The Effects of Climate Change – Rising Sea Levels

Sea levels around the world have been rising steadily in the last 100 years and the rate at which they are rising has been increasing rapidly in recent years. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), between 1900 and 1990 sea levels rose an average of 5 inches. In just the 25 years between 1990 and 2015, however, sea levels increased an astonishing 3 inches. Furthermore, scientists estimate that global ocean levels will continue to grow at a rate of about one-eighth of an inch each year.
The majority of reputable scientists agree that global sea level change is directly related to a changing climate – which was set in motion in the industrial age, and had sped up alongside an increased use of fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil). Human use of fossil fuels has released an enormous amount of greenhouse gasses (carbon dioxide, methane, and others) that become trapped and concentrated in the earth’s atmosphere causing the planet’s average temperature to increase dramatically.
Increased heat in the atmosphere causes the planet’s oceans to warm as well. Scientists estimate that oceans absorb more than 90% of the heat in the atmosphere that comes from gas emissions from human activity. Heated oceans then lead to the rapid melting of glaciers and ice sheets in the north and south poles. Sea water, once safely locked in the ice, melts and flows into the oceans contributing to an even greater rise in sea levels. NOAA estimates that the amount of sea level rise due to land-based ice melting has almost doubled that of ocean expansion in just the last decade.
A few inches of water, in comparison to the vastness of the world’s seas and oceans may not seem like a lot, but just a small increase has the potential to unleash enormous and catastrophic impacts on the environment, global economies, and most importantly on the lives of people around the world. Higher sea levels will make storms more deadly and destructive leading to massive flooding. One estimate found that costly and deadly floods in U.S. coastal communities could be as much as 900% more frequent than it was only 50 years ago. Forty percent of the US population is located in densely populated coastal areas. They now face regular flooding as well as the rapid erosion of shorelines and other storm hazards. Many of our country’s largest cities are located on shorelines – rising oceans destroy critical infrastructure as well as people’s homes – which are all costly to repair.
But we should be much more concerned about the impact of rising sea levels on the many smaller island countries and poorer nations. The U.S. and other industrial nations have resources (wealth, technology, and land mass) that will allow them to rebuild, move inland and adjust in ways that could help them “weather the storms”. Other nations and people around the world aren’t so lucky. Smaller, and less affluent, island nations – especially those in the Pacific (Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands) are faced with the very real possibility of losing the entirety of the land of their nations. They have no inland to move into. In the meantime, their sources of drinking water and farmlands are inundated with sea water, making life already uncertain perilous.