Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sea-level rise: towards understanding local vulnerability

A rich post by Stefan Rahmstorf in Environmental ResearchWeb: The Delta Commission of the Dutch government projected up to 1.10 m as a 'high-end' scenario (Vellinga et al 2009). The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) projected up to 1.40 m (Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research 2009), and the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) gives a range of 0.90–1.60 m in its 2011 report (Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme 2011). And recently the US Army Corps of Engineers recommends using a 'low', an 'intermediate' and a 'high' scenario for global sea-level rise when planning civil works programmes, with the high one corresponding to a 1.50 m rise by 2100 (US Army Corps of Engineers 2011).
This more pessimistic view is based on a number of observations, most importantly perhaps the fact that sea level has been rising at least 50% faster in the past decades than projected by the IPCC (Rahmstorf et al 2007, IPCC 2007). Also, the rate of rise (averaged over two decades) has accelerated threefold, from around 1 mm yr−1 at the start of the 20th century to around 3 mm yr−1 over the past 20 years (Church and White 2006), and this rate increase closely correlates with global warming (Rahmstorf et al 2011). The IPCC projections, which assume almost no further acceleration in the 20th century, thus look less plausible. And finally the observed net mass loss of the two big continental ice sheets (Van den Broeke et al 2011) calls into question the assumption that ice accumulation in Antarctica would largely balance ice loss from Greenland in the course of further global warming (IPCC 2007).
With such a serious sea-level rise on the horizon, experts are increasingly looking at its potential impacts on coasts to facilitate local adaptation planning. This is a more complex issue than one might think, because different stretches of coast can be affected in very different ways. First of all, the sea-level response to global warming will not be globally uniform, since factors like changes in ocean currents (Levermann et al 2005) and the changing gravitational pull of continental ice (Mitrovica et al 2001) affect the local rise. Secondly, superimposed on the climatic trend is natural variability in sea level, which regionally can be as large as the climatic signal on multi-decadal timescales. Over the past decades, sea level has dropped in sizable parts of the world ocean, although it has of course risen in global mean (IPCC 2007). Thirdly, local land uplift or subsidence affects the local sea-level change relative to the coast, both for natural reasons (post-glacial isostatic adjustment centred on regions that were covered by ice sheets during the last ice age) and artificial ones (e.g., extraction of water or oil as in the Gulf of Mexico). Finally, local vulnerability to sea-level rise depends on many factors....
Waves at St. Monan's pier, shot by Derek Harper, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

No comments: