Of all the grim predictions of what's in store for our planet in the wake of global warming, rising sea levels are likely among the most worrisome for human civilization as we know it. With around 1 in 10 people on Earth living in low-lying areas at risk from even minimal rises in ocean levels, this slow-moving environmental disaster will only become more problematic as we move deeper into this century -- and as if that weren't scary enough, scientists say that there's really nothing we can do to stop it.
According to a study recently published in the journal Nature, if deep cuts were to be made in the amount of greenhouse gas emissions released from the burning of fossil fuels, the rate of sea level rise over the next century would be slowed, but not halted entirely.
In a best-case-scenario which would greatly reduce carbon output, scientists say that global temperature increases could hover either below 2 °C or near 3 °C above pre-industrial values -- but due to how heat is stored and transfered throughout the world's oceans, even cooler surface temperatures would not keep sea levels from expanding.
That is, as warming temperatures make their way deeper and deeper into the ocean through mixing processes in various ocean regions, an ever-increasing volume of water warms and expands, thus producing ongoing rises in sea level. There would also be commitment in the melting of ice sheets and glaciers that would contribute to further sea-level rise.
Although the findings further reenforce the long-term impacts of global warming on our planet's health, that's not to say that correcting our carbon emissions won't help.
"Even as temperatures stabilize, sea level would continue to rise. With little mitigation, future sea-level rise would be large and continue unabated for centuries," the study reports. "Though sea-level rise cannot be stopped for at least the next several hundred years, with aggressive mitigation it can be slowed down, and this would buy time for adaptation measures to be adopted."