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Melting Ice Sheets Speeding Up

NASA reports New Study shows Global Sea Level Rise has Accelerated over past 25 years

The 25-year record is just long enough to provide an initial detection of acceleration-the results will become more robust as the Jason-3 and subsequent altimetry satellites lengthen the time series. He found that sea levels are now growing by 3 mm/year, but this isn't a steady growth. It might not seem like much, but it picks up year after year and in the long-term, it can end up making a big difference.

"This acceleration, driven mainly by accelerated melting in Greenland and Antarctica, has the potential to double the total sea level rise by 2100 as compared to projections that assume a constant rate?to more than 60 cm instead of about 30", said Steve Nerem, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. This means that in reality, we can probably expect sea levels to grow even more than his predictions.

First, the natural expansion of warm water has contributed to roughly half of the 2.76 inches of global average sea-level rise the planet has experienced over the past 25 years, Nerem said.

That projection agrees perfectly with climate models used in the latest International Panel on Climate Change report, which show sea level rise to be between 52 and 98 centimeters by 2100 for a "business as usual" scenario (in which greenhouse emissions continue without reduction).

Experts say sea level rise is caused by warming of the ocean and melting from glaciers and ice sheets. The report read: "It is very likely that in the 21st century and beyond, sea level change will have a strong regional pattern, with some places experiencing significant deviations of local and regional sea level change from the global mean change". Second, melting land-ice flows into the ocean, heightening sea levels.

Image credits: EPA / CSIRO / NOAA.

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These increases were measured using satellite altimeter measurements since 1992, including the U.S./European TOPEX/Poseidon, Jason-1, Jason-2, and Jason-3 satellite missions.

In the past 100 years, it has climbed about a foot or more in some US cities because of ocean currents and the natural settling of land - 11 inches in NY and Boston, 12 in Charleston, 16 in Atlantic City, 18 in Norfolk and 25 in Galveston, Texas, according to a USA TODAY analysis of tide gauge data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

However, researchers warn that their findings should also be taken with a grain of salt. Over this short time period, the rate of sea level rise waxed and wane and it was hard to tease out whether its pace was steady or picking up. Rather, it's a vehicle driving through a city, going faster or slower depending on external parameters.

The study, of course, added that more research is needed to refine the results. Lastly, they hope that this global data can be used at a local level, so that satellite data can be used to predict what will happen in your backyard.

Co-authors on the study came from the University of South Florida, Nasa Goddard Space Flight Center, Old Dominion University and the National Centre for Atmospheric Research.

But when a storm hits like 2012's Superstorm Sandy, sea level rise on top of storm surge can lead to record-setting damages, researchers said.

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