Rapid rise in sea level

Audrey Hill
February 16, 2018

"This acceleration, driven mainly by accelerated melting in Greenland and Antarctica, has the potential to double the total sea level rise by 2100 as compared to projections that assume a constant rate", said lead researcher Steve Nerem in a press release. The scientists, who used last 25 years of satellite data to make this observation, say the acceleration in sea level increase can be seen as something similar to a "driver merging onto a highway".

A study attributes the accelerated rise in sea levels to the melting in Greenland and Antarctica.

Sea ice as seen from NASA's Operation IceBridge research aircraft in the Antarctic Peninsula region, on November 4, 2017, above Antarctica.

As the study notes, one of the main causes behind the accelerating sea level rise is the melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica - and this is one of the biggest variables that will impact how quickly the seas will continue to rise.

Given the rate of acceleration, we should expect about 10 millimeters of sea-level rise per year by 2100. Second, melting land-ice flows into the ocean, heightening sea levels. Storm surges and salt water intrusion into aquifers where some communities get their drinking water are just two examples. If the climate starts to change even more rapidly, then the rate of sea level rise could increase even more.

A couple waits for the sunset by the tetrapods on November 6, 2016, in Male, Maldives.

Other scientists said even small changes in sea levels can lead to flooding and erosion. Over this short time period, the rate of sea level rise waxed and wane and it was hard to tease out whether its pace was steady or picking up.

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It also shows how climate models are important in interpreting satellite records, such as in this study where it allows the study group to estimate the background effects of the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo on global sea level. "The ice sheets are contributing measurably to this acceleration", he said.

Effectively, the study uses this real-world data from the past few decades to produce a calculation about the rate of future sea level rise, and found that it matches the complicated climate models produced by the IPCC for a "high emissions scenario" where no action is taken to limit emissions.

Ultimately, the research is important because it provides a data-driven assessment of how sea level has been changing, and this assessment largely agrees with projections using independent methods.

Nerem stressed that his and his colleagues' work was conservative. Model projections include various factors of Earth and ice physics, accounting for almost everything that may affect climate or sea levels, according to Nerem.

"[Our study] is much more simplistic, but it's kind of providing a check on those model projections", he explained.

If the rate of change continues at this pace, global mean sea levels will rise 61 centimetres between now and 2100.

Sea level rise is caused by warming of the ocean and melting from glaciers and ice sheets. "I think this is a game-changer as far as the climate change discussion goes", said co-author Gary Mitchum, PhD, associate dean and professor at the University of South Florida College of Marine Science.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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