Rapid Sea Level Rise Along US Coastline Exceeds Predictions, Urgent Action Needed
Sea levels along the United States coastline have been rising rapidly over the past 12 years, according to a new study published in Nature Communications. The research found that the coastline along the southeastern US and the Gulf Coast has risen by half an inch every year since 2010. The findings significantly exceed previous predictions and suggest that the effects of climate change on coastal communities are more urgent than previously thought.
The study shows that sea level rise is transforming the US coastline, with the rate increasing faster in the last decade around the Gulf and Southeastern coasts. The researchers identified that the entire Subtropical Gyre region has expanded over the past 12 years due to shifting wind patterns and increasing temperatures. The increase in size due to this expansion has led to a greater demand for space by the warmer water bodies, thereby adding to the escalation in the sea level.
The acceleration of sea level rise has put even more stress on vulnerable coastlines, particularly in Louisiana and Texas where the land is sinking rapidly. The research identified that the hurricanes that have recently battered the Gulf Coast, including Michael in 2018 and Ian in 2022, had a more severe impact because of higher sea levels.
The authors of the study used a combination of field and satellite measurements since 1900, pinpointing the individual contributors to the acceleration. They found that the acceleration is a widespread signal that extends from the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico up to Cape Hatteras in North Carolina and into the North Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Seas, which is indicative of changes in the ocean’s density and circulation.
According to scientists, the recent increase in speed was an unfortunate combination of signals from human-induced climate change and a peak in variability related to weather that persisted for several years. They conclude that the rates will likely return to the more moderate values predicted by climate models in the coming decades.
Another study, currently a preprint that has not yet been peer-reviewed, found the significant rise in sea level in the Southeast is responsible “for 30-50% of flood days in 2015-2020.” The study notes that even a few centimeters of sea level rise can break the regional flooding thresholds and lead to coastal inundation.
The authors of the research call for interdisciplinary and collaborative efforts to sustainably face these challenges. The findings underscore the urgent need to address climate change to protect vulnerable coastal communities.
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