Sea level rise due to warming oceans and melting ice is by now unavoidable. According to new NASA research released this week, sea levels have risen an average of almost 3 inches since 1992. At that pace, oceans will have risen by 3 feet by the end of the century — and it may get worse with time.
"We are locked into at least 3 feet of sea level rise."
"Given what we know now about how the ocean expands as it warms and how ice sheets and glaciers are adding water to the seas," explained Steve Nerem, lead of NASA's new Sea Level Change Team, "it’s pretty certain we are locked into at least 3 feet of sea level rise, and probably more. But we don't know whether it will happen within a century or somewhat longer."
The findings are based on 23 years of sea level data pulled from three consecutive satellite missions. Research does show that sea level changes vary around the world. The west coast of the United States, for instance, has actually seen falling sea levels in recent years. However, that will likely change with time, especially as ice in Greenland — which has lost an average of 303 gigatons of ice mass every year for the past decade — gives way to warming seas.
Antarctica could compound the problem immensely, too, since it has a great deal more ice mass than Greenland. Scientists are currently unsure about how stable the region is. "The prevailing view among specialists has been that East Antarctica is stable," said Jet Propulsion Lab researcher Eric Rignot, "but we don’t really know."
The effects can already be felt today
Sea level changes are already affecting people around the world, bringing increased flood waters to places like Miami. Thus, rising waters will pose real dangers to coastal cities in the years to come. For now, NASA is working feverishly to understand the issue. Hopefully, policymakers will respond to its findings.