The Effects of Rising Sea Levels

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The Effects of Rising Sea Levels


Over the last several decades, climate change has evolved from a polarizing discussion to what will likely be the largest collaborative research project of our generation. While many aspects of climate change are still misunderstood, there is little debate that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is rising at an alarming rate. This rise is considered the main cause behind an increase in global temperature, which has set in motion a chain reaction of climatic events.

Atmospheric carbon impacts the temperature of the Earth because it is a greenhouse gas. When visible light from the sun heats the surface of the earth, some of the energy is transmitted back towards the atmosphere in the form of infrared radiation. Greenhouse gases absorb infrared that would have otherwise passed through the atmosphere and back into space, trapping excess heat. Unfortunately, the global temperature rise caused by atmospheric carbon is expected to have a domino effect, impacting other systems and cycles which will further warm the planet. The oceanic ice cycle in the Arctic and Antarctic is one example of this impact. Ice reflects more of the Sun’s radiation than open water, but ice coverage is decreasing due to global warming. As the amount of oceanic ice decreases, the amount of absorbed radiation increases, warming the ocean and creating a positive feedback loop. The scientific community is only beginning to understand the many ways, such as this one, that climate change will manifest itself.

With demand high for more research, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the United Nations Environme...

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...ven if the climate is stabilised. Together, the present Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets contain enough water to raise sea level by almost 70m if they were to melt. Models project that a local annual average warming of larger than 3°C, sustained for millennia, would lead to virtually a complete melting of the Greenland ice sheet with a resulting sea level rise of about 7m. For a warming over Greenland of 5.5°C, consistent with mid-range stabilisation scenarios, the Greenland ice sheet is likely to contribute about 3m in 1,000 years. For a warming of 8°C, the contribution is about 6m, the ice sheet being largely eliminated. For smaller warmings, the decay of the ice sheet would be substantially slower. Current ice dynamic models states that the ice sheets would rise sea levels by 3mm/yr over the next thousand years5. These estimates are shown in the figure below.
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