NASA Ponders Which Cities Will Flood as Ice Melts

Cesar Mills
November 19, 2017

Early in November, the US government released a major climate change report which revealed sea levels have risen by between seven and eight inches since 1900, with the last 25 years making up nearly half that increase.

A team of three researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory were able to tell how a global melting event would impact around 300 cities situated on the coast. The rise in sea level diminishes coasts and can also lead to surges of storm and flooding.

By pinpointing which specific glaciers and ice sheets are contributing to local sea level rise for individual coastal cities, scientists can paint a more complete and accurate picture of what global warming will mean for rising ocean levels.

The study found that because of gravity, the biggest contributions to local sea level rise would come from glaciers and ice sheets farthest away from the cities.

The research, detailed in the journal Science Advances, could provide scientists a way to determine which ice sheets they should be "most anxious about". The online tool can be a bit technical to use and understand. For example, ice melting from the northeastern half of Greenland will most heavily affect New York City despite some other coastal cities being closer. Among the observed changes are severe flooding to big locations like New York City and London.

Which glaciers can put London and New York City coastlines at risk? Nasa's new tool helps predict

Londoners, however, need to look primarily at the northwest portion of Greenland, the part of the island farthest from the city itself. Utilizing New York, London and a couple of other port urban communities as cases, the recreation indicates which Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets will influence 293 port urban communities over the globe through the span of the following century.

There is a physical explanation for this - gravity. This is because when a large ice body loses mass, it no longer exerts the same gravitational pull of the ocean, which in turn, causes the sea level around the ice mass to decrease.

On the other hand, such changes are sensitive to changes in northeastern portions of an ice sheet in NY. While sea levels were projected to rise by between one and four feet around the world by 2100, the report acknowledged that the changes will be different for everyone.

For this reason, cities like Halifax and Reykjavik, Iceland, may actually see sea levels decrease.

Knowing more precisely how much the ocean will rise by certain dates will help city planners prepare mitigation techniques to deal with coastal inundation.

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