Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Boulder, CO, United States (4E) – Sea level rise is no longer increasing at a measured pace but is accelerating far faster than expected.
A new assessment of sea level rise based on 25 years of satellite data confirms sea level rise has been speeding-up over the past 25 years, rather than steadily rising at the same amount each year, said a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
And assuming the acceleration rate remains the same, which the study said is unlikely, sea levels will surge 26 inches by 2100 from climate change alone. Melting ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland have been responsible for boosting sea level rise over the past 25 years.
Satellites reveal that sea level rise isn’t steadily rising at 0.1 inch every year, but rather, that increase is increasing — by 0.003 inches each year. These tiny increases across the globe over several decades can have disastrous consequences for coastal cities. Storm surges and salt water intrusion into drinking water aquifers are two examples.
Assuming the acceleration rate that this study found stays consistent throughout the century, sea levels will rise 26 inches by 2100, said the authors. This number, however, is almost certainly a conservative estimate of future sea level change.
“The acceleration will probably go up as ice sheets start to respond more to the warming,” said Steve Nerem, lead author and fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at University of Colorado Boulder.
The study didn’t account for sea level changes from other factors such as as El Niño (or the Southern Oscillation), which affects ocean temperatures and precipitation, and the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.
“We have known from observations that the ice sheets and mountain glaciers have been losing mass at an accelerated rate over the past decade or so,” said Fernando Paolo, postdoctoral scholar at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who was not involved with the study.
This study shows “a clear acceleration in the 25-year sea level rise, which can be linked to the accelerated ice loss.”
“The big question in sea level science today is how are the ice sheets going to respond to the warming, and how quickly,” said Nerem.
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