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Photo: Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

A "wobble" in the moon's orbit will combine with rising sea levels due to the Earth's warming to bring "a decade of dramatic increases" in high-tide coastal floods across the U.S. in the 2030s, NASA warns in a new study.

Why it matters: Low-lying areas near sea level already increasingly at risk from flooding will see their situation "only get worse," per a statement from NASA administrator Bill Nelson.

"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."
— Nelson

Of note: Phil Thompson, an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii and the lead author of the study, published this month in Nature Climate Change, said high-tide floods involve less water than hurricane storm surges.

  • But "if it floods 10 or 15 times a month, a business can't keep operating with its parking lot under water," Thompson said.
  • "People lose their jobs because they can’t get to work," he added "Seeping cesspools become a public health issue."

The big picture: Scientists have known about wobbles in the orbit of the moon, which takes 18.6 years to complete, since 1728.

  • While such events are not dangerous on their own, what's new is how one of the wobble's effects on the moon's gravitational pull — the main cause of Earth’s tides — will combine with rising sea levels resulting from the planet's warming, according to NASA.

What they did: For the study, researchers found the tipping points in flood numbers by analyzing 89 tide gauge locations in every coastal U.S. state and territory but Alaska.

  • "They created a new statistical framework that mapped NOAA's widely used sea level rise scenarios and flooding thresholds, the number of times those thresholds have been exceeded annually, astronomical cycles, and statistical representations of other processes, such as El Niño events, that are known to affect tides," per a NASA statement.
  • The researchers projected results through 2080.

State of play: We're now in the tide-amplifying part of this cycle. Along most U.S. coastlines, sea levels haven't risen too much, but high tides regularly top flooding thresholds.

The bottom line: By the next tide-amplifying cycle in the mid-2030s, the wobble in the moon's orbit will combine with rising sea levels.

  • "The higher seas, amplified by the lunar cycle, will cause a leap in flood numbers on almost all U.S. mainland coastlines, Hawaii, and Guam," NASA warns.
  • Far northern coastlines, like Alaska's, will be spared for another decade or longer because these land areas are rising due to long-term geological processes.

Go deeper

UN: Africa's glaciers to disappear by 2040s from climate change

Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania partially covered by clouds in December 2009. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

Glaciers capping three of Africa's iconic mountains — Mount Kenya in Kenya, the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania — will likely disappear over the next two decades because of human-induced climate change, the World Meteorological Organization's estimated in a new report Tuesday.

Why it matters: The WMO warned that glacier loss is just one effect climate change will have on the continent, as rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, rising sea levels and more extreme weather will also likely exacerbate food insecurity, economic and political instability and population displacement.

Stephen Breyer formally announces retirement from Supreme Court

Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

Justice Stephen Breyer on Thursday sent a letter to President Biden formally announcing his retirement from the Supreme Court.

State of play: Breyer said his retirement will take effect when the court "rises for the summer recess (typically late June or early July) assuming that by then my successor has been nominated and confirmed."

COVID created an epic U.S. trade gap

Chart: Axios Visuals. Data: Census Bureau/Bureau of Economic Analysis

The details of the blockbuster fourth quarter GDP report released Thursday morning tell a vivid story of how the underpinnings of the world economy have been reshaped by the pandemic.

One example: In the arithmetic around U.S. economic output, trade acted as a more severe drag last year than it has in a generation.

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