Maintaining the status quo in terms of greenhouse gas emissions will cause Earth to reach the 2 degree Celsius threshold increase in global temperatures that scientists are attempting to prevent by 2040, which may have a catastrophic impact on the sea level, according to a new study.
The findings, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), show that such warming would result in an average sea-level of one-half foot globally, but some areas – including the east coast of the US – could see increases of more than a foot, according to the Washington Post. Such changes could catastrophically affect the world’s coastlines.
“Basically, we warmed our planet by 2 degrees in 200 years, and we will do it in just 40 years time,” lead author Svetlana Jevrejeva of the UK’s National Oceanography Centre, who collaborated on the study with colleagues from China, Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands, explained during an interview with the Post’s Chris Mooney on Monday.
The one-half foot average increase, based on comparisons with average sea levels from 1986 to 2005, could just be the beginning, however, as Jevrejeva’s team also discovered that unless there are changes, the sea level around New York could increase by more than 3 1/2 feet by 2100. The study presents a worst-case scenario, the authors admit, but is based on an analysis of 33 climate change models and examined a range of different factors, including polar ice loss.
New York, Lagos among the areas likely to be most affected
The findings were published just as UN climate negotiators from around the world began a two-week meeting in Morocco in an attempt to hammer out rules to achieve the goals set forth in the Paris accords, which officially took effect earlier this year after it had been ratified by more than 55 different countries representing at least a combined 55% percent of global emissions.
According to the authors, more than 90% of coastal areas will likely experience larger increases in sea level than the 20 centimeter predicted average, and if warming continues above 2 degrees Celsius, then sea levels will increase at historically high rates, leading to four-fifths of the global coastline to “exceed the 95th percentile upper limit… or mean global ocean sea level rise.”
“By 2100, New York may expect rises of 1.09 m, Guangzhou may expect rises of 0.91 m, and Lagos may expect rises of 0.90 m, with the 95th percentile upper limit of 2.24 m, 1.93 m, and 1.92 m, respectively,” they wrote. “The coastal communities of rapidly expanding cities in the developing world, and vulnerable tropical coastal ecosystems, will have a very limited time after midcentury to adapt to sea level rises unprecedented since the dawn of the Bronze Age.”
Their research, the Post explained, is the latest in a growing body of studies attempting to look beyond the planet as a whole and focus specifically on different regions which might be affected more by climate change than other parts of the world. While the sea level is expected to increase steadily overall, it will vary greatly in some locations due to a variety of different factors, such as the circulation of the ocean and the redistribution of Earth’s mass, the newspaper noted.
“The coastal communities of rapidly expanding cities in the developing world and vulnerable tropical coastal ecosystems will have a very limited time to adapt to sea-level rises after the ‘2 degrees Celsius’ threshold is likely to be reached,” Jevrejeva cautioned in comments made to ClimateWire and reprinted by Scientific American.
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