The sea level is rising, and will continue to rise, and everyone will be impacted. Often when topics involving climate change come up, individuals might ask why certain topics are important to their life, or why they should care about said issue. Rising sea levels is one of those issues where everyone will be affected, whether they realize it or not. Whether you live on the west coast, with a front row view of the ocean, or a small town in Missouri surrounded by nothing but land, the rise of sea levels is an issue that should spark concern in your life.
In the United States, 40% of the population lives in a coastal area, some residents live coastal full time, while others live by the coasts.
Those living in population-dense towns near shorelines are most at risk for rising sea levels, but surrounding areas will continue to be affected as well. There are several factors that contribute to this rise, and scientists have been watching the sea levels for years, and calculating averages to compare with past years.
Through tide gauges, and satellite altimeters, scientists mark where the sea level is, and calculate predictions in the past and future. Tide gauges are around the world, and they measure the daily high tides and daily low tides, and have done so for more than a century, through manual and automatic sensors. Since the 1990’s the sea level has been measured from space using satellites. The satellite laser altimeters determine the height of the sea surface by measuring the return speed and intensity of a laser pulse directed at the ocean, the higher the sea level, the faster and stronger the return signal is.
Glaciers and ice sheets melting due to global warming and climate change also factor into rising sea levels. As gas emissions alter the atmosphere, and climate change warms the earth, glaciers that have been frozen solid for billions of years, and ice sheets, are progressively melting into the ocean, contributing to that rise. The rise of the sea level is nothing new, but the rise has dramatically progressed over the last few decades. Factors also affect the sea level due to local reasons that may not affect all areas, like nuisance flooding. Nuisance flooding is a minor, recurrent flooding that takes place at high tide. This flooding occurs because the ocean has reached the brim on a local level, and has become a regular event in the United States. Nuisance flooding is not directly related to storms or heavy rain. The impacts from these floods are not exactly life threatening, but they can cause damage and destruction, and as sea levels rise, the water from this flooding is brought closer inland each time. The US west coast and Hawaii experience high levels of nuisance floods.
Going back to how the rise of sea levels affects everyone, as sea levels continue to rise, and change the shoreline, foundations including businesses and homes will be destroyed. The sea level plays a role in coastal flooding, shoreline erosion, and natural disaster aftermath, especially storm surges.
Similarly to nuisance flooding, storm surges from natural disasters impact sea levels. Although storm surges can be directly linked to their storm (hurricanes and tsunamis), storm surges cause the same damage as nuisance flooding, but at larger, more destructive levels.
As the shoreline starts to disappear, and the ocean creeps closer and closer to civilization at a rate of 3.4 millimeters per year, populations will be forced out of their homes and their cities, and will have to migrate away from the ocean. If the entirety of the 40% of the United States population, 128 million people, are forced to move inland in the US everyone will be affected by this change as populations in surrounding states take refuge of these residents, as they scramble to find shelter, jobs, and a new place to call home.
Rising sea levels also put non-coastal states at risk for population crowding as levels progress. Even for individuals who live a thousand miles away from the ocean, rising sea levels put them and their community at risk in just about every way imaginable.