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Trends in global average absolute sea level, 1880–2015.[1]
Map of the Earth with a six-meter sea level rise represented in red (uniform distribution, actual sea level rise will vary regionally).

A sea level rise is an increase in global mean sea level as a result of an increase in the volume of water in the world’s oceans. Current sea level rise is mostly attributed to global climate change by thermal expansion of the water in the oceans and by melting of ice sheets and glaciers on land.[2] Sea level in the 1900–1993 period rose approximately 1.2–1.9 mm/yr. [3]

Global mean sea level (GMSL) rise will continue during the 21st century, very likely at a faster rate than observed from 1971 to 2010.[4] Projected rates and amounts vary. A 2017 NOAA report suggests a range of GMSL rise of 0.3 to 2.5 metres (1 ft 0 in to 8 ft 2 in) possible during the 21st century.[5] Sea level rise will not be the same at every location on earth, with some locations even getting a drop in sea levels. Local factors include tectonic effects, subsidence of the land, tides, currents and storms.

Sea level rise is expected to continue for centuries. Because of long response times for parts of the climate system, it has been estimated that we are committed to a sea-level rise within the next 2,000 years of approximately 2.3 metres (7.5 ft) for each degree Celsius of temperature rise.[6]

Sea level rises can considerably influence human populations in coastal and island regions and natural environments like marine ecosystems.[7] Widespread coastal flooding would be expected if several degrees of warming is sustained for millennia.[8] For example, sustained global warming of more than 2 °C (relative to pre-industrial levels) could lead to eventual sea level rise of around 1 to 4 metres (3 ft 3 in to 13 ft 1 in) due to thermal expansion of sea water and the melting of glaciers and small ice caps.[8]

Sea-level rise presents challenges to coastal communities and ecosystems, and planners are engaged in assessing management options.[9] Accordingly, it is desirable to have an estimate of SLR this century to properly design mitigation and adaptation strategies. An approximation of SLR by the end of the century will allow estimates of coastal erosion and changes in vulnerability to coastal hazards, assessments of threats to coastal ecosystems and development of climate risk management policies.


Past changes in sea levelEdit

Changes in sea level since the end of the last glacial episode

Understanding past sea level is important for the analysis of current and future changes. Expansion by heat and changes in land ice are dominant on short geological timescales. Over long geological timescales, changes in the shape of oceanic basins and in land–sea distribution also affect sea level.

Since the Last Glacial Maximum about 20,000 years ago, sea level has risen by more than 125 m, with rates varying from tenths of a mm/yr to 40+mm/year, as a result of melting of major ice sheets. Rapid disintegration of ice sheets led to so called 'Meltwater pulses', periods in which sea level rise was fastest. Sea level rise started to slow down starting 8.2 ka before present and the last 2500 year, prior to the recent event of sea level rise starting approximately in 1850, were marked by a near constant sea level.[10]

Sea level measurementEdit


Satellite measurements of sea level, in millimeters, 1993-2018 (April). Data source: Satellite sea level observations.
Jason-1 continued the sea surface measurements begun by TOPEX/Poseidon. It was followed by the Ocean Surface Topography Mission on Jason-2, and by Jason-3
1993–2012 Sea level trends from satellite altimetry

Since the 1992 launch of TOPEX/Poseidon, altimetric satellites have been recording the change in sea level.[11] Current rates of sea level rise from satellite altimetry have been estimated to be 3.0 ± 0.4 mm per year for 1993–2017.[12] Earlier satellites measurements were at odds with tide gauge measurements. A small calibration error for the Topex/Poseidon satellite discovered in 2015 was identified to be the cause of this mismatch. It had caused a slight overestimation of the 1992-2005 sea levels, which masked the ongoing sea level rise acceleration.[13]

Most noticeable on the map of satellite data, sea-level rise in the western Pacific approaches 10 mm/yr. This pool of rising water has the signature shape of La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific. The sea-level buildup in the western Pacific coincides with the absence of strong El Niño events, with the last occurring during 1997–98. The PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation) is a basin-wide climate pattern consisting of two phases, each commonly lasting 10 to 30 years.[14][15][16] In a positive phase of the PDO, surface waters in the western Pacific above 20° N latitude tend to be cool, while equatorial waters in the central and eastern Pacific tend to be warm. In a negative phase, the opposite pattern develops. Hence, rapid sea-level rise in the western Pacific matches the current negative phase of the PDO.

