A study published on Monday noted that the rise in sea level is accelerating and could reach 66 centimeters by the end of the century, enough to cause significant problems in coastal cities and put millions of lives at risk.
The annual rate of increase in sea level, which is three millimeters, could reach 10 millimeters per year by 2100, according to a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).
According to the study, based on 25 years of satellite data, the findings are “more or less consistent with the projections of the fifth evaluation report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)”.
The author of the analysis, Steve Nerem, said the acceleration, driven mainly by the accelerated melting of Greenland and Antarctica, “has the potential to double the rise in sea level by 2100, compared to projections that calculate a constant rate: more than 60 centimeters instead of 30.“
The professor of aerospace engineering sciences at the University of Colorado said that “it is almost certainly a conservative estimate.”
Climate change causes sea level rise in two ways. First, the higher concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increase the temperature of the water, so the warm water expands.
“This thermal expansion in the oceans has already contributed to half of the seven centimeters average increase in sea level in the last quarter of the century,” explained the researcher.
In addition, the oceans rise with the increasing flow of water because of ice that melts rapidly at the poles.
“This article highlights the important role that satellite records can play in the validation of climate model projections,” added co-author John Fasullo, a climate researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the United States.
The scientists who were part of the study also come from the University of South Florida, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Old Dominion University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Melting, Melting and more melting
If sea levels rising isn’t a danger, researchers have recently also highlighted another worrisome fact.
Scientists warn that climate change could accelerate the release of toxic Mercury. As melting permafrost releases mercury, eventually some of it will make it into the food chain—and into animals such as the Alaskan caribou. As noted by National Geographic, “in some forms, mercury is a powerful neurotoxin, and in children it can harm brain development, affecting cognition, memory, language and even motor and visual skills. Even in adults, excessive amounts can hamper vision, speech and muscle movements, compromise the reproductive and immune systems, and cause cardiovascular problems.”
If global warming ends up melting the permafrost—the permanently frozen surface layer of the northern hemisphere—it could trigger a global ecological catastrophe, since this area contains more than 15 million gallons (58 million liters) of mercury buried according to a group of researchers.