Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

West Coast Sea Levels: New Report Estimates Greater Rise by 2100

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

West Coast Sea Levels: New Report Estimates Greater Rise by 2100

Article excerpt

The estimates from the National Research Council, taking advantage of more recent research, range from 19 to 55 inches. The study is expected to become a common frame of reference that coastal communities can use in planning.

If greenhouse-gas emissions continue unabated, the expected additional warming could raise sea levels by up to four or five feet all along the US West Coast by 2100, according to an analysis released Friday by the National Research Council (NRC).

Beyond any real estate permanently inundated, such an increase would bring some $100 billion worth of facilities that currently are high and dry into a new 100-year flood plain, according to previous studies that assumed a comparable increase in sea levels. Those facilities include power plants, airports and seaports, and other big-ticket pieces of infrastructure.

The council, the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, produced the report at the request of the state of California.

The study is expected to become a common frame of reference that coastal communities can use to plan their adaptation measures, says Heather Cooley, co-director of the water program for the Pacific Institute, based in Oakland, Calif. The institute focuses on environmental issues and on the sustainable use of resources.

The NRC's estimates are higher than some previous estimates because they take advantage of more recent research than earlier estimates - notably those estimates published in 2007 by the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The NRC's estimates are the latest but not the final word on the subject, Ms. Cooley cautions. As techniques for measuring and analyzing sea-level data improve, and as climate models improve, the numbers are likely to change. The biggest uncertainty: how quickly humans move to curb greenhouse-gas emissions - most notably carbon dioxide - in terms of fossil-fuel and land-use changes.

For now, however, "communities can begin to use this as part of their adaptation planning," she says.

The report underscores that several factors combine to determine sea-level rise in any one location. Local wind and ocean- circulation patterns, and even the West Coast's shifting crustal plates, which generate earthquakes and raise volcanoes, can play a role. A magnitude 8 quake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the Pacific Northwest, for instance, could significantly change a coastal community's height above sea level within seconds, according to the study. Intense El Nino events can boost sea levels in winter by as much as a foot. Changes to the mass of icecaps in Alaska, Greenland, and Antarctica alter sea levels on the West Coast by changing the distribution of mass on the planet, inducing regional changes in Earth's gravitational field. …

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