A new study has proposed that the earth’s sea-level has not risen as much as previously believed in the 20th century, The New York Times reports. The team of researchers – from Harvard and Rutgers Universities – suggested a miniscule adjustment that could make all the difference in science’s understanding of the planet’s water levels and climate studies.
Previous research had suggested that the sea rose about six inches over the course of the 20th century – however, scientists have now calculated that the ocean rose by approximately five inches. Though it might seem like a small difference in size, it actually turns out to be a significantly massive gap: The change in the inch of water is equivalent to two quadrillion gallons, or enough to fill three billion Olympic-size swimming pools, according to The New York Times.
If other experts in the field cement the findings, they could help settle a longstanding puzzle in climate research. Previously, when researchers added up their best measurements of melt water from land ice and of other factors causing the sea to rise, the numbers would always fall short of what had been recorded at international ports. So, if the harbor measurements were indeed accurate and the ocean really had a surplus of two quadrillion gallons of water, where was it coming from? The conundrum began an investigation for additional ice that might be melting from glaciers and ice sheets, or extra heat that might be causing ocean water to expand. To some scientists, the answers that emerged were never sufficient enough, The New York Times claims.
Now, in a paper published by the journal Nature, the team of researchers – led by two young researchers, Carling C. Hay and Eric Morrow, working with two senior scientists, Robert E. Kopp of Rutgers and Jerry X. Mitrovica of Harvard – applied advanced statistical techniques to the calculations gathered at the harbors around the world; the report reassessed records from more than 600 tidal gauges from 1901 to 1990. What they realized was that previous research had slightly overestimated the amount of sea-level rise in the 20th century, and that with their downward alterations, the harbor record now matches the other records much more methodically.
Since the sea-level’s rate of increase used to be much slower, the paper also proposes that present acceleration of sea level rise has increased by much more than was previously believed. Hence, the new analysis “suggests that the acceleration in the past two decades is 25 percent higher than previously thought,” Dr. Hay told Reuters.
If backed by other experts, the main takeaway of the paper may be to increase scientists’ confidence that they comprehend exactly why the sea-level is rising — and therefore boost their ability to predict future elevation.
A United Nations subcommittee led by Dr. Clark and Dr. Church in 2014 warned that if human emissions of greenhouse gases continued at a high level, the sea could rise as much as three feet by the end of this century. Seemingly, the research from Harvard and Rutgers has already launched efforts to generate new projections, with results expected in the coming months.