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Study: Sea Levels Rising 60% Faster Than Projected, Planet Keeps Warming As Expected

By Joe Romm on November 28, 2012 at 4:14 pm

"Study: Sea Levels Rising 60% Faster Than Projected, Planet Keeps Warming As Expected"


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A new study, “Comparing climate projections to observations up to 2011,” confirms that climate change is happening as fast — and in some cases faster — than climate models had projected. The news release explains:

The rate of sea-level rise in the past decades is greater than projected by the latest assessments of the IPCC, while global temperature increases in good agreement with its best estimates. This is shown by a study now published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. Stefan Rahmstorf from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and his colleagues compare climate projections to actual observations from 1990 up to 2011. That sea level is rising faster than expected could mean that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) sea-level rise projections for the future may be biased low as well, their results suggest.

As Dr. Rahmstorf notes, “the new findings highlight that the IPCC is far from being alarmist and in fact in some cases rather underestimates possible risks.”

The oceans are rising 60 per cent faster than the IPCC’s latest best estimates, according to the new research. The researchers compared those estimates to satellite data of observed sea-level rise. ” Satellites have a much better coverage of the globe than tide gauges and are able to measure much more accurately by using radar waves and their reflection from the sea surface,” explains Anny Cazenave from LEGOS. While the IPCC projected sea-level rise to be at a rate of 2 mm per year, satellite data recorded a rate of 3.2 mm per year.

Figure: Sea level measured by satellite altimeter (red with linear trend line) … and reconstructed from tide gauges (orange, monthly data from Church and White (2011))…. The scenarios of the IPCC are shown in blue (third assessment) and green (fourth assessment); the former have been published starting in the year 1990 and the latter from 2000.

The release notes, “The increased rate of sea-level rise is unlikely to be caused by a temporary episode of ice discharge from the ice sheets in Greenland or Antarctica or other internal variabilities in the climate system, according to the study, because it correlates very well with the increase in global temperature.”

As sea level rises, storm surges worsen, coastal populations are put at risk, and salt water infiltrates rich deltas. For more on likely future sea level rise, see “New Studies on Sea Level Rise Make Clear We Must Act Now” and “JPL bombshell: Polar ice sheet mass loss is speeding up, on pace for 1 foot sea level rise by 2050.”

On the subject of global warming, the release explains:

“Global temperature continues to rise at the rate that was projected in the last two IPCC Reports. This shows again that global warming has not slowed down or is lagging behind the projections,” Rahmstorf says. Five global land and ocean temperature series were averaged and compared to IPCC projections by the scientists from Potsdam, the Laboratoire d’Etudes en Géophysique et Océanographie Spatiales (LEGOS) in France and the US based Tempo Analytics. To allow for a more accurate comparison with projections, the scientists accounted for short-term temperature variations due to El Niño events, solar variability and volcanic eruptions. The results confirm that global warming, which was predicted by scientists in the 1960s and 1970s as a consequence of increasing greenhouse concentrations, continues unabated at a rate of 0.16 °C per decade and follows IPCC projections closely.

Figure. Observed annual global temperature, unadjusted (pink) and adjusted for short-term variations due to solar variability, volcanoes and ENSO (red) as in Foster and Rahmstorf (2011). 12-months running averages are shown as well as linear trend lines, and compared to the scenarios of the IPCC (blue range and lines from the third assessment, green from the fourth assessment report). Projections are aligned in the graph so that they start (in 1990 and 2000, respectively) on the linear trend line of the (adjusted) observational data.

For more on the 2011 study, see “Study of ‘True Global Warming Signal’ Finds ‘Remarkably Steady’ Rate of Manmade Warming Since 1979.

Faith In Values: Are We Finally Nearing The Tipping Point On Climate Change?

November 29 News: Group Threatens To Sue EPA For Not Acting Quickly Enough On Carbon

39 Responses to Study: Sea Levels Rising 60% Faster Than Projected, Planet Keeps Warming As Expected

  1. Joseph Ventolora says:

    If I win the powerball, I will start selling fuel cell cars to offset global warming. If nothing is done, there will be hell or highwater to pay.

