Sea Level Rise Is Speeding Up in Parts of the Southeastern U.S. – By Scott Waldman, ClimateWire on August 10, 2017

A combination of natural factors has driven the rise, but climate change has exacerbated the problem

Credit: Westend61 Getty Images

Sea-level rise isn’t just happening; it’s accelerating. And some areas of the United States—like Florida—are seeing “hot spots” where the ocean can creep up six times faster than average.

Those are the findings of two new studies published yesterday, which have potentially troubling implications for urban planners trying to address sea-level rise. They also help explain why residents of Florida and North Carolina have seen sharp increases in coastal flooding in recent years.

Sea levels in the Southeast—between Cape Hatteras, N.C., and Miami—rose dramatically between 2011 and 2015, according to a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters. The spike in sea levels is driven by a combination of natural factors that is exacerbated by human-caused sea-level rise.

The “hot spot” of sea-level rise is similar to others observed on the East Coast over the last century, said Andrea Dutton, a geological science professor at the University of Florida and a co-author of the study. It also shows there is more vulnerability on the Atlantic coast, home to many of America’s major cities, than is typically recognized, she said.

“The whole coastline is vulnerable to this type of behavior as we move into the future,” she said.

The natural factors driving the burst in sea level included an El Niño and the North Atlantic Oscillation, the shift in atmospheric pressure over the ocean, researchers found. The increase, as well as one observed from 2009 to 2010, occurred around Cape Hatteras, where the Gulf Stream cuts from the coastline and into the deeper ocean.

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