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The Flooded Earth: Our Future In a World Without Ice Caps Paperback – Aug 7 2012

3.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Trade Paper Edition edition (Aug. 7 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780465029051
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465029051
  • ASIN: 0465029051
  • Product Dimensions: 14.5 x 2 x 22.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 318 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #485,137 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“NASA astrobiologist [Peter] Ward describes the disastrous changes that can be expected as sea levels continue their accelerating rise due to global warming… a blunt, vivid warning.”
A beautifully written, thoroughly research and relentlessly terrifying work, and a must-read for anybody with an interest in the environment or the future of our planet.” 
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Peter D. Ward is a Professor of Biology and Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. He also serves as an astrobiologist with NASA. Ward is the author of more than a dozen books, including the highly acclaimed 'Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe' with Donald Brownlee and 'Out of Thin Air: Dinosaurs, Birds, and Earth's Ancient Atmosphere'. He appeared in the PBS documentary "Shape of Life" and was the chief scientist for Animal Planet's 'Animal Armageddon', a multi-part series on animal extinction. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Peter Ward, an eminent scientist, sets out the reality of what we can expect with climate change.

Climate change is already happening of course, and the lag time between carbon emissions and atmospheric impact is several decades long. So even if we stopped burning fossil fuels now, we will have to live through the damage we have already set in motion. He focuses on rising sea levels, but the reality is that we can also expect massive agricultural changes along with human migrations and economic collapse as a result.

And of course, if we keep releasing CO2, it will be worse than all that.

His earlier book, Under a Green Sky, showed what will happen if humans take climate change too far - feedback mechanisms, runaway climate change, and the cessation of the oceanic conveyor. This last one is what caused major extinctions in the past - poisonous H2S bubbling up into the atmosphere, and the protective ozone layer disappearing - all under a green sky.

PS another review on this page seems scientifically challenged, not understanding science or even basic units of measurement: 3m is actually 300cm, not 300mm. (Canadian climate change deniers also tend to be valiant SI/metric system resisters. ;-))
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Format: Hardcover
This is a serious book written in an engaging manner. The science is impeccable. Even the IPCC recognizes that the old 2007 prediction was too low, and newer satellite data predict up to a meter of sea level rise by 2050, not 2100. A mere sea level rise would be uncomfortable, not catastrophic, were it not for the associated changes in ocean currents, affecting weather patterns and ocean ecology. More fish extinctions, less protein from the sea. Drought in the American midwest, an ice age in western Europe, drought in the Sahel, floods in many other areas, and a positive feedback mechanism of less ice/less permafrost with methane liberation leading to further rising temperatures, etc, etc. This book is a must read. Unfortunately, climate change deniers will continue to deny the evidence they disagree with, and nature will take its course.
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Format: Hardcover
Peter Ward begins by telling us that no matter what humans do sea level rise by one meter by 2050 and three meters by 2100. It is this sea level increase that will have the biggest effect on the planet, which will be changed forever. The impact will be huge on sectors as diverse as agriculture, electrical generation, and transportation. Humans need to worry because the consequences will be dire.

While Ward's narrative reads well, it is not supported by the actual science. The sattelite altimeter data has sea levels increasing by around 320 cm per century, ten times lower than Ward is claiming. And even the typically alarmist IPCC predicts a sea level increase of 18 to 59 cm by 2100. It is important to note that sea level increases were significantly greater in the early days of this interglacial period and are now mainly driven by thermal expansion, not melting. For the record, the interglacial had nothing to do with human emissions of CO2 and a wetter warmer world does not mean shrinking glaciers. In fact, some models imply that greater precipitation would mean thicker Antarctic glaciers as increased snowfall during most of the year adds much more than is lost during the brief summer melt period.

The eight chapters are well written and quite readable. The problem is that they tend to be a mixture of facts and fiction that have no redeeming scientific value to readers that are actually interested in the topic. As one reads the book it quickly becomes evident that Ward has crossed the line between objective scientist in search of truth and political advocate. What bothers me the most is Ward's total ignorance of work done in fields outside his level of expertise.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9db8263c) out of 5 stars 25 reviews
41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9dbb71d4) out of 5 stars The Flooded Earth July 7 2010
By Stephen Balbach - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One of the more confusing aspects of the IPCC report was how far oceans will rise. The numbers in the report were not very worrisome, but many scientists said the seas could rise much further. Peter Ward tries to bring some clarity to the confusion. He says anything over 5 feet is beyond civilizations ability to deter and thus many places will be abandoned. Certain hot spots like Bangladesh, Holland, San Francisco, Venice, New Orleans and southern Florida make appearances as Ward envisions what they could look like in the future. His book is not a prediction. He offers instead scenarios that are within the realm of possibility because *they have happened before*. The geological record is chock full of evidence of rapidly rising seas. This is not debateable, it's as clear as a dinosaur bone (although some people deny dinosaurs existed). How exactly our future unfolds no one knows, Ward doesn't know either, but he looks at parallels between the past and present atmosphere and it's not pretty. One thing we are certain of however, as CO2 levels rise, so do the oceans.

