NARRAGANSET, R.I. (WPRI) — Sea level rise, caused by the melting of ice sheets and the warming and expansion of oceans, is accelerating at a quicker pace, according to a new report released by NOAA, NASA and other federal agencies.
It is a dramatic shift since the last Sea Level Rise Technical Report released in 2017.
“We were supposed to get a third of a meter by 2100. Now we’re supposed to get that third of a meter by 2050,” said Paula Bontempi, dean of the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography. A third of a meter is approximately one foot.
According to the report, moderate flooding is expected to occur more than 10 times as often in 2050 as it does today.
“It’s sobering to see that 100-year acceleration is now a 50-year acceleration,” Bontempi added.
Bontempi also said the confidence of these findings is higher, too, due to advancements in sea level science.
A foot of sea level rise may not seem like much, but that could have dramatic effects on our area.
“Seven thousand properties are immediately at risk from sea level rise along the Rhode Island coast,” Bontempi told 12 News Meteorologist T.J. Del Santo.
A nor’easter or hurricane on top of the higher water levels would only make things worse.
“That is going to cause a big change in coastal flooding, coastal erosion and impacts to coastal economics,” Bontempi explained. “People’s homes, people’s businesses, military infrastructure, schools, and sea level rise is going to have a tremendous impact.”
The report states that the East Coast will see a rise of 10″ to 14″ in the next 30 years.
Carbon dioxide and methane from transportation, industrial and agricultural sources are the two main gases that cause global warming. The warming of the atmosphere and oceans causes ice sheets to melt and ocean water to expand.
In Newport, sea level records have been kept since 1930. From 1930 to 2000, the sea level rose about 6 inches, a rate of 0.085″ per year. Since the turn of the century, the sea level in Newport has risen by four inches, a rate of 0.19″ per year.
That acceleration is expected to increase not only in Rhode Island, but around the world.
Now, more than ever, Bontempi said, we need to manage and adapt to the rising seas.
“If we, as an international community, are not going to regulate greenhouse gasses — which would be the quickest way to slow the warming — I think we’re coming to have to think about how we’re going to manage through those changes,” Bontempi added.
Looking ahead, the report says a failure to curb emissions could cause an additional 1.5 to 5 feet of rise by the end of the century.
Bontempi said people can help curb greenhouse gas emissions by using recycled materials and buying locally sourced produce and other goods.