21 June 2011

Time to Sell That Ocean Front Property? New Study on Sea Level Rise

Could Calvin Be Underwater?
The rate of sea level rise along the U.S. Atlantic coast is greater now than at any time in the past 2,000 years, according to a new study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The study suggests a consistent link between changes in global mean surface temperature and sea level.

"Having a detailed picture of rates of sea level change over the past two millennia provides an important context for understanding current and potential future changes," says Paul Cutler, program director in NSF's Division of Earth Sciences.

"It's especially valuable for anticipating the evolution of coastal systems," he says, "in which more than half the world's population now lives."

The researchers developed the first continuous sea-level reconstruction for the past 2,000 years, and compared variations in global temperature to changes in sea level over that time period.  They then compared their reconstructions with tide-gauge measurements from North Carolina for the past 80 years, along with global tide-gauge records for the past 300 years.

North Carolina has been identified by NOAA as one of three states with significant vulnerability to sea level rise and has its own task force, the North Carolina Sea level Rise Risk Management Study, to examine the issue.

The NSF team found that sea levels have risen by more than 2 millimeters per year on average since the 19th century, the steepest rate for more than 2,100 years.  (That is, I must mention, .07874 of an inch each year, but it does add up over time.)

At the very least, some researchers suggest such a continued rise in sea level could add up to increased flooding, land loss, and the incursion of saltwater into rivers and marshes -- or it could be dramatically worse.

Another report, released in May by the Oslo-based Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), suggested that coastal communities, cities, and planners may want to prepare for a sea level rise of between 3 to 5 feet (0.9 meters - 1.6 meters) by century's end.

That means the beachfront property you are enjoying this summer could be underwater.  Perhaps it's time to start looking at those "future beachfront lots" currently located on higher ground.

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