Cutting specific pollutants would slow sea level rise, research says
With coastal areas bracing for rising sea levels, new research indicates that cutting emissions of certain pollutants can greatly slow down sea level rise this century.
The research team found that reductions in four pollutants that cycle comparatively quickly through the atmosphere could temporarily forestall the rate of sea level rise by roughly 25 to 50 percent.
"To avoid potentially dangerous sea level rise, we could cut emissions of short-lived pollutants even if we cannot immediately cut carbon dioxide emissions," says Aixue Hu of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the first author of the study. "This new research shows that society can significantly reduce the threat to coastal cities if it moves quickly on a handful of pollutants."
The study, a collaboration of the Scripps Institution for Oceanography, NCAR, and Climate Central, is being published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change. It was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.
"It is still not too late, by stabilizing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere and reducing emissions of shorter-lived pollutants, to lower the rate of warming and reduce sea level rise," says Veerabhadran Ramanathan of Scripps, who led the study. "The large role of the shorter-lived pollutants is encouraging since technologies are available to drastically cut their emissions."
Protecting the coasts
The potential impact of rising oceans on populated areas is one of the most concerning effects of climate change. Many of the world's major cities, such as New York, Miami, Amsterdam, Mumbai, and Tokyo, are located in low-lying areas by the water.
As glaciers and ice sheets melt and warming oceans expand, sea levels have been rising by an average of about 3 millimeters annually in recent years (just more than one-tenth of an inch). If temperatures continue to warm, sea levels are projected to rise between 18 and 59 centimeters (7 to 23 inches) this century, according to a 2007 assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Some scientists, however, feel those estimates are too conservative.