Sea Level Rise

Earth’s seas are rising, a direct result of a changing climate. Ocean temperatures are increasing, leading to ocean expansion. And as ice sheets and glaciers melt, they add more water. A fleet of increasingly sophisticated instruments deployed by NASA across the oceans, on polar ice and in orbit, reveals significant changes among globally interlocking factors that are driving sea levels higher.

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Visualizations

  • Ocean Flows under the Pine Island Glacier, Antarctica
    2020.11.05
    Glaciers surrounding the Amundsen Sea in Antarctica have been rapidly melting. As glaciers flow out from land to the ocean, large expanses of ice behind their leading edges float on the seawater. The point on a glacier where it first loses contact with land is called the grounding line. Nearly all glacier melt occurs on the underside of the glacier beyond the grounding line, on the section floating on seawater as the warmer ocean currents erode the base of the floating ice. This visualization shows the ocean currents in the Amundsen Sea derived from the "Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean" (ECCO) ocean circulation model. The visualization approaches the Pine Island Glacier, dives beneath the water and views the ocean flows circulating beneath the floating ice. The surface of the ice sheet is exaggerated by 4x while the topography below sea level is exaggerated by 15x for the purpose of clarity.
  • Ocean Flow - US East Coast
    2020.11.05
    This is a collection of visualizations of ocean flows created in support of NASA's 2020 sea level rise campaign. There are 5 regions of focus: • central Pacific • central Atlantic • southeast Asia • US east coast • US west coast The span of time shown in each visualization is about 10 months. The data used for each visualization comes from the ECCO-2 ocean model using data from 2010-01-15T00:12:58 to 2010-11-22T11:10:31. Each frame of the animation is approximately 2 hours apart.
  • Ocean Flow - Altantic Ocean
    2020.11.05
    This is a collection of visualizations of ocean flows created in support of NASA's 2020 sea level rise campaign. There are 5 regions of focus: • central Pacific • central Atlantic • southeast Asia • US east coast • US west coast The span of time shown in each visualization is about 10 months. The data used for each visualization comes from the ECCO-2 ocean model using data from 2010-01-15T00:12:58 to 2010-11-22T11:10:31. Each frame of the animation is approximately 2 hours apart.
  • Ocean Flows - US West Coast
    2020.11.05
    This is a collection of visualizations of ocean flows created in support of NASA's 2020 sea level rise campaign. There are 5 regions of focus: • central Pacific • central Atlantic • southeast Asia • US east coast • US west coast The span of time shown in each visualization is about 10 months. The data used for each visualization comes from the ECCO-2 ocean model using data from 2010-01-15T00:12:58 to 2010-11-22T11:10:31. Each frame of the animation is approximately 2 hours apart.
  • Ocean Flow - Indian Ocean and South East Asia
    2020.11.05
    This is a collection of visualizations of ocean flows created in support of NASA's 2020 sea level rise campaign. There are 5 regions of focus: • central Pacific • central Atlantic • southeast Asia • US east coast • US west coast The span of time shown in each visualization is about 10 months. The data used for each visualization comes from the ECCO-2 ocean model using data from 2010-01-15T00:12:58 to 2010-11-22T11:10:31. Each frame of the animation is approximately 2 hours apart.
  • Barotropic Global Ocean Tides
    2020.11.05
    This is a visualization of global barotropic ocean tides. The data used in this visualization is from a model and runs for slightly longer than one Earth day. The level of the tides is obviously highly exaggerated in order to show how the tides vary around the world.
  • 27-year Sea Level Rise - TOPEX/JASON
    2020.11.05
    This visualization shows total sea level change between 1992 and 2019, based on data collected from the TOPEX/Poseidon, Jason-1, Jason-2, and Jason-3 satellites. Blue regions are where sea level has gone down, and orange/red regions are where sea level has gone up. Since 1992, seas around the world have risen an average of nearly 6 inches.
