Future projections: new models of sea level rise

Global warming has been the engine that triggered several effects in our planet. One of them is the mean sea level rise that happens when the volume of the ocean increases. This happens due to ice melting in the poles or to the increase in oceans’ temperature, both decreasing the density of the ocean.

The experts use mathematical models (1) to understand how climate change could affect mean sea level rise. These models are based on historical data from studies that reconstructed the paleoclimate (2) environment, data of ocean warming, ocean expansion and gas emissions to the atmosphere.

These models can be used to project different model scenarios regarding changes in mean sea level rise over time, considering more conservative and more extreme climate change scenarios. The reference scientific panel that regularly evaluates the impacts and ways to adapt to climate change is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC is also responsible for modeling climate change impacts on sea level rise, with models that span from 1850 to 2017.

The IPCC most extreme scenario of mean sea level rise considers a rise of 1.1 m until 2100, while the most conservative predicts a rise of 0.45 m. Yet, scientists from Denmark and Norway recently proposed a different scenario, which presents an increase in sea level rise higher than 1.1 m after 2100 based on historical data of global sea level rise and the average temperature of our planet. This model shows an almost linear relationship between global mean surface temperature and the average rate of the sea level rise in the next century. In the Antarctic region, the sea level is projected to rise at the same scale as the mean global surface temperature.

Most studies on the impacts of climate change on mean sea level rise are based on the IPCC most conservative model scenario. Nevertheless, the newly proposed model scenario suggests that the IPCC extreme scenario could actually be closer to reality.

(1) Mathematical Models- A mathematical model is a simplified representation or interpretation of the reality. (2) Paleoclimate- Science that studies the past of the earth’s climate before the availability of instrumental records.


Source: Aslak Grinsted and Jens Hesselbjerg Christensen (2021). The transient sensitivity of sea level rise. Ocean Sci., 17, 181–186, 2021. doi: 10.5194/os-17-181-2021

Author: Ana Filipa Fernandes


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