High School High School Society and the World TSS

Rising Sea Levels and Their Global Implications

The steady and accelerating rate of increase of global sea levels on average will pose severe consequences on coastal regions worldwide and the posterity of the international economy.

Climate change. Melting ice caps. The greenhouse effect. These are all terms we have heard, whether that be from school teachers, the news, or other various media outlets. Despite all this supposed attention, significant change is only occasionally made and by just a select few.

The reality of the matter is that the sustainability of life on Earth may cease to exist in a healthy state, and not in millions of years, but as few as several hundred. Many changes continue to develop in our world, disrupting the natural harmony of our biosphere.


The aftermath of Superstorm Sandy on the beaches of New Jersey, where the shoreline has risen 30 feet on average as a result. image from National Geographic.

Possibly one of the most instantaneously apparent change is the pressing issue of rising sea levels. This rise in sea levels is actually normal, but not at this current rate. “Core samples, tide gauge readings, and, most recently, satellite measurements tell us that over the past century, the Global Mean Sea Level (GMSL) has risen by 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters). However, the annual rate of rise over the past 20 years has been 0.13 inches (3.2 millimeters) a year, roughly twice the average speed of the preceding 80 years.” (1).

The cause of this unnatural increase in the GMSL is directly sourced from three main factors. Thermal expansion occurs when water heats up, and in effect it takes up more space. Due to the rise in overall climate temperature, this anomaly has grown in its frequency and rate.

Photo of melting ice caps which not only harm the animals and ecosystems in the areas of their direct proximity, but also have the potential to pose a detriment to a large fraction of the global population. Image from Enjoy Going Green.

The melting of major glaciers and ice caps holds a very powerful and direct impact on sea levels, as the increase in global temperature resulting from the greenhouse effect melts these ice masses. The water leading off of the melting block of ice floods into the ocean, resulting in an imbalance between the ocean’s evaporation and the runoff from these massive glaciers.

But, on top of this, as these masses of ice melt, the water will heat up due to the loss of a reflector of the heat, ice. Ice acts as a sunscreen when massed in large amounts, reflecting off infrared rays from the sun. If the water heats up as an affect, this will then further thermal expansion.

This issue seems harmless to some, almost as if it would just be a fixated high tide, but in reality, the results would be devastating. These devastating results would most harshly affect coastal cities across the world, including some of the largest economic and political capitals.

Depiction of what New York City, one of the world’s financial capitals and cities which are particularly threatened by a rise in sea levels, may look in 100 years if the GMSL continues to increase at its current rate. Image from Public Health Watch.

Reversing the effects would be extremely costly for states threatened by this issue as “Current cost projections being used to look at relocating a village in Alaska and a native American tribe in Louisiana are about $1 million per person. Extrapolating out that figure to compare it to future projections in other coastal regions produces an ‘eye-popping number.’ If similar estimates were applied to even a portion of the residents living along Florida’s coast, the cost would number into the trillions.” (2).

This cost was projected using only a fraction of those affected in one state, Florida, when there are over 13 million people and homes to be harmed by this upcoming disaster within the United States alone. If trillions of dollars in government money would be spent on changing pipes and infrastructure of several regions of only one state, imagine this number when applied to over 26 states and similar processes in countries across the globe, including those that cannot independently afford such active and immediate action.

This cost alone would be enough to cripple the economies of countries in one single sweep. Although international consensus on rising sea levels has not been reached, several cities have begun to prepare for such an event. New York city suffered greatly when the Atlantic northeast was hit by Hurricane Sandy, and to defend from an even greater flooding event, the metropolitan giant has implemented an increasing number of preventative measures against such emergencies.

The city received a hefty $1 billion from the Department of Housing and Urban Development in order to protect the city from future flooding and natural disasters such as a rising sea level. Possibly the most ambitious is the construction of a horse shoe shaped beam hugging the Lower East Side of Manhattan and shielding over 10 miles of coastline, costing about $332 million. To fully defend the area, the project boasts not only an isolated and contained flood zone, but an abundance of recreational regions with helophyte plants, or salt-resistant wildlife (3).

New York is not the only city pursuing such endeavors, but Rotterdam, Da Nang, and Surat are accomplishing similar tasks in order to defend from future extreme flooding. Halting the process of rising sea levels would require drastic measures.

A recent study, “published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found that reducing emissions of these short-lived climate pollutants, including soot and methane, by 30 to 60 per cent by 2050 would slow the annual rate of sea level rise by about 18 per cent by 2050. Combining reductions in short-lived pollutants with decreasing CO2 emissions could cut the rate of sea level rise in half by 2100, from 0.82 inches to 0.43 inches per year, while reducing the total sea level rise by 31 per cent during the same period.” (4).

The measures that we must take to stop and prevent sea levels from rising is drastic, but the effects this change in sea level would have on the world are catastrophic. Sometimes drastic change requires drastic measures.

References and Footnotes

  1. “Sea Level Rise.” National Geographic, 7 Apr. 2017, www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/sea-level-rise/.
  2. Dinah Voyles Pulverdinah.pulver@news-jrnl.com, and Dinah Voyles. “Stetson Researcher: Sea Level Rise Could Impact 3 Times More than Current Projections.” Daytona Beach News, Daytona Beach News-Journal Online, 24 Mar. 2017, www.news-journalonline.com/article/LK/20160316/NEWS/605066318/DN/.
  3. “Cutting Short-Lived Pollutants Can Slow Sea Level Rise.” Climate Central, 14 Apr. 2013, www.climatecentral.org/news/study-cutting-short-lived-pollutants-can-slow-sea-level-rise-15877.
  4. United States, Congress, “Nyc.gov.” Nyc.gov, 2016. www1.nyc.gov/assets/em/downloads/pdf/hazard_mitigation/nycs_risk_landscape_chapter_4.3_flooding.pdf.
  5. Cover image found on National Geographic.

1 comment on “Rising Sea Levels and Their Global Implications

  1. Pingback: Rising Sea Levels and Their Global Implications – The Student Scientist – WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

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