Coastal Consequences of Sea Level Rise


Thinking about sea level change can be overwhelming. It is difficult to comprehend how human activity can have a significant impact when thinking on the spatial scales of the Earth's oceans, atmosphere, landmasses, and ice. Technology and web-based tools are great resources for educators to use with students to help them visualize data. In the activity in this section, you will explore different interactives that you can use in the classroom to help students analyze interactive data and understand the potential consequences of climate change on sea level in different parts of the world.

Data Activity: Sea Level Interactives

The ocean does not have a level surface, so how do we know that sea levels are rising? Scientists measure the height of the ocean surface from space. Go to NASA's Eyes on the Earth Vital Signs of the Planet interactive site to learn more about recent data for air temperature, carbon dioxide, sea levels, ice and water along with the NASA satellites that assist us in the study of global climate change. This is a Java applet which may take a few minutes to load. Once it does, notice the buttons across the top that give information on the "Vital Signs of the Planet." Click on the "sea level" button. Sea level height reflects the amount of heat stored in the Earth’s oceans and this map gives average sea-level variation over a one-month period. Choose "turn audio on" in the right sidebar to listen to an explanation. Take time to investigate this interactive and the different parameters available. How could this tool be used to help track global climate change?

Jason1 and OSTM satellite missions measure the height of the ocean surface and you can analyze the data and views for both missions by clicking on the satellite names. Investigate these and other satellites on the Eyes on the Earth Vital Signs of the Planet interactive. How do you think your students would respond to being able to view the latest data and fly along with the satellites in space?

Next go to NASA's Sea Level Viewer and click on "Overview" on the navigation bar at the bottom of the window. The overview video explains how scientists are able to measure sea level rise with great accuracy.

Now click on "Global View" in the Sea Level Viewer to explore simulations of oceanic events in our recent history such as Hurricane Katrina. Observe how space-based observations of sea level and ocean temperature provide scientists with a critical tool for predicting extreme weather events. How might you use these current events to help students understand the importance of monitoring sea levels?

Now visit NASA's Climate Time Machine, which tracks changes in global conditions over time. Select "Sea Level" from the menu and move the cursor to see the impact of sea level rise on the Southeastern U.S. coast.

  • How much sea level rise is needed to flood Miami? New Orleans?


    A 1-meter rise in sea level would inundate New Orleans and Miami would be under water with a 3-meter rise.

Conduct the same investigation for another part of the world that interests you using the Climate Time Machine interactive.

How would a 1-meter sea level rise impact the atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere?

What would be specific impacts in the area in which you live?

Global Climate Change Modules

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