Rising Sea Levels: What’s Causing the Oceans to Expand

by | Jun 21, 2016 | STEM Education Info

The Earth’s oceans have been rising over the last few years at a much higher rate. They’ve been expanding and growing to almost the point of worry. Scientists predict that coastal towns and entire islands could find themselves underwater, eventually. The only hope we may have is fostering an interest in STEM education for students.

Based on recent findings from satellite images, thermal readings, core samples, and tide gauge readings, scientists have concluded that the oceans have been rising by .13 inches per year since 1990. That may not sound like very much, but that rise is almost double what it was the 80 years before.

Rising sea levels have a few different consequences that you may not have thought about. For one thing, when sea level does rise it can actually destroy habitats for fish, birds, and different plants. The rising water also has devastating effects on land and increases water erosion, floods wetland areas, and contaminates aquifers. The higher sea levels also mean that when strong storms hit the coast, they can cause even more damage and sweep away everything in their path, leaving millions of people vulnerable.

What’s causing the sea levels to rise?

There are a few different theories on what’s causing the oceans to rise, but overall, scientists agree that the rise is due to three factors:

1. Warmer Water

Because over the last century or so we have been burning fossil fuels at an increasing rate, the atmosphere has actually trapped an incredible amount of hot gas, which causes the entire planet to be warmer. Since the surface of the Earth is warmer, it has also caused the oceans to become warmer and water becomes warmer it expands. Scientists actually attribute about half of the sea level rise to expanding warm water.

2. Melting Glaciers

Glaciers and ice caps have always melted in warmer months, but they would typically grow each winter from snow and ice buildup. However, higher temperatures have lead to longer melting seasons and shorter buildup seasons, which means the large ice formations are melting into the oceans without ever building back up.

3. Ice Loss

Certain continents like Antarctica and countries like Greenland are covered in ice sheets. These sheets, due to the increase in temperature are melting at a rapid rate and that water runoff is draining into the oceans. Scientists also believe that the melted water on top of the ice sheets and the warm ocean water beneath them are causing them to move into the ocean at a more rapid rate and melting once they do hit the ocean.

It’s crazy to think about how even the little things we do on a daily basis impacts something so large like the ocean. The fossil fuels we burn are causing the Earth to warm up and flood. By fostering an interest in STEM education in students, we can help save the planet and create a cleaner and safer world. When we take the time and initiative to understand how science affects everything we do, we can find better solutions to our problems, like rising sea levels.
Want to learn how STEM education and project-based learning can help students better understand how science affects the other core subjects? Our ebook, Intro to Project Based Learning & STEM, you’ll find an introduction to STEM education and project-based learning and how to overcome hurdles in the classroom.