New NASA interactive tool shows how sea level rise could affect where you live

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NASA has created a new tool to visualise sea level rise anywhere in the world in the coming decades.

The sea level projection tool was announced on Monday after release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) first chapter from its sixth assessment report.

In a summary of the findings, scientists noted that the climate crisis is widespread, rapid and intensifying – and no region on Earth will escape changes.

It is also “unequivocal” that human influence, largely from the burning of fossil fuels, is heating the atmosphere, ocean and land, the report found.

However, the 234 scientists from 66 countries who authored the report stressed that humanity’s actions still have the ability to determine the course.

“We know that there’s no going back from some changes in the climate system,” Ko Barrett, IPCC vice chair and senior climate adviser at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told a press briefing. “However, some of these changes could be slowed and others could be stopped by limiting warming.”

The tool, hosted on NASA’s Sea Level Portal, allows a new level of granularity in how different parts of the world will be impacted by sea level rise under a range of emissions trajectories.

By selecting options from a drop-down menu, you can zoom into locations across the ocean and on every coastline between 2020 and 2150 to see what will happen depending on how rapidly the curve does – or doesn’t – bend on cutting emissions.

The tool also provides a look at different processes behind sea level rise like the melting of ice sheets and glaciers, and the extent to which ocean waters shift their circulation patterns or expand as they warm.

The projections are based on the IPCC report’s conclusions from data gathered by satellites and instruments on the ground, as well as analyses and computer simulations.

“The goal is to deliver the projection data in the IPCC report in a usable form while also providing easy visualization of the future scenarios,” said Ben Hamlington, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, who leads the agency’s Sea Level Change science team.

The IPCC report is clear that some consequences of the climate crisis are already locked in. It is “virtually certain” that global sea levels will continue to rise this century, for example.

“Regardless of how quickly we get our emissions down, we’re likely looking at about 15-30cm (six-12 inches) of global average sea level rise through the middle of the century,” said Dr Bob Kopp, a lead author of the chapter addressing sea level rise, and director of the Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Rutgers University.

Extreme sea level events that previously occurred once in 100 years could happen every year by 2100.

However, Dr Kopp noted that it is still within our power to make a monumental difference to sea levels by reducing emissions.

“Beyond 2050, sea level projections become increasingly sensitive to the emission choices we are making today,” he said.

Sea level rise is being driven by the melting of ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctic and mountain glaciers which add water to the ocean. Secondly, water expands as it heats up. Scientists have determined that the ocean absorbs more than 90 per cent of the excess heat from greenhouse gases.

Sea levels have risen increasingly rapidly since about 1970 and in the past 100 years, sea level has risen more than in any century over at least the past three millennia. Global average sea level has risen at a rate of about four millimeters (0.16inches) per year over the last decade.

With nearly half of the global population living within 60 miles of the coast, the rise in sea levels is already impacting people in many parts of the world.

The milestone IPCC report comes less than three months before Cop26, a global climate summit in Glasgow in November. The findings will play an important role in informing high-level discussions on how to cut global emissions.

The tool has been designed to let leaders get a grasp of how the climate crisis is changing the landscape of their own countries ahead of the event.

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