Rising Sea Levels

Of all the potential results of global warming impacting humans, a rise in sea level is viewed as one of the most serious, harmful, and destructive. Rising sea level has the potential to have a negative impact on human survival, environmental health, and economics, hence the lifestyle of millions of people worldwide. Because of this, understanding sea-level rise—through measurement, observation, and interpretation—has been a key focus of many climatologists during recent years. Sea-level rise accelerated during the 1900s. The increase of greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere from anthropogenic sources has warmed the environment enough that the global average sea level has risen 4-8 inches (10-20 cm).

As the atmosphere has warmed in recent decades and glaciers and ice caps have melted, it has directly affected ocean levels. It is expected that sea level rise will continue, and even accelerate, if global warming continues at the same pace. At one time, the large polar ice sheets were assumed to be stable, but that is no longer the case. Current models are being refined as Earth's masses of ice react to changing temperatures. Predicting future sea-level rise is difficult as climatologists work to understand the dynamic behavior and delicate balance of Earth's enormous, changing ice sheets.

This chapter looks at the issues surrounding sea-level rise. It outlines what sea-level rise is and how it is calculated, then presents a historical perspective. Next, it addresses variations in sea level and the effects change will have in different areas of the world. It concludes by touching on how experts are attempting to make future projections.

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