New modelling on sea level rise caused by climate change shows that what was once considered the worst-case scenario, only four years ago, is now more likely if we continue on a high-emissions path.
In January, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the US released a report detailing global and regional mean sea level rise.
Scientists found that a rise of up to 2.7 metres by 2100 is in fact plausible, whereas the previous high scenario from the 2013 report - from the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change - was around 74 centimetres for the same year.
So why the increase? This year’s NOAA report includes the latest science on the rapid ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica as well as the latest results regarding Antarctic ice sheet instability and how these factors will contribute to global mean sea level rise.
These results align with other data. According to NOAA, in 2016 we experienced the warmest global surface temperature on record, having set new records for the previous two years.
In April this year there was record-low Arctic and near-record-low Antarctic sea ice.
These events have massive implications for Australia. Our coastal communities will be impacted by sea level rise and billions of dollars of infrastructure will be at risk.
To quote Barrack Obama, “we are the first generation to experience climate change and the last generation that can do something about it”.
We now have a picture of what our worst-case scenario looks like for our coastal communities. Reducing emission levels will limit the impact of sea level rise. But sea level rise will happen and we need to understand the level of local risk to our coastal communities so that we can invest in protecting them.
Nathan Eaton is Principal Consultant for NGIS and creator of the website, Coastal Risk Australia