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60-Second Earth

Warming Oceans Will Follow Laws of Physics

Warmer waters mean higher sea levels, but how high? David Biello reports

You can't hold back the tide. Or sea level rise. There’s melting ice, of course. But H2O that’s already liquid expands as it warms—and the oceans are warming from climate change.

That sea level rise isn't the same everywhere. The moon's pull, oceanic currents, the Earth's rotation—these all play a role in what ocean water is where. Turns out the U.S. East Coast is experiencing sea level rise three to four times higher than the global average, according to a study from the U.S. Geological Survey in the journal Nature Climate Change. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.)

That's bad news for the highly populated region and suggests storm surges are going to prove ever more problematic from New York City to Cape Hatteras.

By the end of this century, greenhouse gases in the atmosphere could produce sea level rise of as much as 80 centimeters along the East Coast. Further into the future, even a low emissions scenario sees the seas rise by a meter and a half and if we continue emitting at our present pace sea level rise might be close to three meters—and still rising. No matter what some folks choose to believe.

—David Biello

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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