Scientists warn: Sea level rise a matter of time

How fast will sea levels rise? Scientists are looking for answers.
How fast will sea levels rise? Scientists are looking for answers.
What if the one place virtually no one thinks about suddenly becomes the one place that virtually no one can ignore?    

    That’s the story with Greenland, which has an ice sheet three times the size of Texas, according to NASA. That ice sheet has enough water to raise global sea levels by 20 feet. And because of that, the space agency is embarking on a mission, Oceans Melting Greenland (yep, OMG for short) to better understand sea level rise.
    The program will measure oceans and ice loss around the edges of Greenland for the next five years, said Josh Willis, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, who is leading the study.
    Sea level has risen an average of nearly 3 inches since 1992, according to NASA, with some natural variation. One area of uncertainty is predicting how fast ice sheets will melt in response to global warming, scientists said at a NASA press conference earlier this week. Here is the rundown:

      What does NASA hope to accomplish with OMG?

    The research program will begin with a fishing boat that maps the seafloor around Greenland.  
    As scientists understand more about ice-sheet loss, they hope to predict the “extent and timing” of sea level rise, according to NASA.

     Ice sheets, glaciers, ice caps…aren’t they all contributing to sea level rise?

    “Ice sheets are contributing to sea level rise sooner and more significantly than anticipated,” explained Eric Rignot, glaciologist at the University of California, Irvine, and a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, during the press conference. “We know with future warming, ice sheets will dominate sea level rise because they will have a much larger volume of ice than glaciers and ice caps.”
    With the climate warming, he added, “we may lock ourselves into multiple-meter sea level rise. We’re talking about 6 meters – 18 feet – and higher of sea level rise.”
    But how fast will it happen? Right now, scientists are unsure whether sea level will rise half a meter per century or several meters per century. “We just don’t know,” he said.

     Why is this research important?  

    “I think one of the main takeaways is that people need to be prepared for sea level rise,” Willis said. “We’re going to continue to have sea level rise for decades and probably centuries. It’s not going to stop. ... If you live on a coastline or if you have economic dependence on a coastline, we have to be prepared for rising seas. It’s not a question of how much but when.”


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