Global Sea Level Surges Due to El Niño and Climate Change, NASA Reports

Recent scrutinization of data by NASA has uncovered a substantial surge in global average sea levels, indicating a rise of approximately 0.76 centimeters between 2022 and 2023.

Recent scrutinization of data by NASA has uncovered a substantial surge in global average sea levels, indicating a rise of approximately 0.76 centimeters (0.3 inches) between 2022 and 2023. This staggering increase, nearly quadrupling that of the preceding year, has been attributed to the combined impact of a robust El Niño event and the persistent ramifications of climate change.

The revelations, unveiled on Thursday, March 21, are grounded in over three decades of satellite observations, stretching from 1992 to 2020. Over this timeframe, sea levels have ascended by roughly 10 centimeters (about four inches). What’s more disconcerting is the observed acceleration in the pace of increase, which has more than doubled from 0.18 centimeters (0.07 inches) per year in 1993 to the current rate of 0.43 centimeters (0.17 inches) per year.

Nadya Vinogradova Shiffer, director of NASA’s sea level change team and the ocean physics program, cautioned, “Current rates of acceleration mean that we are on track to add another 20 centimeters (approximately 8 inches) to global mean sea level by 2050.” This prognosis indicates a twofold surge in sea level rise compared to the previous century, painting a bleak outlook of a future characterized by heightened frequency and severity of flooding events.

The immediate catalyst for the recent surge is credited to the El Niño meteorological phenomenon, which superseded the preceding La Niña phase from 2021 to 2022. During El Niño years, warmer-than-average ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific lead to augmented rainfall, subsequently contributing to transient increments in sea levels.

Josh Willis, a sea level researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), expounded, “In El Niño years, a lot of the rain that normally falls on land ends up in the ocean, which raises sea levels temporarily.”

Nevertheless, beyond the transient effects of El Niño, there exists an unmistakable human imprint propelling the overarching trend of acceleration in sea level rise. Ben Hamlington, lead for NASA’s sea level change team at JPL, underscored the importance of protracted datasets in discerning between transient phenomena and enduring trends.

He affirmed, “Long-term datasets like this 30-year satellite record allow us to differentiate between short-term effects on sea level, like El Niño, and trends that let us know where sea level is heading.”

Technological strides have played a pivotal role in augmenting the precision of sea level measurements over the years. Radar altimeters, for instance, utilize microwaves to gauge the distance between the satellite and the sea surface, furnishing precise readings of sea level variations.

These measurements are corroborated with data from tide gauges and satellite assessments of atmospheric water vapor and Earth’s gravity field, ensuring comprehensive and dependable analyses.

The ramifications of these findings underscore the imperative need for concerted global action to mitigate the impacts of climate change and stem the escalating rates of sea level rise. Failure to address these challenges could exacerbate the frequency and severity of coastal inundation events, posing grave threats to vulnerable communities worldwide.