El Bosque—a village overtaken by rising sea ranges? • Watts Up With That?

Guest Essay by Kip Hansen — 19 December 2023 – 1100 words/8 minutes

Here’s a story recently being pushed like mad by the climate crisis propagandists: El Bosque!

The last residents of a coastal Mexican town destroyed by climate change

‘It’s time for us to go’: the Mexican fishing village swallowed by the sea

Coastal Mexican town sees rising seas, storms and disappearing locals

The last residents of a coastal Mexican town destroyed by climate change —  Flooding has destroyed the Mexican town of El Bosque

We may be the first people displaced by climate change in Mexico, but we won’t be the last

And back in 2022, published in time for COP27:

Mexican village blames climate change as sea swallows its homes

Who, or what, is El Bosque?   In Spanish, the name means “the forest”, but El Bosque is a forest no more.  This century, it has always been a sandy little peninsula barely above sea level, poking out north from the Mexican coast between Veracruz and the Yucatan peninsula:

Just to the west is the port serving the Puerto Ceiba oil and natural gas operations. 

The first step in looking at this problem is to view the geography – as sea level is basically a geography problem – the relationship between the dry land and the sea.  The satellite imagery above shows clearly some important points:  El Bosque sits on a tiny hooked peninsula that extends out onto a very shallow shelf of sand, at the mouth of the Grijalva River.   The northeast side of the peninsula faces the Gulf of Mexico, while the southwestern shore is inside its own hook and protected from the waves:

The incoming swells are clearly visible even from space.  Now imagine those northeast swells when Hurricane Isidore hit El Bosque (circled)  in Sept 2022:

How many hurricanes affect El Bosque?

A lot of tropical cyclones, all spinning in the same direction, nearly all north of El Bosque, with winds pushing water and waves down on El Bosque from the northeast.  To save you the trouble of counting, that is 37 tropical cyclones in 23 years.   That’s a few more than the 23 in the twenty years before that – and, since the advent of the satellite era, there have been 106 tropical storms affecting the area of interest.   And that’s a lot of wind and waves, peaking up over that shallow sandy bottom and smacking that little peninsula.

Oh – wait!  What about Sea Level Rise?

Ah, the Big Lie.  Nearly every news story blames sea level rise, at least in part,  for El Bosque’s demise. So, let’s have a look.  Disappointingly, there is no good long-term tide gauge in all of Mexico registered with the PSMSL – Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level.   In fact, there does not seem to be any good long-term tide gauge data anywhere in Mexico…many stations have decades of missing data.  One nearby station (on the Yucatan Peninsula), Progresso,  has data from 1952 to 1984, then a separate record up to 1998-2012.   It is plainly marked: “Use only with extreme caution.”  If its data is approximately correct, and there is no guarantee that it is even that, then from about 1960 to 2012 there was 100 mm or 4 inches of Sea Level Rise over those 50 years.  At that rate, for another ten years, we could guess (and it is only a guess, it is not measured data) that Progresso has seen 120 mm or 4.7 inches of SLR (including whatever VLM is seen at Progresso) since about 1960, which would be close to the expected century-long value for global SLR of 8-10 inches.   

This, I admit, is lousy data.  But, it is what we have.  What we don’t have is any data showing that SLR at El Bosque, or anywhere in the southern Gulf of Mexico,  has been in any way exceptional.  And, while five inches of SLR is not nothing, it is not enough to flood and drown little El Bosque.  Sea level rise is not the villain in this little story…nor is climate change. 

What is to blame is this:

The sand shelf off of El Bosque is only 9-14 meters (30-45 feet) deep.  Most of that is shallow enough for me to free-dive.  Storm-driven waves will build and peak and break as they are driven from the northeast by cyclonic storms onto the shore at El Bosque.  Here is the result of decades of storms:

Again, we see the wave pattern clearly in the February  2023 image in the lower right.  Those waves rake the down beach from the point – you can actually see the massive breakers from space.

The truth is that El Bosque will eventually be entirely washed away – it is simply a long-standing, but in no way permanent, little spit of sand, exposed to the wrath of every passing tropical storm that comes hurtling in over the Yucatan.  Like many of the barrier islands along the East Coast of the United States, the El Bosque peninsula is in constant danger of being cut in two at the narrow neck by the next big storm. 

This is not the result of any change in the climate.  It is the result of the climate of the Yucatan Peninsula, which is and (probably) has always been shaped by the tropical storms rolling in from the Caribbean and even some originating in the Atlantic. 

The solution to all of these local problems, whether blamed on climate change or some other imagined ill, is adaptation.  If your land is being eroded away by wind and waves then you must do something other than hope your national government or some international entity will come to your rescue.  For those poor fishermen at El Bosque, they will have to move.  And I hope that their government will give them some financial help in doing so.

But they can’t blame climate change for their sorrows.  They have built upon the sand and the winds and waves have come. 

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Author’s Comment:

Narrative journalism gives a lot of legs to propaganda stories like this.  This one has been repeated for the last two COPs.  It even includes photos of posters produced by poor kids that have lost their elementary school, probably requested by the news photographer.   It is a good human-interest story, nonetheless, but the Big Lie is that their troubles have been caused by climate change and sea level rise.

Beach erosion is a natural process and sand spits and sand-based barrier islands are extremely susceptible to erosion.  The time for them to act was a decade ago – build sea walls or move.

Thanks for reading.

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