A Southampton-led consortium project to study past and possible future sea-level rise has received a major grant award of £3.3 million over five years from the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
“The vulnerability of extensive near-coastal habitation, infrastructure, and trade makes global sea-level rise a major concern for society,” said Project Coordinator Professor Eelco Rohling of the University of Southampton’s School of Ocean and Earth Science (SOES) based at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. “By studying how sea level responded during the warmer periods between ice ages, we hope to obtain a better picture of how much and how quickly sea level may rise as a result of global warming.”
The UK coastline has around £150 billion of assets at risk from coastal flooding, of which £75 billion is in London alone. The UK Climate Projections (UKCP09) includes a lowprobability, high-impact range for maximum UK sea-level rise for use in contingency planning and in considerations regarding the limits to potential adaptation (the H++ scenario).
Currently, the range for H++ is set to 0.9–1.9 metres of rise by the end of the 21st century. This range of uncertainty is large (with vast planning and financial implications), and – more critically – it has no robust statistical basis.
“The aim of the new consortium project is to understand better the processes controlling sea-level rise, and, in so doing, put estimates of maximum future sea-level rise on a firmer statistical footing,” said Professor Rohling.
The project will study the response of ice volume/sea level to different climate states during the last five interglacials (the periods between ice ages), which include periods with significantly higher sea level than the present. This will identify the potential of reduced ice cover over Greenland and West Antarctica, an important constraint on future sealevel projections.
“A key outcome will be to place sound limits on the likely icevolume contribution to maximum sea-level rise scenarios for the end of the next century and beyond,” said Professor Rohling.