By the end of the century, coastal cities could end up a lot closer to the coast than they started out: Global sea levels in 2014 rose at a rate 50 percent faster than in 1993, according to a new study by a multinational team of researchers released Monday.
The report, published in the Nature Climate Change journal, examined satellite data and was able to provide a unique insight into the rate of acceleration since the 1990s — a phenomenon scientists hypothesized over but had been mostly unable to confirm. By combining the satellite measurements with recorded ocean data researchers concluded, sea levels will rise by about 13 inches this century if the current rate of acceleration stays the same. But there’s also evidence to suggest the rate will continue to accelerate, and scientists say oceans are likely to rise about three feet.
Ice sheet and glacier melting are significant contributors to the rising water level, according to the study, as is “thermal expansion” where warming waters caused oceans to expand. A thaw in the Greenland Ice Sheet contributed to more than a quarter of the rise in 2014, up from just five percent in 1993.
Climate change and the impact on rising sea levels incur a broad set of consequences that should be addressed in policy, Chris Harig, one of the co-authors of the study and an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Arizona told VICE News.
“Sea level rises affects coastal communities, increasing temperature can affect crop growth, drought puts stress on water resources, etc,” Harig said. “We are currently observing these impacts, and I hope the biggest takeaway is that it’s far past time for meaningful governmental action to address climate change.”
“For sea level in particular, I hope this increases the urgency for open discussions about the mitigation costs we face over the next century,” Harig added.
Rising sea levels have long been seen as a threat to the global community. In a speech to the G7 on June 11, Hoesung Lee, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called rising sea levels “a threat to billions of people who live on or close to coasts, raising the possibility of large-scale displacement.”