    The color range for this visualization is -15 cm to +15 cm (-5.9 inches to +5.9 inches), though measured data extends above and below 15 cm (5.9 inches). This particular range was chosen to highlight variations in sea level change.
  • Annual Arctic Sea Ice Minimum 1979-2020 with Area Graph
    2020.10.16
    Satellite-based passive microwave images of the sea ice have provided a reliable tool for continuously monitoring changes in the Arctic ice since 1979. Every summer the Arctic ice cap melts down to what scientists call its "minimum" before colder weather begins to cause ice cover to increase. This graph displays the area of the minimum sea ice coverage each year from 1979 through 2020. In 2020, the Arctic minimum sea ice covered an area of 3.36 million square kilometers. This visualization shows the expanse of the annual minimum Arctic sea ice for each year from 1979 through 2020 as derived from passive microwave data. A graph overlay shows the area in million square kilometers for each year's minimum day.
  • Arctic Sea Ice Minimum 2020
    2020.09.21
    Satellite-based passive microwave images of the sea ice have provided a reliable tool for continuously monitoring changes in the Arctic ice since 1979. Every summer the Arctic ice cap melts down to what scientists call its "minimum" before colder weather begins to cause ice cover to increase. The extent of Arctic sea ice at the end of this summer was the second lowest since satellite monitoring began. An analysis of satellite data by NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder shows that the 2020 minimum extent, which was likely reached on Sept. 15, measured 1.44 million square miles (3.74 million square kilometers). The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) provides many water-related products derived from data acquired by the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2) instrument aboard the Global Change Observation Mission 1st-Water "SHIZUKU" (GCOM-W1) satellite. Two JAXA datasets used in this animation are the 10-km daily sea ice concentration and the 10 km daily 89 GHz Brightness Temperature. In this animation, the daily Arctic sea ice and seasonal land cover change progress through time, from the yearly maximum ice extent on March 5 2020, through its minimum on September 15 2020. Over the water, Arctic sea ice changes from day to day showing a running 3-day minimum sea ice concentration in the region where the concentration is greater than 15%. The blueish white color of the sea ice is derived from a 3-day running minimum of the AMSR2 89 GHz brightness temperature. The red boundary shows the minimum extent averaged over the 30-year period from 1981 to 2010. Over the terrain, monthly data from the seasonal Blue Marble Next Generation fades slowly from month to month. The faint circle that appears periodically close to the pole is an artifact of the visualization process, and does not represent a real feature.
  • Greenland Ice Sheet: Three Futures
    2020.10.13
    The Greenland Ice Sheet holds enough water to raise the world’s sea level by over 7 meters (23 feet). Rising atmosphere and ocean temperatures have led to an ice loss equivalent to over a centimeter increase in global mean sea-level between 1991 and 2015. Large outlet glaciers, rivers of ice moving to the sea, drain the ice from the interior of Greenland and cause the outer margins of the ice sheet to recede. Improvements in measuring the ice thickness in ice sheets is enabling better simulation of the flow in outlet glaciers, which is key to predicting the retreat of ice sheets into the future. Recently, a simulation of the effects of outlet glacier flow on ice sheet thickness coupled with improved data and comprehensive climate modeling for differing future climate scenarios has been used to estimate Greenland’s contribution to sea-level over the next millennium. Greenland could contribute 5–34 cm (2-13 inches) to sea-level by 2100 and 11–162 cm (4-64 inches) by 2200, with outlet glaciers contributing 19–40 % of the total mass loss. The analysis shows that uncertainties in projecting mass loss are dominated by uncertainties in climate scenarios and surface processes, followed by ice dynamics. Uncertainties in ocean conditions play a minor role, particularly in the long term. Greenland will very likely become ice-free within a millennium without significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. This movie shows the evolution of several regions of the Greenland Ice Sheet between 2008 and 2300 based on three different climate scenarios. Each scenario reflects a potential future climate