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Rising sea levels: Is global warming making the US East Coast a 'hot spot?' (+video)

The pace of sea-level rise along much of the East Coast is accelerating three to four times faster than the worldwide average, a US Geological Survey study says. Global warming is the chief suspect.

Dr. Josh Willis discusses the connection between oceans and global climate change. Learn why NASA measures greenhouse gases and how we detect ocean levels from space. These are crucial vital signs of the planet and help us to understand just how much humans can impact the climate.
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The pace of sea-level rise along a swath of the US East Coast – from north of Boston down to North Carolina's Cape Hatteras – is accelerating three to four times faster than the worldwide average, according to a new study from the US Geological Survey (USGS), turning the region into a hot spot for sea-level rise.

At stake: the increased vulnerability of coastal communities to severe damage from storm surges or even high surf caused by storms off shore.

The prime suspect: global warming, through its direct effect on heating water at the ocean surface as well as the effect warmed seawater and air temperatures can have on speeding the pace at which Greenland is losing ice.

Warmer seawater in the North Atlantic and increasing amounts of fresh water from melting Greenland ice can slow ocean-circulation patterns in the ocean basin, which can trigger the accelerated rise, modeling studies have suggested.

Indeed, models indicated that the East Coast could develop such a sea-level hot spot – and in the location the new study identifies – because of these factors, explains Asbury Sallenger Jr., a research oceanographer who heads a USGS project to assess changes in the hazards that US coastal communities could face from climate change.

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