Moon ‘wobble’, climate change seen as driving force behind coastal flooding by 2030

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Waves at high tide make their way over rocks and onto the road in Oceanside, California, Nov. 27, 2019. New research shows that a regular lunar cycle will increase rising sea levels due to climate change. (Mike Blake, Reuters)

WASHINGTON β€” US shores will experience increasing flooding in the mid-1930s thanks to a regular lunar cycle that will increase rising sea levels due to climate change, according to research led by NASA scientists.

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A key factor identified by the scientists is a regular “wobble” in the moon’s orbit β€” first identified in the 18th century β€” that takes 18.6 years to complete. The Moon’s gravitational pull helps drive Earth’s tides.

In half of this lunar cycle, Earth’s normal daily tides decrease, with high tides lower than normal and low tides higher than normal. In the other half of the cycle, the situation is reversed, with high water higher and low water lower.

The expected flooding will result from the combination of the ongoing sea level rise associated with climate change and the arrival of a strengthening part of the lunar cycle in the mid-1920s, the researchers said.

“In the background, we have a long-term sea level rise linked to global warming. It’s causing sea levels to rise everywhere,” Ben Hamlington, NASA team leader and one of the authors of the study, told Reuters.

“This effect of the moon causes the tides to vary, so what we found is that this effect matches the underlying sea level rise, and that will specifically cause flooding in that period from 2030 to 2040,” Hamlington said.

The researchers studied 89 tide gauge sites in every U.S. coastal state and territory, except Alaska. The effect of the dynamics affects the entire planet, except for the far northern coastlines such as Alaska.

The forecast pushes previous estimates for severe coastal flooding by about 70 years.

The study, published this month in the journal Nature Climate Change, was led by members of a NASA science team tracking sea level change. The study focused on U.S. coasts, but the findings apply to coasts around the world, NASA said.

“This is an eye opener for a lot of people,” Hamlington said. “It’s really critical information for planners. And I think there’s a lot of interest in trying to get this information from science and scientists into the hands of planners.”

Hamlington said city planners should plan accordingly.

“A building or a particular piece of infrastructure, maybe you want to be there for a very long time, while something else you might just want to protect or have access to for a few years.”

(Reporting by Dan Fastenberg; editing by Diane Craft and Will Dunham)

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