New land, but also costs, as Nordic nations rise from sea

Tue Nov 27, 2012 3:43am EST
 
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By Environment Correspondent Alister Doyle

LULEA, Sweden (Reuters) - A Stone Age camp that used to be by the shore is now 200 km (125 miles) from the Baltic Sea. Sheep graze on what was the seabed in the 15th century. And Sweden's port of Lulea risks getting too shallow for ships.

In contrast to worries from the Maldives to Manhattan of storm surges and higher ocean levels caused by climate change, the entire northern part of the Nordic region is rising and, as a result, the Baltic Sea is receding.

"In a way we're lucky," said Lena Bengten, environmental strategist at the Lulea Municipality in Sweden, pointing to damage from Superstorm Sandy that killed more than 200 people from Haiti to the United States.

The uplift of almost a centimeter (0.4 inch) a year, one of the highest rates in the world, is part of a continuing geological rebound since the end of the Ice Age removed a vast ice sheet from regions around the Arctic Circle.

"It's a bit like a foam rubber mattress. It takes a while to return to normal after you get up," said Martin Vermeer, a professor of geodesy at Aalto University in Finland. Finland gains 7 sq km (2.7 sq miles) a year as the land rises.

In the Lulea region just south of the Arctic Circle, mostly flat with pine forests and where the sea freezes in winter, tracts of land have emerged, leaving some Stone Age, Viking and Medieval sites inland.

That puts human settlements gradually out of harm's way from sea flooding, unlike low-lying islands from Tuvalu to Kiribati or cities from New York to Shanghai. Facebook is investing in a new data center in Lulea on land that was once on the seabed.

But rising land also means costs. Lulea is planning to deepen its port by 2020 to let in bigger ships and offset land rise at a cost of 1.6 billion Swedish crowns ($237.86 million).   Continued...

 
Hans Lindberg, a 56-year-old Swede, shows a black and white family photo from the early 1960s of two girls playing in a sandpit that used to be at his parents' summer cottage near Lulea November 16, 2012. REUTERS/Alister Doyle