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Top Story

Volcanic eruption masked acceleration in sea-level rise

The cataclysmic 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines masked the full impact of greenhouse gases on accelerating sea-level rise, according to a new study. Satellite observations of the ocean surface, which began in 1993, indicated the rate of sea-level rise was holding fairly steady at about 3 millimeters per year. As the pace of warming oceans and melting glaciers and ice sheets accelerated, scientists expected to see a corresponding increase in the rate of sea-level rise. Analysis of the satellite record has not borne that out, however. 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.

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