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Rising seas 'to beat predictions'

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The world's sea levels could rise twice as high this century as UN climate scientists have previously predicted, according to a study. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change proposes a maximum sea level rise of 81cm (32in) this century.

But in the journal Nature Geoscience, researchers say the true maximum could be about twice that: 163cm (64in).

They looked at what happened more than 100,000 years ago - the last time Earth was this warm.

The results join other studies showing that current sea level projections may be very conservative.

Sea level rise is a key effect of global climate change. There are two major contributory effects: expansion of sea water as the oceans warm, and the melting of ice over land.

In the latest study, researchers came up with their estimates by looking at the so-called interglacial period, some 124,000 to 119,000 years ago, when Earth's climate was warmer than it is now due to a different configuration of the planet's orbit around the Sun.

That was the last time sea levels reached up to 6m (20ft) above where they are now, fuelled by the melting of ice sheets that covered Greenland and Antarctica.

'Robust' work

The researchers say their study is the first robust documentation of how quickly sea levels rose to that level.

"Until now, there have been no data that sufficiently constrain the full rate of past sea level rises above the present level," lead author Eelco Rohling, of Britain's National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, said in a statement.

Rohling and his colleagues found an average sea level rise of 1.6m (64in) each century during the interglacial period.

Back then, Greenland was 3C to 5C (5.4F to 9F) warmer than now - which is similar to the warming period expected in the next 50 to 100 years, Dr Rohling said.

Current models of ice sheet activity do not predict rates of change this large. However, they also do not include many of the dynamic processes already being observed by glaciologists, the researchers said.

"The average rise of 1.6m per century that we find is roughly twice as high as the maximum estimates in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, and so offers the first potential constraint on the dynamic ice sheet component that was not included in the headline IPCC values," explained Dr Rohling.

Last year, a separate study found sea level rise projections could be under-estimating the impact of human-induced climate change on the world's oceans.

Stefan Rahmstorf, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany, and colleagues plotted global mean surface temperatures against sea level rise, and found that levels could rise by 59% more than current forecasts.

I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.

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Now this is an even more interesting article;


Lessons From an Interglacial Past By Phil Berardelli

ScienceNOW Daily News

18 December 2007

When the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its latest report on global warming last summer, one of its most dramatic predictions was that sea levels would rise as much as 0.58 meters during the next century--enough to threaten coastal cities in Southeast Asia and North America. That's nothing, however, compared to what happened about 124,000 years ago. At a certain point during the warm "interglacial" between the last two ice ages, scientist have calculated, sea levels rose almost three times as fast. Given that the IPCC report predicts surface temperatures will reach similar levels during the next 100 years, the panel's dire forecast may not be dire enough. Locked in ice or flowing freely, the world's amount of water remains relatively constant. But sea levels can undulate 100 meters up or down over several millennia, depending on the ratio of water to ice. That's about how much seas dropped, for example, during the last ice age, which ended about 15,000 years ago--enough to allow the ancestors of Native Americans to walk from Siberia to Alaska courtesy of a land bridge that surfaced across the Bering Strait.

Now an international research team has discovered that during the warm period following the next-to-last ice age, when global temperatures reached at least 2°C above the current average, the seas rose by as much as 6 meters over just a few hundred years. The team reached this conclusion by analyzing microfossil-containing sediments from the floor of the Red Sea. Those sediments preserve the ratio of certain oxygen isotopes that provide strong signals about the strength of currents and other factors. By tracking the ratio over the time the sediments span, the researchers have been able to compute the rate of flow into the Red Sea from the Indian Ocean, which indicates the level of the water. Their analysis, reported online this week in Nature Geoscience, shows that as global warming was in the process of melting the continental glaciers about 124,000 years ago, sea levels began rising at the relatively blistering rate of about 1.6 meters per century. Some of the evidence also shows downswings and upswings in sea level, presumably related to swings in global temperature during the interglacial period.

The rapid rate in ancient times remains relevant, says geoscientist and lead author Eelco Rohling of the University of Southampton's National Oceanography Centre in the U.K. It "offers a warning" to climatologists that sea-level changes can depend strongly on factors that influence ice formation and melting--factors that he says current IPCC climate models understate. The per-century rate of 0.6 meters that the models are predicting for the near future is 1.0 meter less than the findings of Rohling's team. That difference, he says, "clearly identifies" the need to improve the climate models to reflect the impact of glaciation and melting.

Other experts aren't so sure. Geologist William Thompson of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts says that although the IPCC estimates indeed "may be too conservative" and the Red Sea research provides an "important contribution to our understanding of past sea-level changes," there are "significant uncertainties" in the method used by the team, and other studies haven't shown "such high rates of sea-level change."

I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.

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