Jul. 17, 2018
NewsScientific News

Reducing Carbon Emissions Will Limit Sea Level Rise

Study Predicts Sea Level Rise of Between 30 and 40 Meters

  • Reducing Carbon Emissions Will Limit Sea Level Rise. Image: kukuruxa/Shutterstock.Reducing Carbon Emissions Will Limit Sea Level Rise. Image: kukuruxa/Shutterstock.

In recent years, scientists have been able to correlate the amount of global warming to cumulative carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels - a relationship that became the basis of the Paris Agreement on climate change that guides policies of most world nations to limit their carbon emissions.

A new study demonstrates that a correlation also exists between cumulative carbon emissions and future sea level rise over time - and the news isn't good. Even under the most optimistic scenarios outlined in the Paris Agreement - keeping the overall warming of Earth to 1.5 degrees (Celsius) - sea levels will continue to rise by several meters over the next few thousand years. If humans continue to burn fossil fuels so that temperatures meet the 2-degree (Celsius) threshold outlined in the Paris Agreement, global mean sea level rise may exceed nine meters, or nearly 30 feet.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution - about 1750 - people have emitted roughly 600 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, resulting in an increase of roughly one degree (Celsius) in overall global temperature. The global pace today is 10 billion tons of carbon annually, which means we're on track to reach the 2-degree threshold in about 60 years.

The authors make a case for using carbon emissions and commensurate sea level rise as an additional guide for future policy decisions on limiting carbon emissions, much like the Paris Agreement did based on the carbon dioxide (CO2)-temperature relationship. They say that keeping sea level rise to 3-9 meters over several thousand years is likely too optimistic unless society finds ways to quickly reach zero emissions and lower the CO2 in the atmosphere. If cumulative CO2 emissions rise to 3,000 billion tons, it likely will result in sea level rise of between 30 and 40 meters, the study shows.

David Wrathall, an Oregon State University geographer and co-author on the study, said that rising sea levels could have a disproportionate impact on poorer countries. Some one billion people live in coastal zones around the world.

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