A “wobble” from the moon will contribute to an increase in severe flooding within the mid-2030s, NASA has now warned
The orbit of the moon, which affects the tides of the Earth’s oceans, has a natural “wobble” that occurs every 18.6 years and causes both extremely high and low tides.
Lunar cycles will cause an increase in severe flooding across US coastal cities in the middle of the next decade.
In a new study that was published by Nature Climate Change, NASA’s Sea Level Change Science Team calculated that the next moon wobble in the mid-2030s will amplify the rising sea levels that are caused by climate change.
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Almost all of United States mainland coastlines, as well as both Hawaii and Guam, are likely to see high-tide flood numbers surge as they come under pressure from the higher seas.
But northern coastlines, including Alaska’s, will be spared for another decade or longer because these land areas are rising as a result of long-term geological processes, researchers found.
The study is the first to take into account all known oceanic and astronomical causes for floods, NASA said.
High-tide floods, which are also known as nuisance floods or sunny day floods, occur not as a result of storm surges from extreme weather or excessive precipitation, but instead occur when the ocean’s tide rises into populated areas.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the floods can overwhelm storm drains, and can also close roads and compromise infrastructure over time.
NASA administrator Bill Nelson said: “Low-lying areas near sea level are increasingly at risk and suffering due to the increased flooding, and it will only get worse.
“The combination of the moon’s gravitational pull, rising sea levels, and climate change will continue to exacerbate coastal flooding on our coastlines and across the world.”
“It’s the accumulated effect over time that will have an impact,” added assistant professor at the University of Hawaii and the lead author of the new study, Phil Thompson.
High tide floods are usually less dramatic and involve less water than the hurricane storm surges, so they are less often seen as a pressing issue.
“But if it floods 10 or 15 times a month, a business can’t keep operating with its parking lot underwater,” Mr Thompson said.
“People lose their jobs because they can’t get to work. Seeping cesspools become a public health issue.”
This comes after a team from NASA and NOAA have recently found that Earth’s “energy imbalance” had doubled between the years of 2005 and 2019. The energy imbalance of heat within the planet is simple to understand but is complex in its causes and impacts upon the climate.
The floods will also be occurring in clusters, which could last for over a month at a time depending on the positioning of the moon, sun, and Earth, NASA have said.
As the moon and Earth line up with each other and the sun in specific ways, some city dwellers could see flooding every day or two.
Ben Hamlington, who leads NASA’s Sea Level Change Team, said that the study is vital for coastal urban planners, who may tend to focus on preparing for extreme weather events over chronic flooding.
“From a planning perspective, it’s important to know when we’ll see an increase,” Mr Hamlington said.
“Understanding that all your events are clustered in a particular month, or you might have more severe flooding in the second half of a year than the first – that’s useful information.”
The moon is currently within the tide-amplifying part of its 18.6-year wobble, but most US coastlines are yet to see enough of a sea-level rise to notice the effects of flooding.
By the mid-2030s, the next time the moon wobble enters its tide-amplifying phase, global sea levels will have had another decade to rise due to climate change.