Sea levels have been rising since the early 1800s, and while satellites have only been measuring them since 1992, satellite measurements indicate that they have been rising at a fairly constant rate of 2.8 millimeters per year. This is concerning to many people, especially the ones who live in countries like the Republic of Maldives, which is, on average, only 1.5 meters above sea level. In fact, the country is so concerned about the rising seas that in 2009, the nation’s cabinet held a meeting underwater, where they signed a document calling on all countries to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. After all, it is thought that rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere warm the planet, which in turn causes sea levels to rise. If sea levels rise too much, the Republic of Maldives will be lost.
Now, of course, that kind of reasoning makes sense, but anyone who studies science should understand that things which make sense are not necessarily true. A lot of Aristotle’s notions (such as the idea that objects prefer to stay at rest) made sense, but science has demonstrated them to be false. In the same way, a lot of our modern theories (like quantum mechanics and relativity) make little sense, but experiments strongly support their conclusions (see here and here, for example).
Rather than giving into the hysteria, then, it is best to see what the data indicate. Interestingly enough, the data say that while the idea that rising sea levels will destroy countries like the Republic of Maldives makes sense, it is almost certainly not true. I first wrote about this three years ago, when a group of researchers decided to study some of the islands around the Funafuti Atoll, which holds the island nation of Tuvalu. They found that contrary to the hysteria, the majority of the islands they studied have grown since 1897, leading to a net increase in the amount of land available. Well, the same research group has completed a more extensive study, which confirms their previous conclusion.