The Danger of Rising Sea Levels

Photo take by Howard Lake
Photo taken by Howard Lake

Sea level rise literally means a rise in the sea level. Sea level rise serves as an indicator that the Earth is warming up. There are a lot of factors that contribute to rising sea levels. However, basically, this is the resultant effect of two contributory mechanisms. The first of these mechanisms is thermal expansion and the other is the melting of land ice. Thermal expansion is the ability of matter to alter its area, shape and volume in response to changes in temperature, through heat transfer. As the Ocean Heat Content (OHC) increases, the sea level rises due to thermal expansion. Ocean water expands as it becomes warm. The second explanation for the rising sea level is the melting of major land shores of ice such as ice sheets and glaciers.

Factors that have triggered rising sea levels

All the above listed factors that have triggered a sea level rise are being instigated majorly by human factors. The most important of these factors has been the unlimited and unregulated burning of fossil fuels thereby emitting greenhouse gases such as methane, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere. The major human activity that contributes to the release of greenhouse gases has burning of fossil fuels for transportation and energy. These gases are trapped in the atmosphere block heat contained in the atmosphere from escaping.

How has the sea level been rising

Thanks to data retrieved from the TOPEX/Poseidon as well as the Jason-1 and Jason-2 satellites, researchers have arrived at a comprehensive visualization of the changing sea levels between 1992 and 2014. The data collected shows that sea levels in the past years have gone up by a mean of 3 inches since 1992 over the past 22 years alone. Over the past century, the Global Mean Sea Level (GSML) has experienced a rise of between 4 – 8 inches. Going by these statistics, it is clear that the rate by which the sea level is rising is clearly speeding up. Over the past 20 years, the annual rate at which the sea level rises has increased to nearly twice the mean speed of the preceding 80 years.

Forecasted sea level rise

The forecasted sea level rise is dire. Recent research has shown that the oceans would likely rise a further 2.5 to 6.5 feet by 2100. This should be more than enough to swamp a majority of the cities on the East Coast of the United States.  Approximately 14 US cities are already losing the war to rising sea levels. Some like New Orleans are faced with an attack on two fronts: land and sea. A 2 feet rise in today’s sea levels will put 100 million Americans and over $1 trillion worth of property at risk of being inundated.

Yet this is by far the most optimistic estimate. More calamitous estimates show that a complete meltdown of the Greenland ice sheet should push the sea level a further 23 feet or 7 meters higher. This should be enough to swallow up London. Globally, it is expected that Venice, Shanghai, London, Miami, Boston, New York City, Atlantic city, Honolulu and The Himalayas may all be seriously affected by global warming. Meanwhile islands like the Maldives will most likely be extinct at the turn of the next century.

Effect of rising sea levels

Flood in Budapest, Photo taken by ddqhu
Photo taken by ddqhu

Rising sea levels result in increased flooding, extremely powerful storm surges that sweep away virtually anything in our part, and tsunamis. Indirect effects of rising sea levels have seen and will continue to witness the expansions of deserts such as the Sahara, triggering a global food crisis that could have a disastrous impact on the human race. Thanks to rising sea levels, it is predicted based on present deforestation rates, that the Amazon’s 1.4 billion acres of rain forest will be history by 2030. The Alps, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and Peru’s Machu Picchu are all likely to be extinct within the next 30 – 100 years.

Solutions to sea level rise

Despite predictions that rising sea levels would certainly prevent us from seeing another millennia, all hope is not lost for the human race. Over the past two decades, industrialized countries have made the first shaky steps towards limiting the factors that cause sea level rise. One of this actions was the curbing of sulfur dioxide, carbon and smug emissions. However, it was recently discovered that reducing the amount of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere lets more sunlight through blocking the earth. Nonetheless, there are certain basic actions that will reduce global warming and the rising sea level. The basic personal contributions that we can make are flying and driving less, conservation and recycling.  On a transnational scale, the Paris Agreement ratified by 118 nations on November 18, 2016, is a major step towards a global effort at combating rising sea levels and other effects of climate change.

Read related article The Earth’s temperature is rising.

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