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Eruption of Mount Pinatubo helping to determine global sea level

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Staff Writer |
Sea level
Ecology   Warming oceans and melting glaciers

Scientists have disentangled the major role played by the volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo in determining the global mean sea level.

According to Anjuli Bamzai, program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, this research will help society prepare for the potential effects of climate change.

Satellite observations of the ocean surface, which began in 1993, indicated the rate of sea level rise was holding fairly steady at about three millimeters per year.

With the increase in the pace of warming oceans and melting glaciers and ice sheets, scientists expect to see a corresponding increase in the rate of sea level rise.

Researchers have now determined that the expected increase in sea level rise due to climate change was likely hidden because of a happenstance of timing: Pinatubo erupted in 1991, two years before the first satellite observations of the ocean began.

The eruption, which temporarily cooled the planet, caused sea levels to drop and effectively distorted calculations of sea level rise in subsequent decades.

The study lends support to climate model projections that show the rate of sea level rise escalating over time as the climate warms.

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