Cutting Short-lived Pollutants Can Slow Sea Level Rise

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    The original version of this article, by Andrew Freedman, appeared on Climate Central.

    A new study finds that it is possible to greatly slow the rate of sea level rise, which is one of the biggest threats global warming poses, by cutting so-called “short-lived climate pollutants,” which warm the climate on timescales of a few weeks to a decade, in combination with reductions in long-lived greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2).

    The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found that reducing emissions of these short-lived climate pollutants, including soot and methane, by 30 to 60 percent by 2050 would slow the annual rate of sea level rise by about 18 percent by 2050. Combining reductions in short-lived pollutants with decreasing CO2 emissions could cut the rate of sea level rise in half by 2100, from 0.82 inches to 0.43 inches per year, while reducing the total sea level rise by 31 percent during the same period.

    Related research by Climate Central scientists shows that the emissions reductions would potentially benefit more than 2 million Americans by 2100, who might otherwise be living below sea level at that point.

    Cutting CO2 emissions is critical in the long term, but readily achievable reductionsof non-CO2 pollutants would do far more to slow sea level rise this centurythan actions to reduce CO2 emissions alone, protecting millions of people andbillions of dollars of real estate from rising seas. Click on map on original article to see individual states' details.

    Cutting CO2 emissions is critical in the long term, but readily achievable reductionsof non-CO2 pollutants would do far more to slow sea level rise this centurythan actions to reduce CO2 emissions alone, protecting millions of people andbillions of dollars of real estate from rising seas. Click on map on original article to see individual states’ details.

    For more information on the methods behind this interactive, click here.

    In addition, the study found that, compared to just cutting CO2 emissions, reducing the release of short-lived climate pollutants would do more to slow sea level rise before 2050, but that lowering CO2 emissions would be required to limit warming and warming-related impacts beyond that point.

    “We need an all-of-the-above approach to controlling greenhouse gases. Clearly we need to cut CO2 emissions, but we also need to take advantage of the very substantial short term gains that can be achieved by cutting emissions of non-CO2 climate pollutants,” said Claudia Tebaldi, a research scientist at Climate Central and a co-author of the study.

    As ocean waters warm and land-based ice sheets melt in response to manmade global warming, global sea levels have been rising by about 1.2 inches per decade, and recent studies project up to 1 meter, or about 3.3 feet, of global sea level rise by the end of this century. This would imperil some of the world’s largest coastal population centers, including New York, Miami, and Mumbai. In the U.S., Florida has the greatest population at risk from sea level rise, with 2.1 million people projected to live below sea level in that state by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced.

    Sea level rise will vary in different regions of the world due to ocean currents and movement of land masses, but this study examined global average sea level rise.

    Already, sea level rise has made storm surge events more damaging than they otherwise would have been. In New York, for example, seas have risen by about one foot during the past century, which helped heighten the storm surge from Hurricane Sandy when the storm struck in October 2012. That storm killed more than 40 people in New York City itself, flooded all of the subway tunnels that connect Manhattan to Brooklyn and Queens, and cut power to lower Manhattan for days.

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