What's not entirely clear is how quickly, how often, and why temperatures changed in the past, something that these scientists are studying to better understand how our climate is evolving today.
For now, one thing is clear: Melting ice and rising sea levels increase the potential of a damaging storm surge.
"We expect several more feet in the next century," said climate scientist Adam Sobel. "So if you start with higher water ... the storm surge will be added on top of that. And so, we'll get a higher flood."
Who's going to pay?
Superstorm Sandy brought a record-breaking 15-foot storm surge to New York Harbor (the storm surge is the level of water generated by a storm that's above the normal high tide). As Sandy approached New York, one buoy in the harbor measured a 32.5-foot wave -- nearly seven feet taller than the highest wave churned up by Hurricane Irene in 2011.
The enormous amount of water combined with the storm's powerful winds washed out the low-lying beachside neighborhood of Breezy Point, New York. The flooding is believed to have sparked a fire that burned down more than 100 homes.
Bowman said all of that devastation could have been avoided.
He said 30-foot-high sand dunes would have been enough to keep Breezy Point dry.
Projects such as that are expensive to build -- but sometimes the cost isn't the only hurdle standing in the way.
Some oceanfront residents in New Jersey have stymied a federally funded effort to build storm-protecting dunes -- even after witnessing the devastation from Sandy and Irene.
It comes down to a property rights issue: Homeowners must cede part of their land to the government through easements, where the dunes will be built. Some homeowners want the government to compensate them for land; others just don't want to allow the government to control the property.
"If we did sign it, we give up our land," Long Beach Island, New Jersey, resident Dorothy Jedziniak told National Public Radio. "Assignment means that your local politicians could assign a walkway, toilets, whatever."
Bowman believes the cost is too high for residents living near the coast not to act.
"People who lived here are paying for it in terms of human misery," he said. "But if you talk about paying for it in terms of rebuilding and the dollars, where are the dollars going to come from? And are the people of the Midwest going want to pay for protecting these privileged few people who are lucky enough to live on the ocean's edge? I don't think so."