A Rising Tide Swamps All Coasts: New Estimates of Sea Level Rise Spell Global Trouble

By Eliza Strickland | March 12, 2009 8:35 am

oceanBy the year 2100, ocean levels may have risen twice as much as was predicted just two years ago, researchers announced at the International Scientific Congress on Climate Change in Copenhagen. This means that the lives of some 600 million people living on low-lying islands, as well as those living in Southeast Asia’s populous delta areas, will be put at serious risk if climate change is not quickly and radically mitigated [The New York Times]. Meanwhile, a separate study has cataloged the damage that rising seas would do to the California coastline.

Previous estimates of sea level rise from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change didn’t take full account of the rapid melting of mountain glaciers and Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, researchers in Copenhagen said. Antarctica, in particular, was thought to be little affected by global warming until recent research proved definitively that the southern continent is heating up. Taking into account the new findings, the upper range in the rise of sea levels could be approximately 1 meter (3.28 feet), “possibly more,” by 2100. At the lower end of the spectrum, it appears increasingly unlikely, say the study’s authors, that sea level rise will be much less than a half-meter by 2100…. “Two or three years ago, those making this type of statement were seen as extremists” [The New York Times], says study coauthor Eric Rignot.

While researchers in Copenhagen fretted about the global situation, a California group raised the alarm about the impact of sea level rise on the Golden State. A state-funded study conducted by the non-profit Pacific Institute noted that the California dream, which has led 30 million people to make their homes near its 2,000 miles of coastline, may sour as global warming triggers rising sea levels during coming decades. A gain of 1.4 meters (5 feet) possible by the end of the century might flood almost $100 billion worth of property, from luxury homes to 330 hazardous-waste sites [Bloomberg]. The group used a more pessimistic estimate of sea level rise than the estimate announced by researchers in Copenhagen, but Pacific Institute researchers say it’s based on the best data from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The San Francisco Bay area is particularly at risk, the California study concluded, because European settlers in the 1800s filled shoreline marshes to build towns and cities…. Over the past century, San Francisco waterfront tidal gauges show a rise of 8 inches [San Francisco Chronicle].

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Image: flickr / Anderson Mancini

  • George

    * CNN (March 10, 2009) – A floating city off the coast of San Francisco may sound like science fiction, but it could be reality in the not-too-distant future.
    The Seasteading Institute already has drawn up plans for the construction of a homestead on the Pacific Ocean.
    * 2012’s Institute for Human Continuity Website Launched – INITIATIVES:
    Floating Cities… Subterranean City Planned in Antarctica…

  • Michael

    This supposes that the 600 million people affected will just stand around and tear out their hair as the sea rises…nonsense. In 90 years who can predict the level of technology or the population of coastal areas? The IPCC is not primarily composed of climate specialists in any event, and current models are very inadequate. If we can’t predict the weather 7 days in advance, how can we predict climatic events 90 years into the future? This is not science, it’s hysteria of the worst kind.

  • http://discovermagazine.com John Cassady

    Climate is a lot different than daily weather reports Michael. And it’s not meant to cause hysteria, they are just scientists explaining their findings. Obviously if they were just trying to scare people they would have given a shorter time span.

  • Michael

    Well, John, this sort of blind extrapolation is very counter productive as it brings a genuine skepticism from the public. In the 1970’s I remember some scientists predicting a new ice age, and in 2006 many climate scientists claimed that 2007-2008 would be very intense hurricane years. My point is: why make these wild 90 year predictions of future events when history shows us the dangers of such predictions? These things are as politically based as they are science based, in my opinion.

  • mj233

    Aw, c’mon, when the Vikings were farming a GREEN Greenland, the Thames was within 6 inches of where it is now, as measured from the Tower of London that was built at the time…. Ice ages last an average of 100,000 years, warm periods about 10,000. You better worry more about THAT ratio, buddy,…..

  • suell

    What annoys me is that I’ll be long gone and won’t be able to see what happens!
    True scientist do base their predictions on known facts, of course more facts are being recorded all the time, so predictions will change. Watch the temperature of the oceans if you want a reliable gauge.

  • Diana

    Won’t the melt water shut down the Conveyor? Won’t that throw the planet into an ice age? And what will all the cold water do to La Nina/El Nino?

  • Ray

    These forecast are no different to the ones that economists are so fond of using. They never actually come about because someone does another forecast and the old one is forgotten. Praise the computer model but dont stop paddling.

  • Larry B.

    Since climate is what we expect, and weather is what we get, these 100 year prognosticatins are suspect. While global warming is very probably accelerated by our pollution, I would go with mj233 on this. Nature and its cycles will have the last word on this situation.

  • Georgia

    I am doing research on Glaciers and this was very interesting to put into my essay, although I would like more information.


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