Concept: Sea level
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published over 2 years ago
Anthropogenic carbon emissions lock in long-term sea-level rise that greatly exceeds projections for this century, posing profound challenges for coastal development and cultural legacies. Analysis based on previously published relationships linking emissions to warming and warming to rise indicates that unabated carbon emissions up to the year 2100 would commit an eventual global sea-level rise of 4.3-9.9 m. Based on detailed topographic and population data, local high tide lines, and regional long-term sea-level commitment for different carbon emissions and ice sheet stability scenarios, we compute the current population living on endangered land at municipal, state, and national levels within the United States. For unabated climate change, we find that land that is home to more than 20 million people is implicated and is widely distributed among different states and coasts. The total area includes 1,185-1,825 municipalities where land that is home to more than half of the current population would be affected, among them at least 21 cities exceeding 100,000 residents. Under aggressive carbon cuts, more than half of these municipalities would avoid this commitment if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet remains stable. Similarly, more than half of the US population-weighted area under threat could be spared. We provide lists of implicated cities and state populations for different emissions scenarios and with and without a certain collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Although past anthropogenic emissions already have caused sea-level commitment that will force coastal cities to adapt, future emissions will determine which areas we can continue to occupy or may have to abandon.
Accurate quantification of the millennial-scale mass balance of the Greenland ice sheet (GrIS) and its contribution to global sea-level rise remain challenging because of sparse in situ observations in key regions. Glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA) is the ongoing response of the solid Earth to ice and ocean load changes occurring since the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM; ~21 thousand years ago) and may be used to constrain the GrIS deglaciation history. We use data from the Greenland Global Positioning System network to directly measure GIA and estimate basin-wide mass changes since the LGM. Unpredicted, large GIA uplift rates of +12 mm/year are found in southeast Greenland. These rates are due to low upper mantle viscosity in the region, from when Greenland passed over the Iceland hot spot about 40 million years ago. This region of concentrated soft rheology has a profound influence on reconstructing the deglaciation history of Greenland. We reevaluate the evolution of the GrIS since LGM and obtain a loss of 1.5-m sea-level equivalent from the northwest and southeast. These same sectors are dominating modern mass loss. We suggest that the present destabilization of these marine-based sectors may increase sea level for centuries to come. Our new deglaciation history and GIA uplift estimates suggest that studies that use the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellite mission to infer present-day changes in the GrIS may have erroneously corrected for GIA and underestimated the mass loss by about 20 gigatons/year.
Global mean sea level rise estimated from satellite altimetry provides a strong constraint on climate variability and change and is expected to accelerate as the rates of both ocean warming and cryospheric mass loss increase over time. In stark contrast to this expectation however, current altimeter products show the rate of sea level rise to have decreased from the first to second decades of the altimeter era. Here, a combined analysis of altimeter data and specially designed climate model simulations shows the 1991 eruption of Mt Pinatubo to likely have masked the acceleration that would have otherwise occurred. This masking arose largely from a recovery in ocean heat content through the mid to late 1990 s subsequent to major heat content reductions in the years following the eruption. A consequence of this finding is that barring another major volcanic eruption, a detectable acceleration is likely to emerge from the noise of internal climate variability in the coming decade.
Polar temperatures over the last several million years have, at times, been slightly warmer than today, yet global mean sea level has been 6-9 metres higher as recently as the Last Interglacial (130,000 to 115,000 years ago) and possibly higher during the Pliocene epoch (about three million years ago). In both cases the Antarctic ice sheet has been implicated as the primary contributor, hinting at its future vulnerability. Here we use a model coupling ice sheet and climate dynamics-including previously underappreciated processes linking atmospheric warming with hydrofracturing of buttressing ice shelves and structural collapse of marine-terminating ice cliffs-that is calibrated against Pliocene and Last Interglacial sea-level estimates and applied to future greenhouse gas emission scenarios. Antarctica has the potential to contribute more than a metre of sea-level rise by 2100 and more than 15 metres by 2500, if emissions continue unabated. In this case atmospheric warming will soon become the dominant driver of ice loss, but prolonged ocean warming will delay its recovery for thousands of years.
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published over 4 years ago
Global mean sea level has been steadily rising over the last century, is projected to increase by the end of this century, and will continue to rise beyond the year 2100 unless the current global mean temperature trend is reversed. Inertia in the climate and global carbon system, however, causes the global mean temperature to decline slowly even after greenhouse gas emissions have ceased, raising the question of how much sea-level commitment is expected for different levels of global mean temperature increase above preindustrial levels. Although sea-level rise over the last century has been dominated by ocean warming and loss of glaciers, the sensitivity suggested from records of past sea levels indicates important contributions should also be expected from the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets. Uncertainties in the paleo-reconstructions, however, necessitate additional strategies to better constrain the sea-level commitment. Here we combine paleo-evidence with simulations from physical models to estimate the future sea-level commitment on a multimillennial time scale and compute associated regional sea-level patterns. Oceanic thermal expansion and the Antarctic Ice Sheet contribute quasi-linearly, with 0.4 m °C(-1) and 1.2 m °C(-1) of warming, respectively. The saturation of the contribution from glaciers is overcompensated by the nonlinear response of the Greenland Ice Sheet. As a consequence we are committed to a sea-level rise of approximately 2.3 m °C(-1) within the next 2,000 y. Considering the lifetime of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, this imposes the need for fundamental adaptation strategies on multicentennial time scales.
