You may have read recent reports about huge changes in sea level, inspired by new research from James Hansen, NASA’s former Chief Climate Scientist, at Columbia University. Sea level rise represents one of the most worrying aspects of global warming, potentially displacing millions of people along coasts, low river valleys, deltas and islands.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN’s scientific climate body, forecasts rises of approximately 40 to 60 cm by 2100. But other studies have found much greater rises are likely.
Hansen and 16 co-authors found that with warming of 2C sea levels could rise by several metres. Hansen’s study was published in the open-access journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussion, and has not as yet been peer-reviewed. It received much media coverage for its “alarmist” findings.
So how should we make sense of these dire forecasts?
What we’re pretty sure about
According the to the IPCC sea level rise has accelerated from 0.05 cm each year during 1700-1900 to 0.32 cm each year during 1993-2010. Over the next century the IPCC expects an average rise of 0.2 to 0.8 cm each year.
Warming of 2-4C implies a rise in sea level by several to many metres. Future sea level rise, once it reaches equilibrium with temperature rise of about 2C above pre-industrial temperature, could reach levels on the scale of the Pliocene (pre-2.6 million years ago) around 25+/-12 metres. Temperature rise of 4C higher than pre-industrial would be consistent with peak Miocene (about 16 million years ago) equilibrium sea levels of about 40 meters.
We don’t know how long it would take for seas to rise that high with rising temperatures. However the extreme rise rate of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, higher than 2 ppm CO2 per year, if continues, threatens an accelerating rate of sea level rise.
If so, it follows human civilisation has now begun to preside over a major change to the map of planet Earth.
Press link for more: theconversation.com