Changing Pacific Conditions Raise Sea Level Along U.S. West Coast


Global sea level has risen an average of 0.13 inches (3.3 millimeters) a year since satellites began precisely measuring sea surface height following the 1992 launch of the Topex/Poseidon mission.

Ask your average resident of California, Oregon or Washington to name the natural hazard that concerns them most and sea level rise probably won’t bubble to the top of the list. After all, the region is better known for its wildfires, earthquakes, heat waves, and mudslides.

But those who live along the coastline know better. They’ve seen first-hand the effects of coastal erosion, beach loss, storm damage, and tidal flooding resulting from sea level rise. In some locations, it’s a constant battle to hold back the sea. Yet during the 1990s and 2000s, natural climate cycles actually suppressed the rate of sea level rise off the U.S. West Coast.

That lull appears to be over. Changing Pacific Ocean and atmospheric conditions have stirred up Earth’s largest ocean and redistributed its heat, piling up warm waters along U.S. western shores and raising sea level in the process.

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Image via NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory