Most US coastlines could see average sea level rise of ONE foot by 2050, new NASA study reveals


Sea level along contiguous U.S. coastlines could rise as much as one foot about today’s waterline by 2050, according to a new analysis of three decades of satellite observations. 

Scientists hope that these studies can help coastal communities prepare for any type of near-term flooding, whether it’s catastrophic or minor. 

Global sea level has been rising for decades in part because of a warming climate. Predicting exactly how fast they will increase over time is something that scientists have struggled with over the years. 

The results from NASA’s Sea Level Change Team support the higher-range scenarios listed in a major report from several agencies in February. 

Sea level along contiguous U.S. coastlines could rise as much as one foot about today’s waterline by 2050, according to a new analysis of three decades of satellite observations

Global sea level has been rising for decades in part because of a warming climate. Above: This image of Earth shows sea level measured by the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite in 2021. Red areas are regions where sea level is higher than normal while blue indicates where it’s below normal. The satellite collects measurements for about 90% of Earth’s ocean

Global sea level has been rising for decades in part because of a warming climate. Above: This image of Earth shows sea level measured by the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite in 2021. Red areas are regions where sea level is higher than normal while blue indicates where it’s below normal. The satellite collects measurements for about 90% of Earth’s ocean

That report projected 10 to 14 inches of rise on average for the East Coast, 14 to 18 inches for the Gulf Coast and 4 to 8 inches for the West Coast. 

A team led by scientists from the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California used 28 years of satellite measurements from 1993 to 2020 – looking at where the trends were going – to determine that sea level rise will likely be in the higher range of estimates for all regions. 

For their study published in Nature, they used gridded measurements of sea level created by a network of satellites along with tide gauge observations to extrapolate what the rate of rise will be between now and 2050 based on the data from 1993 to 2020. 

NASA notes that the trends are much higher along America’s Southeast and Gulf coasts than the Northeast and West coasts. 

There is, however, uncertainty within these predictions, which results from a range of factors – including the impact of storms, climate variability and the natural sinking or shifting of Earth’s surface along different parts of the coast. 

In 1989, James Hansen, who is a professor of directing the program on climate science at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, reportedly said in an interview that the West Side Highway – which runs along the Hudson River in New York City – would be underwater in 20 years. 

Although New York City was ravaged by flooding during Superstorm Sandy, the West Side Highway is not underwater. 

For their study published in Nature , they used gridded measurements of sea level created by a network of satellites along with tide gauge observations to extrapolate what the rate of rise will be between now and 2050 based on the data from 1993 to 2020. Above: A 100-year record is broken in St. Louis after seven inches of rain falls overnight sparking flash-flooding

For their study published in Nature , they used gridded measurements of sea level created by a network of satellites along with tide gauge observations to extrapolate what the rate of rise will be between now and 2050 based on the data from 1993 to 2020. Above: A 100-year record is broken in St. Louis after seven inches of rain falls overnight sparking flash-flooding 

There is, however, uncertainty within these predictions, which results from a range of factors - including the impact of storms, climate variability and the natural sinking or shifting of Earth's surface along different parts of the coast. Above: Definition of the coastal regions used in this study: Northeast (blue), Southeast (orange), Gulf (red), West (purple). Tide gauges used are shown as white markers.

There is, however, uncertainty within these predictions, which results from a range of factors – including the impact of storms, climate variability and the natural sinking or shifting of Earth’s surface along different parts of the coast. Above: Definition of the coastal regions used in this study: Northeast (blue), Southeast (orange), Gulf (red), West (purple). Tide gauges used are shown as white markers.

'The bottom line is that when looking ahead to what we might experience in coming years, we need to consider these higher possibilities,' said NASA's Ben Hamlington. Sea level change from 2020 to 2050 for four different regions along the coastlines of the United States: Northeast Coast (a), Southeast Coast (b), Gulf Coast (c) and West Coast (d)

‘The bottom line is that when looking ahead to what we might experience in coming years, we need to consider these higher possibilities,’ said NASA’s Ben Hamlington. Sea level change from 2020 to 2050 for four different regions along the coastlines of the United States: Northeast Coast (a), Southeast Coast (b), Gulf Coast (c) and West Coast (d)

‘A key takeaway is that sea level rise along the U.S. coast has continued to accelerate over the past three decades,’ said JPL’s Ben Hamlington, leader of the NASA Sea Level Change Team and a co-author of both the new study and the earlier report, in a statement. 

Hamlington said that scientists have been trying to refine sea level estimates for communities’ near-term planning. 

‘We’ve been hearing from practitioners and planners along the coasts that they need more information on shorter timescales – looking not 70 or 80 years into the future, but looking 20 or 30 years into the future,’ he said. 

‘The bottom line is that when looking ahead to what we might experience in coming years, we need to consider these higher possibilities.’

'We’ve been hearing from practitioners and planners along the coasts that they need more information on shorter timescales – looking not 70 or 80 years into the future, but looking 20 or 30 years into the future,' he said. Above: An illustration of the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite. Launched in Nov. 2020, it is the latest in a series of spacecraft that have gathered ocean height measurements for nearly 30 years

‘We’ve been hearing from practitioners and planners along the coasts that they need more information on shorter timescales – looking not 70 or 80 years into the future, but looking 20 or 30 years into the future,’ he said. Above: An illustration of the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite. Launched in Nov. 2020, it is the latest in a series of spacecraft that have gathered ocean height measurements for nearly 30 years

'A key takeaway is that sea level rise along the U.S. coast has continued to accelerate over the past three decades,' said JPL’s Ben Hamlington, leader of the NASA Sea Level Change Team and a co-author of both the new study and the earlier report, in a statement. Above: A building is submerged amid flooding in Canton, Mississippi, U.S. August 24, 2022 in this screengrab obtained from a social media video

‘A key takeaway is that sea level rise along the U.S. coast has continued to accelerate over the past three decades,’ said JPL’s Ben Hamlington, leader of the NASA Sea Level Change Team and a co-author of both the new study and the earlier report, in a statement. Above: A building is submerged amid flooding in Canton, Mississippi, U.S. August 24, 2022 in this screengrab obtained from a social media video

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