Global Sea Level Rise Slowed by Cutting Short-Lived Climate Pollutants: CO2 isn't the Only Answer

First Posted: Apr 15, 2013 08:10 AM EDT

Sea level rise is one of the big issues of global warming. It could potentially swamp coastal cities, or make them far more vulnerable to storms, such as Hurricane Katrina. Now, though, a study has revealed that it's possible to greatly slow the rate of sea level rise by cutting "short-lived climate pollutants" as opposed to more long-lived greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide.

Short-lived pollutants are gases such as methane, tropospheric ozone, hydrofluorocarbons and black carbon. These pollutants can actually warm the climate on timescales of a few weeks to a decade. However, they're also far less persistent than CO2, and are easier to get rid of.

The findings, which are published in the journal Nature Climate Change, took the central estimates of global sea level rise from four different scenarios and applied them along the U.S. coastal topography. The researchers then examined the risk of submersion for these coastlines under the four scenarios, and computed differences in population at risk based on the results.

In the end, the researchers found that an immediate reduction in short-lived pollutants could reduce the rate of sea level rise by about 18 percent. In addition, cutting these gases can cut the annual rate of sea level rise by 24 percent.

"It is still not too late, by stabilizing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere and reducing emission of shorter-lived pollutants, to lower the rate of warming and reduce sea level rise by 30 percent," said Veerabhadran Ramanathan of Scripps, who led the study, in an interview with AtmosNews. "The large role of the shorter-lived pollutants is encouraging since technologies are available to drastically cut their emissions.

Sea level rise could indeed be a major issue for some coastal areas in the U.S. Many major cities, such as New York and Miami, are located in low-lying areas that could be severely impacted by rising sea levels. Currently, the state with the greatest population at risk is Florida, a location where storm surges from hurricanes could make the situation even worse, swamping areas that are already inundated.

It's best not to delay in taking measures, though. The study found that delaying short-lived pollutant mitigation by just 25 years will decrease the impact of reducing CO2 and short-lived pollutant emissions on sea level rise by a third. This would make it difficult if not impossible to keep overall warming trends under 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century.

Want to see the states most at risk? Check out the interactive map here.

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