The islands of Sicily were initially a landmass, according to a recent study published in the journal Scientists progress – which shows how, when sea levels rise, human populations generally adapt to changes rather than just abandon them, as common sense might suggest.
The islands of Sicily were once a single landmass before rising sea levels divided it
Average sea level is rising by about 0.14 inch / year (3.6 mm / year) – a rate of rise unprecedented in millennia, according to the study. But the distribution of this increase in volume is not the same around the world. This means that some areas will experience higher than average sea level rise, making them particularly vulnerable to the risk of submersion.
The climate crisis combined with continued sea level rise will mean that global flood outliers will be extreme, as some regions inevitably experience worse weather conditions than others.
Although projected sea level changes at global and regional levels become increasingly limited, no one can fully predict how cultural and behavioral norms might change. The future risks of coastal flooding to human populations – combined with projected migration patterns are generally based on environmental thresholds – those lacking a defined limit of adaptation based on the culture and perception of risk in human societies.
The climate crisis could lead to technological progress
During prehistoric sea level rise, catastrophic flooding is associated with a migration on a massive scale – but this common sense perception of natural disaster and societal response is oversimplified, according to the study’s authors.
In modern society, the possibility of catastrophic sea level rise will be more complex, involving interactions between climatic factors, subsequent changes in the local environment, and how humans ultimately respond. In the new study, the researchers focused on past changes and human responses that occurred amid the submersion of populated coasts as sea levels rose.
Over the past 11,700 years (also known as the Holocene), cultural transitions have generally spread across entire societies with substantial technological advancements. But these transitions are usually accompanied (and perhaps linked) with climate and environmental changes, including sea level rise, the study notes.
Rising sea levels pose many dangers to society
The rate of global sea level rise during the early Holocene was at or above current rates – and overlaps with the shift from Mesolithic hunter-gatherers to the agricultural way of life of the Neolithic time. This is due to the rapid disintegration of ice caps in Scandinavia and North America.
The subsequent migration of coastal communities amid rising sea levels may have created a need for society to move to a Neolithic standard across Europe. Additionally, rising sea levels may have offered new opportunities for humans to migrate across northwestern Europe via expanding sea lanes.
However, sea level rise is a double-edged sword. While there are benefits and incentives for technological advancement, many threats arise – including coastal erosion, habitat endangerment, land loss, flooding, and land loss. crucial resources – endanger coastal society.
Humans generally adapt rather than flee the effects of rising sea levels
Taken together, these threats make island communities particularly vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis – due to the scale of the changes taking place in an isolated location.
Scientists in the recent study combined pollen and char data from 17 sediment cores using optically stimulated luminescence and radiocarbon – in addition to population dynamics collected and inferred from regional archeology. Overall, they showed how the prehistoric populations of the region of Sicily (especially during the Bronze Age) adapted – rather than abandoned – to new island distributions in the middle of a period of gradual rise in sea level and major cultural changes.
So while we trade climate crisis memes of Brooklyn and San Francisco sinking into the sea with apocalyptic undertones – this latest study shows how, despite the substantial chaos and danger of sea level changes, human populations are more likely to adapt than to simply running away from a region – a storyline reconstructed in a brilliant piece of speculative fiction titled “New York 2140” by author Kim Stanley Robinson – in which Manhattan has turned into a Venice-like sci-fi metropolis, with new impressive vehicles and technologies.