Tide gaugesEdit

Another important source of sea-level observations comes from the global network of tide gauges. In contrast to the satellite record, this record has a lot of spatial and temporal gaps. Church and White (2006)[17] used this network in combination with satellite altimeter data to establish that global mean sea-level rose 19.5 cm between 1870 and 2004 at an average rate of about 1.44 mm/yr (1.7 mm/yr during the 20th century). The SLR trend increases over this period, with a notable slope change around 1930, resulting in a significant acceleration of 0.013 ± 0.006 mm yr-2. This is an important confirmation of climate change simulations predicting that SLR will accelerate in response to global warming.

US sea-level trends 1900–2003

The longest running sea-level measurements, NAP or Amsterdam Ordnance Datum established in 1675, are recorded in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. About 25 percent of the Netherlands lies beneath sea level, while more than 50 percent of this nation's area would be inundated by temporary floods if it did not have an extensive levee system, see Flood control in the Netherlands.[18]

In Australia, data collected by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) show the current global mean sea level trend to be 3.2 mm/yr.,[19] a doubling of the rate of the total increase of about 210mm that was measured from 1880 to 2009, which reflected an average annual rise over the entire 129-year period of about 1.6 mm/year.[20]

Australian record collection has a long time horizon, including measurements by an amateur meteorologist beginning in 1837 and measurements taken from a sea-level benchmark struck on a small cliff on the Isle of the Dead[21] near the Port Arthur convict settlement on 1 July 1841. These records, when compared with data recorded by modern tide gauges, reinforce the recent comparisons of the historic sea level rise of about 1.6 mm/year, with the sharp acceleration in recent decades.[22] Continuing extensive sea level data collection by Australia's CSIRO is summarized in its finding of mean sea level trend to be 3.2 mm/yr. As of 2003 the National Tidal Centre of the Bureau of Meteorology managed 32 tide gauges covering the entire Australian coastline, with some measurements available starting in 1880.[23]

Tide gauges in the United States reveal considerable variation because some land areas are rising and some are sinking. For example, over the past 100 years, the rate of sea level rise varied from an increase of about 0.36 inches (9.1 mm) per year along the Louisiana Coast (due to land sinking), to a drop of a few inches per decade in parts of Alaska (due to post-glacial rebound). The rate of sea level rise increased during the 1993–2003 period compared with the longer-term average (1961–2003), although it is unclear whether the faster rate reflected a short-term variation or an increase in the long-term trend.[24] One study showed no acceleration in sea level rise in US tide gauge records during the 20th century.[25] The rate of rise for the US Atlantic coast during the 20th century was however far higher than during the previous two thousand years.[26]


Close-up of Ross Ice Shelf, the largest ice shelf of Antarctica, about the size of France and up to several hundred metres thick.

There are three main contributions to sea level rise. Oceans expand if they are warming, glaciers around the world in high altitudes melt and the total mass of ice sheets decreases. Warming is the last 150 years was dominated by retreat of glaciers and thermal expansion, but the contributions of the two ice sheets is expected to increase in the 21st century.[27]

Each year about 8 mm of precipitation (liquid equivalent) falls on the ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, mostly as snow, which accumulates and over time forms glacial ice. Much of this precipitation began as water vapor evaporated from the ocean surface. To a first approximation, the same amount of water appeared to return to the ocean in icebergs and from ice melting at the edges. Scientists previously had estimated which is greater, ice going in or coming out, called the mass balance, important because a nonzero balance causes changes in global sea level. High-precision gravimetry from satellites determined that Greenland was losing more than 200 billion tons of ice per year, in accord with loss estimates from ground measurement.[28] The rate of ice loss was accelerating,[29] having grown from 137 billion tons in 2002–2003.[30]

  • The total global ice mass lost from Greenland, Antarctica and Earth's glaciers and ice caps during 2003–2010 was about 4300 billion tons (1,000 cubic miles), adding about 12 mm (0.5 in) to global sea level, enough ice to cover an area comparable to the United States 50 cm (1.5 ft) deep.[31]
  • The melting of small glaciers on the margins of Greenland and the Antarctic Peninsula would increase sea level around 0.5 meter. At the extreme potential, according to the Third Assessment Report of the International Panel on Climate Change, the ice contained within the Greenland ice sheet entirely melted increases sea level by 7.2 meters (24 feet). The ice contained within the Antarctic ice sheet entirely melted would produce 61.1 meters (200 feet) of sea-level change, both totalling a sea-level rise of 68.3 meters (224 feet).[32] Melting of ice not at the margins is a slow process and might take 1500 years to full deglaciate at the fastest likely rate for Greenland, with Antarctica being even more stable.[33] However, those estimate does not account for the possibility of accelerate melting as meltwater flows under and lubricates the larger ice sheets, which would begin to move much more rapidly towards the sea.[34][35]

