NASA projects dangerous sea levels for coastal U.S. cities
As if climate change weren’t bringing enough problems, now there’s a moon wobble to worry about. Observers first noticed the moon wobble in 1728, and it’s a natural part of the 18.6-year lunar cycle. The problem is that sea level rise from climate change combined with higher tides during the moon’s period of strong gravitational pull in the 2030s.
“Low-lying areas near sea level are increasingly at risk and suffering due to the increased flooding, and it will only get worse,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said. “The combination of the moon’s gravitational pull, rising sea levels, and climate change will continue to exacerbate coastal flooding on our coastlines and across the world. NASA’s Sea Level Change Team is providing crucial information so that we can plan, protect, and prevent damage to the environment and people’s livelihoods affected by flooding.”
High tides are normal part of life along the coast, but with sea levels already rising, high tides will only get higher. For low-lying coastal cities, this will worsen the flooding problems they are already experiencing.
“It’s the accumulated effect over time that will have an impact,” said Phil Thompson, an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii and the lead author of the moon wobble study, published this month in Nature Climate Change. “(I)f it floods 10 or 15 times a month, a business can’t keep operating with its parking lot under water. People lose their jobs because they can’t get to work. Seeping cesspools become a public health issue.”
The researchers studied 89 tide gauge locations in every U.S. state with a coastline except Alaska, which is far enough north that it won’t experience the full effects of the moon wobble. Ben Hamlington of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a co-author of the study said that while the projections are troubling, they at least give urban planners time to prepare.
“From a planning perspective, it’s important to know when we’ll see an increase,” Hamlington said. “Understanding that all your events are clustered in a particular month, or you might have more severe flooding in the second half of a year than the first – that’s useful information.”