Global sea level rose by about 6 inches during the 20th century. It is currently rising more than twice as fast and accelerating. The rate of rise was 2.5 times faster from 2006 to 2016 than it was for nearly all of the 20th century.
Sea level rise occurs when glaciers and ice sheets lose mass. Much of that meltwater comes from Greenland and Antarctica. But levels also rise because, as water warms, it expands. Added to that are the effects of human activities such as groundwater depletion and a geological phenomenon called isostatic adjustment that is going on in parts of the East Coast where the land is actually sinking.
In Atlantic Canada, sea level rise is outpacing the global average and has already led to boardwalks swamped by swelling tides, drowned forests, submerged wharfs, and threatened historic shoreline buildings.
Recent research suggests that globally, land now occupied by 300 million people could be affected by floods at least once a year by 2050 unless carbon emissions are significantly reduced, and coastal defenses strengthened. (This new figure is more than three times higher than earlier estimates).
Researchers at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia are studying nature-based strategies for mitigating the effects of the rising seas. These include conserving or restoring coastal ecosystems like dunes, wetlands, and reefs which could provide protection at a lower cost than building seawalls and other man-made obstacles. Wetlands, for example, can reduce the force of waves and act as obstacles to storm surges, while also trapping sediment and stemming erosion. Wetlands also serve as important carbon stores, but it is estimated that roughly half of the world’s coastal wetlands have been lost over the past 100 years to human activity and extreme weather events.
Photo, posted February 14, 2015, courtesy of Flickr.