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Sea Levels May Be Rising Faster Than Predicted

What that means for Miami and coastal communities everywhere.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Climate scientists and researchers have spent the last 20-plus years pleading with governments and companies to reduce carbon emissions, which have been directly linked to the rise in sea levels for several years. National Geographic reports that “the Global Mean Sea Level (GMSL) has risen by 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters). However, the annual rate of rise over the past 20 years has been 0.13 inches (3.2 millimeters) a year, roughly twice the average speed of the preceding 80 years.” And while 4 to 8 inches may not seem like a lot, this small increase adds up over time. In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s annual Assessment Report predicted that ocean levels would rise more than 3 feet by the end of this century, according to Wired.


Miami is already experiencing the effects of rising sea levels. Brian McNoldy, a senior researcher at the University of Miami’s marine and atmospheric sciences school, and his team have analyzed the past 19 years of sea level data from Virginia Key, a small island south of Miami Beach. Since 1996, sea levels at Virginia Key’s shores have gone up 3.7 inches. McNoldy summarized his team’s findings in a post updated yesterday and highlighted the most problematic implications of the data.

First, McNoldy and his team found that the rate of sea level increase over time is accelerating, likely faster than the IPCC predictions; in the last five years the high tide off Virginia Key has gone up an average of 1.27 inches per year, much faster than the previous 10 years. Coastal communities like Miami may experience more severe flooding more often.

Second, drinking water could be affected. Rising sea levels can cause saltwater to enter freshwater aquifers, used widely in South Florida and many other communities to provide potable water. Some Florida cities have already been forced to shut down wells due to saltwater contamination.

Lastly, the rise in water levels will also threaten the ability to plan for weather events. Everyday tide levels are predicted by the moon’s orbit around the earth. However, these predictions don’t take into account the weather or the rise in sea levels, which means as climate change accelerates the rise of sea levels, tidal predictions will be more unreliable.

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