NASA has released a chilling animation showing just how much sea level has risen in the three short decades that its satellites have been tracking it.
The data visualization released last week is the work of Andrew J. Christensen, a data visualizer for the NASA Scientific Visualization Studio. By animating observed changes in global sea level as captured by satellites that swept overhead between 1993 and 2022, the images transform a complex jumble of numbers into something far more relatable.
In those 30 years, sea levels have risen by over 9 centimeters (about 3.5 inches). That might not sound like much, just a hand’s length, but when you imagine these changes as water lapping against a ship-like window, it feels very real.
“Sea Level Through a Bullhole” – new animation by @NASAViz at https://t.co/YADfJXlaq7
— Zack Labe (@ZLabe) June 19, 2023
Three decades may seem like an eternity, but that’s only two-thirds of the time since ExxonMobil, one of the world’s leading oil and gas companies, knew that burning its fossil fuels was boiling the planet.
The effects of all these heat-trapping emissions are now clearly being felt by coastal communities around the world — not that they need to be reminded of the salty seas on their doorstep.
Millions more are expected to be affected by rising sea levels, which will cause coastlines to “disappear” unless emissions are drastically reduced to zero.
For those of us trying to envision these major changes from a more personal perspective, NASA says the animation is “designed to be seen through a circle, using the visual metaphor of going through.” looking out the porthole of a boat and watching the years of sea level rise.” sweat.
“When played back on a 4K 85″ display, the metering marks in the video correspond to the real world.”
Our oceans may be warming, but animation – by Past Sea level rise – gives you goosebumps to think about what is to come.
Since 1993, sea level has been routinely measured by satellites that send microwave signals from the sea’s surface and measure how long it takes for them to return. From this, researchers can calculate and monitor the height of the sea surface.
“We have a clear view of recent sea level rise – and can better predict how much and how fast oceans will continue to rise,” said Karen St. Germain, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division.
To make forecasts, data is fed into global climate models that attempt to reconcile various elements of our planet’s surface conditions. When it comes to sea level rise, these three decades of satellite observations are coupled with coastal tide gauge readings going back more than 100 years, data on ice sheets and, of course, the increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
But bringing that data together and communicating what it means to people around the world is one of the core issues of the climate crisis – which will hit those who have least contributed to global warming the hardest.
While the atmosphere has long been Earth’s cozy blanket, the planet is now sweating under the weight of carbon emissions. And it’s the oceans that have absorbed a whopping 90 percent of the heat that we humans have added to the system.
The top meters of the ocean store as much heat as the entire earth’s atmosphere. As seawater warms, it expands and raises sea levels. The sea is pushed further uphill by melting ice layers and storm surges.
“By absorbing all this heat, the ocean lulls people into a false sense of security that climate change is slow,” said Matthew England, an oceanographer and climate scientist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney The Guardians Graham Readfearn.
Princeton University climate scientist Zachary Labe shared the animation on Twitter. It’s an extension of a series called Vital Signs of the Planet, a nod to the human body’s physiological alarm bells, but for Earth.
These vital signs include carbon dioxide, global temperature, methane contentthe melting of the ice sheet and the expansion of the Arctic sea ice.
It’s not the only data making the rounds on social media right now. In recent weeks, climate scientists have sounded the alarm as rising sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic are pushing us into uncharted territory.
“The North Atlantic has never been hotter so early, with a massive marine heatwave dominating millions of square miles of ocean,” tweeted Colin McCarthy, an atmospheric sciences student at the University of California, Davis.
“This cannot go on as systems that become more unstable and unpredictable will do more damage in chaotic ways.” added Farhana Sultana, water management and climate justice scholar at Syracuse University.
Let’s hope visualizations like these help people, wherever they live, to see the difficulties we all face – and solve them together.