THE rise in sea levels caused by climate change could be larger and more rapid than first thought, according to scientists, who say that previous predictions have been far too conservative.
A study published this week revealed that, at the current rate, global sea levels could rise by as much as 1.35 metres (4.1ft) by the year 2100.
That’s 25 per cent faster than estimates published in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2019 report.
The report warned that under a “worst case scenario” global sea levels would rise by a metre within the next 80 years.
However, researchers from the University of Copenhagen say this figure is wide of the mark based on a new analysis of historical climate data.
The team said the test should act as a “reality check” and accused the IPCC of using models that weren’t sensitive enough.
“It’s not great news that we believe the former predictions are too low,” said study co-author and climate change scientist Dr Aslak Grinsted.
“The models used to base predictions of sea level rise on presently are not sensitive enough,” he said.
“To put it plainly, they don’t hit the mark when we compare them to the rate of sea level rise we see when comparing future scenarios with observations going back in time.”
Earth is heating up as a result of climate change but scientists don’t know for sure how quickly this will affect sea levels.
The average global temperature is already 1.2C above pre-industrial levels and is expected to pass the 2C benchmark between 2050 and 2100.
Soaring temperatures will cause ice sheets covering Antarctica and Greenland to shed trillions of tonnes in mass, pumping water into our oceans.
Scientists predict that a sea level rise above one metre would spell bad news for coastal cities, such as New York and Shanghai.
Around 770million people – 10 per cent of the world’s population – live less than five metres (16ft) above sea level.
The authors of the new study said the IPCC sea-level models were inaccurate because of the limited data available to them.
The new models created by the team used better historical data on sea level rise which “in principle, allows for a test of the combined puzzle of models”, Dr Grinsted said.
Study co-author Professor Jens Hesselbjerg Christensen said accurate models are vital for future climate scenarios.
“We hope this new comparison metric will be adopted to as large extent as is possible and can become a tool we can apply in comparing different models,” he said.
The research was published in the European Geosciences Union journal, Ocean Science, on Tuesday.
Rising sea levels are one of humanity’s greatest threats, with the potential to unleash devastating effects on our planet.
Low-lying coastal areas could disappear completely, even putting areas of the UK at risk.
Climate change explained
Here are the basic facts…
- Scientists have lots of evidence to show that the Earth’s climate is rapidly changing due to human activity
- Climate change will result in problems like global warming, greater risk of flooding, droughts and regular heatwaves
- Each of the last three decades have been hotter than the previous one and 17 of the 18 warmest years on record have happened during the 21stcentury
- The Earth only needs to increase by a few degrees for it to spell disaster
- The oceans are already warming, polar ice and glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising and we’re seeing more extreme weather events
- In 2015, almost all of the world’s nations signed a deal called the Paris Agreement which set out ways in which they could tackle climate change and try to keep temperatures below 2C
Sea storms and tsunamis could intensify and reach further in-land than they would have previously.
It’s important to bear in mind that figures on flooding are only predictions and often don’t take into account factors like sea defences.
Our coastlines may change but areas like London have sea barriers, meaning they wouldn’t necessarily disappear.
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