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'Profound shift' in coastal flooding projected as report finds sea level will rise in next 30 years

A new report finds sea level rise is accelerating. The rise experienced in the next 30 years will be as much as the rise measured over the last 100 years.

CONNECTICUT, USA — A new report released this week from government scientists is catching the attention of coastal cities and towns nationwide.

"The United States is expected to experience as much sea level rise in 30 years as we saw over the span of the entire last century," according to Dr. Richard Spinrad, the NOAA Administrator.

NOAA has revised its sea level rise projections, last updated five years ago, as the impact of our warming world becomes more clear.

The most extreme sea level rise scenario has been reduced; however, there is more confidence sea level rise has accelerated.

"Over the next 30 years or so we are really locked into the amount of sea level we might experience," Daniel Gilford, a climate scientist at Climate Central, said.

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It takes decades for the ocean to respond to any changes in our climate. The impact of our recent history, with emission-fueled warming, will be felt for years to come in the form of sea level rise.

Sea levels are rising for a few reasons. The primary driver is thermal expansion; water is warming as our world warms. Warmer water expands, pushing the water levels up. Additionally, melting from glaciers and ice caps is contributing to the rise, especially on the east coast of the United States. In other parts of the country, land subsidence or slight sinking over time is also accelerating sea level rise.

Even the new report's most conservative, low-end estimate calls for an additional eight to 10 inches of sea level rise on the Connecticut shoreline in the next 30 years.

The worst-case, more aggressive estimates are for between 12 and 15 inches of rise.

High tide flooding has already increased in New London and Bridgeport, where tide gauges are monitored, according to a 2020 report from the Yale Center on Climate Change and Health.

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As the sea level goes up, it will take less of a high tide to cause the same amount of inundation. So, high tide flooding will continue to increase, even in the absence of a storm.

The report says the projected amount of sea level rise will create a "profound shift" in coastal flooding over the next 30 years, as water inundation becomes more common.

By 2050, NOAA says moderate flooding during storms is expected to occur more than 10 times as often as it does now.

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Communities will face tough decisions when it comes to mitigating against future flood events.

"There are some pockets along the coast where it’s (already) regularly flooding roads," according to Dr. Laura Bozzi, from the Yale Center on Climate Change and Health.

While additional sea level rise in the next few decades is essentially baked in and expected to happen, changes to our environment do matter. Failing to curb carbon emissions will have a great impact on additional sea level rise through the end of the century.

Interactive coastal risk tool

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If you'd like to see which areas are most susceptible to varying levels of water rise, check out this interactive mapping tool from Climate Central.

Ryan Breton is a meteorologist at FOX61 News. He can be reached at rbreton@fox61.com. Follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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