Study shows rapid sea level rise along Atlantic coast of North America in 18th century

Study found evidence for a period of enhanced pre-industrial sea-level rise of about 2-3 millimeters per year

University of York

The study, led by the University of York, found evidence for a period of enhanced pre-industrial sea-level rise of about two to three millimetres per year in three locations: Nova Scotia, Maine and Connecticut.

The researchers say that the large rises at these three locations were natural, and partly related to the North Atlantic Oscillation – a large-scale atmospheric pressure see-saw over the North Atlantic region – and to periods of enhanced ice melt in the Arctic.

The authors of the study say cities like New York and Boston will have to take into account this natural variability in planning for future sea level rise.

The findings are based on sea level reconstructions derived from salt-marsh sediments from the Atlantic coast and from microscopic salt-marsh fossils.

Previous studies have shown that, since the 1950s, rates of sea level rise along the Atlantic coast of North America were faster than the global average – leading to this region coming to be known as a sea level rise “hotspot.”

However, lead author Prof Roland Gehrels, from the University of York’s Department of Environment and Geography, said this earlier rapid episode of sea level rise in the 18th Century wasn’t known before.

“To find out what global warming is doing to sea levels today we need that base level from historical times.

“In the 20th Century we see rates of up to three or four millimetres per year, faster than in any century in at least the last 3000 years.

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