Ocean heatingEdit

Ocean heat content (OHC), NOAA 2012

In terms of heat content, it is the world ocean that dominates atmospheric climate. The oceans store more than 90% of the heat in Earth's climate system and act as a buffer against the effects of climate change. For instance, an average temperature increase of the entire world ocean by 0.01 °C may seem small, but in fact it represents a very large increase in heat content. If all the heat associated with this anomaly was instantaneously transferred to the entire global atmosphere it would increase the average temperature of the atmosphere by approximately 10 °C.[36] Thus, a small change in the mean temperature of the ocean represents a very large change in the total heat content of the climate system. Of course, when the ocean gains heat the water expands and this represents a component of global sea-level rise.

The thermal expansion of water increases with temperature and pressure of the water. So cold Arctic ocean water will expand less for a given increase in temperature compared to warm tropical water. Because different climate models have slightly different patterns of ocean heating, they do not agree fully on the predictions for the contribution of ocean heating on sea level rise.[37]


Processes around an Antarctic ice shelf

The large volume of ice on the Antarctic continent stores around 70% of the world's fresh water.[38] This ice sheet is constantly gaining ice from snowfall and losing ice through outflow to the sea. Under the influence of global warming, melt at the base of the ice sheet will increase. Simultaneously, the capacity of the atmosphere to carry precipitation increases with temperature so that precipitation in the form of snowfall increases. Furthermore, the additional snowfall causes increased ice flow which leads to further loss of ice.[39]

Different satellite methods for measuring ice mass and change are in good agreement and combining methods leads to more certainty with East Antarctica, West Antarctica, and the Antarctic Peninsula changing in mass.[40] A 2018 systematic review study estimated that ice loss across the entire continent was 43 gigatons per year on average during the period from 1992 to 2002 but has accelerated to an average of 220 gigatons per year during the five years from 2012 to 2017. Most of the melt comes from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, but the Antarctic Peninsula also positively contributes. Estimates of the sign of contribution from the East Antarctic ice sheet remain elusive.[41]

East Antarctica is a cold region with a ground-base above sea level and occupies most of the continent. This area is dominated by small accumulations of snowfall which becomes ice and thus eventually seaward glacial flows. The mass balance of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet as a whole over the period 1980-2004 is thought to have been slightly positive (lowering sea level) or near to balance, with a large degree of uncertainty.[42][43] Increased ice outflow has been suggested in some regions.[43][44]

West Antarctica is currently experiencing a net outflow of glacial ice, which will increase global sea level over time. A review of the scientific studies looking at data from 1992 to 2017 suggests an increase in the melt from around 53 ± 29 gigatons of ice per year to 159 ±26 Gt.[41] Significant acceleration of outflow glaciers in the Amundsen Sea Embayment may have contributed to this increase.[43] The data showed that the Amundsen Sea sector of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was discharging 250 cubic kilometres of ice every year, which was 60% more than precipitation accumulation in the catchment areas. This alone was sufficient to raise sea level at 0.24 mm/yr. Further, thinning rates for the glaciers studied in 2002–03 had increased over the values measured in the early 1990s.

The bedrock underlying the West Antarctic ice sheet lies well below sea level, which means it is unstable. If ice shelves that current buttress the ice sheet start melting, flow of inland ice will start accelerating and there is a possibility that ultimately the ice sheet would be completely lost. This eventual collapse rapid collapse of West Antarctic Ice Sheet could raise sea level by 3.3 metres (11 ft) at an unknown rate.[45][46]


Greenland 2007 melt anomaly, measured as the difference between the number of days on which melting occurred in 2007 compared to the average annual melting days from 1988–2006[47]

Most ice on Greenland is part of the Greenland ice sheet which rises to an average of 2.135 km. The rest is part of isolated glaciers and ice caps. Both contribute towards sea level rise. The Greenland ice sheets contributes to sea level change when the less ice is accumulated on the surface than is lost at the edges due to glacial flow.

