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Modern rates of sea level rise first emerged in 1863

Modern rates of sea level rise first emerged in 1863 as the Industrial Age ramped up, according to a new study led by Rutgers University. The experts report that this trend corresponds with evidence of early ocean warming and glacier melt. 

“Sea-level rise is a significant indicator of broader climate changes, and the time of emergence concept can be used to identify when modern rates of sea-level rise emerged above background variability,” wrote the study authors. “Yet a range of estimates of the timing persists both globally and regionally.”

The researchers used a global database of sea-level records spanning the last 2,000 years. The findings will ultimately help decision makers prepare for the local impacts of future sea-level rise.

The experts found that the earliest shift to modern rates of sea-level rise appeared in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States during the mid to late 19th century. Across Canada and Europe, this pattern had emerged by the mid-20th century.

The study may help explain the findings of a recent report from NOAA, which describes the rapid acceleration of sea-level rise along the U.S. coastline.  

“We can be virtually certain the global rate of sea-level rise from 1940 to 2000 was faster than all previous 60-year intervals over the last 2,000 years,” said study lead author Jennifer S. Walker. “Having a thorough understanding of site-specific sea-level changes over long timescales is imperative for regional and local planning and response to future sea level rise.”

The statistical model used for the study could also be applied to more individual sites to further understand the processes driving sea-level change on global and regional scales, explained Walker. 

“The fact that modern rates emerge at all of our study sites by the mid-20th century demonstrates the significant influence global sea-level rise has had on our planet in the last century.”

“Further analysis of the spatial variability in the time of emergence at different locations will continue to improve society’s understanding of how regional and local processes impact rates of sea-level rise,” said Walker.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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