Interactive NASA Simulations Let You Meddle With Earth's Sea Levels

A simulation by VESL of Columbia Glacier, Alaska. NASA/JPL-Caltech 

Rising sea levels are a very real threat lurking off the coastlines of many parts of the world. These monolithic forces are hard to imagine, and even harder to predict, so NASA has been busy working on a new sea level simulator called Virtual Earth System Laboratory (VESL) for its researchers to use.

Now you can toy around with the fate of the planet's sea levels using the VESL simulation by controlling a variety of factors that contribute to sea level rise on multiple different 3D interactive maps, including the levels of coastline retreat across the world and the evolution of Columbia Glacier in Alaska.

These are real computer models used by NASA scientists to figure out how rising sea levels are going to affect the planet. It will also be regularly updated with the latest data from peer-reviewed studies. Don’t worry though, the massive simulators shouldn’t slow your computer too much as they utilize cloud computing to take the strain of the processing.

“It's the real software, being used on the fly, live, without being pre-recorded or pre-computed," Eric Larour of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, who led VESL's development, said in a statement. "You have access to a segment of an ice sheet model or sea level model, running NASA's software."

"You can explore different aspects of the model that maybe even the scientists didn't explore," Larour said.

"As we make progress, [the public] can rerun the science that we actually do. If anybody has concerns or finds issues with our simulation, they have the ability to replicate our results. We would welcome feedback and inputs to improve our science."

The causes of rising sea levels are complex, fiddly, and intertwined, with no single factor to blame. However, we do know that human activity can influence them, namely through carbon emissions increasing Earth’s surface temperatures, which in turn melts ice caps and causes the ocean to swell from thermal expansion. After all, water expands as it warms.

Global sea level has been rising over the past century, and the rate has upped its pace in the past few decades. Along with its more obvious effects, such as flooding, it can also cause storm surges that push water further inland.

Now those forces are easier than ever for you to see for yourself. Give it a whirl right here.

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