Some of Greenland's largest outlet glaciers, such as Jakobshavn Isbræ and Kangerlussuaq Glacier have seen an acceleration in how fast they are flowing to the ocean.[48][49]. It was shown that this acceleration of outlet glaciers first mostly took place on the Southern part of Greenland (66 N in 1996), but had spread further north (70 N) in 2005.[50]

The contribution of the Greenland ice sheet on sea level over the next couple of centuries can be very high due to a self-reinforcing cycle (a so-called positive feedback). After an initial period of melting, the height of the ice sheet will have lowered. As air temperature increases closer to the sea surface, more melt starts to occur. This melting may further be accelerated because the color of ice is darker while it is melting and therefore it reflects less sunlight. There is a threshold in surface warming beyond which a partial or near-complete melting of the Greenland ice sheet occurs. Different research has put this threshold value as low as 1.0 °C and definitely below 4.0 °C above pre-industrial temperatures.[51][52]:1170.

Accounting for the Greenland ice sheet, it's peripheral glaciers and ice caps, contributions to current sea level rise have been estimated to be 43%. According to at least one study published in 2017, Greenland’s glaciers and ice caps have crossed an irreversible tipping point in 1997, and will continue to melt, and this trend could further destabilize the main ice-sheet.[53][54] A 2018 published study based on satellite observations estimates that the Greenland ice sheet was the largest contributor to the observed sea level rise, accounting for 37 percent, or 0.69 mm per year in the 2012-2017 period.[55]


Observational and modelling studies of mass loss from glaciers and ice caps indicate a contribution to sea-level rise of 0.2–0.4 mm/yr, averaged over the 20th century. The results from Dyurgerov show a sharp increase in the contribution of mountain and subpolar glaciers to sea-level rise since 1996 (0.5 mm/yr) to 1998 (2 mm/yr) with an average of about 0.35 mm/yr since 1960.[56] Of interest also is Arendt et al., who estimate the contribution of Alaskan glaciers of 0.14±0.04 mm/yr between the mid-1950s to the mid-1990s, increasing to 0.27 mm/yr in the middle and late 1990s.[57]

Sea iceEdit

Sea ice melt has a very small contribution to global sea level rise. To first order, Archimedes' principle holds and sea ice that melts does not take up more volume than it had in the form of sea ice or icebergs. However, this only holds true in the case that the salinity of the sea ice and sea water are equal. This assumption is not valid in the case of melting sea ice, where the sea ice is much more fresh than the sea water. Fresh water has a larger volume compared to salt water, and as such there can be a small contribution of sea ice melt. In the case that all floating ice shelves and icebergs melt, the sea levels would melt only by about 4 cm (1.6 in).[58]


There are broadly two ways of modelling sea level rise and making future projections. On the one hand, scientist use process-based modelling, where all relevant and well-understood physical processes are included in a physical model. An ice-sheet model is used to calculate the contributions of ice sheets and a general circulation model is used to compute the rising sea temperature and its expansion. A disadvantage of this method is that not all relevant processes might be understood to a sufficient level. Alternatively, some scientist use semi-empirical techniques that use geological data from the past to determine likely sea level responses to a warming world in addition to some basic physical modelling. Semi-empiral modelling relies on sophisticated statistical techniques.[27] This type of modelling was partially motivated by the fact that in the 2007 IPCC report, most physical models underestimated the amount of sea level rise compared to observations.[52]


This graph shows the minimum projected change in global sea level rise if atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations were to either quadruple or double. [59] The projection is based on several multi-century integrations of a GFDL global coupled ocean-atmosphere model. These projections are the expected changes due to thermal expansion of sea water alone, and do not include the effect of melted continental ice sheets. With the effect of ice sheets included the total rise will be larger, by an uncertain but possibly substantial factor.[59] Image credit: NOAA GFDL.

