A team of researchers at the University of Florida has confirmed that global sea levels will very likely rise around 20 feet over the next few decades. The bad news is that this increase in sea levels will occur even in the best case scenario of a global treaty to reduce CO2 levels to mitigate climate change. Moreover, the rise in sea levels could be considerably higher without prompt and effective reduction in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
In the study, the U of F researchers examined the geological history of the Earth, and discovered that sea levels increased by about 20 feet when temperatures reached or moved above above modern day global averages.
Details on the study showing global warming leads to rises in sea levels
The research determined that sea levels moved up around 20 feet during three historical warming periods of 1.8 to 3.6°F (1 to 2°C) that occurred during interglacial periods in the last three million years. The findings suggest that Earth is likely to see a significant rise sea level even if global warming is held to just 2°C. Scientists have been pointing out for some time that limit will soon be exceeded unless we take big steps now to mitigate climate change.
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The new study was published in the academic journal Science, and compiled more than 30 years of research from scientists around the world to show that changes in the planet’s climate and sea levels are closely linked. The data showed that even a relatively small warming episode can lead to a 20-foot rise in sea levels.
Andrea Dutton, a geochemistry professor at the University of Florida, was the leader of a global team of academics who participated in the study. She said the team examined sea levels 125,000, 400,000, and three million years ago to determine a range of possibilities, given that each historical warming period is caused by different factors.
Of note, 2014 was the hottest year on record, however, that record looks like it may be broken in 2015. The International Energy Agency published a study earlier this year suggesting that that global temperatures could increase by 7.7°F (4.3ºC) by 2100. The IEA also notes that global average temperatures have risen nearly 1.8°F (1ºC) since the 1880s.
Statement from lead researcher Andrea Dutton
“As the planet warms, the poles warm even faster, raising important questions about how ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica will respond,” Dutton explained. “While this amount of sea-level rise will not happen overnight, it is sobering to realize how sensitive the polar ice sheets are to temperatures that we are on path to reach within decades.”