Climate Change

The implication of sea level rise: Why is sea level rise of just 65 cm such a big deal?

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Rising sea levels is probably the most well-spoken effect of climate change. It has been a cause of worry to scientists around the world. Today, the general public are also sensitized towards this problem; glacial calving in Greenland was widely reported by big media agencies like Forbes, CNN and others in the last few weeks, heralding the world’s doom.

How much will the sea rise by?

Global estimates of sea level rise vary drastically, as I found out during my research for this video. Sea levels also rise and fall due to a variety of factors, not just climate change (see here). Worst-case scenario predictions claim that sea levels could rise by as much as 2 meters (6.5 feet) by the end of the century. A more conservative estimate is an average rise of 65 cm, according to a team from NASA. Studies suggest that sea level rise is increasing by 3 mm (0.11 inches) every year, and could rise to 10 mm (0.39 inches) every year by 2100. Glacial melting and thermal expansion of ocean water are the most commonly stated reasons for this.

Why is sea level rise of just 65 cm (26 inches) such a big deal?

Why is sea level rise dangerous?

Sea level rise is particularly dangerous because 44 percent of the world’s population lives within 150 km of the coasts. Almost 1 in 10 people (634 million in total) live in coasts less than 10 meters above sea level. Along with humans, most of the major cities of the world — centers of thriving economic activities — are located on coasts. Many island states are expected to suffer and may even be wiped out of the map if sea levels rise by extreme amounts.


“Topography of coasts” image in slide 2 and “world map” image in the penultimate slide taken from Google Images. All other Images are self-made.

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6 replies »

  1. I have limited data at the moment, so have not explored your links yet. However, even the smallest rise in sea level can be problematic. It isn’t the day to day stuff that is problematic, (we can all move a few feet from the shoreline fairly easily), it is the terrible surges that storms bring. A lot of the sea level rise comes from warming oceans. The water expands and rises because of it. Warming oceans also bring more powerful, slow moving cyclones and the dangers from these storms can obliterate a low lying island. Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas is a deadly example.

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    • Agreed. I believe the frequency of Category 4 and 5 cyclones have increased in recent times (I don’t have the exact source, I vaguely remember reading this), and many are attributing this to warming oceans.

      Did Hurricane Dorian submerge an island?

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      • The poor Bahamas (a group of islands near to the US Florida Coast) were inundated with rain and a category 5 storm surge over a three day period which saw wind speeds as high as 240km per hr. They were prepared for it, but 43 people died (there may be more) and large parts of of the Grand Bahama and Abaco islands have been wiped out by the storm surge. The islands are small, yet 70,000 people are now without homes, power and water is cut off and some areas unrecognisable. You can read more here.
        https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2019/09/09/dori-s09.html

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      • Thanks. This sounds terrible; especially since they were already prepared. There seems to be only so much disaster risk reduction you can do. I used to think that adaptation is the key to surviving climate change, but I now realize that there are some places that cannot adapt enough. Mitigation efforts are important for them.

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