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Sep 10 / Dave Schumaker

New Predictions on Global Sea Level Rise

A new study released by University of Colorado at Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research says that overall sea level rise from climate change may be lower than originally predicted. Many researchers believe that sea levels could increase 20 to 30 feet by the end of the century. The team at Boulder modeled various scenarios relating to melting glaciers and ice caps, as well as thermal expansion of water, and believe the most plausible scenario shows a rise of only 3 to 6 feet by the end of the century.

The team began the study by postulating future sea level rise at about 2 meters by 2100 produced only by Greenland, said Pfeffer. Since rapid, unstable ice discharge into the ocean is restricted to Greenland glacier beds based below sea level, they identified and mapped all of the so-called outlet glacier “gates” on Greenland’s perimeter — bedrock bottlenecks most tightly constraining ice and water discharge.

“For Greenland alone to raise sea level by two meters by 2100, all of the outlet glaciers involved would need to move more than three times faster than the fastest outlet glaciers ever observed, or more than 70 times faster than they presently move,” said Pfeffer. “And they would have to start moving that fast today, not 10 years from now. It is a simple argument with no fancy physics.”


Considering all major sources of sea level rise, including Greenland, Antarctica, smaller glaciers and ice caps and the thermal expansion of water, the team’s most likely estimate of roughly 3 to 6 feet by 2100 is still potentially devastating to huge areas of the world in low-lying coastal areas, said Pfeffer.

Some scientists have theorized that continuing warming trends in Greenland and Antarctica could warm the Earth by 4 degrees F over the present by 2100. The last time that happened, roughly 125,000 years ago during the last interglacial period, glacier changes raised sea level by 12 to 20 feet or more. But the time scale is poorly constrained and may have required millennia, Pfeffer said.

“In my opinion, some of the research out there calling for 20 or 30 feet of sea rise by the end of the century is not backed up by solid glaciological evidence,” said Pfeffer.

[Via Eurekalert]

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