21st centuryEdit

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2013) has made consensus estimates of sea level changes to the year 2100, using the available scientific literature. There projections are based on a combination of all the well-understood contributors to sea level rise, but do exclude some processes that are less well understood. In the case of rapid cuts in emission (the so-called RCP2.6 scenario) they deem it likely that sea level will rise with 26-55 cm. Likely in the terminology of the IPCC means that this is the 67% confidence interval. The higher value should thus not be read as an upper limit, which can be substantially higher. For a scenario with very high emissions they project the sea level to rise with 52-98 cm.[52]. Compared to the previous IPCC estimate, more sea level rise is expected for similar scenarios.[60]

Projections assessed by the US National Research Council (2010)[61] suggest possible sea level rise over the 21st century of between 56 and 200 cm (22 and 79 in). The NRC describes the IPCC projections as "conservative".[61] In 2011, Rignot and others projected a rise of 32 centimetres (13 in) by 2050. Their projection included increased contributions from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. Use of two completely different approaches reinforced the Rignot projection.[62][63] Other estimates suggest that for the same period, global mean sea level could rise by 0.2 to 2.0 m (0.7–6.6 ft), relative to mean sea level in 1992.[64]

The Third National Climate Assessment (NCA), released May 6, 2014, projected a sea level rise of 1 to 4 feet (30–120 cm) by 2100. Decision makers who are particularly susceptible to risk may wish to use a wider range of scenarios from 8 inches to 6.6 feet (20–200 cm) by 2100.[65]

A 2015 study by sea level rise experts concluded that based on MIS 5e data, sea level rise could accelerate in the coming decades, with a doubling time of 10, 20 or 40 years. The study abstract explains:

We argue that ice sheets in contact with the ocean are vulnerable to non-linear disintegration in response to ocean warming, and we posit that ice sheet mass loss can be approximated by a doubling time up to sea level rise of at least several meters. Doubling times of 10, 20 or 40 years yield sea level rise of several meters in 50, 100 or 200 years. Paleoclimate data reveal that subsurface ocean warming causes ice shelf melt and ice sheet discharge."

Our climate model exposes amplifying feedbacks in the Southern Ocean that slow Antarctic bottom water formation and increase ocean temperature near ice shelf grounding lines, while cooling the surface ocean and increasing sea ice cover and water column stability. Ocean surface cooling, in the North Atlantic as well as the Southern Ocean, increases tropospheric horizontal temperature gradients, eddy kinetic energy and baroclinicity, which drive more powerful storms.[66]

However, Greg Holland from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who reviewed the James (Jim) Hansen study, noted “There is no doubt that the sea level rise, within the IPCC, is a very conservative number, so the truth lies somewhere between IPCC and Jim.[67]

One 2017 study's scenario, assuming high fossil fuel use for combustion and strong economic growth during this century, projects sea level rise of up to 1.32 metres (4.3 ft) on average — and an extreme scenario with as much as 1.89 metres (6.2 ft), by 2100. This could mean rapid sea level rise of up to 19 millimeters per year by the end of the century. The study also concluded that the Paris climate agreement emissions scenario, if met, would result in a median 0.52 metres (1.7 ft) of sea level rise by 2100.[68][69]

Estimates of future sea level were also produced in the 20th century. For instance, Hansen et al. 1981, published the study Climate impact of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, and predicted that anthropogenic carbon dioxide warming and its potential effects on climate in the 21st century could cause a sea level rise of 5 to 6 m, from melting of the West Antarctic ice-sheet alone.[70]

After 2100Edit

There is a widespread consensus that substantial long-term sea-level rise will continue for centuries to come even if the temperature stabilizes.[71] IPCC AR4 estimated that at least a partial deglaciation of the Greenland ice sheet, and possibly the West Antarctic ice sheet, would occur given a global average temperature increase of 1–4 °C (relative to temperatures over the years 1990–2000).[72] This estimate was given about a 50% chance of being correct.[73] The estimated timescale was centuries to millennia, and would contribute 4 to 6 metres (13 to 20 ft) or more to sea levels over this period.

Melting of the Greenland ice sheet could contribute an additional 4 to 7.5 m over many thousands of years.[8] It has been estimated that we are already committed to a sea-level rise of approximately 2.3 metres for each degree of temperature rise within the next 2,000 years.[74] Warming beyond the 2 °C target would potentially lead to rates of sea-level rise dominated by ice loss from Antarctica. Continued CO2 emissions from fossil sources could cause additional tens of metres of sea level rise, over the next millennia and eventually ultimately eliminate the entire Antarctic ice sheet, causing about 58 metres of sea level rise.[75]

After 500 years, sea-level rise from thermal expansion alone may have reached only half of its eventual level, which models suggest may lie within ranges of 0.5 to 2 m.[76]

