Sea-Levels Rising Faster Than Anticipated

Image: Min An/Pexels

by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

The seas are rising, and they’re inching upward much faster than anticipated. According to a new study published in the journal Ocean Science, climate change is causing the ocean to rise even quicker than the most pessimistic prior forecasts. 

  • This research finds that just a 0.5 degree Celsius increase in temperature could lead to a half-meter rise in sea levels, and with a full meter in our future of urgent action on climate change isn’t taken. 
  • Warmer temperatures have already melted 28 trillion metric tons of ice. That’s the same amount as a 100 meter-deep ice sheet the size of the United Kingdom. 

Why This Matters: Forty percent of people on Earth live near the coast, putting much of the world at risk of water damage in some form. While the increased risk of floods and storm surges are certainly concerning, saltwater intrusion can cause a lot of damage, like contaminating aquifers and farmland and flooding wetlands. For coastal communities, these impacts could drive people from their homes, contributing to the massive climate migration of 13 million Americans expected by 2060. It’s all the more reason to implement adaptation measures in coastal communities.  

Sea level rise – and its impact — aren’t uniform: Numbers like the half-meter rise in sea level from this study are global averages. In practice, the sea doesn’t rise and fall uniformly everywhere on earth

  • Local sea-level rise depends on a number of factors, including the gravitational pull of massive polar ice sheets, which will get weaker as the ice caps melt. 
  • The water temperature, wind, and currents in individual locations contribute as well. 
  • All of this adds up to some areas with much higher sea-level rise than others. 
  • Along the east coast of the U.S., one meter of sea-level rise is likely a low estimate, while in places like Scotland and Iceland, the number could be much smaller. 

As Ronald Stouffer, a  climate modeler at the U.S. Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, NJ, explains: “ if you own beachfront property in Iceland, and all of the ice on Greenland melts and adds seven meters to average sea level, you end up with more beach. But in Hawaii, you get your seven meters of sea-level rise plus an extra two or three on top of that. It’s phenomenal to me that it matters that much.”

 

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