Imagine the seaside was nearer. Not just a little bit nearer, but lapping uncomfortably close to your doorstep and rising. If you’re one of the 10% of the world’s population living in a low-lying coastal area, there’s a chance the ocean might get a little too familiar in the coming decades.
Humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions have been building up in the atmosphere and warming the planet for the past 150 years, dragging us into the uncharted Anthropocene, or age of man. Almost all of the planet’s tropical mountain glaciers have retreated or disappeared in recent decades, including those in the South American Andes, Asian Himalaya, and African Rwenzoris.
The resulting meltwater is finding its way into the oceans. Globally, they are rising at an average of 3.5 millimetres per year – roughly twice the rate seen during the 20th Century. Sea levels are expected to rise by around 2.3 metres (7.6 feet) for every 1C of warming in the coming decades, according to a study published by scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research last month. Most of the rise in the past decade was thanks to thermal expansion – at higher temperatures the water takes up a greater volume because its molecules move about more. Now however glacial melt has overtaken thermal expansion as the leading cause of rising sea levels.
At the poles, change is underw