25% of CO2 released by humans stays in the atmosphere for over 50,000 years, longer than the half-life of radiation. It's a permanent gift to the future and how it impacts sea level rise is significant - actions today will impact the future for a very long time. Oceans are currently rising 2mm a year, this is well documented. About 10,000 years ago they were rising at 2 inches per year, or 16 feet a century - again, well documented and not debated. The earth is very capable of doing it again. No one is saying 16' in a century *will* happen, in fact it's very unlikely, but oceans have risen and fallen very often in the past and this process is tied to CO2 levels in the atmosphere, which is expected to be at levels way beyond anything seen in millions of years. Could seas rise that far or fast? They already have. This is ultimately the message by Ward - he makes no *prediction* that it *will* happen, he offers scenarios informed by what has happened, and suggests there are enough parallels with those events in the past with the present to be concerned. Anyone who denies that position is either intellectually dishonest or not operating in good faith.

My quibbles with the book is it written breathlessly, parts repeat, it could have used better editing to enhance the killer points. I read it on a Kindle and was surprised when it was over at 70% - the remaining 30% is notes, bibliography and index [one of the disadvantages of a scroll-like kindle, versus a codex-like book, is its hard to find where a book proper ends, it sneaks up on you]. Overall a quick and sometimes entertaining read about a serious subject. It will no doubt bring out the deniers who will misrepresent it, but if you're at all interested in what the possibilities of sea level rise are, this is a good book to look at.
30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9dbb7420) out of 5 stars Science based work gives reason for heightened concern June 28 2010
By A. Siegel - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Peter Ward's book opens a century from now with a Miami Beach being abandoned by the US government, as it evaluates what it can -- and can't -- defend against rising seas. Holdouts have lost water supplies (with swimming pools being used as reserve tanks for desalinated water) and any land connection to the mainland. Direct loss of land to rising seas represents only the tip of the (melted) iceberg due to rising seas. Lost water supplies (salt-water infiltration) will wreck havoc on agriculture and hability of coastal regions.

Ward brings to the table substantial scientific background and using earth's & humanity's history to illuminate the risks we face from rising seas in a warming world.

For those already concerned about climate change, reading Ward will heighten that concern. For those unconcerned, The Flooded Earth should change that position. And, for those unconcerned about learning from science and scientists, this isn't the book for you.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9dbb7660) out of 5 stars A Terrifying Message Aug. 18 2010
By Susan - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Last week, a chunk of ice four times as large as Manhattan Island broke off the tongue of the Petermann Glacier in Greenland and went swimming in the sea. For me, immersed in The Flooded Earth: Our Future In a World Without Ice Caps, it was striking evidence of what Peter D. Ward writes about: the loss of the polar icecaps and the melting of ice sheets and glaciers, caused by rising global temperatures. (At the same time, Russia was experiencing its worst drought and heat wave in recorded history, further evidence of the erratic weather created by warming.) Ward, a paleontologist who has studied the rise and retreat of ancient oceans and the mass extinctions related to ocean rise, knows what he's talking about, and his book is a full treatment (at least for the general reader) of the science behind his basic argument: that the oceans are rising and will continue to rise--unless humans reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.

What I found most interesting about Ward's book (and perhaps most compelling, for many readers)are the dramatic fictionalizations of the impacts of greenhouse gases that appear at the beginning of each chapter. Chapter One opens in the drowning city of Miami, in 2120, with CO2 at 800 ppm--and Miami joining New Orleans and Galveston as abandoned cities. Chapter Three beings in Tunisia in 2060 CE, with carbon dioxide at 500 ppm--and features (I suspect) Ward himself, by this time an "old geologist" who studies evidence of mass extinctions. Food for the still-rising population is scarce, transportation fuel is not available for personal use, and the study of the past is a luxury that society can no longer afford. Chapter Four is set in the Sacramento Valley in 2135, with CO2 at 800 ppm, the rivers dried up by drought, the ocean invading the valleys and salt polluting the land and aquifers, agricultural land ruined. These dramatizations illustrate the arguments made in the chapter and allow Ward to say "Listen up, learn, take action--or this is our future."

Ward acknowledges that he and all the other scientists who are bringing this hugely important issue to our attention are considered Cassndras. "I am not sure what a Cassandra is," he adds. "But I know what I indeed am: scared."

