Projections of Sea Level Rise

Projections of future sea level have been the subject of active discussion in the recent literature on climate change impacts. The 2007 Assessment Report by the IPCC estimated that sea level would likely rise by an additional 0.6 to 1.9 feet (0.18 to 0.59 meters) by 2100. This projection was based largely on the observed rates of change in ice sheets and projected future thermal expansion over the past several decades and did not include the possibility of changes in ice sheet dynamics. Scientists are working to improve how ice dynamics can be resolved in models. Recent research, including investigations of how sea level responded to temperature variations during the ice age cycles, suggests that sea levels could potentially rise another 2.5 to 6.5 feet (0.8 to 2 meters) by 2100, which is several times larger than the IPCC estimates. However, sea level rise estimates are rather uncertain, due mainly to limits in scientific understanding of glacier and ice sheet dynamics. For instance, recent findings of a warming ocean around Greenland suggest an explanation for the accelerated calving of outlet glaciers into the sea, but the limited data and lack of insight into the mechanisms involved prevent a quantitative estimate of the rate of ice loss at this time. Nevertheless, it is clear that global sea level rise will continue throughout the 21st century due to the GHGs that have already been emitted, that the rate and ultimate amount of sea level rise will be higher if GHG concentrations continue to increase, and that there is a risk of much larger and more rapid increases in sea level. While this risk cannot be quantified at present, the consequences of extreme and rapid sea level rise could be economically and socially devastating for highly built-up and densely populated coastal areas around the world, especially low-lying deltas and estuaries.

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