cents a kilowatt-hour electricity isn't going to cause Australian smelters to move. They already get electricity for 3 cents a kilowatt-hour. To me it seems a bit unfair seeing as all up I paid 42 cents a kilowatt-hour on my last electricity bill, but I guess it's my own fault for not buying enough politicians dinner.

Brik Vrewery said at September 23, 2013 8:17 AM:

Here's a more realistic possibility: What if all the tooth faeries get together and decide to attack our children as they lose their baby teeth? If the young generation is decimated by aerial spirits, who will further the next generation of theories of doom? WE must have our doom, sir, we must!

James Bowery said at September 23, 2013 11:41 AM:

FP is now officially invaded by Slate trolls.

bbartlog said at September 25, 2013 12:16 PM:

'As the trash turned into soil' ... you are confusing trash with compost, here. People throw out lots of plastic and metal ... and that's not just going to turn to dirt in ten years, or a thousand for that matter.

Randall Parker said at September 29, 2013 10:07 AM:


I love high quality doom.


Trolls: Imagine a Trolls versus Zombies versus Vampires versus Werewolves battle royale.

Really cheap energy: It would enable many things, notably extraction of metals from very low concentrations. Materials fabrication would become very cheap. If I ruled a country with huge amounts of cheap energy I'd use some of that energy to police the borders and I'd make money off the energy by taking in raw materials, processing them, and selling the results. I think I'd also want to build lots of indoor multi-story farms and grow all the food my nation would need in a very small area.

Mark Bahner said at September 30, 2013 8:20 PM:


The Netherlands are last century's model. This is the 21st century. The 21st century solution is a *portable* system that can be moved, on a few days notice, to protect any city anywhere in the world.

Portable storm surge barriers are the answer


James Bowery said at September 30, 2013 11:43 PM:

So, Randall, I guess it would be safe to say that you consider the elevation of concepts like exergy* to the level of abstract economic good to be pseudoscience, not protoscience.

*Defined at that link as "... the maximum useful work possible during a process that brings the system into equilibrium with a heat reservoir." with the equatorial ocean being the largest renewable heat reservoir in the biosphere.

Ronald Brak said at October 1, 2013 10:38 PM:

Mark, I had a look at the floating storm surge barrier idea. I think the water is going to go under that.

Phillep Harding said at October 2, 2013 1:44 PM:

I wish I'd spotted this thread last week.

Half of the buildings rising sea levels would endanger will have to be rebuilt between now and when the rising sea level endangers them. Zone "no new construction" in the "to be flooded" areas, and quite a bit of the flooding problem vanishes.

(If it ever existed to start with. I think not. I used to hope global warming was real as I'd /love/ to grow fresh fruit and veggies up here, instead of endless variations of cruciforms and blueberries/huckleberries. Very much a disappointment that it looks like natural global warming is a scam, never mind human caused global warming.)

James Bowery said at October 3, 2013 8:14 PM:

Rise of Supertall skyscrapers all over China

Its only a matter of time before these hives take to the oceans anyway. Its a lot easier to build out than up. Its a lot easier to regulate the hive temperature with water than air. With a figure of merit: HeatCapacity/RenewalTime of 10 petaW for the upper 100m of the tropical oceans, dwarfing other renewables, one might well wonder why on earth people won't want that tropical island real estate that has all the advantages of Manhattan and Hong Kong within a short commute.

Mark Bahner said at October 9, 2013 9:41 AM:

Ronald Brak writes, regarding my portable storm surge barrier comments on September 30th at 8:20 PM: "Mark, I had a look at the floating storm surge barrier idea. I think the water is going to go under that."

Respectfully, that's the wrong way of looking at the problem. The proper way of looking at the problem is to first ask:

"Which is better, a portable barrier system or a whole bunch of fixed barrier systems?"

The answer to that question is--without any doubt--that a portable system that can protect any city from any storm (no matter what the storm track) is far superior to hundreds of fixed barrier systems that protect one city (or even only part of one city, as with the proposed New York system).

It's only after one has established beyond a doubt that portable systems are better than fixed systems, that one should then try to come up with the best design for a portable ssytem. One design would be to use AquaDams (tubes up to 15 feet high, filled with water) on the beach.

They would really take a beating on the they'd have to be very strong. But the water wouldn't flow underneath them. Again, the important thing is to first recognize that portable systems are much better than fixed systems.

Ronald Brak said at October 9, 2013 2:10 PM:

Mark, those aquadams don't float when deployed. So you are suggesting a portable system that doesn't float when deployed?

Mark Bahner said at October 9, 2013 7:09 PM:


No, I'm saying the Aquadams are a *portable* system. And they won't float when deployed (unless the seawater rises to the top of the dams).

So you should start your criticism with an agreement that a portable system is better than a fixed system. And *then* go into your criticism of the *particular* portable system I'm proposing.

I just got done watching a public TV program (Nova? Nature?) on storm surge protection. There was extensive discussion of "hard" barriers (sea gates, levees, sea walls). And there was extensive discussion of "soft" barriers (wetlands, marshes, barrier islands). There was absolutely *no* discussion of *portable* barriers...which is arguably the best solution.

The discussion needs to be changed to focus on developing something that can be moved to protect any city, anywhere in the world. That's much better than protecting each city separately.


Ronald Brak said at October 10, 2013 12:56 AM:

Mark, my only criticism is that a storm surge barrier that floats is not going to stop water on account of water going underneath it. Since they don't float, that presumably won't be a problem.

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