Sea Level Rise

Figure 14:The projected and observed sea level rise. Observed sea level rise is currently larger than that projected by current climate models. The bar to the left also shows the contribution of different factors to sea level rise, the two most important being a) thermal expansion of ocean waters as they warm, and b) increase in the ocean mass, principally from land-based sources of ice (glaciers and ice caps, and the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica).

A significant sea level rise is one of the major anticipated consequences of climate change (IPCC, 2007; UNEP 2007).

Global warming from increasing greenhouse gas concentrations is a significant driver of both contributions to sea-level rise. From 1955 to 1995, ocean thermal expansion is estimated to have contributed about 0.4 mm per year to sea level rise, less than 25 per cent of the observed rise over the same period. For the 1993 to 2003 decade, for which the best data are available, thermal expansion is estimated to be significantly larger, at about 1.6 mm per year for the upper 750 m of the ocean alone, about 50 per cent of the observed sea level rise of 3.1 mm per year. Scientists estimate the melting of glaciers and ice caps (excluding the glaciers covering Greenland and Antarctica) contributed to sea level rise by about 0.3 mm per year from 1961 to 1990 increasing to about 0.8 mm per year from 2001–2004.

Even for today’s socio-economic conditions, both regionally and globally, large numbers of people and significant economic activity are exposed to an increase and acceleration of sea level rise. The densely populated megadeltas such as those of Ganges-Brahmaputra, Mekong and Nile are especially vulnerable to sea level rise. Some 75 per cent of the population affected live on the Asian megadeltas and deltas, with a large proportion of the remainder living on deltas in Africa. Globally, at least 150 million people live within 1 metre of high tide level, and 250 million live within 5 metres of high tide (UNEP, 2007).

Figure 15:How sea level rise will happen. Expansion of the ocean and melting of land ice are two of the largest contributing factors to sea level rise.

  Figure 16:Land area, number of people impacted and projected economic losses from a 1 metre uniform sea level rise in different regions (Anthoff et al., 2006; UNEP, 2007).
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