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What Record-High Sea Temperatures Could Mean for the Gulf Coast

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Global sea levels are rising, and that's going to have a major impact on the Texas coastline, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's annual report card.

According to the report, global sea temperatures and levels hit modern highs last year in what was the warmest year on record. In Texas, that’s bad news for the Gulf Coast.

According to NOAA’s State of the Climate report, temperatures of the oceans in 2014 were “warmest or tied-for-warmest” since record-keeping began in the 1880s. Last year’s warmth is credited partially to the El Niño-La Niña cycle, NOAA writes, but the long-term warming of both the Earth’s land and oceans also played a large role in the 1.6-degree rise in average temperature since the 1880s.

Paul Montagna, who studies the Gulf of Mexico at Texas A&M Corpus Christi, says higher ocean temperatures mean more frequent hurricanes and tropical storms for Texas.

“You know one of our biggest concerns on the Gulf Coast are tropical storms. I don’t like to use the H-word (hurricane), so I just call them tropical storms,” Montagna says.“Sea level rise is actually happening faster in the Gulf of Mexico, and particularly on the Texas coast than almost anywhere else in the world.”

A Climate Central study from December of last year estimated a $10 billion economic impact on Texas as a result of rising ocean levels, with the Galveston, Aransas and Jefferson counties bearing the brunt of the damage.

Rising ocean levels would also bring more floods, according to NOAA oceanographer William Sweet, because Texas itself is also sinking.

“A lot of it is due to manmade activities of withdrawal of oil, gas, water, that we use,” Sweet says. “But it does reduce this volume and the land will actually start to sink in response.”

The sinking, or subsiding, in combination with higher sea levels could threaten coastal communities, ecosystems and industry and also intensify the impact of those hurricanes.