    • Ken Barrows says:

      Instead of that, why not employ people who have farming skills to teach tens of thousands of unemployed to farm. And then those people can teach others.

    • ithinktoomuch says:

      Unfortunately, the ingredients it takes to make a hybrid car make it a prohibitive large-scale solution. The lithium requirements alone makes this the case! What we need, is to get more greenhouses and other CO2 users to relocate closer to energy plants so their purified CO2 can be efficiently piped to those who need it. Right now, a common way for greenhouses to get their CO2 is to BURN NATURAL GAS to get it! That should be a crime!

    • Paul Klinkman says:

      I will redevelop solar heat to compete aggressively with current natural gas prices. I’ll drive down the cost of midwinter greenhouses. I’ll drive down the cost of algae production for biofuels. I’ll drive down the cost of wolar electricity below the current (subsidized) cost of fossil electricity.

      I didn’t buy some ticket. These are just things that I should do for the world, after I earn enough money to survive and to afford the prototypes. Life under a “free enterprise” economy is tough, you know.

  2. Jameson Quinn says:

    Joe, have you seen this: http://youtu.be/Xzw1dZNWiL8 ? An ex-O’Reilly fan sees the light, and it shakes her world. Very, very powerful stuff; it had me sobbing.

    • Steve Rypka says:

      Thanks for the link to the denier video Jameson! Very powerful and real. I have shared and it is being reshared. That is the kind of message we need to spread.

      BTW, I’m the same age as the woman in that video. Over the last ten years, my wife and I have directly and permanently reduced our carbon footprint by over 85%. We’re still working on it. Everything we’ve done so far has been very good financially as well. I even plan to have a low-carbon, green burial, but hopefully not too soon. ;-) Why not take it all the way?

      When people wake up, it can be done. It MUST be done.

      • Leif says:

        A concept that I have thought about but do not have the resources to pursue is a solar powered crematorium along the lines of concentrated solar power towers.

  3. Tom says:

    Many people will have the same experience as the woman in the youtube video mentioned above. She’s on the verge of tears seeing with her own eyes that Bill O’Reilly and others have deliberately LIED about global warming FOR DECADES, even as the evidence became overwhelming. Now she’s trying to “undo” the damage by getting all her friends on board, but the problem now is – it’s too late! No matter what we do, we can’t turn off the methane that’s now adding to all the continuing CO2 we keep dumping into the atmosphere every minute of every day! The oceans, likewise are DYING before our eyes. Unfortunately, this woman and all her friends and everyone that reads this blog will come to the same conclusion before long – we’re on our way out as a species (and we’ll be taking probably all other species with us). Geo-engineering won’t work (in fact, since it’s a human activity, it’ll probably make things worse, if that’s even possible), and we’ve gone beyond the tipping points for other “positive” feed-back mechanisms (like the methane mentioned above) which will only ADD to the problem. We f^@&*/ up and now we pay the consequences.

    • ithinktoomuch says:

      Your gloom and doom is a feeling I share, about the environment, but I still have a glimmer of hope. I saw one of those Discovery Channel homebaked science shows where they managed to build a cheap, solar-powered atmospheric CO2 concentrator. If we just scratch our heads hard enough, we can clean our air. And if it’s a life-or-death situation (it is), then I’ve got some confidence we’ll find a way.

      • Biochar, biochar, BIOCHAR! Look it up.

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          Biochar, massive reforestation, albedo enhancement with white roofs etc, we need them all, and they all have other positives and none, or few, negatives.

      • Paul Klinkman says:

        Probably the most socially effective way to remove gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is to grow gigatons of algae, separate the algae cell husks from the biofuel, then bury the cell husks for an average of 2500 years (think Egyptian pyramids) in big lignite mountains capped with layers of clay and topsoil. Cellulose or biochar are the most stable forms of carbon that you can bury.

        If you don’t know of anyone anywhere that is prototyping this process or any similar sequestration process, then we aren’t in the climate change reversal field. We’re in the climate change sitting in the corner and talking a lot field.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      This is why the knowing denialists and their knowing stooges must face justice for the greatest crimes against humanity ever committed, or ever likely to be committed. There must be no impunity, and there is no statute of limitations concerning such crimes.

