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June 27, 2012

Study: Sea rising faster here than elsewhere

If you think there are coastal flooding problems in the region now, just wait — it’s going to get a whole lot worse, according to a study released by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Scientists have found that the local coastline is part of a unique, 600-mile-long “hot spot” along the Atlantic Coast where sea levels are rising at a significantly faster rate than the world as a whole — three to four times faster. The hot spot stretches down the Atlantic Coast from north of Boston to North Carolina. 

“Flooding right now is an annoyance, but it will be more of an annoyance and bad enough that you’ll think twice about parking your car in the driveway if there’s a storm coming and it’s the spring tide,” said Peter Howd, a co-author on the study and a contracted oceanographer with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Since about 1990, sea-level rise in the 600-mile hot spot has increased 2 to 3.7 millimeters per year; the global increase over the same period was 0.6 to 1 millimeter per year, according to the study. As a result, scientists predict that sea levels in the northeast Atlantic will rise 8 to 11.4 inches more than the global average by 2100. That is over and above the 2- to 3-foot rise in sea level that many scientists expect to occur globally over that span.

Although north of Boston is “on the low end of the range we’re talking about,” the area is still facing a dramatic increase in the number of significant flooding events, Howd said.

“That additional 1 foot of water could be enough so that smaller storms cause chronic coastal flooding, as opposed to an acute event like a hurricane,” said Howd, who has family on the North Shore.

This isn’t the first report to predict drastic changes to the local coastline. Last year a U.S.G.S. report predicted that much of the Great Marsh will disappear over the course of the next century, as rising sea levels flood it. The Great Marsh extends from Gloucester in the south to Hampton, N.H., in the north, encompassing all of the coastline off greater Newburyport.

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