National study warns coastal sea level rise could rise by a foot in 30 years

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released a study projecting that sea levels will rise 10 to 12 inches by 2050 if the federal government does not take substantial action to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

The Sea Level Rise Technical Report, released last week, updates the projections from NOAA’s 2017 study. 

Researchers provided evidence suggesting drastic sea-level rise will lead to more frequent coastal flooding, regardless of extreme weather events.

“Decades ago, powerful storms were what typically caused coastal flooding, but due to relative sea-level rise, even today’s common wind events and seasonal high tides are already regularly flooding communities,” the report reads. “They will do so to an ever greater extent in the next few decades, affecting homes and businesses, overloading stormwater and wastewater systems, infiltrating coastal groundwater aquifers with salt water, and stressing coastal wetlands and estuarine ecosystems.”

Multiple agencies and institutions, including the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, contributed to the study. NASA research scientist Ben Hamlington described the period before 2050 as crucial for climate action.

“These models and these scenarios are set up on a global scale, but on a regional level, you see that the highest rates and higher projections are in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and then along the Southeast coast of the U.S.,” Hamlington told SFMN.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory monitored water levels with tide gauges to project potential sea-level rise scenarios. The study’s co-author also explained the importance of this research for coastal urban planning. 

“This is really important information for the entirety of the U.S. coastline,” said Hamlington. “A lot of times, in terms of sea-level planning, certain states have a huge amount of resources to devote to this. Every community along the coastline, no matter how small, will have access to this information for planning, and we have delivery tools to show this data in a simple format.”

The NOAA study refrains from offering solutions and instead advises the government and local communities to begin making mitigation efforts as soon as possible.

Florida International University professor Jayantha Obeysekera recognizes that some changes are now inevitable. However, the study’s co-author argues that it is in the government’s best economic interest to limit the use of greenhouse gasses due to the rate of sea-level change.

“If we don’t try to mitigate the warming effect, the sea level rise will accelerate faster and we will have no choice but to spend more money,” said Obeysekera, the director of the Sea Level Solutions Center at FIU. “We cannot do much about what has happened in the past, but mitigation is the long-term solution. We can prolong how long we live in these areas if we follow local and regional efforts to lower carbon emissions.”


Taylor Gutierrez is a Cuban-American digital journalism student and intends to pursue a career as a multimedia journalist, combining her passions for writing and photography. Gutierrez currently works as a Communications Associate for FIU's Institute of Environment where she discusses issues within the field of environmental science. She hopes her writing will help bridge the gap in communication between media consumers and the scientific research community.