Sea levels are likely rising faster than previously thought, meaning low-lying coastal cities across the United States could experience flooding much more regularly over the next few decades, a NASA study has found.
According to the study, which analyzed three decades of satellite observations, by 2050 sea levels along the coasts of the contiguous United States could rise as much as 12 inches (30 centimeters) above. above the current waterlines, the research team said in a press release (opens in a new tab). The Gulf Coast and Southeast are expected to be the hardest hit and will likely see increased flooding from storms and tides in the near future, according to the study published Oct. 6 in the journal. Earth & Environment Communications (opens in a new tab).
The results support the “high end” scenarios presented in February in the multi-agency study Sea Level Rise Technical Report (opens in a new tab). The report suggests that “significant sea level rise” is likely to hit US shores over the next 30 years, predicting a rise of 10 to 14 inches (25 to 35 cm) on average for the East Coast; 14 to 18 inches (35 to 45 cm) for the Gulf Coast; and 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) for the west coast.”
The NASA study built on methods used in the previous multi-agency report and was led by a team of researchers and scientists based in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (opens in a new tab) in California, which is dedicated to both exploring the deepest reaches of space and using satellites to “advance understanding” of the Earth.
NASA research exploited satellite altimetry measurements of sea surface height, then correlated them with The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (opens in a new tab) (NOAA) tide gauge records over 100 years old. Accordingly, NASA can confidently say that its satellite readings are not anomalous and are fully supported by findings on the ground.
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While the findings of the new study are undoubtedly concerning, Jonathan Overpeck (opens in a new tab)an interdisciplinary climatologist from the University of Michigan who was not involved in the research, suggested that the projections by no means came out of nowhere.
“NASA’s findings appear robust and they are not surprising. We know sea level rise is accelerating and we know why,” he told Live Science in an email. “More and more polar ice is melting, and that’s on top of the oceans expanding as they warm. Clearly, sea level rise will get worse as long as we let climate change Carry on.”
This point of view is shared by david holland (opens in a new tab)physical climatologist and professor of math at New York University who did not participate in the study. “The quality of the satellite data is excellent, so the results are reliable,” Holland told Live Science in an email. “The study shows that the global ocean is rising, and more than that, the rise is accelerating. The projected rise for the Gulf Coast of about 1 foot by 2050 is enormous. This may make hurricane– even worse related storm surges than is currently the case.”
Other factors may also contribute to sea level rise along the US coastline. The study indicated that the problems associated with sea level rise could be “amplified by the natural variabilities on Earth“, such as the effects of El Niño and La Niña in the mid-2030s, with all U.S. coasts expected to experience “more intense high-tide flooding due to an oscillation of the moon‘s orbit that occurs every 18.6 years,” the statement said.
The effects of El Niño – the warming of surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near South America, which can lead to increased precipitation – and La Niña – the cooling of surface ocean waters in the Pacific – can make it difficult to accurately predict sea level rise, and can potentially skew readings. Ben Hamlington, head of NASA’s sea level change team, noted that natural events and phenomena will always need to be considered, and said any predictions will inevitably be refined as satellites collect. data over time.
Despite the study’s grim findings, some experts hope hard-hitting, high-level research like this will force policymakers to focus on tackling the ongoing climate crisis and encourage the public to demand that effective action be taken. introduced.
“It is impossible to ignore. I think this [increased flooding] catalyzes action as many coastal communities discuss these issues and how they are responding,” said Robert Nicholls (opens in a new tab), director of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research in the UK, who was not involved in the study. “We have the means to face this challenge in terms of mitigation to stabilize the temperatures and slow — but not completely halted — sea level rise, which unfortunately will continue for centuries due to warming up we have already experienced.”
Ultimately, humanity will have to adapt as climate change alters our planet’s oceans and seas.
“It could involve retreat in some places, land raising in other places and defenses elsewhere,” Nicholls told Live Science. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution. If we follow this path, the future is manageable. Likewise, if governments and society ignore these issues, the future will be a mess.”
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