Rising sea levels will cause flooding and will have the ability to wipe out entire cities. In a study published by Nature, the entire state of Delaware could be completely wiped out by 2500.[77]

Local sea level riseEdit

Subsidence, isostatic rebound, gravitational effects of changing ice masses and spatially varying patterns of warming lead to differences in sea level rise around the globe.[78]

Many ports, urban conglomerations, and agricultural regions are built on river deltas, where subsidence of land contributes to a substantially increased effective sea level rise. This is caused by both unsustainable extraction of groundwater (in some place also by extraction of oil and gas), and by levees and other flood management practices that prevent accumulation of sediments from compensating for the natural settling of deltaic soils.[79] In many deltas this results in subsidence ranging from several millimeters per year up to possibly 25 centimeters per year in parts of the Ciliwung delta (Jakarta).[80] Total anthropogenic-caused subsidence in the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta (Netherlands) is estimated at 3 to 4 meters, over 3 meters in urban areas of the Mississippi River Delta (New Orleans), and over nine meters in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.[81]

The Atlantic is set to warm at a faster pace than the pacific. This has consequences for Europe and the U.S. East Coast, which may get sea level rise 3–4 times the global average.[82]


Map of major cities of the world most vulnerable to sea level rise
Schematic animation of sea level rise in Taipei, Taiwan and surrounding regions, in meters
Schematic animation of sea level rise in Taiwan and surrounding regions, in meters

The IPCC TAR WGII report (Impacts, Adaptation Vulnerability) notes that current and future climate change would be expected to have a number of impacts, particularly on coastal systems.[83] Such impacts include increased coastal erosion, higher storm-surge flooding, inhibition of primary production processes, more extensive coastal inundation, changes in surface water quality and groundwater characteristics, increased loss of property and coastal habitats, increased flood risk and potential loss of life, loss of non-monetary cultural resources and values, impacts on agriculture and aquaculture through decline in soil and water quality, and loss of tourism, recreation, and transportation functions.[citation needed]

There is an implication that many of these impacts will be detrimental—especially for the three-quarters of the world's poor who depend on agriculture systems.[84] The report does, however, note that owing to the great diversity of coastal environments; regional and local differences in projected relative sea level and climate changes; and differences in the resilience and adaptive capacity of ecosystems, sectors, and countries, the impacts will be highly variable in time and space.

The IPCC report of 2007 estimated that accelerated melting of the Himalayan ice caps and the resulting rise in sea levels would likely increase the severity of flooding in the short term during the rainy season and greatly magnify the impact of tidal storm surges during the cyclone season. A sea-level rise of just 400 mm in the Bay of Bengal would put 11 percent of the Bangladesh's coastal land underwater, creating 7–10 million climate refugees.

Sea level rise could also displace many shore-based populations: for example it is estimated that a sea level rise of just 200 mm could make 740,000 people in Nigeria homeless.[85]

According to a 2011 study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, 68 percent of beaches in New England, and the Mid-Atlantic states observe coastal erosion, with some barrier beaches in Louisiana recording twenty or more meters or eroding coastlines per year. However, the rate of coastal erosion is partially related to human developments, eg, bulldozing dunes.[86]

Future sea-level rise, like the recent rise, is not expected to be globally uniform. Some regions show a sea-level rise substantially more than the global average (in many cases of more than twice the average), and others a sea level fall.[87] However, models disagree as to the likely pattern of sea level change.[88]

Island nationsEdit

IPCC assessments suggest that deltas and small island states are particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise caused by both thermal expansion and increased ocean water. Sea level changes have not yet been conclusively proven to have directly resulted in environmental, humanitarian, or economic losses to small island states, but the IPCC and other bodies have found this a serious risk scenario in coming decades.[89]

Maldives, Tuvalu, and other low-lying countries are among the areas that are at the highest level of risk. The UN's environmental panel has warned that, at current rates, sea level would be high enough to make the Maldives uninhabitable by 2100.[90][91]

Many media reports have focused on the island nations of the Pacific, notably the Polynesian islands of Tuvalu, which based on more severe flooding events in recent years, were thought to be "sinking" due to sea level rise.[92] A scientific review in 2000 reported that based on University of Hawaii gauge data, Tuvalu had experienced a negligible increase in sea level of 0.07 mm a year over the past two decades, and that the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) had been a larger factor in Tuvalu's higher tides in recent years.[93] A subsequent study by John Hunter from the University of Tasmania, however, adjusted for ENSO effects and the movement of the gauge (which was thought to be sinking). Hunter concluded that Tuvalu had been experiencing sea-level rise of about 1.2 mm per year.[93][94] The recent more frequent flooding in Tuvalu may also be due to an erosional loss of land during and following the actions of 1997 cyclones Gavin, Hina, and Keli.[95]

