A new sea level rise study predicts a "worrisome" rise in ocean levels is coming. The study, published in the journal Science, found current global temperatures are essentially the same today as they were 130,000 years ago. However, sea levels back then were 20 to 30 feet higher, prompting scientists to think the same is possible soon.
The probable association of increased temperatures and higher sea levels in the ancient past has scientists wondering how this may influence current ocean levels if nothing is done to curb the effects of climate change.
"The trend is worrisome," said the report, as cited by Phys.org. "Collectively, these results may help scientists better understand how oceans will respond to modern warming."
The Earth is billions of years old, and it has experienced numerous periods of warming and cooling. During a cool period, some ocean water freezes and glaciers expand, causing sea levels to fall. In a subsequent warm period, the ice thaws and ocean levels rise. These phases of naturally occurring climate change, triggered by variations in the Earth's orbit and fluctuating greenhouse gasses, can last tens of thousands of years.
For the study, researchers from Oregon State University, University College Dublin, the University of Wisconsin, and the Science Museum of Virginia took core samples of deep seabed sediments at 83 separate locations. The sediment samples established a pattern of local surface temperature and sea levels that occurred during the last interglacial period between 116,000 and 129,000 years ago.
The data taken from the samples were compared to measurements taken from 1870-1889 and then compared to 1995-2014 data sets. Upon analysis, the scientists concluded the temperatures around 129,000 years ago closely matched those seen in the 1870-1889 average. Just 4,000 years later, the estimated temperatures were fairly similar to the warmth being felt today.
Global temperatures directly affect sea levels by causing ice shelves to melt and water to expand as it heats up. The process typically takes hundreds or thousands of years before any real effect is felt.
"The good news is that with luck it will continue to rise slowly, so that we have time to adapt, but the bad news is that eventually all our present coastal city locations will be inundated," said Professor Andrew Watson, a climate change scientist, per a report from the Guardian.
The sea level rise study is significant to climate experts as it suggests that temperature changes that should take thousands of years are now occurring within 100 years. In comparison, sea levels have risen about eight inches just in the last century.
"This demonstrates humanity's rapid impact on the planet and raises the possibility of significant longer-term rises in sea level," Meric Srokosz, an ocean climate scientist at the University of Southampton, as quoted by Phys.org.
Recent measurements suggest that ice in Greenland and Antarctica melting from rising temperatures is to blame for the current increase in sea level. According to data released by the UN, sea levels are expected to rise as high as 26 inches by 2050. Other climate change scientists warn the levels could be as high as six feet by 2100 if nothing is done to slow the rate of atmospheric heating.
Scientists hope the information discovered from the sea level rise study will help predict how the Earth's oceans and atmosphere may react to the current warming trend happening worldwide. No one can say with accuracy just how much ocean levels will rise in the coming years, but experts are using this current study to sound the alarm that something needs to be done quickly to combat global warming on a massive scale or face a rising tide of potential environmental catastrophes.
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