Two Events Causing The Sea Level Rise (And How to Prevent Them)
The ocean is a constantly changing, moving, and combining several bodies of water. Tides rise and fall, waves roll in then recede, and storms are created across the globe daily. Those, however, are small changes.
Sea Level Rise is something that has scientists and nations alike concerned not because it is an enormous change, but because a century’s worth of steadily increasing small change is having a substantial impact on the world as we know it. What is this phenomenon, what causes it, and is there any way to stop this change before it’s too late?
What Is Sea Level Rise?
Sea level Rise is a concern, brought about by thorough study and research that the ocean is rising at an unprecedented rate. This threatens ecosystems, civilizations, and holds the potential for catastrophic situations. To better understand this phenomenon, it helps to know the history and science behind it.
Scientists can observe the amount of water in the ocean based on the height of the sea. Just like you could tell how much coffee is in a pot based on how much of the pot is full, these scientists monitor the height of the water for various reasons from studying ecosystems to looking at global impact.
Now, it’s a little more complicated than just that. Roughly 97% of the world’s water is stored within its oceans. Another 2.7% or so is trapped inside of glaciers near the north and south poles. This means that ocean levels shrink when there is more ice and rise without its presence.
History shows us that sea levels have risen and shrunk dramatically over the centuries. Geographical studies show that there was no ice to be found at the poles at one point in time, while other periods saw the ocean shrink to hundreds of feet below what it is today.
While an ocean hundreds of feet fuller or emptier could have drastic consequences for the world’s population, this natural cycle isn’t something to worry about. It occurs over millions of years, and humankind has always adapted. Case in point, we’re still here after the last glacial period.
After this period in history, ice caps began to melt, and the sea level rose an estimated 400 feet over millennia. Records from sediment cores and coral reefs show that water rose quickly at first, evening out to slow march of small increments each year.
The Issue at Hand
The issue is that the sea level is in another period of rapid rising, faster than it was after the last glacial period. The trend started when humankind began to burn coal for fuel around 1850. Unfortunately, this trend hasn’t stopped, even with the advancement of technology making the creation of energy eco-friendlier. The issue, scientists now know, is carbon dioxide levels.
Human activity has caused the sea to rise at a rate twice as fast as it would naturally. Between 1900 and 2000, sea levels rose roughly 0.07 inches (1.7 millimeters) on average. Since the 1990s, that rate jumped to 3.4 millimeters and is continuing a stark increase. Current projections show that levels could rise at a rate of 2.3 meters for every degree the planet warms from climate change.
To put that into perspective, the streets of New York City could be underwater in as little as a decade if current trends continue. While nothing is set in stone when it comes to predicting the future (there are too many factors to make accurate predictions), Sea Level Rise is undoubtedly a concern if it means any damage to society and humankind.
What Causes Sea Level Rise
There are two main factors affecting this phenomenon. Here’s a closer look at what is causing Sea Level Rise, as well as a few steps the world can take to help prevent it.
Sea level does rise naturally, and there are ways to prevent issues with this phenomenon as well. Suppose that greenhouse gas levels were brought down to an average rate and that the sea was once again rising as it usually would. People would still need a plan in place to protect their shorelines.
Communities and scientists are looking at how populations might keep the sea at bay, and have been since coastal communities existed. The answer is called a sea wall, and it has come in a variety of forms throughout history.
Ancient Rome used coastal barriers in the form of human-made harbors and natural Earth, California has human-made islands that help break up roaring waves for centuries, and modern societies rely on concrete walls. Once constructed, these towering walls hold back the rising tides of storms and flooding.
While the walls are expensive to build, many countries understand that their cost is nothing compared to the damage flooding causes. Hurricane Katrina is a prime example of how devastating a storm and the flood waters it brings can be.
These structures must be maintained, however. Salty water quickly corrodes them, and a continually rising ocean demands the need for a continually higher wall. Eventually, people would need to perform underwater maintenance expeditions if current trends continue. A lack of maintenance is catastrophic; once again demonstrated during Hurricane Katrina.
Moving inland is another plan currently being looked at, but it stands as a last resort for countries whose populations are too vast to relocate everyone simply. Nonetheless, these are two preventative measures in place.
One of the main impacts shown by years of study is mankind’s fossil fuel emissions. Coal, natural gas, and oil all produce carbon dioxide when burned. Together, they add just under 7 billion metric tons of CO2 into the air.
While the sea level is naturally designed to rise, these emissions are speeding up the process. As carbon dioxide makes its way into the atmosphere, it creates a warmer climate on Earth. The warmer the climate around the globe, the faster the ice at the north and south poles melt.
Melting ice cubes in a glass of water is an excellent way to visualize this occurrence, but imagine that the amount of water you’re dealing with is in the tens of thousands of tons for each ice cube. Some glaciers are large enough to warp the Earth’s rotation momentarily when they break and collapse. With water rapidly making its way into the ocean instead of a slow, natural trickle, catastrophic storms and floods take place.
It isn’t just the melting of glaciers, however. Warmer temperatures also mean that water is expanding. If you boil water in a pot on the stove, for instance, the molecules expand. This causes the level of water in the pot to rise, though you might not notice once it’s boiling.
The same is true for any body of water, including the entirety of the ocean. Even without ice caps melting, CO2 emissions are responsible for an increased sea level simply by heating the water. Even in the frigid depths of the ocean, molecules heated to even a slightly warmer temperature expand.
The combination of melting ice caps and expanding water cause the highly accelerated Sea Level Rise scientists are examining. More water means flash flooding in areas around the world, but it also means changes in the atmosphere and surface of the sea that gives way to deadly storms.
What Can Be Done?
Humankind can adapt to a slowly rising sea level, but it can’t manage the predicted level of flooding and natural disaster scientists believe are headed our way. The best thing the planet can do is to slow down this trend of carbon dioxide warming.
Slowing down this trend means that the world could slow down the rate at which the sea is rising. This would allow humankind to adapt more easily, and prepare for higher sea levels over hundreds of years instead of mere decades.
You can do your part by reducing your carbon footprint. Using fuel-efficient and eco-friendly vehicles is a start. Solar power is another viable solution to fossil fuel energy, but one person can’t make the difference alone. Writing to politicians and asking them to make changes that prevent fossil fuel emissions or electing officials who feel strongly about this issue is vital.
Several countries are already on board with signing laws into effect that reduce their populations’ carbon emissions, but not everyone is willing to accept the facts. Several countries either have other concerns taking precedent or stated that they simply do not care and don’t believe the evidence. The United States is currently one of them.
Change continues to take place on a small scale in the U.S. with corporations and individuals doing their part to reel back the effects of climate change. However, it’s going to take the entire world’s population working together to make an impact large enough to stop the catastrophic events on the horizon.