outcome based on current and future greenhouse gas emissions. The scenario labelled "LOW" here is based on the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 2.6 climate scenario while the one labelled "MEDIUM" is based on RPC 4.6. The visualization labelled "HIGH" is based on RPC 8.5 and reflects the current trajectory of emissions in the 21st century. The regions shown in a violet color are exposed areas of the Greenland bed that were covered by the ice sheet in 2008. The data sets used for these animations are the control (“CTRL”) simulations and were produced with the open-source Parallel Ice Sheet Model . All data sets for this study are publicly available at the NSF Arctic Data Center
  • ICESat-2 and Cryosat-2 Coincident Measurements
    2020.07.16
    One of the big challenges in polar science is measuring the thickness of the floating sea ice that blankets the Arctic and Southern Oceans. Newly formed sea ice might be only a few inches thick, whereas sea ice that survives several winter seasons can grow to several feet in thickness (over ten feet in some places). Sea ice thickness is typically estimated by first measuring sea ice freeboard - how much of the floating ice can be observed above sea level. Sea ice floats slightly above sea level because it is less dense than water. An additional complexity is that snow fall on sea ice pushes the floating ice downward and has a lower density than the sea ice. In order to estimate the sea ice thickness, some accommodation for the overlying snow must be made. NASA’s ICESat-2 satellite measures the Earth’s surface height by firing green laser pulses towards Earth and timing how long it takes for those laser pulses to reflect back to the satellite. The laser light reflects off the top of the snow layer on top of the sea ice. In contrast, the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 mission uses radar waves to measure height. These radar waves penetrate the overlying snow and are reflected off the sea ice, rather than the overlying snow. In July 2020, ESA elected to slightly perturb the orbit of CryoSat-2 to increase the overlap with ICESat-2. Given their different orbit altitudes, the result is a ~3000km stretch of sea ice that is measured by both ICESat-2 and CryoSat-2. By combining data from these two sensors, scientists can measure the snow layer thickness, and produce substantially improved sea ice thickness estimates.
  • Ocean Surface CO2 Flux with Surface Winds
    2020.11.10
    There are no direct global-scale observations of carbon fluxes between the land and oceans and the overlying atmosphere. Understanding the carbon cycle requires estimates of these fluxes, which can be computed indirectly using models constrained with global space-based observations that provide information about the physical and biological state of the land, atmosphere, and ocean. This animation shows results from the ECCO-Darwin ocean biogeochemistry model, which was developed as part of the NASA Carbon Monitoring System (CMS) Flux Project. The objective of the CMS-Flux project is to attribute changes in atmospheric accumulation of carbon dioxide to spatially-resolved fluxes by utilizing the full suite of NASA data, models, and assimilation capabilities. ECCO-Darwin is based on a data-constrained, global-ocean, and sea-ice simulation provided by the Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean (ECCO) Project and an ocean ecosystem component provided by the Darwin Project. Together, ECCO and Darwin provide a time-evolving physical and biological environment for carbon biogeochemistry, which is used to compute surface fluxes of carbon at high spatial and temporal resolution. A more complete description of ECCO-Darwin is available in this StoryMap. The animation shows air-sea CO2 flux and surface-ocean winds from 3 Jan 2012 to 15 Aug 2012. Blue colors indicate CO2 uptake and red colors indicate outgassing of CO2 by the ocean ranging from -5 to 5 mol C/m2/year. The pathlines indicate surface winds, which is one of the drivers of air-sea CO2 exchange.
  • Witness the Breathtaking Beauty of Earth's Polar Regions with NASA's Operation IceBridge
    2020.04.07
    VIDEO: "Witness the Breathtaking Beauty of Earth’s Polar Regions"

    Operation IceBridge recorded the diversity and fragility of our rapidly changing polar regions. These areas are some of the most inhospitable, but breathtaking places on Earth. Sit back and witness the polar regions, from western Greenland to Antarctica. Notable features include the Pine Island Glacier, Larsen C ice shelf, and rapid summer melt on the western Greenland Ice Sheet.

