|Immense ice sheets found in Greenland and Antarctica are melting into the ocean / Photo by NASA|
The activities of humankind have been taking a toll on the environment for several decades now. One of the most destructive is the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. While this seems like it would only affect our weather and the skies, it has inevitably severely affected our seas as well. As global warming continues, climate change becomes the result that then affects the overall climate system and the level of the water.
High Sea Levels
Since global heating began, our oceans have absorbed about 90% of the heat. Since the 1880s, the water level of our seas has risen up to 8 inches, with 3 inches having been gained within the last quarter of the century. There is an approximate increase of about 0.13 inches every year, and though that might not seem like much, the accumulated rise of the sea level and the potential increase of the rising rate proves incredibly harmful to the lives of many people. According to an article by the Smithsonian, this is a great change from the planet’s norm, considering that in the 2,000 years prior to the changes, there was little, if any, change in the sea level.
Factors Affecting Sea Levels
There are three factors that have caused this increase in the sea levels, and all of them are linked to global climate change brought about by heating. First is thermal expansion. Through science, we know that anything that is heated expands, and that is no different for our massive oceans. In fact, National Geographic states that about half of the total expansion has been caused by the heating of the water taking up more space.
Second, the glaciers are melting more with each passing year. While glaciers and other massive ice structures often melt naturally during the summer seasons, this is usually balanced out once winter comes along and refreezes everything, or creates snow from evaporates water. However, because of the slow rise in the overall temperature of the atmosphere, melting is greater than what it should be. Early spring and late winters have also diminished snowfall. This causes an inability for these processes to catch up, and so many glaciers become run-off water.
Finally, the immense ice sheets found in Greenland and Antarctica are melting into the ocean, as well. It has been found that along with the direct heating, the melting water off the top of the sheets, as well as the seawater below, lubricates the entire structure and causes it to loosen out of its place. Once it’s free, it drifts off into warmer waters where melting happens more quickly. Many scientists are finding large breaks in the ice shelves of West and East Antarctica.
Consequences and Dangers
Even incremental increases of the sea levels have severe consequences on the lives of plants, animals, and humans. Coastal habitats can experience increased wetland flooding and erosion, contamination of the agricultural soil with salt water, and destruction of natural habitats for several species of fish and animals.
|Since the 1880s, the water level of our seas has risen up to 8 inches / Photo by National Park Service|
With an increase in the sea level comes the very real threat of more powerful and dangerous storms. Between the mid-1960s and early 2010s, it’s been found that about half of the deaths caused by Atlantic storms were due to storm surges that could destroy everything in their path. The constant threat of flooding has also caused many people to evacuate from their homes and seek new residences farther inland. Even basic infrastructure and services like telecommunications and internet can be threatened and destroyed if they lie in the path of rising coastal waters.
Many countries are already adapting to and anticipating future threats to their coastal cities. Several plans are being put into motion, such as the rebuilding of seawalls and redirection of roads. Some have even begun to plant more vegetation or mangroves around their coastal areas to absorb more of the water incoming. However, there is only so much that modern technology and architecture can do to hold back the relentless increase of the sea level, and sooner or later, the only option will be to relocate.
Several years of research and forecasting have allowed scientists to make estimates on how far the sea levels might rise within the next several decades. A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that 10 to 30 inches are the estimated rise of the oceans by 2100. While this is a fairly large range, studies from NASA stated that their data tended to the higher end of the range at about 26 inches being their best estimate by the end of this century. If all the glaciers and ice in the world melted right now, the sea level would be raised by 216 feet, which could cause entire countries to disappear beneath the waters.
With sea levels on the rise, humankind’s way of life and the ecosystems of the Earth could be changed with drastic consequences. Humanity must band together in order to slow or halt this progression.