The message of this book: If you're not scared, too, you should be--scared enough to join those who are attempting to reduce CO2 to 350 ppm. Ward himself is not optimistic "about the prospect of forestalling calamity," but outlines some climate-protecting strategies and technologies that might help, if they are implemented very soon. His conclusion isn't hopeful--but realism is what we need now, not glib answers or false hopes. This book delivers that terrifying message better than anything else I've yet to read
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9dbb7804) out of 5 stars Engaging and multifacted Sept. 18 2010
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As always, Peter Ward has written a book that combines all kinds of personal experience and interesting details from recent research with a strong theme that is carried through his book. In this case, he looks at the issue of sea level rise due to global warming. This is not his area of expertise, so he relies on the research of others. This is perhaps the one weaker area of the book that could be attacked by global warming deniers. In spite of this, he also manages to weave in evidence or perspectives gained from both his hobby of ocean diving and his profession as a geologist who has specialized in the study of past mass-extinction events. The result is a somewhat speculative book on the future sea level scenarios with colorful anecdotes and personal stories sprinkled in.

This books follows what seems to be a popular format for recent books like this. Each chapter starts out with one or two fictional future scenarios set anywhere from a few decades to a few millenia in the future that demonstrate one possible outcome of the issue he covers in that chapter. Major themes in the book are possible rates for ice loss, possible sea level rises from this and other events, the threats to coastal cities, low-lying agricultural land and aquifers, the potential for changes in ocean currents and chemistry that could threaten extinction events and the potential for technological and engineering solutions to mitigate the damage.

Most official global warming reports or models underestimate or fail to take into consideration some of the more recent research and ideas on ice loss and sea level rise. Perhaps because he is a geologist and not a climate modeler, Ward eschews the typical conservative caveat-laced approach that many climatologists take when dealing with these issues and presents some of the more bleak scenarios that other authors on this topic on seem to suggest in their subtext. The result is the stark possibility that polar ice caps may melt much more quickly than generally thought and sea level may rise more than official predictions suggest. Ward combines not only evidence from his field, namely the distant geological past, but also recent evidence suggesting these shorter possible timetables.

This is an excellent and engaging book that covers some of the same territory as the growing list of books on global warming, but does in it Ward's unique way that manages to make the reader think about things in ways that may not be apparent by reading other books on this topic. This book will probably be most popular among fans of science who accept scientific conclusions on global warming. Those who deny global warming will almost certainly find the book to be a bit alarmist and based on shaky presumptions. For the rest of us, it's a sobering and honest look at some real obstacles the world may potentially face in the next few generations.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9dbb76d8) out of 5 stars Why the Seas will Rise Jan. 10 2011
By W. ANDERSON - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The Flooded Earth considers the problem of global warming in the context of sea level rise, mainly forecasting a 3-6 foot rise in the next hundred years. The effects of such a rise are considered in detail, which are indeed dire, due to the large areas of land that would be flooded and the inability to defend against such a rise over large areas of coastline. Professor Ward also considers higher sea level rises in his book, up to 240 feet if we lose all land bound glaciers, but these higher sea level rises are viewed as possibility happening several hundred years in the future. I found the book both fascinating and frightening at the same time, I recommend it, and view it as a companion volume to "Storms of My Grandchildren" by James Hansen. While "Storms" is harder hitting and I liked the writing style better, "Flooded" is equally frightening and troubling. Each book also puts forward a scientifically plausible doomsday theory that in the end could kill all or nearly all, life on earth. The problem with "Flooded" is that Professor Ward is unaware that at the end of the last Ice Age, there was a chain reaction of glacial surging that flooded the world which I cover in the book "Solving the Mystery of the Biblical Flood" which occurred in a matter of days. If a large section of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet in the near future were to surge into the sea, it could raise the sea level by enough to trigger the surging of other glaciers and ice sheets into the sea, resulting in a run away chain reaction of flooding and surging. This could in theory result in a 240 foot sea level rise in a matter of days, and is why I will never move to Florida. Knowing of this possibility did cause me to view "Flooded" as being very timid in its predictions and time scales. Professor Ward repeatedly stated that he felt that the 3' to 6' prediction by 2100 was far less than what will probably occur, but he largely remained confined to the limits set by current scientific opinion, while as the evidence he presents in the book, as he also acknowledges, points to far larger rises occurring sooner. As I was reading the book, I kept wishing that Professor Ward would break free and lay out his worse case, but he remained safely within the confines of orthodox scientific thinking. On the other hand, while he may have been overly conservative in his predictions of the future, that conservativeness adds a chilling certainty to his modest prediction coming to pass.

If this book has a second printing, I would highly recommend a fold out color map section with detailed maps of the world showing the new coastlines at different elevations, such as +6, +25, +40, +110, +240, along with detailed maps of the areas described in the book with the level of flooding referred to in color, or at least a web reference to such.