Sea level has climbed 8 centimetres since 1992

Sea levels worldwide rose an average of nearly 8 centimetres (3 inches) - about a finger-length - since 1992, the result of warming waters and melting ice, NASA scientists say.

In some places, it's risen as much as 25 centimetres, satellite data show

Alton Road and 10th Street in Miami Beach, Florida, floods on November 5, 2013. Recent sea level rise has led to an increase in flooding in low lying regions such as Florida. (Zachary Fagenson/Reuters)

Sea levels worldwide rose an average of nearly eight centimetres (3 inches) since 1992, the result of warming waters and melting ice, a panel of NASA scientists said on Wednesday.

In 2013, a United Nations panel predicted sea levels would rise from 0.3 to 0.9 metres (1 to 3 feet) by the end of the century.

The new research shows that sea level rise most likely will be at the high end of that range, said University of Colorado geophysicist Steve Nerem.

Sea levels are rising faster than they did 50 years ago and "it's very likely to get worse in the future," Nerem said.

The changes are not uniform. Some areas showed sea levels rising more than 25 cm (9 inches) and other regions, such as along the U.S. West Coast, actually falling, according to an analysis of 23 years of satellite data.

Scientists believe ocean currents and natural cycles are temporarily offsetting a sea level rise in the Pacific and the U.S. West Coast could see a significant hike in sea levels in the next 20 years.

"People need to understand that the planet is not only changing, it's changed," NASA scientist Tom Wagner told reporters on a conference call.

"If you're going to put in major infrastructure like a water treatment plant or a power plant in a coastal zone ... we have data you can now use to estimate what the impacts are going to be in the next 100 years," Wagner said.

Remains of trees in a coastal ghost forest display rising sea levels on Assateague Island in Virginia. Since 1992, sea levels in some parts of the world have risen more than 25 cm (9 inches) and other regions, such as along the U.S. West Coast, actually falling, according to an analysis of 23 years of satellite data. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Low-lying regions, such as Florida, are especially vulnerable, added Michael Freilich, director of NASA's Earth Science Division.

"Even today, normal spring high tides cause street flooding in sections of Miami, something that didn't happen regularly just a few decades ago," Feilich said.

More than 150 million people, mostly in Asia, live within one metre (3 feet) of sea level, he added.

The biggest uncertainty in forecasting sea level rise is determining how quickly the polar ice sheets will melt in response to warming temperatures.

"Significant changes are taking place today on ice sheets," said Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at the University of California in Irvine. "It would take centuries to reverse the trend of ice retreat."

Scientists said about one-third of the rise in sea levels is due to the expansion of warmer ocean water, one-third to ice loss from the polar ice sheets and the remaining third to melting mountain glaciers.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?