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Oceans Rise With Every Liter of Fuel Burned, Study Warns

A new analysis released today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences includes these mind-numbing statistics:

  • One single liter of petroleum gas burned may add 647 liters of sea volume.
  • One ton of coal burned may add 164,000 gallons of sea volume.

“This is an extraordinary illustration of the sensitivity of the Earth system,” writes Ben Strauss, director of Climate Central’s Program on Sea Level Rise in a commentary in the journal.

For every one degree Fahrenheit of global warming due to carbon pollution, global sea levels could rise an estimated 4.2 feet over time, according to a study published in PNAS on July 15. In his analysis, which relies on data from that study, Strauss predicts that the future sea level that we’re signing up for is getting one foot higher every decade at our current rate of emissions.

This could translate to severe flooding for 1,430 US towns and cities, including Miami, Virginia Beach, Sacramento, Calif., and Jacksonville, Fla.

“The amount of carbon pollution to date has already locked in more than 4 feet of sea level rise past today’s levels,” Strauss writes. “That is enough, at high tide, to submerge more than half of today’s population in 316 coastal cities and towns (home to 3.6 million) in the lower 48 states.”

Reporting by Jenny Marder and Rebecca Jacobson. Graphic by Joey Chou.

*Correction: An earlier version of this post said Strauss predicted a possible sea level rise of one foot per decade. In fact, he predicts that at our current rate of emissions, the future sea level that we’re signing up for is getting one foot higher every decade. *

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