NASA has some bad news about sea levels

Remember 1992? Remember Shakespear’s Sister topping the charts with Stay? Remember Denmark surprising everyone to lift the European Championship football trophy? Remember sea levels being three inches lower than they are today?

The last of these probably wasn’t the most memorable, but, with no disrespect meant to Shakespear’s Sister or Richard Møller Nielsen, was undoubtedly the most important. New data from NASA has revealed that, on average, sea levels have risen a whopping three inches over the last 23 years, and they’re not optimistic that it will get any better. “It’s very likely to get worse in the future,” said University of Colorado geophysicist Steve Nerem.

That’s in line with the predictions made by a 2013 United Nations panel, which predicted a rise of around one to three feet by the end of the century. The current speed suggests we’ll be at the top end of that or beyond. This new pessimism is seen as optimistic by former NASA scientist James Hansen who predicts even worse – around nine feet in the next 50 years, which as I wrote back in July, does nasty things to the United Kingdom:britain_with_three_metres_of_water

Worldwide, over 150 million people live within a metre of the sea – most of them in Asia – and any kind of sea level rise is going to make that difficult.

One important caveat to point out is that three inches of sea level rise is the global average, and there are fluctuations across the world: some rose as much as nine inches, while other areas, such as the West Coast of the United States, actually fell.

If you live on the West Coast and briefly felt happy at that news, this ain’t that kind of article, buddy: scientists believe the only reason for the fall is that ocean currents and natural cycles are currently offsetting a rise, and that the coast will see a stark increase over the next 20 years.

“People need to understand that the planet is not only changing, it’s changed,” said NASA scientist Tom Wagner. “If you’re going to put in major infrastructure like a water treatment plant or a power plant in a coastal zone, we have data you can now use to estimate what the impacts are going to be in the next 100 years.”

You can see NASA’s Josh Willis discussing the research with an interactive map in the video below:

Let’s be incredibly optimistic and say that humans will react as one and immediately change our collective ways. Can we fix it?

“It would take centuries to reverse the trend of ice retreat,” said Eric Rignot, a glaciologist from the University of California.

Well, if NASA aren’t going to provide a positive take-home from this post, it looks like it’s down to me.



Ah! Shakespear’s Sister are no longer top of the charts.

Image: Tony Webster, used under Creative Commons

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