      • Lucas says:

        The problem is they’re not scientists, and it’s not illegal to slander science or scientific organizations. It should be (at least at some level), but that’s probably the excuse they will use when things become 10 times worse than it is now.

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          Not the lumpen Rightwing morons. They’ll have to cope with popular detestation, and contempt is the best attitude towards them. No, I mean the denial industry bosses and senior functionaries, who, like their role models in the tobacco harm denial industry, know exactly what they are doing. They absolutely must face justice.

  4. perceptiventity says:

    And just where shall we relocate New York ?

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Two hundred feet-straight up. New Venice.

    • Paul Klinkman says:

      Parts of the Palisades and Yonkers will still be above sea level, if you don’t mind occasional category 5 hurricane wind gusts.

      I wonder where they’d put the subway lines after 200 feet of ocean rise.

  5. joyce says:


    Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Institute gives some interesting background as to why “predictions” have been so rosy–and why they persist.

  6. Will Fox says:

    I’ve just been looking at this map of sea levels -



  7. Aaron Lewis says:

    This data only shows data up to 2011. North and South, 2012 is the big melt year. In such a nonlinear process, a year makes a big difference.

    Dr. Rahmstorf tends to be a bit behind the trends. When I first asked him about the possibility of moulins on the GIS, he said,”We don’t see them, go read the literature!” A few years later, he published the first eyewitness account of moulin formation on the GIS. He is a brilliant reporter of what has occurred, but he has consistently under estimated the rate of AGW and its impacts and effects.

    People wonder why I do not trust and cite the journals. I do not cite the published science because it is wrong. The published science in AGW under estimates the rate of AGW, and its impacts and effects.

    They do not bother to put ice dynamics in the models, so estimates of sea level rise in models must be low. They do not put carbon feedbacks into the models, so future rates of warming are low.

    We should register and license climate scientists as we do professional engineers. Climate scientists should post a financial bond that the papers that they sign are complete, current and correct. This would also get rid of people like Fred Singer.

    They could still say anything they wanted, it just would not carry the weight of a registered and bonded scientist.

    • John Grant says:

      Scientists are not registered and bonded. Science is about evidence and results, not credentials. Epic fail, Aaron.

      • Aaron Lewis says:

        In IPCC report after IPCC report, climate science is understating the situation. Climate science is not understanding the evidence and not getting results that are of a quality for engineering, risk management, and public policy.

        The atmosphere is thermodynamic system – all of the weather is affected by all of the energy in the system – both natural and AGW. Detectable amounts of AGW have been entering the system for the last 100 years, so AGW has affected all the weather for the last 100 years. How many climate scientists are willing stand up and say, “All the weather for the last 100 years would have been different without AGW.”? It is a deduction from fifth grade physics, if AGW has made the last hundred years warmer, then AGW has changed the weather! Are we smarter than a fifth grader?

    • Aaron, you sound like you might like the writings of James Hansen if you haven’t read them.

      In particular he has said for years that the best way to understand what the earth will do is to look back at what the earth has done in the past under similar conditions. According to him, the earth’s past shows that climate changes are rapid and will be far worse than what the models are predicting. That is why he says 350ppm not 450ppm is the safe level. It is why he worries about climate feedback loops kicking in sooner than the models expect. It is why he has sounded the alarm on sea level rise being far beyond the models.

      The earth is the only “model” that gets all the variables and processes right. The past is not a comforting looking glass however and many have not wanted to listen.

    • SecularAnimist says:

      Aaron Lewis wrote: “They do not bother to put ice dynamics in the models …”

      What models of ice dynamics would you have them use — since there are none? Just make something up?

  8. M Tucker says:

    All the effects of anthropogenic global climate disruption seem to be faster than projected while action to address this disaster is slower than necessary. An article about the Arctic ice melt in this month’s Scientific American by Peter Wadhams, a professor of ocean physics at the University of Cambridge, says, “By 2015, at this rate, summer melting will outstrip the accumulation of new ice in winter, and the entire ice cover will collapse.” That’s just a few years away and in the same issue SA has a very interesting piece on what sort of climate changes we might expect from an Arctic ocean that is ice free in the summer.

