When it comes to sea-level rise, most of us probably think globally.

Doran: “That’s what people are most familiar with – is that the ocean is like a bathtub and when we add water from melting land ice or we increase the volume of the water by heating it, the level goes up everywhere.”

But as Kara Doran, an oceanographer with the U.S. Geological Survey explains, sea-level rise is not that simple – or that even. Currents, tides, weather patterns, and even land masses themselves affect sea level. Take the Gulf Stream for example.

Doran: “And when the Gulf Stream weakens, the water sort of sloshes and tilts back toward the coast. So as the Gulf Stream is slowing down, the water level can actually rise along the East Coast of the United States.”

And then there are places where the land is sinking, or subsiding …

Doran: “Norfolk, Virginia is sinking, so it has a larger rate of sea-level rise.”

This combination has turned the East Coast into a sea-level rise hotspot. From Boston, Massachusetts, to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, the sea is rising faster than the global average and beginning to inundate many communities along the Atlantic Coast.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: Cape Hatteras, North Carolina: Man-made sand ocean barrier to protect against hurricanes. Copyright protected.

More Resources
Hotspot of accelerated sea-level rise on the Atlantic coast of North America
Evidence of Sea Level Acceleration at U.S. and Canadian Tide Stations, Atlantic Coast, North America
An extreme event of sea-level rise along the Northeast coast of North America in 2009–2010

David Appell

A regular contributor to Yale Climate Connections since 2012, David Appell, Ph.D., is a freelance writer living in Salem, Oregon, specializing in the physical sciences, technology, and the environment. His...