Accelerating Sea Level Rise is Being Driven by Rapidly Increasing Melt From Greenland and Antarctica

From 1993 to the present day, global sea level rise has accelerated by 50 percent. And the primary cause, according to recent research, is that land glaciers such as the massive ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are melting far faster than they have in the past.

(Assessment of factors involved in the presently increasing rate of global sea level rise.)

Antarctica, in particular, is melting much more rapidly — with melt rates tripling in just the last ten years.

The primary factors contributing to global sea level rise include thermally expanding oceans and the melting of ice on land. During the decade of 1993 to 2004, the World Meteorological Organization notes that oceans rose by 2.7 mm per year. During this time, land ice sheets amounted to 47 percent of that rise — or about 1.35 mm. The same report found that from 2004 to 2015, oceans rose by around 3.5 mm per year and that land ice contribution had risen to 55 percent (1.93 mm per year). Looking at sea level measurements from AVISO, we find that from March of 2008 to March of 2018, the average rate of sea level rise accelerated further to 4.3 mm per year.

The net takeaway is that the rate of global ocean rise has increased by more than 50 percent since the early 1990s and that this acceleration has been driven by increasing melt from large land glaciers like those in Greenland and Antarctica.

(Sea level rise contributors as reported by the World Meteorological Organization in its 2017 report on the state of the global climate.)

Over the coming years and decades, this rate of rise is likely to continue to accelerate — surpassing 5 mm per year sometime rather soon, and likely exceeding the 1 cm per year mark by the 2040s through the 2060s. Melt rates will likely increase substantially as we approach the 1.5 C and 2.0 C warming marks. However, the net heat pressure from fossil fuel emitted greenhouse gasses will also drive sea level rise rates. As a result, it is imperative that we work to cut fossil fuel emissions more rapidly and that we pursue a swift as possible transition to clean energy.

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  1. Erik Frederiksen

     /  June 15, 2018

    “Today, we’re struggling with 3 millimeters [0.1 inch] per year [of sea level rise],” says Robert DeConto at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, co-author of one of the more sobering new studies. “We’re talking about centimeters per year. That’s really tough. At that point your engineering can’t keep up; you’re down to demolition and rebuilding.”

    Liked by 4 people

  2. The climate is changing and getting worse, ‘natural’ disasters are increasing, ice is melting, sea levels are rising, we have so many problems, and now it seems that we are just adding to our problems.
    All this talk of trade wars is very disturbing to America’s allies, probably not even a blip on the radar to most Americans, for now. I live in Canada and the use of an obscure “national security threat” to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum against Canada is beyond absurd.
    My understanding of a trade deficit is that you sell less to a country than you buy from them. This means that the richest and most powerful country in the world is losing some of its wealth and riches. Really, an unequal distribution of wealth, how can this continue? How can the richest country in the world survive?
    Take for example dairy. Canada has a supply management system, we produce what we consume, and pricing is managed at no cost to government. To discourage cheap American imports of dairy we charge 270% tariff. The US system has direct government subsidies, when they overproduce, and they do, millions of gallons of milk is poured into fields at taxpayers’ expense. Canada has 37 million people, less than the population of one state, California. Wisconsin alone produces more milk than the whole of Canada. Apparently our dairy system is a real aggravation to Trump, he wants to export the American oversupply to Canada, and we would probably all drown in milk if that happened! You don’t have to give this a lot of thought, but what would happen to Canada’s 11,000 dairy farmers? Canada is not hurting American farmers, they are hurting themselves by overproducing, and they have a market of 326 million.
    Now I hear China has been added to the trade “war”. Bickering and infighting amongst nations over trade, or immigrants, or migrants, or political and climate refugees, or declining fishing, or shipping lanes, or disaster recovery, or dwindling resources is not good, and I fear it will only get worse. I have never felt so fearful about the future.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Mblanc

     /  June 16, 2018

    Well, the news on Antartica is a bit of a hammer blow. I guess this was always going to happen given the trajectory we are on, but it is so much earlier than expected

    It gives me the chills to compare where we thought we were 10 years ago, and where we think we are today.

    Hansen’s doubling time discussion seems increasingly relevant. Who is going to build new coastal infrastructure when we have levels rising at 10mm/year?

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Based on the implied acceleration from the studies, I’d say we’re likely to pass 5MM/year within the decade.

    If mass wasting continues, we could see 1CM/year in my lifetime. It doesn’t sound like much, but, that’s enough that by the time we reach it, the harbor of the town I grew up in will be flooding main street at high tide. (Scituate, MA). I can hardly imagine what life will be like in south Florida or along parts of the Gulf coast….

    Liked by 1 person


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