    I fear we are approaching a point where desperation will take over and mankind begins to make very bad choices about how to respond to the disasters and emergencies and the unacceptable climate changes.

    • Actually humanity has made very bad choices so far about how to respond. Hard to get much worse than accelerating the fossil fuel burn like we have been doing.

      Perhaps the continual “in-your-face” reality of climate impacts is just what we need to start making better choices.

      • M Tucker says:

        Barry, does it seem to you that climate impacts are causing the House and Senate Republicans to change their tune? Does it seem to you that climate impacts have motivated Obama to push for limits on CO2? Looking back at the farmers who suffered through the dust bowl they did not start asking for government help until sand piled up around their farmhouses and their children started dying from breathing dirt. If you look at the article by Wadhams he is calling for government action to spew chemicals into the atmosphere. I fear that when enough people become as desperate as those farmers from the ‘30s we will take actions that will only result in more suffering.

  9. Byron says:

    Why not just start a project to bring up cold water from the ocean and pour over the ice sheets to re-freeze them…

    • It is kinda a big area, to be pumping water from depth to the surface, don’t you think.

      However I have heard of a less energy intensive idea of spraying surface water across the ice to thicken it during freezing weather. The ultimate snow making fantasy.

      Of course the sea ice isn’t even the biggest albeido flip going right now. That award belongs to missing spring and summer snow cover on land. Even more of that white stuff is missing than sea ice.

  10. John says:

    Why is it still news that: IF you have a bunch of closed feedback systems all interacting with each and every other system, in that lager system, that is composed of almost all closed feedback systems & subject to the patterns of exponential growth that closed systems typically are, THEN when one or two systems spiral out of balance it is almost guaranteed that all the other systems will follow, spiraling out of control – so far beyond any know tipping point that it is to the edge, or beyond, current comprehension? And why is survival in the face of this reality not THE ONLY discussion being had?

  11. Pat Ravasio says:

    We Can’t wait around for one Fox news fan at a time to discover the truth. Serious action is needed now. Where are our leaders that will combine public sentiment with government action? Here’s a start: Sign and share this URGENT PETITION TO END FOSSIL FUEL SUBSIDIES? Will only take u 2 seconds: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/end-fossil-fuel-industry-subsidies-and-tax-breaks-redirect-funds-toward-renewable-energies-climate/J8GC8MYb?utm_source=wh.gov&utm_medium=shorturl&utm_campaign=shorturl

  12. Jason Dow says:


    No one can claim this is not happening realistically, but the question really is why is it so hard to change?
    I believe and am learning that these environmental outcomes are a direct effect of the total activities of the global economy. But what are some of the systemic drivers in the economy making it virtually impossible for business to change at the scale the science is telling us is required. I think it is the very root of the economy the way money comes into existence as debt that structurally binds business and governments into making decisions that keeps us on the current trajectory. For assuming business is not in business to destroy the world and would like to do the right thing but can’t since it can not fund itself through profits alone as a result must borrow constantly to stay alive. It is the interest bearing nature of money coming into existence as debt that destroys purchasing power and has us all playing the largest games of musical chairs ever played… and as long as this dynamic is in place business can not allow the music to stop or they will be left without a seat!

  13. Jason Dow says:

    So we are asking business and governments to do something that is virtually impossible in an economy with debt based fractional reserve banking governing all the relationships between everything and that includes the environment… for we have to assume business managers are not insane or the governments but the choice is right now continue as they are and hope for a break through or risk going broke and going out of existence… that’s no choice at all!

  14. Juan says:

    I do believe that we are globally sensing a change in the climat everywhere, I live in Sweden and the winters here have been coming later and later every year and its been warmer ever year, what I want to say is that I am sure that climate is changing undoubtedly. However, I also do know that the ice on other planets have been confirmed that they are melting and that the sun is the cause of this , apparently the sun is closer right in comparison to. ‘ normal’ solar conditions., but am convinced that we.are contributing to the current heating at the very least which is not making the situation better, so either way we have to get rid of this fossile fuel madness , also in the process get rid of the monopoly other countries have against others countries and also a new economy and also avoid future wars because of fossile fuels, we have seen enough of this I think no ?

  15. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Excellent post. Global Warming is an accepted fact now.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
    E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com