While the state of our environment is not my usual beat, every once in a while I like to check in on it since I’m convinced that the impacts of climate change will dwarf any other security challenge the world faces in the coming decades. So, hey, let’s see what’s been happ–
A new study from scientists at Harvard and Rutgers Universities has been sweeping the internet, and for good reason: it shows, quite alarmingly, that the planet’s seas have been rising much faster than we thought.
The research can be confusing on its face. At first glance, it shows that scientists have actually been overstating the rate of sea level rise for the first 90 years of the 20th century. Instead of rising about six inches over that period of time, the Harvard and Rutgers scientists discovered that the sea actually only rose by about five inches. That’s a big overstatement — a two quadrillion gallon overstatement, in fact — enough to fill three billion Olympic-size swimming pools, the New York Times reported.
But here’s the thing. If the sea wasn’t rising as steadily as we believed from 1900 to 1990, that means that it has been rising much more quickly than we thought from 1990 to the present day. In other words, we used to think the rate of acceleration of sea level rise in the last 25 years was only a little worse compared to the past — now that we know the rate used to be much slower, we know that it’s much worse.
Oh goodie. This means the prospect of a whole bunch of internally displaced coastal dwellers and a whole bunch of refugees from sinking island nations, which is where we’ve been heading, could be upon us a whole lot faster than we thought. And it’s not just about sea level rise itself. If sea level has been rising faster than we thought, then that presumably means glaciers have been melting faster than we thought. Glacier melt-water is an important source of fresh water for people all over the world, like in South America, and when it’s gone, what’s going to replace it?