What Do We Know About Sea-Level Rise?

Written by on July 29, 2013 in Other News

UPDATE Dec 4 — If left alone, coastal wetlands can resist rapid levels of sea level rise. However, a new study reveals that humans may be preventing them from doing so. Wetlands are very good at building up sediments to out-pace sea-level rise, but human structures such as dams and seawalls are disrupting these natural mechanisms. Learn more here.

UPDATE Nov 9 — The Miami Herald reported another side effect of sea level rise: falling real estate values. Some scientists are predicting that the first financial effects will be felt within one to two decades, prompting one land-use attorney to sell his Fort Lauderdale house. Check out this interesting piece on how sea level rise will alter real estate in South Florida

And just for fun (if fun is the right word…) check out National Geographic’s Rising Seas interactive map that shows you what your location will look like in the coming years.

UPDATE Sept 27 — The Maldives are likely to be the first to feel the effects of sea level rise — so much so that they’re looking for new land. However, researchers found that sea level rise won’t stop the formation of new islands, thanks to the ring-shaped reefs inside the atolls that continue to accumulate lots of sand. Learn more here.

UPDATE Aug 18 — A new study found that if nothing changes, coastal flooding in cities around the world could result in damage costing $1 trillion a year by the year 2050. The cities with the most damage are in Asia and North America, particularly New York, New Orleans and Miami. Learn more about the cost of coastal flooding here.

A flooded street in South Beach, Miami.

A flooded street in South Beach, Miami. Photo credit: dannebrog via photopin cc.

According to a study in Geophysical Research Letters, our oceans rose by an average 7.7 inches (195 mm) between 1870 and 2004. That might not seem like a whole lot, but two new studies have dramatic predictions for the next few hundred years.

A new international study estimates that global sea levels will rise by about 2.3 meters (more than seven feet) for every degree (Celsius) the planet warms over the next several thousand years. The estimates in this study come from a combination of four major contributors to sea-level rise (melting glaciers, melting of the Greenland ice sheet, melting of the Antarctic ice sheet, and expansion of the ocean as it warms) and compared that data with evidence of past sea-level rise.

As that study points out, the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will contribute greatly to sea-level rise. Another new study stresses the need for “continuous satellite monitoring” of ice sheets in order to better predict sea-level rise. If both ice sheets were to melt completely, global sea level would rise by about 63 meters (206.7 feet). However, the authors of this study note that these ice sheets also possess the largest uncertainty and make accurate predictions for future sea-level rise a challenge.

The good news is that natural defenses can do a great deal to protect the coast. A new study ranked these defenses, such as coastal forests, coral reefs, sand dunes and wetlands, on the level of protection they provide from extreme weather and sea level rise.

In the US, natural defenses will protect two-thirds of the coastline. The study published by Nature Climate Change states that 2.1 million people and between US$400 and $500 billion of residential property will be exposed to the highest hazard risk. If protective habitats are lost, those numbers will double. You can see the maps that show the effects of sea-level rise and extreme weather here.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to take advantage of these natural barriers. Part of his $20 billion plan to protect the city from climate change includes building large underwater oyster reefs around the harbor that would prevent coastal erosion and absorb storm surges.

Maldivian Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture signing a declaration to cut down on CO2 emissions.

Maldivian Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture signing a declaration to cut down on CO2 emissions. Photo credit: Presidency Maldives via photopin cc.

Some cities around the world will fare worse than others. Take a look at nine popular cities losing the war with sea level rise.

  1. New Orleans
  2. New York City
  3. Miami
  4. Venice
  5. Bangkok
  6. Shanghai
  7. The Netherlands
  8. Bangladesh
  9. Maldives

To learn more:

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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