Rising sea levels could inundate the US coastline by 2050, NASA predicts
Sea levels are likely rising faster than previously thought, meaning low-lying coastal cities in the U.S. could experience much more flooding in the coming decades, a NASA study has found.
According to the study, which analyzed three decades of satellite observations, sea levels along the coastlines of the contiguous U.S. could rise as much as 12 inches above current waterlines by 2050, the research team said. said in a statement (opens in new tab). The Gulf Coast and Southeast are expected to be hardest hit and likely to experience more storms and tidal flooding in the near future, according to the study, published Oct. 6 in the journal Communication Earth & Environment (opens in new tab).
The findings support the “higher” scenarios outlined in the multi-agency in February Sea level rise technical report (opens in new tab). The report suggested that “significant sea level rise” is likely to affect U.S. coasts over the next 30 years, predicting an average rise of 10 to 14 inches (25 to 35 cm) for the East Coast; 14 to 18 inches (35 to 45 cm) off the Gulf Coast; and 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) off the west coast.”
NASA’s study built on methods used in the earlier multi-agency report and was led by a team of researchers and scientists based on the Jet propulsion laboratory (opens in new tab) in California, which is dedicated to both exploring the deepest reaches of space and using satellites to increase “understanding” of the Earth.
NASA’s research used satellite altimeter measurements of sea surface height and then correlated them to national Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (opens in new tab) (NOAA) tide gauge data that is over 100 years old. As a result, NASA can confidently state that the satellite readings are not anomalous and are fully supported by ground-based findings.
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While the findings of the new study are undoubtedly cause for concern, Jonathan Overpeck (opens in new tab)an interdisciplinary climate scientist at the University of Michigan who was not involved in the study suggested the projections certainly don’t come out of the blue.
“NASA’s findings seem robust, and they’re not surprising. We know that sea level rise is accelerating, and we know why,” he told Live Science in an email. “More and more polar ice is melting, and this is on top of the oceans expanding as they warm. Obviously, sea level rise is going to get worse as long as we let it climate change Get on.”
This point of view is shared by David Holland (opens in new tab)a physical climate scientist and professor of math at New York University who was not involved in the study. “The quality of the satellite data is excellent, so the findings 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 expected rise for the Gulf Coast of about 1 foot by 2050 is huge. This could Hurricane-related storm surges even worse than they are today.”
Other factors may also be contributing to rising sea levels along the U.S. coastline. The study indicated that the problems associated with rising sea levels may be “amplified by natural variations on Soil“, such as the effects of El Niño and La Niña by the mid-2030s, with every U.S. coast experiencing “intensified high-water flooding due to fluctuation in the Moon“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 may lead to increased rainfall – and La Niña – the cooling of Pacific ocean surface waters – can help accurately predict the make sea level rise a challenge, and may skew the measurements. Ben Hamlington, leader of the NASA Sea Level Change Team, noted that natural events and phenomena should always be taken into account, saying that all forecasts will inevitably be refined as satellites collect data over time.
Despite the study’s bleak findings, some experts hope that impactful, high-profile research like this one will force decision-makers to focus on tackling the ongoing climate crisis and encourage the public to demand effective action.
“It’s impossible to ignore. I think this [increased flooding] is a catalyst for action as many coastal communities discuss these issues and how they respond,” said Robert Nichols (opens in new tab), director of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research in the UK, who was not involved in the study. “We have the resources to meet this challenge in terms of mitigation to stabilize the world temperatures and slow – but not quite stopping – sea level rise, which unfortunately will continue for centuries due to the pre workout we’ve been through it.”
Ultimately, humanity will have to adapt as climate change changes our planet’s oceans and seas.
“This may involve retreating in some places, raising land in others and defending elsewhere,” Nicholls told Live Science. “There is no one solution that can be applied everywhere. If we follow this path, the future will be manageable. Likewise, if governments and society ignore these issues, the future will be a real mess.”
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