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First lets start with by far the most consequential news story of the past week:

Ice melting even faster in Antarctic
60-nation team says seas could rise 3 to 5 feet


GENEVA -- Glaciers in Antarctica are melting faster and across a much wider area than previously thought, a development that threatens to raise sea levels worldwide and force millions of people to flee low-lying areas, scientists said Wednesday.

Millions will retreat from the advancing sea as the world's land area shrinks.

By the end of the century, the accelerated melting could cause sea levels to climb by 3 to 5 feet -- levels substantially higher than predicted by a major scientific group just two years ago.

What will happen to coastal cities? Will we preserve them with massive defenses against the sea like the ones in Holland? How much would that cost? From Polynesians on Pacific atolls, to Bangladeshis along the Bay of Bengal, tens of millions of people living in countless coastal locations will be drastically affected by a significant rise in sea levels that now look likely.  

Making matters worse, scientists said, the ice shelves that hold the glaciers back from the sea also are weakening.

Low lying river deltas are some of the most fertile agricultural areas on earth. We will have less land to feed the people of the world.

Here in this country large areas of Florida and Louisiana including New Orleans are at risk from rising sea levels. On all three coasts every coastal city will feel the effects. Here's what could happen to Seattle.

My brother who teaches went to Antarctica and lived in a tent for a summer (in temperatures hovering around 0 F), riding snowmobiles to sampling locations where he and his companions drilled ice cores collecting them for analysis.


Closer to home, my place is about 8 feet above sea level with most of that elevation gained between the house and the edge of my yard. It is half a mile away from the beach, with a large salt marsh in between. That makes my side yard a likely candidate to become a beach as some point in the future. The verdant salt marsh, could transform into a mud flat.

My house isn't just any old house, it is a labor of love. I designed it myself, after doing extensive reading on home design, and passive solar technology. The house is designed to be very energy efficient, and it is passive solar heated.

I am an avid environmentalist and I wanted a solar home since the early 80s. At an Experimental College class on solar home design in 1984, I learned that I had to have to specific home site in mind in order to tailor a home's design to that specific site. So I went shopping for a sunny building site. In 1985 I settled on one on Whidbey Island that had a fabulous view to the south of Admiralty Inlet and the whole Olympic Mountain range.

I spent the next 4 years saving money, and working up floor plans and elevation views for different ideas for the house, just to set one idea aside and start all over again with a new idea. After half a dozen false starts I finally came up with one I liked well enough to go ahead and build. I then got Chris Herman the designer who had taught my Experimental College class to turn my floor plans into building drawings. I originally had included a pellet stove in the design but after Chris did an analysis that predicted my heating costs at $137 a year (at 1992 energy prices) I removed that feature as being unnecessary

The Home has a passive solar storage wall called a Trombe Wall named after its French inventor.

Trombe Walls

Thermal Mass
Solid masonry wall works well – storing about 200 calories per kg per degree centigrade. The more massive the better. Also needs to be thermally conductive so that the energy stored in one place moves uniformly across the wall for re-radiation.

Comfortable Heat
Radiates in the infra red, which is more penetrating and pleasant than traditional convective forced air heating systems.
No moving parts and essentially no maintenance.
Simple Construction
Relatively easy to incorporate into building structure as an internal or external wall. Materials (masonry, concrete) are relatively inexpensive.
Can reduce heating bills by large amounts; in our case, we have no furnace.

 My Trombe Wall has a two layer polycarbonate exterior glazing, 4 inches from the walls surface, covered with what's called selective surface. The selective surface absorbs solar radiation and transmits solar heat into the 8 inch thick concrete wall that acts as a solar mass that stores the heat. The selective surface made copper foil reflects the infrared radiation back to the wall, preventing it from losing too much heat at night. The wall slowly releases its stored heat into the interior rooms reaching a temperatures as high as 104 F (its 98 F as I write this) on the interior surface, keeping the house toasty warm through the night. The house has the Trombe Wall on the lower story with most of a number of large direct gain windows on the upper story, providing the living room with its fabulous view. On the home's exterior over the Trombe Wall there is a window wash deck for accessing the second story windows that also serves as a shading device for the Trombe Wall during the summer when the sun is high. Then most of the Trombe Wall is shaded preventing unwanted heat gain. The wall's interior is finished in tile including some iridescent fused glass tiles that I fired at a friend's glass studio.    

Being personally fiscally conservative I put up a down payment of well over 25%. During the construction I was my own general contractor. This involved a grueling routine starting with a morning ferry trip to the building site, several hours of work, followed  a ferry trip back to the mainland in time for a swing shift at the factory.

For the house's backup heat I use baseboard electric. Most of the lighting is florescent. My electric bill for our unusually cold December was $104. It probably was the coldest month since I've been in the house, and that was the first time my monthly charge topped $82 in 16 years. The home's solar features have paid for themselves several times over in the time that I've lived here.

The size of the Home is modest at 1,170 square feet. I've never understood the bigger is better idea when it comes to houses, or cars. Speaking of cars while my house is located in a very quiet rural setting, a free county bus route into town goes past the front door once an hour. A picture of the house appeared with this Seattle Times article about passive solar architecture in 1994.

I think it would be ironic for the passive solar house that I built to be swallowed by rising seas (after I'm gone) caused the proliferate use of fossil fuels. I am beginning to think that large rises in sea level are as inevitable as rush hour traffic is when you typically find only one person in the vast majority of the vehicles clogging the roads.  

Originally posted to Lefty Coaster on Sun Mar 01, 2009 at 08:47 AM PST.

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