With coastal areas bracing for rising sea levels… new research from the National Center for Atmospheric Research indicates that cutting emissions of certain pollutants can greatly slow down sea level rise this century.
The research team found that reductions in four pollutants that cycle comparatively quickly through the atmosphere could slow the annual rate of sea level rise by roughly 25 to 50 percent.
The study… a collaboration of the Scripps Institution for Oceanography… NCAR and Climate Central… has been published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change.
The potential impact of rising oceans on populated areas is one of the most concerning effects of climate change. Many of the world's major cities are located in low-lying areas by the water.
As glaciers and ice sheets melt and warming oceans expand… sea levels have been rising by an average of about 3 millimeters annually in recent years. If temperatures continue to warm… sea levels are projected to rise between 18 and 200 centimeters this century… according to reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. National Research Council.
Such an increase could submerge densely populated coastal communities… especially when storm surges hit.
Despite the risks, policy makers have been unable to agree on procedures for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, which is the main human-emitted greenhouse gas. With this in mind, the research team focused on emissions of four other heat-trapping pollutants: methane, soot… refrigerants and gases that lead to the formation of ground-level ozone. These gases and particles last anywhere from a week to a decade in the atmosphere, and they can influence climate more quickly than carbon dioxide, which persists in the atmosphere for more than a century.
Previous research shown that a sharp reduction in emissions of these shorter-lived pollutants beginning in 2015 could offset warming temperatures by up to 50 percent by 2050.
Applying those emission reductions to sea level rise, the new research found that the cuts could dramatically slow rising sea levels. Their results showed that total sea level rise would be reduced by an estimated 22 to 42 percent by 2100, depending on the extent to which emissions were reduced.
The new study also found that delaying emissions cuts until 2040 would reduce the beneficial impact on year-2100 sea level rise by about a third.
If society were able to substantially reduce both emissions of carbon dioxide as well as the four other pollutants… total sea level rise would be lessened by at least 30 percent by 2100… the researchers concluded.
The study assumes that society could reduce emissions of the four gases and particles by 30 to 60 percent over the next several decades. That is the steepest reduction believed achievable by economists who have studied the issue at Austria's International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis… one of the world's leading research centers into the impact of economic activity on climate change.
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