As the Earth heats up, sea levels rise because warmer water takes up more room than colder water, a process known as thermal expansion. Melting glaciers compound the problem by dumping even more fresh water into the oceans.
Rising seas threaten to inundate low-lying areas and islands, threaten dense coastal populations, erode shorelines, damage property and destroy ecosystems such as mangroves and wetlands that protect coasts against storms.
Sea levels have risen between four and eight inches in the past 100 years. Current projections suggest that sea levels could continue to rise between 4 inches and 36 inches over the next 100 years.
A 36-inch increase in sea levels would swamp every city on the East Coast of the United States, from Miami to Boston.
Worldwide, approximately 100 million people live within three feet of sea level. Sea level rise associated with climate change could displace tens of millions of people in low-lying areas – especially in developing countries. Inhabitants of some small island countries that rest barely above the existing sea level are already abandoning their islands, some of the world’s first climate change refugees.February 28, 2011