With millions of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars worth of real estate on the line, one of scientists’ top priorities in the coming decade is accurately predicting how fast seas will rise due to climate change.
The challenge for scientists is measuring ice loss due to melting in Greenland and Antarctica. Every year, both landmasses are pouring billions of gallons of water and billions of tons of ice into the oceans, which is contributing to sea level rise. Beyond determining what’s happening right now, scientists must use the data collected on global warming due to the burning of fossil fuels to predict how fast the melting will accelerate.
Satellites have shown that ice loss in Greenland is occurring seven times faster than it was in past decades, and ice loss in Antarctica is about three times faster than it was two decades ago. The run-off from the melting ice combined with expansion of the oceans as they heat up is currently causing seas on-average to rise just over a tenth of an inch a year. Some areas are experiencing much higher rates of sea level rise due to local conditions, such as land subsidence and proximity to the Gulf Stream.
This Scientific American article summarizes the challenges facing scientists trying to predict sea level rise and other consequences of a warming planet.