    Learn more: Operation IceBridge

    Music Provided by Universal Production Music: "Arabesque No.1" by Claude Debussy [PD]



    Coming soon to our YouTube channel.

  • Barotropic Global Ocean Tides
    2020.11.05
    This is a visaulization of barotropic ocean tides. The data used in this visualization is from a model and runs for slightly longer than on Earth day. The level of the tides is obviously highly exaggerated in order to show how the tides vary around the world.
  • Earth Day 2020: Gulf Stream ocean current pull out to Earth observing fleet
    2020.04.21
    This visualization was created to be one of the final shots of a video celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The camera starts under water off the coast of the Eastern United States showing layers of ocean currents from a computational model called ECCO-2. The camera slowly pulls back revealing the Gulf Stream, one of the most powerful ocean currents on Earth. The camera continues to pull back revealing NASA's Earth observing fleet.
  • Earth Day 2020: GRACE Groundwater Storage
    2020.04.20
    This visualization shows groundwater storage as measured by the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) between August 2005 and June 2014 (the date range for the visualization was chosen for convenience rather than scientific significance). This visualization was created in part to support Earth Day 2020 media releases.
  • Earth Day 2020: Sea Surface Temperature (SST) from January 2016 through March 2020
    2020.04.21
    This visualization shows sea surface temperature (SST) data of the oceans from January 2016 through March 2020. The data set used is from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Multi-scale Ultra-high Resolution (MUR) Sea Surface Temperature Analysis. The ocean temperatures are displayed between 0 degrees celcius (C) and 32 degrees C. This visualization was created in part to support Earth Day 2020 media releases.
  • Land Ice Height Change Between ICESat and ICESat-2
    2020.04.30
    The future response of the Antarctic Ice Sheet to changes in climate is the single largest source of uncertainty in projections of sea level rise. If the ice sheet melted completely it would raise sea levels by 57 meters, a process that would unfold over millennia. One key to understanding how the ice sheet will respond in the future is to observe and analyze how the ice sheet has reacted to changes in climate over the past decades, where satellites observations are available. One key to understanding ice sheet change is to examine records of elevation change that show where the ice sheet is thinning and thickening due to changing environment. Recent analysis of incredibly precise surface elevations collected by NASA’s ICESat and ICESat-2 satellite laser altimeters reveals complex patters of ice sheet and ice shelf (floating extensions of the ice sheets) change that are the combined consequence of changes in melting by the ocean, changes in precipitation and, changes at the bed of the glacier where the ice sheet slides across the underlying bedrock. The researchers do this my finding locations where tracks of measured elevation intersect, measuring the change in elevation and correct for changes in the average density of the surface using models. Coherent regional patters of elevation change reveal the underlying mechanism responsible causing ice sheet change. One of the most striking features in the data is the Kamb Ice Stream that once flowed rapidly into the Ross Ice Shelf but that stopped flowing due to an increase friction (resistance to flow) likely caused by changes in the availability of liquid water at its base. Strong patters of thinning are visible all along the Amundsen Cost where ice shelves are rapidly thinning in response to increased melting by warm ocean waters. Melting of ice shelves do not directly contribute to changes in sea level, since they are already floating, but they do indirectly impact how fast the grounded ice is able to flow into the ocean. Ice shelves are located at the fronts of the glaciers and help to regulate how fast the ice flows into the ocean. As the ice shelves thin they become less able to hold back the inland ice, causing the grounded glaciers to accelerate and thin. In the East, broad patters of thickening reveal that the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is growing most likely in response to increases in precipitation relative to some unknown time in the past. The thickening is strongest along the coast of Dronning Maud Land where enhanced moisture transport has resulted in increased snowfall. Despite the diversity of gains and losses, losses in the West (208 cubic kilometers of water per year or Gt) greatly outpace Gains (90 Gt per year) in the east resulting