Sea levels are rising at a speed that is both shocking and devastating. NASA satellite data reveals we could be looking at a three-foot (one meter) rise in the next 100-200 years, putting coastal regions and the existence of vulnerable island nations in serious jeopardy. 150 million people currently live within that one meter range around the globe, which is disappearing quickly as polar ice sheets melt away.

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Before recently, the best predictions we had were from the UN’s 2013 International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which suggested a one- to three-feet rise by the end of the century. Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division, described the satellite technology used to gather the newest data, “The instruments are so sensitive that if they were mounted on a commercial jetliner flying at 40,000 feet (1,200 meters) they could detect the bump caused by a dime lying flat on the ground.” The oceans have already risen nearly three inches since 1992, when NASA’s data collection began.

Related: Greenland’s ice is melting faster than previously thought

A great deal of the rise is due to melting ice sheets. Researchers are especially concerned about the Greenland ice sheet, which already sheds an average of 303 gigatons of ice per year (fun fact: the Antarctic ice sheet sheds 118 gigatons). “On a personal level, the data collected over the past few years make me more concerned about the decay of the ice sheets than I was in the past,” said Eric Rignot, glaciologist at the University of California, Irvine.

There seems to be no expectation that the rate at which ice sheets melt will be slowing down any time soon. On the contrary, they will likely be speeding up. There is little doubt that the next few generations will face the unfathomable outcomes of today’s human behavior.


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