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Sea Level to Rise Up to a Foot by 2050, According to NASA Team Led by JPL Research Scientist

Published on Friday, February 18, 2022 | 6:33 am
 

NASA’s Sea Level Change Team, led by Ben Hamlington, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, has concluded coastal flooding will increase significantly over the next 30 years, with the sea level along U.S. coastlines rising between 10 to 12 inches on average above today’s levels by 2050.  

The team, established in 2014 with the goal of improving the understanding of regional relative sea-level change on a range of timescales, is part of an interagency sea level rise task force that includes NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other federal agencies. Its newest report dated Feb. 17 forecasts sea level to the year 2150, and for the first time offers near-term projections for the next 30 years. 

The report is titled “Global and Regional Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States,” an update to a 2017 report. Agencies at the federal, state, and local levels have been using the team’s reports as they organize plans on anticipating and coping with the effects of sea level rise. 

The task force developed their near-term sea level rise projections by drawing on an improved understanding of how the processes that contribute to rising seas – melting glaciers, ice sheets, and complex interactions between ocean, land, and ice – will affect ocean height. 

“That understanding has really advanced since the 2017 report, which gave us more certainty over how much sea level rise we’ll get in the coming decades,” Hamlington, one of the update’s lead authors, said. 

Hamlington’s team has also developed an online mapping tool to visualize the report’s state-of-the-art sea level rise projections on a localized level across the U.S. 

“The hope is that the online tool will help make the information as widely accessible as possible,” Hamlington said. 

According to the team’s latest report, there will be an uptick in the frequency and intensity of high-tide coastal flooding, otherwise known as nuisance flooding, because of higher sea level. The report also notes that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, global temperatures will become even greater, leading to a greater likelihood that sea level rise by the end of the century will exceed the projections in the 2022 update.

“This report supports previous studies and confirms what we have long known: sea levels are continuing to rise at an alarming rate, endangering communities around the world,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said. “Science is indisputable and urgent action is required to mitigate a climate crisis that is well underway.” 

Nelson added that NASA is steadfast in its commitment to protect the home planet by expanding the agency’s monitoring capabilities and ensuring that climate data is “not only accessible but understandable.” 

NASA sea level researchers have years of experience studying how Earth’s changing climate will affect the ocean. Their work includes research forecasting how much coastal flooding U.S. communities will experience in 10 years, helping to visualize data from the  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on global sea level rise using an online visualization tool, and launching satellites that contribute data to a decades-long record of global sea surface height.

“It takes a village to make climate predictions,” Nadya Vinogradova Shiffer, who directs the NASA Sea Level Change Team at NASA headquarters, said. “When you combine NASA’s scenarios of global sea level rise with NOAA’s estimates of extreme water levels and the U.S. Geological Survey’s impact studies, you get a robust national estimate of the projected future that awaits American coastal communities and our economic infrastructure in 20, 30, or 100 years from now.” 

“This is a global wake-up call and gives Americans the information needed to act now to best position ourselves for the future,” Dr. Rick Spinrad, NOAA Administrator, said. “As we build a Climate Ready Nation, these updated data can inform coastal communities and others about current and future vulnerabilities in the face of climate change and help them make smart decisions to keep people and property safe over the long run.”

A separate report, the forthcoming Fifth National Climate Assessment, produced by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, will be the latest in a series summarizing the impacts of climate change on the U.S. It will in turn use the results from the Global and Regional Sea Level Rise report in its analysis. The Climate Assessment is slated to be published in 2023.

To learn more about the work of NASA’s Sea Level Change Team, visit www.sealevel.nasa.gov

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