Story at a glance

  • Scientists from the University of Copenhagen examined if historical data can accurately extrapolate how much sea levels could rise with temperature changes.
  • Their results found that external factors could accelerate rising ocean levels.

Rising sea levels are just one of the results of climate change, contributing to flooding and threatening coastal habitats. 

A new study, published Tuesday, from the University of Copenhagen reports that future estimates of how much sea levels are poised to rise in response to climate change is largely underestimated by some models.

Looking at data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), scientists used a linear regression model to test for a relationship between rise in average temperatures and rise in sea levels, focusing on measuring their results against preexisting estimates.


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Researchers analyzed historical data to factor how the dynamic nature of the environment and new sensitivities can accelerate or decelerate rising sea levels.

For example, researchers used a hypothetical small glacier’s melting rate being dependent on its exact size as a potential confounding variable that limits extrapolation.

Results from their regression model conclude that the projected global sea level rise by the end of the 21st century is “at best conservative.”

“The models we are basing our predictions of sea-level rise on presently are not sensitive enough,”  Aslak Grinsted, a geophysicist at the University of Copenhagen and co-author, told Bloomberg. “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.”

New results suggest that the half meter of sea level increase anticipated by the temperatures in the year 2100 could now occur with a smaller increase of only 0.5 degrees Celsius — below the targeted 1.5 degrees Celsius drop nations must halt emissions by in the Paris Agreement.

This report introduces a new, expedited timeline the world is on to halt the disastrous effects of climate change. Changes in sea levels alone have the potential to cause damaging floods and exacerbate dangerous storms.

Data from the U.S.’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) already notes that the pace of global sea level rise has doubled from 1.4 millimeters seen through most of the 20th century to 3.6 millimeters per year between 2006 and 2015.

Projections from 2017 already indicate that all U.S. coasts will suffer from sea level increases that are higher than the global averages. 


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Published on Feb 03, 2021