Future Projections

One of the key issues is that of future sea-level rise. Because the ocean's thermal inertia is so great (it can hold large amounts of heat over long periods of time), it will take decades for the oceans to adjust their levels to the heat absorbed. In fact, for the heating caused by greenhouse-gas emissions already released into the atmosphere, sea levels are still trying to find a point of equilibrium. Therefore, even if all greenhouse emissions stopped today, there would still be a lag time for the oceans to stop rising. During this lag time, the oceans will likely rise another 5-12 inches (13-30 cm) by 2100. In the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC, a sea-level rise of 7-23 inches (18-58 cm) by 2100 was projected.

According to the USGS, based on information obtained from both tidal gauges and satellite measurements worldwide, scientists can say with confidence that sea-level rise has increased during the 20th century. Increased scientific knowledge has also clarified some issues that were not well understood previously, such as that the large polar ice sheets are far more sensitive to surface warming that initially thought, with significant changes currently being observed on the Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheets. Scientists now realize that these melting ice sheets can add water mass much more quickly to the oceans than previously assumed and play a significant part in overall global sea-level rise. Today also marks a notable consensus among specialists in climate change at USGS. It is largely recognized and accepted that there could be a rapid collapse of the polar ice sheets, and scientists have keyed in on the fact that anthropogenic actions, such as burning fossil fuels, could result in triggering an abrupt sea-level rise before the end of this century. They stress public education and political policy be brought to the forefront in order to deal most effectively with a situation that affects every person living on Earth now and in the future.

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