Satellite Data Show Sea-Level Rise Will Double Previous Estimates

Rescue boats ferry Houston residents to higher ground during Hurricane Harvey last year. A new study suggests the sea level could be rising faster than scientists believed and could worsen the impact of coastal storms like Harvey

The first of these was warmer water expanding, with this "thermal expansion" of the oceans having contributed around half of the 7cm global mean sea level rise over the last 25 years. The data aligns with the current rate of sea level rise of about 3 millimeters or 0.1 inches per year.

But according to a new analysis of satellite data collected over the past 25 years and published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that rate is increasing by almost a tenth of a millimeter per year - meaning that by the turn of the next century, the ocean could be continuing to rise at more than three times its current rate.

At that rate, sea levels would be 26 inches higher at the turn of the century than today - more than double current projections that assume a constant rate, Nerem and his colleagues found.

Because of this, the researchers say their findings are a "conservative" estimate.

You know how we've been freaking out about how quickly global warming is causing ice to melt and sea levels to rise? Such a level rise could leave world's coastal cities' portions underwater.

Before this study was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists had suspected sea level rise was accelerating but didn't have the data yet to prove it.

Sea levels aren't just steadily rising-they're accelerating, according to a new assessment based on 25 years of satellite data.

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The team also used tide gauge data to assess potential errors in the altimeter estimate. This study shows "a clear acceleration in the 25-year sea level rise, which can be linked to the accelerated ice loss".

"So far, the difficulty in measuring sea level has made detecting acceleration very hard", said Joseph Majkut, climate scientist at the Niskanen Center, a pro-climate action libertarian think tank.

Oceans also rise with the increasing flow of water due to rapidly melting ice at the poles.

Sea levels are set to rise by at least two feet (65cm) by 2100, more than twice as much as predicted by some models.

The rather steady sea level rise observed to date, just starting to accelerate, has already proven disruptive in many USA coastal areas.

Nerem and his team took into account natural changes in sea level thanks to cycles such as El Niño/La Niña and even events such as the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, which altered sea levels worldwide for several years.

In 2018, NASA will launch two new satellite missions that will be critical to improving future sea level projections: the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission, a partnership with GeoForschungsZentrum (GFZ) in Germany, will continue measurements of the mass of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets; while the Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) will make highly accurate observations of the elevation of ice sheets and glaciers.

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