4:10pm

Mon December 24, 2012
Science

New report finds future sea level rise will be significant

A report published Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) finds that sea level increases over the next century will have significant impacts on coastal communities.

According to the report, the global sea level change is expected to be at least 8 inches but no more than 6.6 feet by 2100. The broad range is due to uncertainty about how much the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets will melt.

The NOAA report was authored by a group of a dozen researchers from government and academia across the country. They pulled together data from existing scientific studies about sea level rise and say they're more than 90 percent confident about their predictions.

Radley Horton of Columbia University co-authored the report.

"As we see sea levels approaching those numbers, coastal flood events that currently happen once every 10 years are going to be happening three times as often for much of the U.S. coast," he says.

Horton argues that even with the lower sea level scenario, there are still serious implications for coastal communities. Over eight million Americans live in areas that are prone to coastal flooding, and Sandy has brought the issue into sharper focus.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Andrew Cuomo have both made statements connecting the storm to increases in extreme weather and climate change.

But at a cabinet meeting in Albany on Wednesday, Cuomo admitted the state was ill-prepared, despite repeated warnings from scientists over the years.

"I don't know that anyone believed it," says Cuomo, "There were some people who said, you know, there's a possibility of extreme weather, global warming, [and] climate change. But we had never seen anything like this before."

As the recovery effort continues, Horton says Americans may need to start thinking more about "strategic retreat" from some parts of the coastline.

"I think Sandy's had a big impact, not just in the New York metropolitan region, but along the entire U.S. coast. People understand our vulnerability today."

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