Buildings are seen near the ocean as reports indicate that Miami-Dade County in the future could be one of the most susceptible places when it comes to rising water levels due to global warming on March 14, 2012 in North Miami, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
By Chelsea Harvey January 9
It seems like just about every week, there’s more news on the rapid melting of glaciers in Greenland, Antarctica and elsewhere — and scientists’ growing concern about their potentially dramatic contributions to global sea level rise. But there’s another major element affecting global sea levels, and research suggests that it could be a factor for centuries to come.
The process is called “thermal expansion,” and the science behind it is relatively simple: When greenhouse gases go into the atmosphere, they cause air temperatures to rise. Some of the heat ends up being absorbed into the oceans, causing the water to expand in volume.
“If you’ve ever made a cup of tea on the stove you know that hot water expands,” said Susan Solomon, a professor of environmental studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It’s simply basic physics, and it’s something that the planet can’t get away from.”