Earth Is Probably Locked Into at Least Three Feet of Sea Level Rise

Illustration for article titled Earth Is Probably Locked Into at Least Three Feet of Sea Level Rise

Global sea levels are expected to rise at least three feet in the coming generations, displacing hundreds of millions of people, NASA said this week. And the space agency is prepared to catalog the disappearance of Earth’s coastlines in rich scientific detail.


Over at Motherboard, Becky Ferreira has a rundown of a recent NASA panel discussion on Earth’s rising seas. At the panel — which can be watched in its entirety here — leading NASA scientists discuss how much sea levels have already risen due to melting glaciers and warming surface waters, how scientists are measuring the swell, and what we can do to prevent the most catastrophic sea level scenarios from coming to pass.

According to NASA, Earth’s global mean sea level has risen approximately six centimeters (2.75 inches) over the past 23 years, and sea levels are continuing to rise at a rate of roughly 3 mm per year, with the ocean rising faster in some regions and subsiding in others. The bottom line, according to Steve Nerem of NASA’s Sea Level Change Team? “Given what we know now about how the ocean expands as it warms and how ice sheets and glaciers are adding water to the seas, it’s pretty certain we are locked into at least three feet of sea level rise, and probably more.”

That’s right: There’s a very real possibility that Earth could be in store for something much more dramatic than three feet of sea level rise. The exact number largely depends on the outcome of the Paris climate conference this December, at which global leaders could come to a resolution to dramatically curtail humanity’s carbon emissions.

One way or another, NASA will be watching everything unfold via a suite of Earth-orbiting satellites and plane-based missions. Learn more about how the space agency plans to study the global climate experiment we’ve created over at Motherboard.


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Top image: YouTube screenshot, via NASA




Isn’t there a slight silver lining to this? The oceans are the primary means of carbon sequestration. If they rise, they will have a greater surface area and be able to grab more C02 from the air. It could lead to a negative feedback loop, assuming the ocean biosphere isn’t completely overfished.

Is that the case, or am I missing something?