By 2100, scientists and computer models estimate that sea levels globally could rise as much as 3.3 feet (1.01 meters). The accelerated rate along the East Coast could add about 8 inches (20 centimeters) to 11 inches (28 centimeters) more, Sallenger said.
"Where that kind of thing becomes important is during a storm," Sallenger said. That's when it can damage buildings and erode coastlines.
On the West Coast, a National Research Council report released Friday projects an average 3-foot (nearly 1-meter) rise in sea level in California by the year 2100, and 2 feet (0.61 meters) in Oregon and Washington. The land mass north of the San Andreas Fault is expected to rise, offsetting the rising sea level in those two states.
The USGS study suggests the Northeast would get hit harder because of ocean currents. When the Gulf Stream and its northern extension slow down, the slope of the seas changes to balance against the slowing current. That slope then pushes up sea levels in the Northeast. It is like a see-saw effect, Sallenger theorizes.
Scientists believe that with global warming, the Gulf Stream and other ocean currents are slowing and will slow further, Sallenger said.
Jeff Williams, a retired USGS expert who wasn't part of the study, and Stefan Rahmstorf, a professor of ocean physics at the Potsdam Institute in Germany, said the study does a good job of making the case for sea level rise acceleration.
Margaret Davidson, director of the Coastal Services Center for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Charleston, South Carolina, said the implications of the new research are "huge when you think about it. Somewhere between Maryland and Massachusetts, you've got some bodaciously expensive property at risk."