A newly published study suggests that previous sea level rise predictions derived from computer models might have been too conservative all along. Instead of rising at a steady rate each year, the research hints that our planet’s waters are rising at a progressively faster pace, and could lead to sea rise figures at the start of the next century being at least two times higher than originally forecasted.
In a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers took 25 years of satellite data to calculate the current rate in which sea level rise figures increase each year. With the world’s sea levels advancing by about three millimeters per year, and the researchers’ estimates suggesting this global figure is rising faster by about.08 millimeters per year, Quartz noted that sea levels might be rising by approximately 10 millimeters per year by 2100.
All in all, the researchers forecast sea levels to be 26 inches higher in 2100 than they are in present times, should they continue increasing at the rate predicted by the new study. That estimate is in line with the findings of the most recent International Panel on Climate Change report, which suggested a figure of 20 to 28 inches by the turn of the new century. However, the new overall sea level rise projections are also more than twice as high as those that are based on a constant annual rate of increase.
Although the figures point to a dire set of expectations if global warming continues unabated, lead author Steve Nerem, a professor of aerospace engineering sciences at the University of Colorado-Boulder, said that there’s a good chance his team’s estimates are conservative. He explained that the forecasts did not take into account any fortuitous events that could increase sea levels, such as faster ice melt in Earth’s polar regions, or the further collapse of ice sheets. And while people might not notice any obvious changes at first, Nerem told Seeker that sea level rise may be far more obvious in 2100 than it is today.
“In 2100, people … would be able to go on vacation to the beach and come back 10 or 20 years later and see a difference,” said Nerem.
Regarding the reasons behind the faster rate in which the world’s sea levels are rising, the researchers noted that more than three-fourths of the acceleration can be traced to ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica. While much higher sea levels in the year 2100 could be a troubling sign, should the predictions be accurate, Nerem was quoted by The Guardian as saying that he doesn’t expect the effects to be “catastrophic” in coastal cities like Miami and New Orleans, as he believes these cities could survive rapidly rising sea levels in the new century, albeit at “great expense.”