Like weather and climate, there are two factors in sea level rise: year-to-year small rises and falls that are caused by natural events and larger long-term rising trends that are linked to man-made climate change.
He and his colleagues harnessed 25 years of satellite data to calculate that the rate is increasing by about 0.08 mm/year every year-which could mean an annual rate of sea level rise of 10 mm/year, or even more, by 2100.
Changes in the sea level rise can result to more flooding and erosion.
"We are already seeing signs of ice sheet instability in Greenland and Antarctica, so if they experience rapid changes, then we would likely see more than 65 centimeters of sea level rise by 2100". Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere rise the temperature in air and water.
The study highlighted that if the oceans keep on to growing at this pace, sea level will rise 65cm by 2100.
Currently, over half of the observed rise is the result of "thermal expansion": As ocean water warms, it expands, and sea levels rise.
If the oceans continue to change at this rate, sea levels will rise 26 inches by the end of the century - enough to cause major problems for coastal cities, according to the study.
"This is the first satellite-based estimate of an acceleration number", Professor Nerem said.
Image credits EPA CSIRO NOAA
A study attributes the accelerated rise in sea levels to the melting in Greenland and Antarctica.
"The Topex/Poseidon/Jason altimetry missions have been essentially providing the equivalent of a global network of almost half a million accurate tide gauges, providing sea surface height information every 10 days for over 25 years", said Brian Beckley, of NASA Goddard, second author on the new paper and lead of a team that processes altimetry observations into a global sea level data record.
Even with a 25-year data record, detecting acceleration is challenging. El Ninos and La Ninas (the opposing phases of the El Nino Southern Oscillation, or Enso) influence ocean temperature and global precipitation patterns.
Again, the melting of the Greenland ice sheet was put forward as the primary cause of this acceleration.
The researchers used tide gauge data to identify potential errors in the altimeter estimate.
Effectively, the study uses this real-world data from the past few decades to produce a calculation about the rate of future sea level rise, and found that it matches the complicated climate models produced by the IPCC for a "high emissions scenario" where no action is taken to limit emissions. The scientists, who used last 25 years of satellite data to make this observation, say the acceleration in sea level increase can be seen as something similar to a "driver merging onto a highway".
"It's a big deal", University of Colorado lead author Steve Nerem said. "As we get longer and longer time series there will be better estimates of this acceleration", Nerem said. Lastly, they hope that this global data can be used at a local level, so that satellite data can be used to predict what will happen in your backyard.
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