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NASA says ‘moon wobble’ may cause a problem for Earthlings

An increase in extreme weather events is already causing serious alarm among everyone from climate scientists to regular folks sloshing around in flooded basements.

To add to the growing number of climate issues already facing humanity, NASA said that a periodic “wobble” performed by the moon will combine with rising sea levels to cause increasingly serious high-tide flooding events along coastlines in the U.S. and beyond.

According to a recent study conducted by NASA’s Sea Level Change Team and published this month in the Nature Climate Change journal, the gravitational pull of the moon is likely to cause “dramatic increases in flood numbers” in coastal cities in the mid-2030s.

Painting a grim picture for some communities living close to the sea, NASA said, “When the moon and Earth line up in specific ways with each other and the sun, the resulting gravitational pull and the ocean’s corresponding response may leave city-dwellers coping with floods every day or two,” adding that such events could also happen in clusters and last for more than a month at a time.

NASA said the moon wobble is a natural, recurring event that takes place across its 18.6-year cycle. For half of the cycle, the moon’s gravitational pull suppresses daily tides, decreasing high tides and increasing low tides. But during the other half of the cycle, tides are amplified, with high tides increasing and low tides decreasing.

Right now the moon is in the tide-amplifying part of its cycle, but current sea levels mean that most coastal cities in the U.S. are still out of the danger zone. However, when the next tide-amplifying cycle hits in the 2030s, researchers say sea levels will have risen further, with NASA’s data forecasting potentially troublesome flood events for some coastal communities.

Phil Thompson, an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii and the lead author of NASA’s study, said that while high-tide floods tend to be less serious than hurricane storm surges, the former could be particularly problematic if they begin to happen multiple times a month, after all, as Thompson put it, “a business can’t keep operating with its parking lot under water. People lose their jobs because they can’t get to work. Seeping cesspools become a public health issue.”

Commenting on the study’s findings, NASA chief 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.”

However, offering a ray of hope, Nelson added that NASA’s Sea Level Change Team is working to provide crucial information to enable cities to “plan, protect, and prevent damage to the environment and people’s livelihoods affected by flooding.”

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Trevor Mogg
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