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Sea Level Rise

sea washing onto road

Sea level rise is an increase in the height of the ocean surface relative to land. Several factors can affect the height of the ocean surface: the amount of water in the ocean basins in the form of liquid water and ice; the temperature, and therefore the density and volume, of ocean water; and tectonic factors that affect the shape of ocean basins.

Other factors affect sea levels locally over short time scales, such as tides, storms, floods, and tsunamis. What is of most concern today is sea level rise driven by climate change, which affects both the amount and density of ocean water.

As air and water temperatures rise around the world, scientists are seeing more ice and meltwater moving from land-based sources on Antarctica and Greenland into the ocean. This adds to or displaces water in the ocean, raising the level of the entire ocean. In addition, as water temperatures rise, seawater expands.

These two factors have combined to produce a rise in sea level of 2 millimeters per year over the past century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that sea level may continue to rise as much as two feet over the next century.

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News & Insights

Five feet above a rising ocean

As the seas rise in Woods Hole, one of the institution’s chief stewards recalls past storms to plan for the future

Learning the recipe for high-tide floods

A new WHOI-led program receives $1.5 million from NASA to investigate how local and regional environmental conditions affect extreme sea-level rise

WHOI scientists weigh in on sea level rise impact study

When it comes to future sea level rise, most studies predict we’ll see between four to eight inches of global sea level rise between now and 2050. The looming question is—how many people will be affected by rising seas in the coming decades?

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News Releases

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WHOI in the News

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From Oceanus Magazine

The ocean science-art connection

Some of the most complex insights in marine science are no match for the communicative power of art. Check out these five recent collaborations between ocean scientists and artists

Marshes, Mosquitoes, and Sea Level Rise

In the 1930s, the Cape Cod Mosquito Control Project dug approximately 1,500 miles of ditches across marshes on the Cape to drain their water and reduce the number of ponds where mosquitoes can breed. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution biogeochemist Amanda Spivak is studying how this and other management decisions have changed the ability of coastal marshes to store carbon and protect against sea level rise.

Blue Holes and Hurricanes

Scientists are digging into clues that settle into sinkholes in the seafloor to learn about hurricane patterns in the past and in the future.

More Floods & Higher Sea Levels

A research team predicts potentially big changes within the next century that would have significant impacts on those who live on or near the coast.

Scientists Find Trigger That Cracks Lakes

Graduate student Laura Stevens became a focal point of a research team that cracked a big mystery atop the Greenland Ice Sheet.