In new report, climate scientists estimate U.S. sea levels will rise rapidly by 2050

Flooding in Washington, D.C.
(Image credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

A new report from federal climate scientists warns that by 2050, sea levels along coastlines in the United States will rise by 10 to 12 inches.

In the last century, climate change accelerated the melting of glaciers and ice caps, causing oceans to rise by about a foot. Scientists are confident that the pace will pick up even more, with the same amount of sea level rise taking place in the next 30 years.

William Sweet, a sea level rise expert at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and one of the report's authors, told NPR on Tuesday that it's like "history is repeating itself, but in fast forward."

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The report was written by 24 leading climate scientists, using computer models and real-world information to make "the most concrete and certain sea level projections ever published for the U.S.," NPR says. The scientists said by having a more solid grasp on the situation, it will help people plan and prepare.

Rising sea levels are detrimental for a range of reasons, including because it makes flooding during hurricanes more destructive and increases the likelihood of salty water entering water reservoirs, sewers, and storm drains.

Because of ocean currents and the way ice is melting in different regions, sea level rise will not be uniform in the United States. The report estimates that in the Gulf Coast, there will be about a foot and a half of sea level rise by 2050, because land is also collapsing due to extraction of underground oil, gas, and drinking water. On the West Coast, the rise won't be as dramatic, with scientists predicting it will be about six inches.

The report says one way to try to control rising sea levels is by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. "This is unfolding in front of our eyes, whether you're in Miami or Charleston or Norfolk or Annapolis," Sweet told NPR. "It's best to plan before the problems surface. But it's not to say we can't engineer our way out of this. We will find ways to live with the water."

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