Sea levels are creeping up along the Atlantic coast – from rocky New England shores to sandy Southeastern beaches. And as the climate warms, they’re rising at an increasingly fast pace.

Jennifer Walker of Rutgers University recently studied the rate and causes of sea-level rise at six sites between Connecticut and North Carolina.

“We found that at all of these sites, sea-level has been rising over the past 2,000 years,” she says. “But then in the last century, in the 20th century, the rates are now more than double that of the average over the last 2,000 years.”

She says before the year 1800, most sea-level rise was caused by the natural sinking and settling of the land.

“And that’s due to the land still readjusting from the presence of the Laurentide ice sheet, which is an ice sheet that covered a lot of North America in the last ice age,” Walker says.

That process – called land subsidence – continues. But it is no longer the chief cause of sea-level rise. At the six sites she studied, Walker found that melting glacial ice and warming oceans are now the biggest drivers.

So her research underscores the dramatic changes that are already underway as the climate warms.

Reporting credit: Stephanie Manuzak/ChavoBart Digital Media