Rising Sea Levels

Over the past 50 years, the sea level around the world has risen by 4 inches. While many credit global warming, that doesn't fully explain the sources of all that water. Climate science and environmental experts from around the world gathered at Rice University to discuss the sea level rise and its implication for the Houston area. Pat Hernandez has the story.

The IPCC, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, concludes the rise in sea levels is due to two main reasons...run-off from melting glaciers and warming ocean waters that expand.

In the past decade, scientists have had new and reliable satellite instruments to measure the rate of rising sea levels. Anny Casaneve, from Toulouse University is the foremost expert in using satellite data to convince the scientific community that sea level is rising:

"Because we have alot of different observations for example, from the ocean temperature, from glaciers, we are now able to understand the respective contributions of all these factors."

She says the IPCC pegs the average rise in sea levels at a little more than three millimeters per year:

"Another imporant discovery is that sea level is not rising uniformally. For example, the Gulf of Mexico, the rate has been much higher than the mean rate of 3 mm per year."

Nearly two-thirds of humanity lives within approximately 90-miles of coastal waters. In the United States, over 50-percent of Americans live in coas tal counties. That is expected to increase to 75-percent by 2025.

Andre Droxler, a professor of marine geology in the Department of Earth Science at Rice University, says the weather is one factor that contributes to the vulnerability of the coastal region both socially and economically:

"All the area petrochemical and refineries that we have between the Bay of Galveston and Beaumont, most of those would be flooded. This is about twenty percent of the entire capacity of oil refineries in the U-S."

Erosion...not flooding from rising sea levels...would create the most important effect in the gulf coast in the next 10-20 years. Both Droxler and Casaneve agree...long term observation is needed:

"Monitoring the earth on a daily basis, monthly basis, yearly basis, is extremely necessary in order for us to assess the state of our planet...and because it costs alot, it's a real difficulty in this particular field of research."

In the meantime, the Houston-Galveston Area Council has created a Climate Impact Task Force to develop recommendations on how local governments can best adapt to changes in the future climate of the region.

Pat Hernandez, KUHF Houston Public Radio News

Bio photo of Pat Hernandez

Pat Hernandez

Reporter

Pat Hernandez is a general assignments reporter who joined the KUHF news staff in February of 2008...