in a total Antarctic mass change loss of 118 Gt per year. As the Greenland Ice Sheet responds to warming oceans and atmosphere it has become one of the largest contributors to sea level rise and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Scientists are working to determine more precisely how much more ice will be lost and when that loss will occur. One key approach to doing this is to analyze changes in the ice sheets elevation over the past decades where satellite observations are available. By finding the intersection of elevation track measurements collected by NASA’s ICESat (2003-2009) and ICESat-2 (2018-) satellite laser altimeters, researchers are able to make very precise measurements of elevation change that can be converted to estimates of mass change after correcting for changes snow density using models. The combination of long time-span between measurements and the high accuracy of NASA’s satellite laser altimeters allows the researchers to make highly detailed maps of mass change that provide insights into the mechanism behind the ice sheets rapid rate of loss. Thinning can be seen around the periphery of the ice sheet where elevations are closest to sea level and rates of surface melting are highest. This pattern is punctuated by localized areas of extreme thinning where large glaciers come into contact with warm ocean waters. Unlike the uniform pattern of low-elevation thinning that is being driven by increased melting due to warmer summer air temperatures, these concentrated areas of thinning occur where outlet glacier have sped up. These glaciers have sped up in response to some combination of retreating ice front position, changes in the slipperiness at the bed of the glacier due to changes in liquid water at the ice-rock interface and due to change in the rate frontal melting due to an increase in the heat content of the ocean waters that come into contact with the glacier front. Juxtaposed on the pattern of rapid thinning along the periphery of the ice sheet is a broad pattern of thickening in the high-elevation interior of the ice sheet. This pattern of thickening suggests that increases in snowfall, relative to sometime in the past, are partly compensating for increased losses due to enhanced melt and accelerated glacier flow. Overall low-elevation losses greatly outpace high-elevation gains resulting in 3200 cubic kilometers of water (Gt) being lost from the ice sheets and entering the oceans, raising global mean sea level by 8.9 mm.
  • Operation Icebridge Studies Changes in Greenland's Helheim Glacier
    2017.07.28
    These visualizations show data from the Helheim Glacier in Greenland collected by Pre-Icebridge in 1998 and Operation Icebridge in 2013. Data from both the Airborne Topographic Mapper (ATM) and the Digital Mapping System (DMS) are included. The first visualization shows how the scanner on the aircraft acquired the data, building up a representation of the 3d laser scanned points as we go. Once the calving front from 1998 is revealed, the 2013 data is faded in showing the differences between the years. The dots are colored initially by absolute height with reds higher and blues lower; after the 2013 data is added, the dot colors change to a localized scheme with reds higher than nearby points and blues lower than nearby points. ATM data is added at the end for some context. The second visualization shows the DMS data with ATM data at the 2013 calving front. The DMS data is overlayed onto photogrametrically determined altitudes which don't precisely correspond to the ATM data. The heights of the ATM data are the 'true' heights.
  • 20 Years of Global Biosphere (updated)
    2017.11.14
    By monitoring the color of reflected light via satellite, scientists can determine how successfully plant life is photosynthesizing. A measurement of photosynthesis is essentially a measurement of successful growth, and growth means successful use of ambient carbon. This data visualization represents twenty years' worth of data taken primarily by SeaStar/SeaWiFS, Aqua/MODIS, and Suomi NPP/VIIRS satellite sensors, showing the abundance of life both on land and in the sea. In the ocean, dark blue to violet represents warmer areas where there is little life due to lack of nutrients, and greens and reds represent cooler nutrient-rich areas. The nutrient-rich areas include coastal regions where cold water rises from the sea floor bringing nutrients along and areas at the mouths of rivers where the rivers have brought nutrients into the ocean from the land. On land, green represents areas of abundant plant life, such as forests and grasslands, while tan and white represent areas where plant life is sparse or non-existent, such as the deserts in Africa and the Middle East and snow-cover and ice at the poles.
