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Rising sea levels could swamp the US coastline by 2050, NASA predicts

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This aerial view shows floodwater surrounding a building following Hurricane Nicole’s arrival on November 10, 2022 in Daytona Beach. Nicole arrived as a Category 1 hurricane just before she hit Florida’s east coast.
(Image credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images).

NASA has found that sea levels are likely to rise faster than previously thought. This means that low-lying coastal cities could be subject to flooding in the next few decades.

The research team released a statement that analyzed three decades’ worth of satellite images and found that the sea level along the coasts could rise by as much as 30 centimeters (30 inches) above the current waterline. The Gulf Coast and Southeast are expected to be most severely impacted, and will likely experience increased storm and tidal flooding in the near future, according to the study, published Oct. 6 in the journal Communications Earth & Environment (opens in new tab).

These results support the “higher range” scenarios that were described in February’s multi-agency Sea Level Rise Technical Report. The report predicted that sea level rise will be significant for the U.S. coasts in the next 30 years. This included a prediction of 10 to 15 inches (25 to 35cm) on the East Coast, 14 to 18 inches for the Gulf Coast and 4 to 8inches (10 to 20cm) for West Coast.

Related: NASA and government taskforce predict historic sea-level rise

NASA’s study incorporated methods from the previous multi-agency report. The study was directed by a team consisting of scientists and researchers who are based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California. They are dedicated to exploring deep space, as well as using satellites for “advanced understanding” of Earth.

NASA’s research used satellite altimeter measurements to measure sea surface height and then linked them with records from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations (NOAA), tide gauge records that date back more than 100 years. NASA is able to confidently state that satellite readings are consistent with ground-based findings.

Although the findings of the new study are concerning, Jonathan Overpeck of the University of Michigan, an interdisciplinarity climate scientist, stated that the projections did not come out of nowhere. 

“NASA’s findings are solid and not surprising. In an email, he stated that the sea level rise is on the rise and explained why in a statement to Live Science. “More and greater polar ice melts, and this is in addition to the oceans expanding as their temperatures rise. The sea level rise is only going to get worse if climate change continues.

The melting Greenland ice sheets create lakes of melted water.  David Holland, a New York University professor of mathematics and a climate scientist, shares this view. Holland said in an email that “the quality of the satellite data are excellent, and so the findings can be trusted.” The study shows that the oceans are rising and that it is increasing rapidly. It is estimated that the Gulf coast will see a rise of approximately 1 foot by 2050. This could make hurricane-related storm surges worse than they are now.

Rising sea levels may also be caused by other factors along the U.S. coast. The study indicated that the issues associated with rising sea levels could be “amplified by natural variabilities on Earth,” such as the effects of El Niño and La Niña by the mid-2030s, with every U.S. coast set to encounter “more intense high-tide floods due to a wobble in the moon’s orbit that occurs every 18.6 years,” according to the statement.

The effects of El Niño — the warming of surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near South America which can lead to increased rainfall — and La Niña — the cooling of surface ocean waters in the Pacific — can make accurately forecasting sea level rise a challenge, and can potentially skew readings. Ben Hamlington is the leader of NASA Sea Level Change Team. He noted that natural phenomena and events will always be considered and that all forecasts will undoubtedly be refined as satellites gather more data.

Satellites such as the EUMETSAT/NASA-operated Sentinel 6 Michael Freilich carry advanced altimeters that allows it to make more precise measurements of global sea levels than its predecessors. (Image credit to ESA) Despite the bleak results, experts believe that high-profile, impactful research like this will encourage decision-makers and the public to demand that effective measures are taken to address the climate crisis.

“It is impossible not to notice. This is what I believe [increased flooding] “It is catalyzing change, as many coastal municipalities are discussing these topics and how to respond,” Robert Nicholls (director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, U.K.), said. “We have the means to deal with this challenge in terms of mitigation to stabilize global temperatures and slow — but not completely stop — sea level rise, which, unfortunately, will continue for centuries due to the warming we have already experienced.”

As the climate changes affect our oceans and seas, humanity will ultimately need to adapt. 

Nicholls stated that it could be retreating in some areas, or raising land elsewhere. There may also be defenses elsewhere. “There is no universal solution. The future can be managed if we follow this path. These issues are equally important for society and governments. Otherwise, it will lead to a mess in the future.

This article was originally published by Live Science.

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Joe Phelan, a London-based journalist, is his name. His work was published in VICE magazine and National Geographic. World Soccer and The Blizzard. He The Arctic Circle is a place where he finds the strange, the wonderful, and the under-examined. He He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Chester. 

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