Sea Levels Rising Faster than Expected

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Sea levels during the past two decades rose 60 percent faster than the general estimates made by the IPCC, according to new research published this week in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The scientists with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Tempo Analytics and Laboratoire d’Etudes en Géophysique et Océanographie Spatiales said that, while temperature rises appear to be consistent with the projections made in the IPCC’s fourth assessment report, satellite measurements show that sea-levels are rising at a rate of 3.2 mm a year compared to the best estimate of 2 mm a year in the report.

“This study shows once again that the IPCC is far from alarmist, but in fact has underestimated the problem of climate change,” said lead author Stefan Rahmstorf. “That applies not just for sea-level rise, but also to extreme events and the Arctic sea-ice loss.”

The scientists said their findings will track of how well past projections match the accumulating observational data, especially as projections made by the IPCC are increasingly being used in decision-making.

The study involved an analysis of global temperatures and sea-level data over the past two decades, comparing them both to projections made in the IPCC’s third and fourth assessment reports. Results were obtained by taking averages from the five available global land and ocean temperature series.

After removing the three known phenomena that cause short-term variability in global temperatures – solar variations, volcanic aerosols, and El Nino/Southern Oscillation – the researchers found that the overall warming trend at the moment is 0.16 degrees Celsius per decade, which closely follows the IPCC’s projections.

Satellite measurements of sea-levels showed a different picture, however, with current rates of increase being 60 percent faster than the IPCC’s AR4 projections.

Satellites measure sea-level rise by bouncing radar waves back off the sea surface and are much more accurate than tide gauges as they have near-global coverage; tide gauges only sample along the coast. Tide gauges also include variability that has nothing to do with changes in global sea level, but rather with how the water moves around in the oceans, such as under the influence of wind.

The study also shows that it is very unlikely that the increased rate is due to internal variability in our climate system and also shows that non-climatic components of sea-level rise, such as water storage in reservoirs and groundwater extraction, do not have an effect on the comparisons made.

Environmental coverage made possible in part by support from Patagonia. For information on Patagonia and its environmental efforts, visit www.patagonia.com. In affiliation with Summit County Voice. Photo of Isla Santiago, Galapagos, by NASA.

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  • Adam Olson

    What the ……..”after removing three known phenomena that cause short-term variability in global temperatures- solar variations, volcanic aerosols, and El Niño/Southern Oscillation”

    Talk about skewing the numbers! Lets forget about the sun, the volcanos and the ocean then how do your projections look? This seems far from scientific bordering on propaganda. Lets see the projections with the variables.

    And aren’t the projected sea level rises supposed to be measured in feet, not centimeters? Now that the CO concentration is above 350ppm where are the chicken little projections now? Global warming will not make us extinct we will have to adapt like all creatures on the planet have done for thousands of years.

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