Rising Sea Levels in Northeast Putting Cities At Risk to Storm Damage

March 17, 2009

Global warming should lift sea levels along the U.S. Northeast nearly twice as fast as global rates this century, putting New York City at risk to damage from hurricanes and winter storm surges, scientists said.

“The northeast coast of the United States is among the most vulnerable regions to future changes in sea level and ocean circulation, especially when considering its population density,” said Jianjun Yin, a climate modeler at Florida State University.

Yin, who published a study on rising seas in the journal Nature Geoscience on Sunday, said sea levels along the Northeast should rise 8.3 inches more than the global mean level sea rise by 2100. Well before then, New York City will be at risk of severe flooding from storm surges because many parts of the city are only slightly above sea level.

The rising seas could also submerge low-lying land in and around the city, erode beaches, and hurt estuaries, some of the most diversely populated ecosystems.

Climate scientists say higher temperatures caused by heat-trapping emissions from tailpipes, smokestacks and the burning of forests have the potential to raise sea levels by melting land ice, such as the Greenland icesheet, and expanding water in the ocean.

The U.S. Northeast’s coast is particularly vulnerable as global warming slows the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, which is basically a natural conveyor belt that carries warm upper waters to northern latitudes and returns colder waters southward.

Yin and colleagues from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton University studied 10 climate models used by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in their study. Yin was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s science department.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Christian Wiessner)

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