Resting atop a deep marine basin, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has long been considered prone to instability. Using a numerical model, we investigate the sensitivity of Thwaites Glacier to ocean melt and whether unstable retreat is already underway. Our model reproduces observed losses when forced with ocean melt comparable to estimates. Simulated losses are moderate (<0.25 mm per year sea level) over the 21st Century, but generally increase thereafter. Except possibly for the lowest-melt scenario, the simulations indicate early-stage collapse has begun. Less certain is the timescale, with onset of rapid (> 1 mm per year of sea-level rise) collapse for the different simulations within the range of two to nine centuries.
One of the main consequences of mean sea level rise (SLR) on human settlements is an increase in flood risk due to an increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme sea levels (ESL). While substantial research efforts are directed towards quantifying projections and uncertainties of future global and regional SLR, corresponding uncertainties in contemporary ESL have not been assessed and projections are limited. Here we quantify, for the first time at global scale, the uncertainties in present-day ESL estimates, which have by default been ignored in broad-scale sea-level rise impact assessments to date. ESL uncertainties exceed those from global SLR projections and, assuming that we meet the Paris agreement goals, the projected SLR itself by the end of the century in many regions. Both uncertainties in SLR projections and ESL estimates need to be understood and combined to fully assess potential impacts and adaptation needs.
Paleoenvironmental records from a southern California coastal saltmarsh reveal evidence for repeated late Holocene coseismic subsidence events. Field analysis of sediment gouge cores established discrete lithostratigraphic units extend across the wetland. Detailed sediment analyses reveal abrupt changes in lithology, percent total organic matter, grain size, and magnetic susceptibility. Microfossil analyses indicate that predominantly freshwater deposits bury relic intertidal deposits at three distinct depths. Radiocarbon dating indicates that the three burial events occurred in the last 2000 calendar years. Two of the three events are contemporaneous with large-magnitude paleoearthquakes along the Newport-Inglewood/Rose Canyon fault system. From these data, we infer that during large magnitude earthquakes a step-over along the fault zone results in the vertical displacement of an approximately 5-km(2) area that is consistent with the footprint of an estuary identified in pre-development maps. These findings provide insight on the evolution of the saltmarsh, coseismic deformation and earthquake recurrence in a wide area of southern California, and sensitive habitat already threatened by eustatic sea level rise.
Reconstructing the dynamic response of the Antarctic ice sheets to warming during the Last Glacial Termination (LGT; 18,000-11,650 yrs ago) allows us to disentangle ice-climate feedbacks that are key to improving future projections. Whilst the sequence of events during this period is reasonably well-known, relatively poor chronological control has precluded precise alignment of ice, atmospheric and marine records, making it difficult to assess relationships between Antarctic ice-sheet (AIS) dynamics, climate change and sea level. Here we present results from a highly-resolved ‘horizontal ice core’ from the Weddell Sea Embayment, which records millennial-scale AIS dynamics across this extensive region. Counterintuitively, we find AIS mass-loss across the full duration of the Antarctic Cold Reversal (ACR; 14,600-12,700 yrs ago), with stabilisation during the subsequent millennia of atmospheric warming. Earth-system and ice-sheet modelling suggests these contrasting trends were likely Antarctic-wide, sustained by feedbacks amplified by the delivery of Circumpolar Deep Water onto the continental shelf. Given the anti-phase relationship between inter-hemispheric climate trends across the LGT our findings demonstrate that Southern Ocean-AIS feedbacks were controlled by global atmospheric teleconnections. With increasing stratification of the Southern Ocean and intensification of mid-latitude westerly winds today, such teleconnections could amplify AIS mass loss and accelerate global sea-level rise.
Tidal flooding is among the most tangible present-day effects of global sea level rise. Here, we utilize a set of NOAA tide gauges along the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts to evaluate the potential impact of future sea level rise on the frequency and severity of tidal flooding. Using the 2001-2015 time period as a baseline, we first determine how often tidal flooding currently occurs. Using localized sea level rise projections based on the Intermediate-Low, Intermediate-High, and Highest projections from the U.S. National Climate Assessment, we then determine the frequency and extent of such flooding at these locations for two near-term time horizons: 2030 and 2045. We show that increases in tidal flooding will be substantial and nearly universal at the 52 locations included in our analysis. Long before areas are permanently inundated, the steady creep of sea level rise will force many communities to grapple with chronic high tide flooding in the next 15 to 30 years.