The Dangers of Rising Sea Levels

Global climate change is one of the gravest challenges that humanity faces today. One of the most dangerous impacts that climate change has had is the crisis of rising sea levels. As the Earth continues to warm and the polar ice caps and glaciers continue to disappear, small island nations and low-lying coastal areas are at great risk of finding themselves underwater. At this point, the goals laid out in Paris need to be met if we are to avoid losing large areas of land to the ocean.

Global sea levels are currently rising at the highest rate in 28 centuries. Coastal areas on the Atlantic Coast of the United States will be especially susceptible to this rise in the years to come, should the trend not be reversed. But what exactly causes sea levels to rise? There are actually two causes. First, higher temperatures caused by global warming cause the oceans to warm, which in turn causes seawater to expand. This process takes up more space in the ocean basin, causing a subsequent rise in sea levels. The other factor in rising sea levels is the melting of the polar ice caps and glacial areas, such as the Greenland Ice Sheet.

NASA has tracked sea level rises via satellite since 1993. This data displays a rise of almost 80 mm (3 inches). Combining this with coastal tide gauge records, it can be determined that sea levels have risen almost 280 mm (11 inches) since 1870. So obviously sea levels are not going to continue rising at the same rate, but let’s look at what effect rising sea levels remaining at the current rate would have.

\[\frac {3.42 \text { mm}}{\text { yr}} \times \frac {1 \text { in}}{25.4 \text { mm}} \times 85 \text { yrs} = 11.4 \text { in}\]

So what kind of impact will this have on cities along the Eastern Coast of the United States? Current projections have sea levels rising somewhere between 2.5 and 6.5 feet by 2100. This will put numerous U.S. cities in danger. Entire blocks of coastal cities, such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, will be underwater. To see the effects that rising sea levels will have on any location of your choosing, check out this helpful tool, which shows projections for sea levels rises from 1′-10’ around the world. While just a few feet of water may not seem like a lot, take a look at the impact of just two feet of water on New York City. With just two feet of rise in sea levels, LaGuardia Airport will be almost completely underwater. With ten feet of rise, which could happen depending on the severity of continued global warming, whole blocks of New York and other cities will be underwater.

Before long, LaGuardia Airport in New York City could be underwater.  From:

Before long, LaGuardia Airport in New York City could be underwater.

There are many issues associated with climate change and global warming. However, by far one of the most important issues facing the world, and many Americans, today is rising sea levels. Should the agreements from the Paris Climate Talks not be fulfilled, many iconic places in the United States and around the world could soon be underwater.

Works Cited:

Gillis, Justin. “Seas Are Rising at Fastest Rate in Last 28 Centuries.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 22 Feb. 2016. Web. 16 Mar. 2016. <>.

“Sea Level Rise.” National Geographic. National Geographic, 2016. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. <>.

“Vital Signs: Sea Level.” Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. NASA, 2016. Web. 16 Mar. 2016. <>.

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