Extreme sea level rise may become yearly phenomenon by 2050

New York: Extreme sea levels, that are expected to be experienced once every 100 years on average, may become a yearly occurrence in many areas by 2050, a study warns.

Researchers including those from University of Central Florida (UCF) in the US confirmed that rising sea levels has occurred steadily during the past century and is expected to accelerate in the future.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, used newly available data and advanced models to improve global predictions when it comes to extreme sea levels.

The results suggest that extreme sea levels will likely occur more frequently than previously predicted, particularly in the west coast regions of the US and in large parts of Europe and Australia.

These extreme events could occur every decade or even every year, in many places by 2050, researchers said.

“Storm surges globally lead to considerable loss of life and billions of dollars of damages each year, and yet we still have a limited understanding of the likelihood and associated uncertainties of these extreme events both today and in the future,” said Thomas Wahl, an assistant professor at UCF.

When an extreme event collides with continually rising seas, it takes a less intense storm, such as a Category I hurricane, to inflict as much coastal damage as a Category II or III storm would have had when the seas were lower, they said.

Researchers used representative sample of 20 different methods for predicting extreme sea levels. They focused intensely on the measures of uncertainty that accompany any prediction, but that are particularly vexing in the analysis of extremes.

Interspersing sea level rise with the latest predictions of extreme sea level events, the team was able to illustrate the dramatic effect one has on the other and pinpoint regions of the world that are especially threatened.

“In order to understand coastal impacts under current and future climate and socio-economic conditions, we do not only need robust projections of mean sea level rise but also a profound knowledge of present-day and future extreme sea levels, because these events drive the impacts,” Wahl said.

Researchers agreed that including extreme sea levels into coastal impact studies is imperative in helping vulnerable parts of the world effectively protect themselves by adapting through new or upgraded infrastructure such as dikes, pumping systems, barriers, or other tools like new building codes or flood zoning that prevents new infrastructure from being built in high-risk areas.

“Based on our results we can see, for the first time globally, what role uncertainties in extreme sea level predictions play,” said Ivan Haigh, associate professor at University of Southampton in the UK.

The study was conducted to make data about extreme events a part of the ongoing research and planning required to help communities prepare now for conditions that may be dramatically different in the not-too-distant future, researchers said.