When waters warm they expand, which can lead to sea-level rise. The heavier than normal rainfall has had an influence on coastal flooding. This is because the rain is falling at a quicker than normal rate for the soil to be absorbed. So, storm water that isn’t being absorbed is turning into runoff water and flooding yards, roads or other surfaces. Sea level is measured every 6 minutes using equipment like satellites, floating buoys off the coast and tidal gauges. The sea level specifically in Connecticut has risen 5 inches since 1964 and will continue yearly.
Although there are various reasons why sea level is changing here in Connecticut. There are loss of glacial ice, a slowing Gulf Stream, and sinking land. Have you ever seen the Empire State Building located in Midtown Manhattan in New York City? It is a 102 story sky scraper that is the 4th tallest building in New York city and the 6th tallest building in the United States. Now imagine the weight of 800,000 of those buildings. That is over 2.1 billion pounds of ice falling into the ocean. That would be approximately how much glacial ice is melting into our oceans each year. You may by thinking how is ice glaciers in Antarctica impacting the United States, or even more specifically the state of Connecticut? The ice sheets that are melting and collapsing into the ocean are impacting the ocean volume at a must faster rate than normal. The glaciers are putting so much water into the ocean that they are rising the height of the ocean. Imagine a bathtub filling up with water and getting closer and closer to the top. Ice melt is causing approximately two- thirds the amount of sea level rise in the world.
You may be thinking what is causing the glaciers to be breaking off into ice sheets at a quicker rate. The answer is actually very simple. Oceanographers have found that the ocean is getting gradually warmer. The ocean’s temperature has risen 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1950s. Since the ocean is getting warmer gradually, it is cause ice to melt and oceans to expand. A 1.2 degree increase may not seem like a large number to cause any significance in the ocean; however, it has caused over six inches of sea level rise. This is significant when you remember the total volume of the ocean. Thermal expansion has increased causing sea levels to rise 75% faster over the last ten years as compared to previous years. Although all oceans around the world are different temperatures, it becomes difficult to pin point the exact location where thermal expansion is happening. However, oceanographers do know that deeper water expands more than shallow water as it gets warmer. This is because there is more pressure with deeper water allowing the waters to have a greater capacity to expand and cause sea level rise. To put the amount of sea rise occurring from thermal expansion in perspective imagine the volume of an Olympic size swimming pool filled with water. Then take that Olympic size pool and multiple it by 142 million. That is the amount of sea level rise occurring in the world’s ocean which is then impacting our coastlines.
The Gulf Stream is another factor that is leading to regional sea level rise on the east coast. The Gulf Stream impacts the East Coast of the United States and has less of an influence on other places in the nation. The Gulf Stream circulates water around the East Coast. This is a continuous cycle that transports the warm salt water from the south to the north where it cools down. However, there is a big problem. The cycle is slowing down, causing the Gulf Stream to take less water from the East Coast, leaving more water to pile up. Since the water is supposed to be getting pulled from the shore to enter this continuous cycle, the lack of speed occurring in the Gulf Stream is now resulting in a change in sea level along the east coast. You may be thinking what is causing the Gulf Stream to slow down? The answer is the there is too much fresh water entering the cycle which is interrupting the balance of the saltwater and freshwater mixture. The increased amount of freshwater is coming from the glaciers that are breaking off and melting into the ocean near Greenland. Since freshwater does not sink as fast as salt water, climate change is ultimately slowing down the Gulf Coast. Our coast lines are impacted because now high tide is seem being increased causing changes in sea level. This eventually is pushing the beaches, marshes and developed neighborhoods back and increases flood zones. In turn, these changes are causing extreme flooding when it rains causing millions of dollars to repair damaged areas.
One of the last major cause of changes in sea level is due to the sinking of land in various locations. In different areas it is actually the leading cause of the change in sea level. The ground is still reacting to the weight of the glaciers that covered the globe 20,000 years ago. In 2002, NASA launched the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) twin satellites, which take precise measurements of the contribution that ice sheets loss of mass contributes to changes in gravity, which is adding to sea level rise. Post glacial rebound is impacting the East Coast because of the rise of land masses that have been damaged after massive melt-off at the end of the last ice age 6,000 years ago.
So how can we relate what is happening to our home here in Connecticut? Since ocean levels on the East Coast are rising between two to six millimeters each year as a result of climate change Connecticut residents are and will continued to be impacted. About 61% of Connecticut’s population is prone to flooding. In connection, Connecticut residents can loose more than 24,000 acres of land due to sea level rise. That amounts to approximately 18,182 football field of loss land taken over by sea level rise. Without action, coastal neighborhoods, rail lines, route I-95 & Tweed Airport, located in New Haven will experience more tidal flooding and damage. This will result in millions of dollars of yearly repair. In addition, the population of birds in Connecticut will decrease from 53,000 to 5,000 within the next 25 years. There will also be other plant and animal species that will be impacted as well.