This past week, major news outlets published articles about a study by geologists from the National Geological Survey of Denmark who said that even if greenhouse gas emissions ceased today, Greenland’s glaciers would melt enough to contribute nearly a foot to average global sea level. In addition, the study published in the journal “Nature Climate Change” said if global warming continues at the current pace, Greenland could add more than two feet to global sea level.
The researchers didn’t give a specific time frame for the sea level rise, but it’s assumed it would occur gradually over the next 100 to 150 years. Their main point is that the amount of greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide and methane currently in the atmosphere — has created a situation where Greenland will release a minimum of nearly a foot of glacial melt into the ocean no matter what we do.
Buyers and owners of real estate located in coastal communities who think a foot of sea level rise isn’t much shouldn’t find comfort in the report. First of all, it’s important to consider that the foot on-average of sea level rise that has accumulated so far due to global warming is already causing costly flooding in many coastal communities, and the number, severity and distribution of these flooding events is growing every year.
Next, it’s important to note that Greenland is only one small piece of the sea level rise puzzle. According to scientists, ice melt in Greenland has only contributed about 20 percent of total sea level rise so far. Ice melt in Antarctica has also caused about 20 percent of the total. While global warming heating up the oceans and causing them to expand has contributed about 50 percent of all sea level rise. The remainder is coming from glaciers melting in mountainous areas and other sources. If all of these sources driving sea level rise also have minimum amounts of sea level rise “baked in” due to the amount of greenhouse gases already accumulated in the atmosphere, the total amount of sea level rise in the years to come will be much higher than the Greenland’s nearly one foot.
Finally, real estate owners in coastal communities under threat of sea level rise flooding have to consider that sea level rise has been accelerating for years, and today’s estimates of total sea level rise will likely be adjusted upwards in the years to come. This is especially true because human society has not been reducing the amount of fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — it has been burning, so overall global warming will continue to increase as will sea level rise.
The bottom line remains: Real estate buyers and owners in coastal communities need to continue to perform due diligence — drawing information from many sources — to calculate their exposure to sea level rise flooding.