A study conducted on the Jaluit Atoll, Marshall Islands demonstrated that significant geomorphologic events such as storms (i.e. Typhoon Ophelia in 1958) tend to have larger impacts on reef islands than the smaller-scale effects of sea level rise. These effects include the immediate erosion and subsequent regrowth process that may vary in length from decades to centuries, even resulting in land areas larger than pre-storm values. With an expected rise in the frequency and intensity of storms, they may become more significant in determining island shape and size than sea level rise.[96]

In 2016 it was reported that five of the Solomon Islands had disappeared due to the combined effects of sea level rise and stronger trade winds that were pushing water into the Western Pacific.[97]

Besides the issues that flooding brings, such as soil salinisation, the island states themselves would also become dissolved over time, as the islands become uninhabitable or completely submerged by the sea. Once this happens, all rights on the surrounding area (sea) are removed. This area can be huge as rights extend to a radius of 224 nautical miles (414 km) around the entire island state. Any resources, such as fossil oil, minerals and metals, within this area can be freely dug up by anyone and sold without needing to pay any commission to the (now dissolved) island state.[98]

Options that have been proposed to assist island nations to adapt to rising sea level include abandoning islands, building dikes, and building upwards.[99]

Coastal areasEdit

A study in the April, 2007 issue of Environment and Urbanization reports that 634 million people live in coastal areas within 30 feet (9.1 m) of sea level. The study also reported that about two thirds of the world's cities with over five million people are located in these low-lying coastal areas. Future sea level rise could lead to potentially catastrophic difficulties for shore-based communities in the next centuries: for example, many major cities such as Venice, London, New Orleans, and New York City already need storm-surge defenses, and will need more if the sea level rises; they also face issues such as subsidence.[100][101] However, modest increases in sea level are likely to be offset when cities adapt by constructing sea walls or through relocating.[102]

Re-insurance company Swiss Re estimates an economic loss for southeast Florida in 2030, of $33 billion from climate-related damages.[103][104] Miami has been listed as "the number-one most vulnerable city worldwide" in terms of potential damage to property from storm-related flooding and sea-level rise.[105]

Rising seas has also been tied to an increased risk from tsunamis, potentially affecting coastal cities in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.[106]


Coastal and Polar habitats are facing drastic changes as consequence of rising sea levels. Loss of ice in the Arctic may force local species to migrate in search of a new home. If seawater continues to approach inland, problems related to contaminated soils and flooded wetlands may occur. Also, fish, birds, and coastal plants could lose parts of their habitat.[107] In 2016 it was reported that the Bramble Cay melomys, which lived on a Great Barrier Reef island, had probably become extinct because of sea level rises.[108]

Extreme sea level rise eventsEdit

The downturn of Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) has been tied to extreme regional sea level rise (1-in-850 year event). Between 2009–2010, coastal sea levels north of New York City increased by 128 millimetres (5.0 in) within two years. This jump is unprecedented in the tide gauge records, which have collected data for several centuries.[109][110]


In 2008, the Dutch Delta Commission (Deltacommissie), advised in a report that the Netherlands would need a massive new building program to strengthen the country's water defenses against the anticipated effects of global warming for the next 190 years. The Dutch plans included drawing up worst-case plans for evacuations. The plan included more than €100 billion (US$144 bn), in new spending through the year 2100 to take measures, such as broadening coastal dunes and strengthening sea and river dikes. The commission said the country must plan for a rise in the North Sea up to 1.3 metres (4 ft 3 in) by 2100, rather than the previously projected 0.80 metres (2 ft 7 in), and plan for a 2–4 metre (6.5–13 feet) rise by 2200.[111]

The New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC) is an effort to prepare the New York City area for climate change.

Miami Beach is spending $500 million in the next years to address sea-level rise. Actions include a pump drainage system, and raising of roadways and sidewalks.[112]

U.S. coastal cities also conduct so called beach nourishment, also known as beach replenishment, to truck in new beach sand.[86]

See alsoEdit


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