Explainer: Why are sea levels rising and what are the effects?

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Sea levels across the world have risen by more than eight inches since 1880 when they first started being measured, according to US climate research body Global Change.

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The current rate of sea level rise is currently an inch per decade, Global Changes says.

Why are sea levels rising?

“Global sea levels are rising as a result of human-caused global warming, with recent rates being unprecedented over the past 2,500-plus years,” NASA reported later last year.

There are two main reasons the oceans are rising: Firstly because oceans expand as waters warm with rising global temperatures; and secondly because glaciers, ice sheets, and polar ice caps are melting.

A glacier is a large accumulation of crystallized ice, snow, rock sediment and often liquid water. When glaciers melt the water eventually moves into the ocean causing sea levels to rise.

Glaciers also act like a protective cover over earth and oceans because they reflect excessive heat from the sun back into space and keep the planet cooler.

About 10 percent of land area on Earth is covered with glacial ice. Almost 90 percent is in Antarctica, while the remaining 10 percent is in the Greenland ice cap, the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) says on its website.

Glaciers have been melting at pace since the 1990s since the industrial revolution and greenhouse gas emissions raised temperatures.

In 2022 the Greenland ice cap saw its 22nd consecutive year of ice loss, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Greenland ice sheet is disappearing four times faster than in 2003 and already contributes 20 percent of current sea level rises.

If emissions continue to rise, the current rate of melting on the Greenland ice sheet is expected to double by the end of the century and if all the ice on Greenland melted, it would raise global sea levels by 20 feet.

Scientists project that if emissions continue to rise unchecked, the Arctic could be ice-free in the summer as soon as the year 2040, the WWF says.

The weather effects of sea level rises

Aside from the risk of submerging low-lying countries such as Kiribati, rising sea levels can also lead to coastal erosion and increased coastal storms, such as hurricanes and typhoons. Flooding will also become frequent and storms more intense as wildlife such as polar bears and walrus lose their habitat.

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