  • Greenland's Glaciers as seen by RadarSat
    2015.08.25
    An animation up the Greenland's Sermilik Fjord to the claving front of the Helheim Glacier, showing the change over time of the glacier front from 2000 to 2013.
  • Greenland Ice Sheet stratigraphy
    2015.01.23
    For nearly a century, scientists have been studying the form and flow of the Greenland Ice Sheet. They have measured the change in the elevation of the surface over time using satellites. They have drilled ice cores in the field to reveal a record of what the past climate was like. They have flown aircraft over the surface of the ice sheet laden with instruments to gleen information about the interior of the ice sheet and the bedrock below. Now a new analysis of this data has revealed a three dimensional map of the age of the ice sheet. This animation shows this new 3D age map of the Greenland Ice Sheet, explains how it was created and describes the three distinct periods of climate that are evident within the ice sheet. The full script of the narration is available here. More information is available here.
  • NASA GSFC MASCON Solution over Greenland from Jan 2004 - Jun 2014
    2015.08.26
    GRACE, NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, consists of twin co-orbiting satellites that fly in a near polar orbit separated by a distance of 220 km. GRACE precisely measures the distance between the two spacecraft in order to make detailed measurements of the Earth's gravitational field. Since its launch in 2002, GRACE has provided a continuous record of changes in the mass of the Earth's ice sheets. This animations shows the change in the the Greenland Ice Sheet between January 2004 and June 2014. The 1-arc-deg NASA GSFC mascon solution data was resampled to a 998 x 1800 data array using Kriging interpolation. A color scale was applied in the range of +250 to -250 centimeters of equivalent water height, where blue values indicate an increase in the ice sheet mass while red shades indicate a decrease. In addition, the running sum total of the accumulated mass change over the Greenland Ice Sheet is shown on a graph overlay in gigatons. Technical Note: The glacial isostatic adjustment signal (Earth mass redistribution in response to historical ice loading) has been removed using the ICE-6G model (Peltier et al. 2015).
  • NASA GSFC MASCON Solution over Antarctica from Jan 2004 - Jun 2014
    2015.08.26
    GRACE, NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, consists of twin co-orbiting satellites that fly in a near polar orbit separated by a distance of 220 km. GRACE precisely measures the distance between the two spacecraft in order to make detailed measurements of the Earth's gravitational field. Since its launch in 2002, GRACE has provided a continuous record of changes in the mass of the Earth's ice sheets. This animations shows the change in the mass of the Antarctic Ice Sheet between January 2004 and June 2014 as measured by the pair of GRACE satellites. The 1-arc-deg NASA GSFC mascon solution data was resampled to a 5130 x 5130 data array using Kriging interpolation. A color scale was applied in the range of +250 to -250 centimeters of equivalent water height, where blue values indicate an increase in the ice sheet mass while red shades indicate a decrease. In addition, a graph overlay shows the running total of the accumulated mass change in gigatons. The data is first shown over the entire Antarctic Ice Sheet with the graph showing the total change in gigatons for the full ice sheet. The camera then zooms to focus on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the region to the West of the Trans-Antarctic mountains, where much of the loss has taken place. The animation is shown again over this region while the graph of ice loss presents the change over West Antarctica alone. Regions composed of the floating ice shelves, and thus not a part of the Antarctic Ice Sheet, are shown in a pale shade of green. Technical Note: The glacial isostatic adjustment signal (Earth mass redistribution in response to historical ice loading) has been removed using the ICE-6G model (Peltier et al. 2015).
  • Accelerating Ice Sheet
    2007.08.29
    During the summer melt season, melt water accumulates in undulations on the surface of the Greenland ice sheet. Eventually, these melt lakes drain through crevasses or moulins (tunnels under the ice sheet surface), delivering water to the bottom of the ice sheet. This melt water lubricates the interface between the ice and the bedrock, causing the ice to flow faster toward the sea during summer. As summer melt increases and more melt water is available, the greater its effect on summer ice sheet flow rates.

Additional Resources

NASA Field Research 2015